Backstage (Belgian pop/rock/alternative magazine), April 1988,
The Jagger Reports, by Chris Jagger (Backstage)
Interview with Alan Wilder
Most critics only seem to be interested in old blues artists, has beens and
dissapeared rock & roll legends. So it's about time "for something completely
different" in our legendary series : an interview with Depeche Mode !
These keyboardwizzards are undoubtedly the black sheep of the rockpress and
the major labels. David Gahan, Martin Gore, Alan Wilder and Andrew Fletcher
know however to "stumm" them with their most recent European tour which was
completely sold out. At first I only attended one of their gigs to be able
to tell everyone I was there too... It turned out however to an interview
with Alan Wilder, who I knew from 4 years ago, before he was a member of
Backstage: I can see you have a Steinway Grand Piano in your living room here.
Are you maybe planning to tour solo in the near furture ?
Alan Wilder: No not really. I just started to study some of our old
compositions again. Really interesting, but damn hard work. I started
pianolessons when I was 8. That education gave me a good background in my
carreer in the popbiz. So notwithstanding all mordern hi-tech synth stuff
I still enjoy playing a good piano a lot.
Backstage: Do you compose also ?
Alan Wilder: Sure ! I absolutely love Mahler and composers like Philip Glass,
who move along between popular and classic music.
Backstage: And the older electronic "Music Concrete" ? Edgar Varese for
Alan Wilder: To be honest before I joined Depeche Mode, I didn't know the
first thing about electronic music. It was Daniel Miller, the boss of our
label, Mute Records, who showed me around the electronic scene and let me
hear bands like Kraftwerk for the first time. Daniel is for that matter
also a great keyboard player.
Backstage: What was your first synth ?
Alan Wilder: A mini-Moog, a better instrument than most of the recent stuff.
We still use it for certain bassparts...
Backstage: How did you end then up with Depeche Mode ?
Alan Wilder: I answered an ad they placed in Melody Maker.
Backstage: Typical, you had to audition of course ?
Alan Wilder: Yes, the band was in a kinda strange period at that time. They
were young and successfull, were hardly one year together and had already
scored a few big hits. Vince Clark, their song writer left the band and the
rockpress started shouting "The End of Depeche Mode" immediatly. This
worked however very stimulating and Martin decided to take over the song
writing from then on, but they still needed someone to play synth on tour.
So in my first year with Depeche Mode, I was only an employee, only later
I became a full member.
Backstage: Why do you think they choose you out of, I bet a load of others ?
Alan Wilder : At the audition almost all the people who showed up were fans,
and I think my nonchalance was greatly appreciated by Dave, Andrew and Martin.
Besides I could play along with them immediatly. Martin is all right, however
i was kinda reserved towards their working method. At a certain time I
demanded more voice. Lucky I was concidered as a full member from then on,
otherwise I would have left them after only a few months.
Backstage: From hearing, it's really hard to determine who is playing what
Alan Wilder: Oh, we don't pay attention to that at all ! It's not of any
importance to us nor to the public. Because of our line-up, without a drummer,
we try to play as much as possible live. It doesn't matter how that
exactly happens. I take the real slavery on me. I convert the multitrack
drumparts to 8-track and reform the structure of the songs completely after the
recording, in a way they come over live as well. I divide all important
melodies among Martin and myself, so we don't have to program anything for
those. Most of the time we use an E-Max Emulator. We split the keyboard in
six parts so we can play 6 sounds at one time. So each tour asks for a lot
of preparation, but once that's finished everything works out fine. All
percusions are also triggered with the E-Max. We never experienced any
technical problems during a concert yet, but that can always happen. Because
of that we always take a backup, because the harddisk might always go down
by overheating. Most of the backup synthparts are also prepared on tape and
also for those we have a backup, just in case...
Backstage: You guys look to be commited to technologie. Is it possible to,
during a show, completely change the set or change versions of the songs ?
Alan Wilder: We have an alternative set which we play if we give more than
one concert in the same place. In that 2nd set we have a lot more room
to change, experiment or make the songs much longer if the atmosphere demands
Backstage: For whoever wants to buy a new synth the marked is flooded these
days, what would you advise to someone who wants to buy a synth today ?
Alan Wilder: For a lot of synths you can say : appearances are deceptive.
When you play them at first the sounds look imposing. But after a while
you find out you can't really do a lot with them. You are stuck with a
hand full of factorysounds. It's much better to buy a good, but not to
complicated analogue synth with wich you can make your own sounds. A
sampler can be a good sollution too. In any way, you have to have the
possibility to be creative with the sounds. For people who don't want to
play in a band imediatly the fall in prices of recordingmaterial is very
interesting. In little time a home 8-track recorder will be afordable for
Backstage: What are your oppinions towards sampling ?
Alan Wilder: Positive without any doubt. With a sampler you can get sublime
sounds in an easy way. Every time, before we start recording, we spend a
day or 4 to work on or add sounds to our library. Sometimes we even go out
with some mikes and a portable recorder to, for instance, record some weird
sounds at a rubbish-dump. Later in the studio we try out wich sounds match
best with wich songs. Within the group we experiment a lot with samplers and
I must say some sounds bring inspiration to melodies sometimes. Sampling
has in many ways something "vampire-ish". You suck up what you need and
throw the rest, the body, away. It's refreshing to hear the Beasty Boys
sample Led Zeppelin. A playful imitation is always the healthiest way of
copying. To conclude, the main argument against electronics is that it
destroys all emotional input. In some cases that might be so, but electronics
gives you on the other hand such liberty that you can lead your creativity
into other/better channels. The possibilities are there, and it's up to
the musician to fully use them...