Andy Taylor on new solo album: "It's the beginning of something that I didn't think I'd have"

Thanks to cancer treatment, the guitarist has a dynamic solo album and a presence on a spooky Duran Duran LP

Published September 30, 2023 10:59AM (EDT)

Andy Taylor (Photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media)
Andy Taylor (Photo courtesy of Shore Fire Media)

Andy Taylor has become a cat person

The musician says this happened rather unexpectedly last fall, after his grandson rescued a tiny kitten named Lucky. Taylor and the cat quickly bonded; in fact, Lucky has now become a constant presence while the musician works in his Ibiza studio.

"If I'm sitting playing, I'll put a stool behind me, and he'll sit behind me while the music's on and listen," Taylor says, calling from London via Zoom in early July. The occasion is a lengthy discussion on his excellent new solo album, "Man's a Wolf to Man," which was released a few weeks ago. "[Lucky] just walks in, lies down, has some food and then about midnight buggers off. He should be in a band."

Taylor shares that he recently found a sweet video from November 5, 2022, that featured his grandson and Lucky hanging out together, right after the cat had seen the vet. "[My grandson] puts him on the bed, and I said, 'He loves it on that bed,' and [my grandson] said, 'Yeah, and he loves you, granddad.' And then I spent the day with my grandson."

On that day, Taylor was supposed to be elsewhere: in Los Angeles being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Duran Duran, the band with whom he enjoyed immense success in the 1980s. Taylor also had every intention of performing with the Birmingham group that night for the first time in well over a decade. 

However, a few days before the ceremony, Taylor's health took a turn for the worse — and, in a heartfelt letter, excerpts of which were shared by Duran Duran vocalist Simon Le Bon from the stage in Los Angeles, Taylor revealed that he had spent the last few years living with Stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer. It was a shock to almost everyone, including the members of Duran Duran, as Taylor had kept his diagnosis very private.

"I didn't want to get there, and then go, 'You know what, I can't do it,'" Taylor says now of his decision not to attend the ceremony. "It's psychological as well. And then when you've got to be Andy Taylor . . ." he says, vocally emphasizing the pressure to be on in such a high-profile situation.

"I came off potentially death row."

Unsurprisingly, Taylor received an avalanche of well wishes and prayers after sharing his news. Additionally, a rather miraculous thing happened: Going public with the news led to people reaching out with solutions that have given him a new lease on life. 

On this day in early July, Taylor shares that he's in the middle of having an "extensive pre-assessment" for a cutting-edge cancer treatment he's going to receive throughout the summer. "They've done three blood tests," he says. "And they're like, 'Your body's still got some fight in it. And you are in [an] absolutely perfect place to receive his treatment.'" 

He launches into a detailed and fascinating explanation of the "very, very specialized" cancer treatment. Pioneered by scientist Christopher Evans, the complex therapy — which is called Lutetium-177 PSMA therapy — is a form of highly targeted nuclear medicine. 

"This medicine literally hunts cancer cells," Taylor explains. "And if there's a normal cell next to it, it can't see it." He adds that he has four to six cycles of the treatment, and although it's non-curative, Evans still had incredible news to share: "He said, 'We're going to get you through this. You'll get to 70 — and then it's anyone's guess.'" (In early September, Taylor noted in an interview with The Times (UK) that the treatment left him "radioactive for several days" after each cycle, but he is now "asymptomatic.") 

Taylor points out that this treatment only came on his radar after he very publicly announced he had to miss the Rock Hall induction ceremony. "But the amazing team that I got, that came forward after the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame disappointment, worked all this out for me and did all my genomics. I mean, as bad as it sounds, I came off potentially death row." 

Taylor is a gregarious, animated conversationalist who speaks with passion, humor and conviction. As he's been prepping for this treatment, he's simultaneously been promoting "Man's a Wolf to Man." Technically, the LP is his first solo album of original material since 1987's underrated "Thunder" — a hard rock-leaning collection featuring songwriting collaborations with the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones — and his first solo album overall since 1990's covers album "Dangerous."

Given that Taylor is an avowed fan of heavy bands like AC/DC and guitarists such as Gary Moore and Keith Richards, "Man's a Wolf to Man" does contain moments of hard rock bliss —including highlights like the Southern rock-inspired "Did It For You," which boasts some truly epic guitar and harmonica solos, and the horn-peppered, Stones-esque stomp "Gotta Give." 

Taylor's career is far more wide-ranging and eclectic than he's often given credit for.

But Taylor channeled his deep love for Bowie throughout "Man's a Wolf to Man"; for example, "Did It For You" also features some very "Young Americans"-inspired saxophone. However, Bowie's chameleonic musical approach is a much bigger influence, as "Man's a Wolf to Man" is bold and diverse. "Reachin' Out to You" is funky robot-rock with some roller-boogie grooves; "Try to Get Even" is a lovely, country-tinged duet with Australian pop royalty Tina Arena; and standout "This Will Be Ours" hews toward warm, rambling folk-rock. 

To anyone only familiar with Taylor's previous solo albums — or his work with Duran Duran and the funky glam rockers The Power Station — "Man's a Wolf to Man" might be surprising. But Taylor's career is far more wide-ranging and eclectic than he's often given credit for. For example, he plays buzzing lead guitar on Robert Palmer's 1986 smash "Addicted to Love" and provides the evocative guitar solo (and appears in the music video for) Belinda Carlisle's 1986 hit "Mad About You." 

Taylor also co-produced Rod Stewart's hit 1988 album "Out of Order," along with co-writing and playing on several tracks. (That's him ripping off a skyscraping, bluesy guitar solo on "Forever Young.") Over the years, he's produced albums for the London rock band Thunder; cheeky electro-pop act the Ting-Tings; and throwback rockers Reef. For good measure, he also toured with the latter band in recent years.

"Man's a Wolf to Man" has actually been in the works since 2016, well before his prostate cancer diagnosis. Back then, Taylor received a cold call from the CEO of BMG, Hartwig Masuch. The executive complimented Taylor's work — and asked him to make a record. "And I'm like, 'OK, there's just one thing,'" he says. "Because we can argue about budgets, but I said, 'You gotta leave me alone to do it.' That's all I ask is that. Because I've got to find my way, and dig deep, and decide how we're going to do it."

Taylor put together a version of the album rather quickly. But then a series of events changed the contours and direction of the album — not just his cancer diagnosis, but also the election of President Donald Trump, Brexit and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taylor also decided to sing lead vocals on the album; on an early version, Gary Stringer from Reef was handling lead duties. 

Luckily, Taylor had chosen the right collaborators as the album evolved. BMG stood by him despite the delays, and his songwriting collaborators were equally solid. "I wanted to think about people that I knew, worked with, or had a relationship with that we could do something that was a little bit more real," Taylor says. That ended up being The Almighty/Thin Lizzy member Ricky Warwick and a "great, great writer" from Sweden named Mattias Lindblom. 

Lyrically, certain songs reference political moments or offer unsparing critiques: The stormy "The Last Straw" is about "straw men that are created," he says, while the meditative, piano-augmented "Influential Blondes" is "about the rise of fascism." That includes fascism in the political and cultural sense, he notes, citing the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal as an example. "The way he worked the business, right, there's a line in the song, 'Signed your name, silence is blue,'" he explains. "As soon as you sign the contract, the NDA shuts you down. So it was: 'Better watch out for the influential blondes. They do it all again.'"

"Man's a Wolf to Man" isn't the only reason Taylor's in the spotlight these days. He also appears on Duran Duran's forthcoming studio album, "Danse Macabre," which is out Oct. 27. This includes contributing guitar on the sizzling new Duran Duran single "Black Moonlight," a collaboration with Nile Rodgers that sounds like a stone-cold disco-funk classic, and on reworks of several older Duran Duran tracks. 

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Fans naturally have been over the moon at Taylor's presence, as the guitarist and Duran Duran parted ways in the 2000s after a celebrated reunion and haven't collaborated since. However, the brotherly bond — and musical chemistry — that's always existed between the five musicians in the band was still very much alive and well during the "Danse Macabre" sessions. "You know, I hate to say it's like riding an old bike," Taylor says. "But it's sort of like that, in the sense that you know exactly where to pedal."

Taylor's appearance on "Danse Macabre" also came about after he missed the Rock Hall ceremony. Le Bon and his wife, Yasmin, traveled to Ibiza and hand-delivered Taylor's inductee trophy. The couple brought with them a giant magnum of vintage Dom Perignon and toasted the award with Taylor and his wife of 41 years, Tracey. 

While in Ibiza, Le Bon and Taylor ended up sitting in the studio together. "[Simon's] like, 'Play that single of yours ['Man's a Wolf to Man']. I f**king love it. I've been playing it on me show on Sirius.' And I'm thinking, 'Wow, that's an icebreaker,'" Taylor says with a laugh. "I said, 'The whole album . . . a lot of it's got that Bowie inspiration and stuff.' And when [Simon] left, he said, 'I'd love to come and work over here in your room. It's so beautifully set up.' And I said, 'Yeah, because I spend a lot of time in there.'" Taylor laughs again. 

"The one thing that hasn't really gone is my creative instinct."

A few days later, early on a Saturday morning, Taylor says Le Bon called with an intriguing proposition. "He said, 'Look, we're working on a kind of Halloween-themed [album], taking some of the darker tracks that influenced us — like [Talking Heads'] 'Psycho Killer' and [Siouxsie and the Banshees'] 'Spellbound' — and some Duran reworks. And he said, 'You want to play on a few tracks? That'd be great.'"

Taylor of course was hard at work in his studio finishing off "Man's a Wolf to Man" and was already all set up to play guitar.  And so a few weeks later, Le Bon returned to Ibiza — and work on this Duran Duran music commenced and came together with others working remotely.

"I loved playing on the record," Taylor says. "It was just lovely being in the room with them. You know, [bassist] John [Taylor] came on FaceTime and we're chatting and I said, 'All right, see you' and he's like, 'No, no, leave the FaceTime on' and I was just jamming through stuff. You know, you feel it."

Taylor notes there's a "really beautiful version" of the fan-favorite b-side "Secret Oktober" on the album (now dubbed "Secret Oktober 31st") to go along with a new version of 1981's midnight-moody "Nightboat" that just might out-spook the original — which was pretty ominous to begin with.

"[Keyboardist] Nick [Rhodes] did this really interesting augmentation of the chords on 'Nightboat,'" Taylor says. "And literally, I was like, 'Oh yeah.' I found this dark part that just went straight in at five minutes — boom. And I was like, 'F**k.' You just know what to do with each other. I felt good about it. Because, you know, the one thing that hasn't really gone is my creative instinct. And the fact that I still want to do it and still love making records." 

Taylor stresses several times he and the rest of Duran Duran have "always remained gentlemanly" despite not playing together. "We're not like the Gallaghers [notoriously antagonistic musical brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher] or anything. And they've been incredible." (As an example, back in August, Duran Duran played a benefit concert for Taylor, with proceeds going to the Cancer Awareness Trust.) In fact, he clearly expresses nothing but gratitude, pride and positive feelings toward Duran Duran. "We're all in a good place with each other."

"They're helping me enormously with what I've got to go through now," Taylor adds, speaking slowly and thoughtfully. "Well, put it this way: I want to get healthy enough, fit enough —mentally and physically — so if they ever do decide they want to do something with me, or some shows or whatever, that . . .

"And obviously, for my solo career, and to do vocals," he adds, referencing another reason he wants to get healthy, before jumping back to finish his thought about Duran Duran. "Never say never. But I always used to say never." Taylor laughs. "You know, I think things evolve." 

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In the meantime, Taylor has been urging men to be diligent about their health, particularly by getting a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, which can help detect cancer. And he's also deeply grateful to have so many things to look forward to in the future.

As our conversation wraps up — Taylor has some label business to take care of before the day's end — I ask him whether he views "Mans' a Wolf to Man" as the start of a new chapter or whether there are there links back to his '80s solo work.

"I thought it was gonna be the last album I ever made. Now it's the first," he says without hesitation. "It's the beginning of something that I didn't think I'd have. 

"The fact that I can start with a record that I've been able to make honestly, and I'm not under any pressure in terms of 'Do this, do that,' but I'm going to do everything I can, so . . . It's absolutely the beginning. Anything could happen from here. And a lot will. I'm really excited about everything.

"[It's] not just a new chapter — it's like a new book. You know — of life."


By Annie Zaleski

Annie Zaleski is a Cleveland-based journalist who writes regularly for The A.V. Club, and has also been published by Rolling Stone, Vulture, RBMA, Thrillist and Spin.

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Albums Andy Taylor Danse Macabre Duran Duran Interview Man's A Wolf To Man Music