During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Nick Rhodes (founding member and keyboardist of Duran Duran) and vocalist/violinist Wendy Bevan collaborated on what may be the most ambitious musical project of their respective careers: they created 52 exquisitely atmospheric and futuristic tracks, which will be released on four separate albums this year. The Fall of Saturn: Astronomia: Volume One came out on March 20 (Spring Equinox) and The Rise of Lyra: Astronomia: Volume Two was released on June 20 (Summer Solstice). The remaining albums will come out at the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice.
During a recent Zoom call, Rhodes and Bevan readily admit to American Songwriter that it’s rather astonishing that they took on such a large-scale project, especially during an already difficult time. “I’ve come to the conclusion, myself, that we are actually slightly mad.” Rhodes says with a laugh.
Their Astronomia collaboration evolved out of the working relationship they first established when Rhodes worked on Bevan’s latest solo album, which they completed just as the pandemic hit. Then, Rhodes says, “Wendy went back to Los Angeles. I stayed in London. But we wanted to continue working, so we had this idea to create a few beautiful instrumental soundscapes together, which we thought would be fairly easy to do remotely by sending files back and forth to each other.” But as they began working, he says, “It grew very quickly into this vast project.”
“I think it was a reflection of the time that we’ve all been through,” says Bevan. “As a musician, one can’t help but transfer those emotions into the music that you’re writing. So I think all of the tracks on the album, they each tell a story. The different types of emotions that we, on a global level, were feeling throughout this period.”
Rhodes agrees: “That’s really at the core of everything that I’ve ever done that I really liked or feel has been successful musically, is when you connect with people on that very personal level,” he says. “When you touch a nerve. When you make people feel something. And it could be just to make people smile. It could be to make people rethink what their perspective is on certain things. It could be just for them to get up and dance and have a good time. It doesn’t really matter so much what the emotion is, it is that it connects. So everything that Wendy and I have done together, I believe, has been written with the idea to try to connect to people.”
In this way, Rhodes says that writing for this project was similar to the way he has always approached his work: “A successful song, for me, has always been about connecting emotionally somehow.” But unlike his hit songs with Duran Duran and other projects, this time he, along with Bevan, decided that emotions could be conveyed through mostly instrumental compositions. “It was almost as if the musical notes could say more for us than any words could say,” he says. “It was just flowing out of our hearts and minds into the music, and we realized that we didn’t need to add words to it. It was just a soundtrack to what we were all experiencing.”
Bevan and Rhodes agree that working on Astronomia helped them get through the pandemic. “I think it became a bit of a lifeline,” Bevan says. “The vast amount of [artistic] freedom that we had in that captivity, there were no boundaries.” From this realization, they say, came the album’s theme focusing on the universe, and the resultant decision to release the work on the solstices and equinoxes.
“We were about eight tracks in before we decided that they had a mood, an atmosphere, which suggested that we could use the universe to tie things together,” Rhodes says of this theme. “Once we started discussing that, and looking at ancient mythology, which we both share a bit of an interest in, it gave it a flavor. I think it gave us a structure to help form the individual albums.”
Even after they’d agreed on the theme and musical direction for this project, though, Rhodes and Bevan say they continued to surprise each other as they built the tracks. “I think it was sort of challenging each other by what we were sending back and forth, in that I’d get this piece that Wendy had sent overnight from California, and I’d play it and think, ‘Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!’” Rhodes says. “Because I was so impressed with what Wendy had sent, and excited by it, I wanted to make sure that everything I sent to Wendy had a similar effect.”
To give his parts a certain warmth, Rhodes used analog synthesizers, which he says “are much more organic than the new age of digital synths. The mixture of these tones, of these oscillators mingling with the violins and the effects that Wendy used, became quite intoxicating for both of us because it wasn’t a sound we’d heard before. We actually felt it is pretty unique, and that’s quite hard to stumble upon nowadays.”
Bevan says their shared background working in photography as well as music also helped them hit upon something special with Astronomia. “We both think very visually,” she says, “so each album has its own character and its own theatricality to it. I think each one is a piece of theater, really.”
After putting so much thought and work into this project, Rhodes says he and Bevan are excited to finally put it out into the world. “Wendy and I are both very proud of what we’ve created because I think that it is unique and it really is our musical voice,” he says. “It really does speak for both of us, and it’s our diary, if you like, of the year of the pandemic. It wasn’t nice to go through it for anyone—in fact, horrifying, terrifying. At the same time, you have to find solace somewhere. And that’s what we did through our music.”