BILL PRINCE heads East to take tea with the Basildon Boys and unCOVER (geddit?) what the lads have been up to of late...

Modey Old Dough WHEN YOU think that Depeche Mode, perhaps more than any other New Pop band, have come to represent the breath of fresh air that has done so much to revive a fast-suffocating chart scene it comes as bit of a surprise to learn that David Gahan considers the good ol' Top Forty to be in a bit of a mess at the moment. It's all the covers knocking about' explains Dave, competing with Tarzan on the telly in his Basildon home, 'bands seem to be taking the easy way out by releasing old songs that are bound to be a hit without much thinking having to be done'. Not that the Modes are above playing a few golden oldies themselves, although only those lucky enough to catch the lads live will have heard them. Dave: 'We do some for a laugh On the old tour we did Gerry And The Pacemakers' "I Like It". Andy who has just come in with Martin reminds his mate of a few more including Abba's "Mama Mia" and the charmingly tacky "Mouldy Old Dough' by the long since forgotten Lieutenant Pigeon. So no plans to get them down on vinyl then? Martin too quiet and sincere-looking for his jokes to be instantly recognisable muses: 'After the next album it would be nice to do an album of covers and call it 'Music For Parties Vol. 2'. Andy on a more serious note explains: 'One of the ideas we had for Christmas was to release an EP with some of the covers we have done on it, things like 'G.I.Blues' and 'I Like It' but we can't do it now 'cos we haven t got any time, we're too busy.

And busy they have been with their follow up album to 'Speak And Spell' just completed, a new single to promote and a big tour looming in October where the new material, largely penned by Martin might come as a shock to those who have dismissed Depeche Mode as a purely pop band. Dave: 'The new single is a lot different to the others we have done and the new album has the same sort of weight really. Rather than doing more of the light weight pop we decided to experiment in the studio'. Not that the Modes can't knock out a winning melody or two though, 'Martin can write poppy things as well, there's a couple of poppy tracks on the album like 'The Meaning Of Love' and there's one called 'Photograph Of You' but we also wanted to do something really different to see if we could do it and I think it has turned out well.' But why release a track like 'Leave In Silence' which isn't as accessible as the earlier hits? Dave is certain that what the band needs now is a challenge: 'We did have other things that we could have released which we think would have got in the charts and would have probably been successful but it didn't seem right. You can't carry on releasing stuff every few months and have a hit with something catchy. We thought this was more of a risk to release because it is not so instant. You've got to hear it at least five times before you can really begin to listen to it'. Throughout the discussion of new material principal writer Martin stays largely silent but does say of his songwriting: 'I write about anything really, whatever it is I just exaggerate it'.

The other two are confident that any songwriting talents the band had did not depart with Vince Clark who penned their early hits before leaving to join Alf in Yazoo. Dave: 'We wanted to get into Martin's songs because he had a couple of songs on 'Speak And Spell' and just from the reactions of fans writing in it was clear that they were a lot of people's favourite tracks. When Vince was with us we were happy to let him write because I think a lot of songwriters in a band can be a bad thing. If a band has, say, three songwriters all wanting to do singles and things it can get too much. Things were happening so fast around the time of 'I Just Can't Get Enough', Vince was writing hit records and we were happy, we didn't question it. There was no time to think about exploring more so when Vince left it did us a lot of good because it gave us a kick up the arse, we went out and made 'See You' and it was our biggest selling record'.

It's good to hear of success going hand in hand and it certainly appears that Depeche Mode have a bit of the Midas Touch. When Daniel Miller signed the band to his fledgling Mute Records he could offer boys little in the way of cash up-front (how all the major record labels operate) but then this isn't how the Modes like to work as Andy who seems to take the most interest in the business Side of the band explains: we did toy with the idea of signing to a major but we thought it would be more of a challenge to go with Daniel'. The decision has certainly paid dividends for all concerned with Andy noting with pride that not only did Mute have 2.7% of UK singles sales for the last six months ('even CBS had only 5.3%!') but the band themselves are on the same percentage as Paul McCartney after only a fraction of the time in the Biz. Just a pity you're not on the same money eh lads?

Even their favoured recording studio, Blackwing, has grown with the success of the band. Boasting a measly eight tracks when they made their first recording in the converted church, it now has a full sixteen tracks made possible by the work Depeche Mode's recordings have put its way. It's the band's keen sense of economics that led them into becoming an all synthesiser group after briefly experimenting with the traditional guitar, bass and drums line-up. Andy: 'When we started we didn't have good guitars or good amps so it seemed a much better idea to spend just .200 on a synth on H.P. It was also much more convenient practice-wise'. The shift was certainly total but the band haven't abandoned acoustic sounds altogether as Andy explains: 'There's a lot of percussion on the new album, you know just hitting things plus there's walking and marching and that sort of thing, but nothing you could really call an instrument'. 'There is a saxaphone, corrects Dave, 'But you wouldn't be able to make it out. It's recorded backwards and it sounds like an elephantl!'

Thanks to people like Thomas Dolby, the image of yer average synth player is half musician, half scientific boffin so how do the three lads fit into this? Andy: 'We're not really technicians. We couldn't mend anything, if it didn't work after giving it a kick we would have to throw it away! ' So do the lads have anything in common with their synth-totin' predecessors? Kraftwerk are considered an influence but as for other German bands like Can... 'We'd never heard of 'em' exclaims Andy who adds, 'They're so much older than us, we're just young saplings!'

Young saplings maybe, but the Modes have made quite a name for themselves in other countries although you're not likely to know about it in the UK. Andy again: 'This is where we really miss out being on a small label, we just don't get the same publicity or promotion. We played the Ritz recently in New York. 300 people were turned away. We had a good reception everywhere we played but none of it got back to Britain. Haircut 100 go over there and all you hear is how the Haircuts are massive because they played the Ritz and sold it out'. Martin makes a rare interruption to mention that Duran Duran sold out the Peppermint Lounge: 'It only holds about 400 people and back here it's 'Duran Duran have sell out tour'. But Depeche Mode are too nice to get bitchy - they accept that they don't get the same amount of publicity and content themselves with the belief that some bands get too much. Anyway, they don't really want it : 'I think Depeche Mode still get a lot of respect' explains Andy, 'we still get in the indie charts and that sort of thing'. Success in the Independent charts is no mean feat for a band as commercially successful as the Modes but this they put down to their own musical progression. Dave: 'We're growing up and I think our audience is growing up with us. I'm sure many of the people who will come and see us now are the ones who came to our gigs two years ago, they want us to change so that's what we're doing'.

So what of the tour? Well it kicks off on the first of October in Ireland and takes the band to England, Germany and Japan. Do the band like touring? Dave: 'It's OK but I don't like Europe much especially France. They're so unfriendly there, I'm sure it's something to do with our name (in case you don't know, Depeche Mode is a french magazine). Mind you' adds Dave thoughtfully. 'I wouldn't like to be in a band called Woman's Own over here that much!' Quite, well who would?
After 'Leave in Silence' by Bill Prince. Pictures by Eugene Adebari.

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