August 16 2003
I'd like to thank Popkomm for inviting me and I would especially like to thank Anne Berning of Mute Records, Germany, for persuading me to go through this ordeal.
The topic of Lifetime in Music is very relevant to me as I have been a member of a successful band my entire adult life.
I won't bore you with an entire history of all those years as that would take most of the day and would interest only the most die-hard of Depeche Mode fans. Instead, I thought I'd concentrate on the early years of DM and the unusual and successful relationship we have with Daniel Miller, founder of Mute records, and how I'm trying to take those things I've learnt and apply them to my new label Toast Hawaii, in particular with my first artist Client, who performed last night at Popkomm.
I am 42 years old and for nearly 24 years have been a member of Depeche Mode. During these years we've had countless hit singles and albums all over the world. We've toured extensively during that time in every continent on the planet and sold over 70 million records. For some bizarre reason we seem to be as popular now as we have ever been.
I was born in Britain and grew up in a town called Basildon in Essex, about 30 miles east of London. At the age of about eight or nine I first met Vince Clarke and, although we went to different schools, we remained friends throughout our teens. From my secondary school I got to know Martin Gore, who became and still is, one of my best friends.
We all had very different musical tastes early on but at the age of about 16 the punk explosion happened. This changed everything in music and for the first time you didn't have to do a 20 minute drum solo or play the guitar solo for Lynyrd Skynard's Freebird behind your back to be in a band. All you needed was attitude, a few ideas and to be able to play a little.
Martin and Vince had already been in various dodgy bands. I had long greasy hair and was listening to the likes of Deep Purple and Barclay James Harvest. I decided to chop off my hair and start learning bass guitar. After a while, with our newfound attitude me, Vince and Martin decided to form a band. Initially we were more like a traditional line up with Vince on guitar, Martin on keyboards and me on bass. We lacked a drummer purely because we didn't know one so we added a drum machine.
After a few local gigs - from our living rooms to youth clubs - we stumbled across Dave Gahan who came from a different part of town. He looked great, sounded great, and most importantly, he knew more people than us! He was finally persuaded that we were just about cool enough for him to be in a band with and he joined as front man and lead singer.
By now we had ditched the guitars for keyboards. We had been listening to a lot of electronic music at the time such as Kraftwerk and The Human League. The new monophonic synths were very cheap and were perfect for one-fingered keyboard playing - which was about all we could do then - and they also seemed to have endless sound alternatives.
After a quick name change at the age of about 16 or 17, Depeche Mode were born in 1979. Initially, because of Dave's connections, we were lucky to pick up a few gigs in local clubs and, thinking already that we were the best band around, decided to make a demo.
For the next year, although we were enjoying ourselves writing songs and occasionally performing, things went a little flat. No one liked the demo and we couldn't pick up any gigs outside our own area, in particular London, where everyone seemed to be and where it was all happening.
At one stage Vince and Dave caught a glimpse of Daniel Miller of Mute Records at Rough Trade while shunting the demo around. He took a quick look at them and then grunted off. This was disappointing because at this time Mute seemed very cool to us with the likes of The Normal, Silicon Teens and Fad Gadget. It was only later we found out that 2 of these bands were Daniel himself.
It was starting to get a bit depressing by now and our only offer was to dress up in a space age outfits and play electronic reggae in Africa which Vince, in a mad moment seemed keen to do. Luckily this moment of madness lapsed.
Our big break came in 1980 when we managed to get a residency at the Bridgehouse in Canning Town in east London. We started playing to about 20 people on a Monday night but soon started to pick up a modest following. Then to our delight, we were offered a chance to support Fad Gadget. This was maybe another chance to meet the ever elusive and, as we thought, grumpy Daniel Miller.
At the same time, due to our increasing popularity and the booming electronic (or as it was then called New Romantic or Futurist) scene, various record companies and agents were starting to sniff around. By the way, in 1980/81 New Romantic meant "loosely based electronic music with funny haircuts, terrible clothes and a bizarre tendency for men to wear dubious make-up." My own outfit at this enlightened time comprised of a purple woman's blouse (made by Vince's mum), cut down trousers, white football socks and bedroom slippers painted black. I thought I was the coolest of them all - apart from Dave of course, who looked cool in just about anything.
The Fad Gadget gig went well and afterwards Daniel came backstage and said he liked out performance. We were shocked at his appearance - he was wearing NORMAL clothes - but we put that aside when he said he might be interested in working with us in some way. This is how the famous relationship between Depeche Mode and Mute began.
The first fruits of this came when Daniel helped us out in the studio for a track that was to be on a compilation album call "Some Bizarre." The track was "Photographic." The album of new artistes also included groups such as Soft Cell, The The, Blancmange and many others who went on to become stars. We were very fortunate that John Peel from Radio One chose our track to feature on his radio show.
Daniel was keen to work with us at this stage but somehow, despite our dodgy clothes, we had become one of the hottest unsigned bands in the country and were pursued by most of the big record companies in the UK and even the US, offering us heaps of money.
To put things into context we were now gigging in London and various other parts of the country but most of us still had day jobs; Martin in a bank, me in an insurance company, Dave at fashion college and Vince generally unemployed but sometimes working in a yoghurt factory.
We seemed to be going in the right direction. We had a decent bunch of songs and were gaining a decent following. But we had no manager and were being pressed to make a decision on what to do next.
We finally decided not to go the money route and pledged ourselves to Mute. Daniel was not offering any money. He was a small indie with only one person helping him out. The deal meant: no contract, 50/50 partnership sharing the costs and the profits, and, if we didn't get on, then each side could pull out of the deal. It was basically a deal made out of trust.
Why we made the decision I do not know, as most artistes would have taken the money offered. We were not wealthy at all but in the end, out of everyone we had met, Daniel seemed to be the most honest.
We still didn't believe we could be successful but we were having a great time playing gigs and were about to realise our ambition of going into a studio to record and release our first single.
In Blackwing Studios in South London we made "Dreaming of Me" which, to our shock, reached no.44 in the UK charts and, more importantly to Mute, and us it was the No.1 indie record of the year 1981.
We immediately started work on an album, which would consist mainly of songs we had been performing for the past year and a half. I still remember these sessions vividly. We were young and naïve but the buzz of making an LP was incredible.
The album was to be called "Speak and Spell" and the cover which was basically a swan stuffed in a plastic bag must still rate as one of our worst covers ever. Before it was released we put out our second single "New Life" which became our first UK top 20 hit, peaking at no.11 and amazingly we were offered Top of the Pops.
We were still living at home and, because Mute were an indie, there was no budget for limos. Therefore, for the show we travelled on the train from Basildon then took the tube to the BBC television centre where the security didn't believe we were in a band. We were eventually allowed in and performed. The next day I received a standing ovation at work. It was all becoming very surreal.
With the money we were getting from our gigs and the few royalties already coming in, we were now able to give up our day jobs. Unfortunately, it would seem that my efforts at work were not well appreciated as they never replaced me and, for several years, my colleagues kept a full-size cardboard cut-out of me on my old seat.
We had now decided to manage ourselves even though things were starting to get a bit crazy. Our third single "Just Can't Get Enough" had been released and it became our first international hit.
The relationship with Daniel and Mute was now reaping dividends. He produced our records and was involved in everything we did - including driving us on our first European tour. Thank god he soon gave this up! Rumours were circulating in the industry that because of our unusual deal our royalty rate was better than even Paul McCartney. Mind you, I would have swapped Mr McCartney's royalties for mine any day.
We were learning very quickly about every aspect of the record industry. Dan always encouraged us in this and this was to be the case throughout our career.
Unfortunately, after the release of the first album, and having just played the London Lyceum, Vince announced that he wanted to leave the band. We took this in our stride and Martin took on the full mantle of song writing. Initially Vince had said that he would continue writing for us, but when he played one of his new songs to us we said it was rubbish. Sadly the song was "Only You" which, with Yazoo, became one of the biggest hits of the decade!
To replace Vince, we took out an advert in the NME stating, "electronic band requires new keyboard player. Must be under 21. Alan Wilder was to become the new member of Depeche Mode and it was only after we had taken him on that he sheepishly admitted that he had lied about his age and was, in fact 22. Our career since then has been a spectacular ride. I still look back and wonder whether it was all a dream.
The next two albums "A Broken Frame" and "Construction Time Again" consolidated our career although, by the mid eighties, electronic music was considered by many to be pass. We struggled a little to keep our credibility but we stuck to our guns, believing that this was where music was leading.
Martin's song writing was, by now, much more confident and Dave was growing in stature as a front man. Our experience recording in Berlin had toughened up our image and we were now dressing in our trademark black. "Some Great Reward" released in 1984 saw us making headway all over the world, including our first no.1 in any major country - "People are People" in Germany.
Our international success has always been very important to us. Unlike most modern British bands, we've always felt our music has been more appreciated abroad and, because of this, we have recorded most of our records in Europe or America, in cities not only such as Berlin but also Hamburg, Paris, Madrid, Milan and New York.
The next 3 records, "Black Celebration", "Music For the Masses" and finally "Violator" established us as one of the biggest bands in the world with a live following that was both huge and fanatical. Violator was especially a highlight, probably finding Depeche at it's creative peak in terms of quality of songs and sound.
Around this time we started working with Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn who has since gone on to mastermind our image with photos, record covers, video and live show design.
Another great highlight of this period was the sold out show at the Rosebowl in Pasadena, California, 1988 which became one of the starting points of modern alternative rock in the States. This concert was famously filmed by legendary filmmaker D.A Pennebaker and released as the movie "101" It is about to be released in an updated DVD format.
"Songs of Faith and Devotion" will be remembered as a great album but at the time it was the start of many emotional and personal problems for all members of the band. The tour after this album was the longest we have ever undertaken, with around 180 gigs lasting one-and-a-half- years and unfortunately this took its toll.
Alan quit the band shortly after and it was the first time that I thought perhaps Depeche Mode would finish.
As a 3-piece again, and finally appointing a manager, Jonathan Kessler, we started to record "Ultra" which we thought might never be completed. But, we managed to pull things together and, in the end, the success of the album and the tour a couple of years later, proved that we were very much on song. We continued with "Exciter" where, in my opinion, Martin's songs and Dave's voice have never sounded better. The subsequent tour sold out faster than any previous Depeche tour.
As you can see, our careers in Depeche Mode have been staggering. Most artistes last for a few years at the most and we have now been going for nearly 24 years which we can extend if we choose to. I think there are several reasons for this: there has always been an electricity within the band where all our good and bad traits seem to complement each other, we had a vision where music was heading and our many live performances from small clubs to big stadiums have earned us a great reputation. Perhaps the main two reasons are firstly, we have been lucky to have had two great songwriters in the group - Vince Clarke and Martin Gore - and good songs for me are the key for success and secondly our relationship with Mute Records.
The partnership has carried on all these years. Mute is now a big record company and Depeche are one of the biggest bands in the world. The relationship, I believe, has allowed us to naturally grow and evolve our music and our career over many years. We have never been told how our music should sound and we haven't had commercial pressure thrust down on us. In fact, I believe that if we had chosen the path of a major record company I would not be here talking to you today.
This brings us to the current time, August 2003. What are Depeche Mode up to now. Well, after the last tour we decided that we must take a break. These days we all have families and other commitments, which stop us working at the same pace as we did during the eighties and nineties.
Despite this, we have all been very busy. Martin has recorded and released his second album of covers entitled "Counterfeit²" and went off on a short, successful solo tour.
Dave has just recorded his first album of his own songs, which have been well received, and is on a tour of Europe and the US.
I decided to do something that I have been thinking about over the last 10 years or so. Setting up my own record company. Up till now, with Depeche working almost constantly, it has been difficult finding the right artist in the short breaks I've had.
On our Exciter tour, a duo called Technique played on a handful of our shows in Europe. After the tour they decided to form a new group called Client. I kept bumping into them in my local pub and they gave me their latest demos. When I listened to them at home I got very excited. The songs and the sound were very fresh and had a certain edge. The relationship developed to such an extent that I was desperate we should release it somehow.
It was at this point last year that I decided to form my new record company Toast Hawaii. I also decided that the best way forward was to work in the same way as the Mute/Depeche relationship. Client and Toast Hawaii are a partnership sharing the costs and the profit. I'm involved in every aspect of their career and encourage them to be a part of any decision relating to every aspect of the project.
We are just about to release the album which was recorded at home for just £12000. This was achieved by embracing all the new technology available in home recording. We are conscious that, in today's record climate, costs need to be strictly limited and income has to be sought in many different ways, other than record sales. Client write their own songs, make records, DJ, remix, play live and design their own merchandise. We are confident that, even though they might not become superstars, they can remain pretty cool and make a decent living in today's sluggish record environment.
A lot of record company types tell me that because of the internet and CD copying, record sales are falling fast. This is a complicated issue and, to a certain extent it's true, but unfortunately, at moment, music just isn't particularly exciting enough to get kids rushing into the record stores. The excitement of the Harry Potter book launch hasn't happened too much in the record industry in the last 10 years or so. Toast Hawaii aims, in a small way at least, to change this.
Both Depeche Mode and Client fully embrace the net. It is a great forum for establishing worldwide fan bases and Client were able to start their own website from scratch before the 1st single "Price of Love" had ever been released, and create their own style and image.
I realise that CD copying is inevitable but if this happens to you at least it gives you a signal that you are becoming popular. And, as I've already pointed out, Client don't need to sell as many records due to their control of the costs.
At the moment I am enjoying my role as a record company supremo, allthough I don't think I'm going to be the next Richard Branson or even Daniel Miller! As you may have heard last night, I've also added D.J'ing to the new things I am doing at the moment, playing mostly classic and modern electro. And although I may not be a great technical DJ, I'm playing good songs that people want to hear. Together with this and Toast Hawaii means that I get to listen to tons of music, which can't be bad. The feeling that I have with Client and Toast Hawaii at the moment reminds me of the excitement I spoke of in the early Depeche years.
I am looking forward to the end of this year and the next, and I hope to be involved in a new Depeche CD and a second Client CD plus any other exciting projects that may come my way.
Martin is starting writing this September and hopefully, when Dave has recovered from his tour, recording can start sometime next year.
Client will be performing and promoting their debut CD until the end of the year when work will start on a follow up which, we are aware, has to be even better.
For any budding songwriters or musicians out there, it must get very frustrating with the way that record companies are cutting back on new music, and with the media's obsession on just a few superstar acts that come and go very quickly.
I believe there is a great opportunity at the moment to do more and more things yourself. As I've already said, tools such as new cheap recording technology, great new computer programmes for song writing, and the internet, where you can create your own website and even have the possibility of selling your new material.
Music is still as wonderful a medium as it has ever been. Record companies are failing to invest in long-term careers thus filling the charts with superficial crap.
As you can see, I have been blessed with my lifetime in music.
I'm sorry I've given you the clean version today; perhaps next time I'll give you the x-rated one.