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 Depeche Mode.

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 instance ?

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 exactly ?

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 for it.

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 everyone.

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...

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