Interview with the band

Subway, Central Station, Stockholm; four hours before Depeche Modes concert at Globen. The train towards Gullmarsplan and Globen grinds to a halt, and twenty-something people enter the carriage second to last. Most of them are young, 17-18, and every piece of clothing they wear is either black or white. Two girls, who seem somewhat younger than the rest, also wear black hats around which they've fastened streamers reading "Violator". Everyone seems cold sober, they stand motionless, chatting in the back of the carriage; noone seems to have registered their presence. After a few minutes a boy with shaved head and bangs suddenly starts to sing - loudly and stoutly. Everyone catches on quick, and for four minutes they sing a Depeche Mode song. Word for word. A capella. Not a word seems out of place. The strange thing is that I, considering myself quite versed on Depeche Mode, don't recognize the song. Could it be a flip side? A forgotten album track? Regardless, twenty people next to me are standing here in the carriage singing it by heart, clear and sober. And the concert is still almost four hours away... Pretty much has happened with Depeche Mode since the group formed in Vince Clarkes garage in Basildon ten years ago. In those days they could rarely play for more than fifteen minutes before Vinces' mother banged on the wall, complaining about the noise. "Stop that bloody clacking! I'm trying to watch the telly! Why can't you find normal hobbies?" (quote from the Depeche Mode biography). Now, ten years later, I guess they're pretty glad they didn't find any "normal hobbies", but continued with their button-pushing. Andy Fletcher, or Fletch as everyone calls him backstage, has been a part of the band ever since that time in Vinces' mothers' garage. It was he, Martin Gore and Vince Clarke who started the band - the singer Dave Gahan didn't join them until six months later - and when the ULTRA-possee meet him in the Globen dressing-room two hours before Depeche are going on-stage, we ask him what the secret behind Depeche Modes success is. Why is it that they, despite constand setbacks, have come so far in ten years? He adjusts his glasses, and thinks a while before answering.

"If I had an answer to that I'd be very happy, because there is, of course, no patented formula for success... But I think one possible explanation is that we've always done our own thing. What we do now is exactly the same thing we did ten years ago, we've just gotten musically better. Many other bands are influenced by different timetrends, and change their styles accordingly, but we've always followed this line."

"And now, experiencing these things" he says, motioning towards the door that leads to the almost full Globen, "one mustn't forget that we've gotten where we are now by numerous tours and records during many years. Our popularity has slowly accumulated album by album. And as long as every Depeche Mode record is better than the one that preceded it, naturally it's an ideal situation."

Depeche Modes latest album - "Violator" - is in more ways than one perhaps the most brilliant pop album of the year. Five million sold copies over the world - which is more than Rolling Stones, more than Travelling Wilburys, more than practically all the artists who still are top priority amongst 35-yearold rock reviewers and radio producers. The album also brought us four hit singles - "Personal Jesus", "Enjoy the Silence" (that on its own sold over a million copies, which is more than twice what most world hits can manage these days), "Policy of Truth" and "World in My Eyes". Thus far. However, what's most impressing about "Violator" is the sound. That something so uncompromising and unique, something so spartan and peeled off - Depeche Mode have never before sounded this "plain" - still can sell this much is, whichever way you look at it - remarkable. Also, there is no other band (with the possible exception of New Order) who dare to maintain as a daring and consecutive style when it comes to videos and sleeves. The groups exterior - videos, sleeves, film clips shown on stage - is signed by the dutsch photographer and filmer Anton Corbijn.

"We have complete confidence in Anton when it comes to things like that." says Fletch. "Basically he can do what he likes, for the simple reason that we think that's how it'll turn out for the best. If too many gets their say about those things, it's easy to wind up with something bland and overcompromised. Sometimes we've wondered if Anton maybe has gone a bit too far. Dave (Gahan) was for instance very skeptical towards Antons' idea that he should dress up as a king in the video for "Enjoy the Silence", but he eventually gave in. And when you see the video, it is obvious that Anton was right. That video is like no other..."

The cooperation between Depeche mode and Anton Corbijn is also based on mutual respect. Anton likes their music just about sa much as they like his pictures. When yours truly visited Anton Corbijns studio in London a year or so ago while working on a story for Slitz, we got to talking about his collaberation with Depeche Mode. Many have wondered why Anton Corbijn, arguably the world's leading rock photographer, would choose to work with "a simple synth band like Depeche Mode". Corbijn has worked with all the greats - on his bulletin board in the studio was a telefax signed "Yours, David" (as in Bowie) and postcards from Bono - and the offers keep pouring in, but the last couple of years he's been devoting himself to Depeche Mode. While we were flicking through Corbijns fantastic photobook, he explained:

"Above all, why I like Depeche Mode is their attitude. The rock business in general is dominated by artists who are afraid of experimenting or trying new paths, but Depeche Mode are an exception. Just look at this painting I did for the "Personal Jesus"-single." he said, pointing to a grey/white, meter high oil painting leaning towards a wall in the studio. "Everyone else would have thought it a joke that I, a photographer and all, come dragging an oil painting of my own, saying I want it on the cover instead of a photo. But they just said "OK, a painting - go for it." Tehyäve also been totally with my ideas on recording in Spain, just because the light there is so beautiful." When you have such high ambitions as Anton Corbijn, it easily gets pretty pretentious - after all, this is pop sleeves we're talking about, not art exhibits - but there is always good humour in everything being produced.

"Anton is good at maintaining that balance." says Fletch. "Many people, who've never met him, think him deeply serious, seriousminded, but he can also be very funny. Sometimes you wonder who that crazy dutsch guy walking around with you really is..." The dominating colors in everything Depeche Mode does, from music to record sleeves, has always been black and white - mainly black. The Depeche Mode-song the fans in the subway chose wasn't a one-hit-wonder like "Just Can't Get Enough" (which, incidentally, the band no longer even plays live), the song was beautiful yet sad and melancholy. For them to choose that particular song says a lot on what it is with Depeche Mode that encourages the worship the band meet wherever they go in the world. If you feel lost, lonely, left out - then it isn't difficult finding in the music of Depeche Mode a mirror image of your own emotions. During Depeche Modes last tour, the tour in conncetion with the album "Black Celebration", the dark side of the groups music was more tangible. When I interviewed Dave Gahan I asked him about the title song and the line "let's have a black celebration".

"I suppose that suggestions could easily be misinterpreted, but it's not about black voodoo or anything like that. We just sing about how we feel, and the world we live in. And for me, personally, often it's the darker songs that appeal to me the most. Those are the songs that you can see yourself in. And people certainly do. When I saw Depeche Mode that time on Isstadion in 1986, I remember being next to chocked at the crowd response. People didn't just stand up and sing along to three-four of the last soings - they did it from beginning to end. And yet that was a mere whisper compared to Depeche Mode at Globen 1990. All through summer, one gigant after another had hit Sweden - Stones, Madonna, Bowie, Prince to name a few - but noone, I say NOONE, has been even close to the same audience contact that Depeche Mode had. The concert, as sold out as any could be (not even those gaping holes always there on outsold Globen-happenings were there), was by far and away the most spectacular display of crowd response I have ever witnessed. "Everything Counts" - explosion. "Enjoy the Silence" - true tears. "Master & Servant" - Globen started to roll. The lack of media coverage is pretty typical. Swedish rock reviewers still prefer guitars - figure another ten years before they accept "synth bands". Worst of the lot had to be Dagens Nyheter who, to the concert in Göteborg, sent a 50-year old reviewer who in his "review" failed to mention a single song title (he probably didn't know any) and who shat out the usual clichés on "massmeeting" and "synth-pop". This is not only poor journalism, it is also embarassing proof that those people are living in an age they know nothing about. When Dave Gahan sings about himself as "your own Personal Jesus" followed by "reach out and touch faith", the crowd response is actually strong enough to be frightening - it really is the audience's personal Jesus up there on stage - but Gahan will never be the leader everyone would "submit to". It is always (and this sounds extremely pretentious, I know) all together; it is always salvation through pop music. And in moments like that one wonders if Depeche mode is not in fact one of the world's four best pop bands. Depeche mode, New Order, Cure and Pet Shop Boys - let's face it kids - they are the leaders! We end our interview with Fletch talking about Christmas.

"Actually, I have a problem about celebrating Christmas." he says. "It's so much anticipation every Christmas that it can easily turn into one big angstridden anti-climax... But I'm going to spend a few days together with my girlfriend in a house in the countryside, and I'm looking forward to that. And usually some friend throws a good party a few days before Christmas Eve."

What happens to Depeche mode in the future, he doesn't know. The group is portrayed in the new photobook "Strangers" ("Anton has chosen some great pictures from Czhecoslovakia and USA"), but after the tour they will be taking a vacation.

"I think we need to." Fletch says. "If we're to stay this good, or hopefully even improve, we need to conserve energy for a while. That's necessary in order to get inspiration, new ideas. So there may be a couple of years before a new Depeche Mode record comes out. But we'll be back. Count on it!"

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