Iconic pop band Duran Duran are no strangers to having their members split off and take part in side projects. But following the recording of Nick Rhodes and Warren Cuccurullo‘s experimental TV Mania: Bored With Prozac And The Inernet? in 1996 — an album that featured electronic tracks mixed with samples of television dialog — the master tapes were misfiled in a storage facility, and were not recovered until 15 years later.
Rhodes spoke with Idolator about the album finally seeing the light of day (it’s out March 11 — pre-order it digitally here, the box set here or the gatefold vinyl here). What’s striking is that the story the record tells, about a dysfunctional family whose lives are filmed every day, pre-dates not only the glut of reality television shows that have been clogging up airwaves for the past 13 years, but also the similar-themed Jim Carrey film The Truman Show, which was released two years after the recording of Bored With Prozac And The Internet?
This begs the question: Is Nick Rhodes psychic? Let’s find out below.
The TV Mania track “Beautiful Clothes” begins with the repeated phrase “the banality of life.” Quite prophetic for something recorded in 1996, given that most reality TV shows would go on to focus on just that. Did you truly envision television eventually going this route back then?
NICK RHODES: In a word, yes. [Warren and I] had come up with a concept together that we kept developing over the time period in 1996 when we were working on this TV Mania project. I’d envisaged a family who allowed themselves to be filmed and studied by scientists, so I hadn’t exactly particularly seen it just as a TV thing; it was more of an anthropological test, scientists studying them, to see what was going wrong with the home life in this period. And the characters were sort of extreme stereotypes of a dysfunctional family.
So who makes up this family?
NR: The mother was hooked on pharmaceutical pills and spent most of her time daydreaming in front of a computer, watching people in uniforms. The father was a religious extremist who didn’t see anything wrong with his family at all and just ignored everything they said. The son was addicted to video games, barely left his room and became very proficient with hacking. And the daughter just wanted to be famous — at any cost — for anything, whether it was fashion or films or television. And so that was the family that we had, and we were trying to find samples that would fit for the characters that we had imagined. Hence, we ended up for the daughter, “Beautiful Clothes” and “I Wanna Make Films.” For the father we ended up with “What About God?” For the mother we ended up with “Euphoria.” But of course when we were imagining this, there were many other people out there having similar ideas. Hence, shortly afterward, and a long time before we managed to release the project, you ended up with the movie The Truman Show. When we saw that we thought, wow — there you go; there goes the idea. And then of course Survivor and Big Brother and all the other shows came quick and fast after that.
How exactly did the original TV Mania tapes get misfiled and lost for this long?
NR: What happens is you start with the premise that you’re organized and, “Right, that’s our tape for this,” and “here’s the Duran Duran tapes from that same period for the Medazzaland album.” “There’s the sessions we used.” “There’s the masters.” “ There’s the copy masters.” Whatever they are, they’re all labeled. And at the time, it probably is fairly well organized. But then give it a decade later, things get moved around. Storage gets taken from somewhere. Someone borrows a tape because they want to do a remix. Someone wants to sample something off something else. Things get put in a different box, and suddenly chaos prevails.
How were they eventually recovered, all these years later?
NR: I had, several years ago, looked for the TV Mania tapes and did not find them. I thought, oh, god, we lost them somewhere. We chased around studios because some of it was done in Boston, some of it was done in New York, some of it was done in Battersea. The tapes had been flying around — the actual multi-track masters, we still don’t have them at all. I don’t know where they went. I don’t know whether they still exist. But if anyone does know where they are, I’d love to have them back! But I did find the little DAT tape, which was the format we used at the time, which was the master of the final mixes exactly as it was left in 1996. And fortunately when I played it, I thought, okay, it holds up really well and the crazy ideas that we had somehow seem even more relevant now than they did then.
Did you go back and add any instrumentation or additional production?
NR: No, we couldn’t, because all we had was the final mixes. I guess we could have played stuff on top of that, but we couldn’t alter anything about the mixes. You know, I listened to one song and I thought, damn, I wish that one sound was a bit louder. But there was nothing I could do about it.
Aside from you and Warren, had any of the other members of Duran Duran heard these songs before now?
NR: I think they heard a little here and there because John [Taylor] was in LA a lot. It was during the album that he only actually played on about half of, the Medazzaland album. He’d moved his life to LA and actually parted company with the band during that period. But Simon [Le Bon], yeah, would have heard bits and pieces when he was coming in and doing lyrics and writing. We’d finish with Simon at 5 o’clock in the afternoon then we’d carry on doing TV Mania until midnight or whatever. We became so obsessed with these little samples from television and how to make them work — re-tuning them and tweaking them and making a song from the samples — that it was really new and exciting. Sometimes when you stumble across something, you want to just keep following the idea through to see what you can unveil. And that’s very much what happened.
In a way, the Bored With Prozac And The Internet? project reminds me a bit of Duran Duran’s “Too Much Information” off The Wedding Album — a song that almost plays like a precursor to this album. Did you find yourself feeling skeptical of the media in the 1990s?
NR: Personally, I think we’ve always had a healthy caution when dealing with the media. I consume as much of it as anybody else, and I’m very grateful that we still have some amazing writers and photographers, programs, websites, people that crunch up pop culture for us and give us a beautiful version of a story about whatever the chosen subject matter is. But having said that, the volume of stuff that is out there now is mind-boggling. On top of the regular television, you obviously have so many cable channels, and now you have so many Internet sites and channels. You really have to carefully filter what is you want to get. And often the one thing I think that does happen is that the cream — the best sites, the best shows — they still rise to the top. Enough people find out which ones are working for them and they pass the word along.
You can pre-order TV Mania’s Bored With Prozac And The Internet? (out March 11) on iTunes here. Check back later this week for more with Nick Rhodes as he discusses the 20th anniversary of Duran Duran’s 1993 LP The Wedding Album.