words: René Passet

It's been almost three years since their Songs About Faith And Devotion. Three years in which one of the bandmembers left and singer David Gahan balanced between live & death, between needle and fix.
Clean for nine months now, Gahan is eager to prove he has stepped out of the dark alleys, away from staring at The Barrel Of A Gun. Ultra, their new album proves just that. It's their best album since Black Celebration.

But no doubt you can read all about the new album and Dave's addiction in just about every popmagazine between here and Holland in the next few months. So I decided not to ask them the obvious questions, but instead focus on their influence on modern dancemusic, such as house, techno and trip hop. Important dancemusic-artists such as Derrick May, Carl Craig and Underworld all namedrop Depeche Mode as being highly influencial.

"I remember hearing Lie To Me for the first time. It completely blew my mind", remembers Detroit technopioneer Carl Craig, when asked about Depeche Mode. "Together with bands like Yazoo & Visage, Depeche Mode had a major impact on a lot of the technoguys here.".

What do Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher from Depeche Mode (with whom I get to speak in the famous Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam) think of the fact they played a role in the development of techno & house?

"I think it's a testament to the diversity in our music over the years, that we are cited by technopeople, by housepeople and by industrial people" replies Martin.
"We had a lot of different elements in our music. I think the most important thing for the techno- and housepeople was the way we made music. The fact we were an electronic band and one of the earlier Ones."
Andy continues: "The programming and the whole aspects of the way we work in a studio. Using anything, not being limited to standard rock limitations. No rules at all."

But despite their unorthodox approach of making music, Depeche Mode slowly but surely became rockstars', performing in big stadiums and touring the world for months and months. How different are things in the dancemusic-scene. There simply are no real dance-popstars, no fanclubs devoted to dance-artists. Instead, young bedlamproducers pop out records on independent recordlabels and remain relatively anonymous, despite having clubhits and big recordsales.
"The dancescene has always been like that, hasn't it? I think that's one of the main reasons recordcompanies find it very hard to market dancemusic, because it is very faceless."

Q: And it's mostly instrumental, trackbased music. While you write actual songs.
Martin: "Yeah. Some danceartists might have hit singles, but that doesn't translate very well into albumsales."

Q: There are a few exeptions nowadays, one of them being Underworld, who remixed your Barrel Of A Gun-single.
Andy: "There is music for dancefloors and music for at home. The art is to make music that appeals to both. Which you can play on the dancefloor and can, sort of, play at home as well. Some of the dancemusic doesn't sound as good on a home hi-fi, without the atmosphere (of a club)."

Q: You were one of the first popbands who released housemixes, back in 89. But you didn't really prolong that by asking famous remixers. Instead you often worked with the same remixers, like Francois Kevorkian.

Martin: "I think at the time we had a few houseremixes done, it was an interesting area in music. But for me house now is very old and stale. It hasn't moved on to much. We get a lot of pressure this time, to get a houseremix done for our next single."

Andy: "And for the last single. We also got a lot of pressure. We just got back the dj-reports from England and America. Of course they all loved the Underworld Hard mix. The most liberal dj's, that is. But the average Tracy and Sharon', who go to the local disco, dance to housemusic. They don't dance to our Plastikman-remix, or even the One Inch Punch-remix. It's just not housey enough for them. So we get a lot of pressure, especially from America, to ask Todd Terry or whoever (Martin gigles). Along those lines...U 2 has got Morales (David Morales, rp), haven't they? I'm not big on remixes. I like Todd Terry but David Morales for me is a total no-go."

Martin: "This is our liberal member of the band by the way. He'd have Todd Terry."

Andy: "He does good mixes. He's one of the best."

Martin: "But for me, I just think we should stay clear of house remixes. I'm not totally up on the scene, but for me it doesn't seem to have moved on at all. It really sounds dated."

Q: Do you think so?!

Martin: "Yes, to me it sounds dated. There are a lot more interesting things happening in the triphop-field and the technofield."

Q: Like Richie Hawtin?

Martin: "I think the Richie Hawtin-remix of Painkiller is really inovative. I even prefer it to our original version. Because the original idea for that song was for it to be quite soothing. That's why it was called Painkiller. But our version ended up being quite hard. It's a bit too bombastic. Richie Hawtin stripped it down and took it back to how it was intented, when it was a demo."

Q: Are you in control, if it comes to asking remixers?

Andy: "It's our choice. And the record company and various other people suggest names. The battle is obviously..., they want to cover as many dancefield as possible. That's really the reason you do it anyway. Our thing is to get music we like. Artists we like to remix. We've got dj Shadow to do a remix of Painkiller. But it came back and it was total samples galore. It's all over the place. It's unusable."

Martin: "He even used about half a verse from an old R&B song, hapening over the top of it."

Q: It's unusable because you have to clear all these samples?

Andy: "Yeah. We refused it first, but now Mute will try to clear all the samples. And if that succeeds, we might put it on a future mix. Perhaps."

Q: How is the remix?

Martin: "The mix is good."

Andy: "It's frustrating sometimes. When the Underworld-mix came back, it came in two mixes. Tim, who had allready listened to it, said the second one was brilliant. So we listened to the Soft Mix, which was the first mix. We thought: this is really great! The second one must be amazing!' But then it starts of, it lasts for about ten minutes and there is not one recognisable bit of the song in there. And no vocals."

Martin: "Originally it had no vocals, ha ha ha!"

Andy: "So I went to Tim and said: It is really good, but it has got noting of the song in it.' He replied: well, that's the way it is done nowadays'. But we didn't think it was right so we had a discussion. We sent the remix back and Underworld added some vocals, as a compromise. But it's very funny how it worked. I'm still not sure about it. But it's a good mix in the end. But I like the soft mix more (Martin nods)."

Martin: "The original version of Barrel Of A Gun was about 83 beats per minute. When we received the Hard Mix back from them, we were sitting there thinking: what relevance does this speed bare to ours. Is it double the speed?' And we timed it and it turned out to be about 148 bpm! When I rang them up and spoke to them, I asked: Is there any change you can fly some vocals in? Just so it has some relevance. Because there's not one sound of the original version on there'. And they said: well, were not quite sure how that works, because the speed is different and I think it's in a different key', ha ha ha ha! Different key, different speed, different song!"

Q: Did you actually got to meet Underworld?

Martin: "No.."

Q: Isn't that strange, to leave your songs in the hands of people you have never met.

Martin: "That's the way it always works really. There are very few occasions where the person who is remixing your track is actually in the same complex as you. We have done that in the past, booked two studios in the same complex. Then we could pop out when we had a break and to go and see how the remix was doing."

Q: You mentioned trip hop and techno as interesting fields in dance. Which artists would you like to ask for a remixjob in the future?

Martin: "Ehm, well....We allready got Andrea Parker (of Mo Wax fame, rp) doing a remix for the next single....I can't remember now. We had this list....It was a question of who had time avaiable and who not. For our deadlines."

Andy: "Mad Professor."

Martin: "Mad Professor is doing one, no two mixes actually. He's remixing Slowblow and the next single. That should be quite interesting."

Andy: "What are the Americans getting, Martin?"

Martin: "Ehm..because of this housepressure that we've been under, I think BT (Brian Transeau, rp) having a go. I think he's doing a remix on spec. If we don't like it, we don't have to use it."

Andy: "We don't have to use anything, do we?"

Martin: "I think everybody's doing mixes for us on spec. That's one of the advantages of being on an upcurve. When everybody likes you, everyone's prepared to work for nothing. Or, not for nothing. But just have a go at a mix, just on the hope that you'll like it."

Andy: "One thing about the differences between No Good and Barrel, Barrel is a really good song to get a remix for. It's a bit harder. It's No Good is more of a poptune. So it should be interesting what people come up with."

Q: Is it true you swapped Barrel Of A Gun and It's No Good as being first single?

Martin: "Yeah, it's flipped."

Andy: "We thought it was good to come back with a harder track. It's quite weird because people expect it to be sort of representative for the album. But it's not a hard album, it's quite mellow."

Q: Like I stated earlier, a lot of danceproducers admit to be inspired by your work. Does it work the other way around? Does techno and triphop inspire you too? Because I can't really hear that on your albums

Andy: "I think all the music you hear inspires you in some way. Take Martin, he goes out to clubs, listens to techno and dances to house. But that doesn't mean that when he comes home, he starts writing a housetrack."

Martin: "The influences on the album are really diverse. A track like The Bottom Line is a country track. Even when the demo was finished, the way the words roll have this country loop to it. So we got the idea to get this pedal steelplayer to enhance that. But at the same time there's all other influences going on. We use Jaki Liebezeit from Can, who plays percussion on that track. And there are some vibes going on that gives you this bizarre loungefeel as well. We throw all these influences, that we like, into the blender and it comes out as this strange hybrid at the end, that somehow is able to be called Depeche Mode, he he."

Q: But that also has to do with the fact you write the songs. It always has a Martin Gore-stamp on it.

Martin: "I think the essence of Depeche Mode is my songs and Dave's voice. His voice is really important because it is so distinctive."

Andy: "And he's got a great tone as well. And he doesn't sound like anyone else, which I think is one of the secrets of a good frontman, a good singer. If you think at David Bowie, Brian Ferry, Dave.."

Martin: "Mick Jagger"

Andy: "They sound totally originally. People might try to imitate them but they are original in their sound."

Q: What I find funny, is that you still write your songs on a guitar. Allthough you are an electronic band.

Martin: "I usually start with an acoustic guitar or at a piano, just to get the basic chordstructure, and vocal melody and words. I like to make sure that there is some basis to a song. Before they move on to a computer and electronics. Because if you start working with a computer and banks of synthesizers, I think it becomes very easy to fool yourself that the song is great. While the song is not great at all, it's just a few great sounds that you've got going.

Q: How do you work in the studio? I read in the linernotes of the album other people are now programming the synthesizers and computers.

Andy: "It just saves you time basically. Tim (Simenon, rp) has got a team of people. There is Kerry Hopwood, who is the programmer, a musician Dave Clayton and the engineer Q. And there is Tim.

Rob and Martin are doing the programming, Kerry is a professional programmer, so he's very quick. And he's got lots of good idea's."

Q: But doesn't this takes something away of the creative process?

Martin (stresses): "No!."

Andy: "Were still in control of what is happening. They do not take over."

Martin: " of our members left last year...."

Q: I know, Alan Wilder.

Martin: ..."So it was important for us to fill his shoes. I think that Tim and his team helped to fulfill that role. The musicians in Tim's team were very important. Because Alan was always the so-called musician in Depeche Mode. The classical trained one."

Q: The so-called' or was he the musician?

Martin: "Well, you's a fine line. What's a musician? I can play a guitar and I can play keyboards, but I was never clasically trained."

Andy: "He can read musicscores as well."

Martin: "I never had any music theory, I just know what sounds good and what moves me when I write it, when I try out things. So this was a totally different way of working for us. Very enjoyable. Because all the people involved were very nice peope. There was an easy going atmosphere in the studio, which hasn't been there necessarily in the past."

Q: How did you get to meet Tim Simenon? I know he did a few earlier mixes for Depeche Mode...

Andy: "We've known him for quite a while. He has always been a big fan of us and we knew him anyway. Like you said he did some remixes. We considered him for the last album, his name came up. Daniel Miller suggested him for this album. So we met him and got on really well.

We had a really good time together, even though we had problems with Dave. After the album Tim suffered from what is known as P.A.D.: Post Album Depression."

Q: You ve been there yourself?

Andy: "Well, we go on when the album is finished. We take on the projects, do interviews and so. But he's been involved in this project for over a year. And suddenly it stops because he has finished his bit." Martin: "We've decided this time, because of the way the demo's had turned out, that we really wanted to bring out a more rhythmic feel to the album." Andy: "Even if it's slow, we wanted to empasise the rhythmic end." Martin: "Tim seemed to be a natural choice for that. We had worked with him in the past."

Andy: "And he is the coolest man in the world as well. He knows how to get access to all the clubs."

Martin: "Untill he met us, ha ha! We just did Top of the Pops..." With Anton Corbijn on drums!

Martin: "And Tim on keyboards. Just before we got on stage I said to Tim: you realise that you now become among the ranks of the uncool, being seen on stage with us', ha ha ha!"

Q: What was his reaction?

Martin: "I think he got really nervous, ha ha!"

Andy: "Anton is taking it really seriously. He told me he's been the happiest he has been in the last ten years. He's got his drumkit and he's practising. And he's drumming on stage with us. (Martin grinnikt)." But didn't he allready became the hidden member of the group over the last years?

Martin: "Yeah, we've been working with him now for eleven years. At first he was only involved in the videoside. But then we gave him control of all of our sleeves. And on the last tour he actually even designed the whole stage-set. So he's pretty much in control of our visual output."

Andy: "He even buys me clothes and tells me to wear them!"

Q: You're kidding!

Andy: "No. And he's got the worst taste in the world."

Martin: "We are getting becoming slighty worried about our new videoclip. We haven't seen the full script yet and we are worried that it will focus on the drummer for about 99 procent. Ha ha ha!"

Q: How will you promote this album, apart from videoclips. Will you go on tour again? I understand David is a bit reluctant in that.

Andy: "It's not just David, it's all of us. We just want to make sure....Dave is still at a tender time of his recovery. And we don't want to put too much pressure on him. Touring puts a lot of pressure on him, it takes a lot of time. We just want to enjoy this year, promote the album, have a succesfull album and say we enjoyed ourselves."

Q: But there will not be any on/off gigs?

Andy: "There's a rumour we might do a few launchparties for the album. Play three or four songs."

Martin: "But were not even sure about that yet."

Andy: "We love touring. But you've got to be really fit, mentally and physically. And you've got to be 100 procent in the idea behind it. You have to got a goal. We haven't really got a goal to be touring. It's too soon after the last tour. It's the circus that goes on, and for Dave it wouldn't happen, it would be bad for him."

Q: I know about Dave's problems but I didn't want to bother you with more questions about this worn subject

Martin: "That's good. David is getting really bored now."

Andy: "It's just important when you ask questions about, for instance, touring. It has to come out that Dave is in recovery-stage."

Q: The only thing that is new is the fact he's now talking about it

Andy: "The NME article in particular, he was gonna do that article somehow. He didn't understand what he was doing, but he had to get it off his chest. Allthough he now doesn't want journalists to talk about it, it is a bit hard, because journalists have seen that he has talked about it. And it's part of him."

Martin (willing to change the subject): "The last project with the Songs of Faith & Devotion-album took about three years in total. The recording, together with the tour. And that is such a large chunk out of your live. None of us want to do that this time. Even if Dave hadn't been through what he has been over the last year I think we would still be considering wheater it was the right thing to do."

Andy: "Our children are getting to the age now when being away for that sort of time is dangerous. We always had longtime girlfriends, on the last tour the children.....Martin's youngest was two or something. Mine was one or two. Then they don't really notice you are not at home. But now they really start to miss you."

Q: Were do you live now?

Andy: "Martin and I live just outside London. Dave has now moved to New York, which for us is better. I think New York is better than Los Angeles." You've recorded part of the album in New York

Andy: "Yeah, that was brilliant fun, that was."

Martin: "Even though we didn't get a lot done. It is really nice spending a long time in one city, as oposed to flying in and out in a day, which we did most of the time."

Andy: "I really do love New York."

Q: Did the atmosphere of the Big Apple has it's reflections on the album?

Martin: "I hope not, otherwise it would have been a housealbum, ha ha ha! We went out quite a lot. House is so big in New York! We went to the Tunnel, where Junior Vasquez dj'ed. He was the king of the Tunnel."

Andy: "I remember when I went with friends to hear David Morales play in his own club, about six years ago, that the crowd in the club was 99 procent black people. It was in the worst area of town and it was literally scary. I was there with Russel Keation and I decided to leave. When I halted a taxi, the cabdriver asked me: what are you doing in this street?! You are so lucky I came along! This is one of the worst streets for white people, in the whole of New York!' "

Martin: "You only have to stroll a couple of streets the wrong way and you're in a really bad neighboorhood."

Andy: "We're lucky here in Europe, because our music is very mixed. American music is totally segregated. Blacks like black music, whites like white music, generally. It's really odd. But in England we just had an Indian record that made it to the charts. It was a huge hit over here."

Martin: "Talvin Singh (of Future Sound Of India, rp) has just done a remix for us."

Andy: "That mixture of cultures is good. Sometimes in America the segregation is a bit frustrating."

Martin: "We played in Chrystal Palace in London on the last tour and Dub Syndicate supported us. Talvin was playing tablas for us there." Andy: "When we actually went to Detroit back in 1990, Derrick May took us to the Music Institute (a legendary, no defunct technoclub, rp). We walked in and it was completely black people. But they were the most beautifull people we'd ever seen."

Martin: "They all looked like filmstars."

Andy: "Well dressed, handsome men and beautifull women. There were no drugs at all, not even alcohol. And they all wanted our autographs!"

Martin: "We thought, we're gonna have a really good time here! So we walked up to the bar and ordered twelve beers. Turned out they only served juice! Ha ha ha!"

Andy: "But downtown Detroit was desolate, that is the apropriate word for it. Absolutely empty. Empty houses, massive houses and big avenues." That's why the music that comes from Detroit is so abstract Andy: "Yeah. Everyone has fled the city, to the suburbs."

"Being in Detroit was one of the most amazing memories about being in Depeche Mode. Suddenly you feel you hit an almost alien social group, that you'd never expect to like our records."

Q: How do you handle being famous? Can you still walk down a street without being bothered?

Andy: "Not in downtown-Detroit, ha ha ha! No, we're actually very lucky. We made the decision from the start of our career to never put our pictures on the sleeves of our records."

Martin: "I think we've gone against that quite a few times over the last years."

Andy: "Yes, but generally though.....In England we can still walk around, mostly all the time, and not get one bit of hassle. But take a guy like Liam Galagher, who's got about thirty people outside his house." Martin: "We never talked to the tabloid press. The moment you do that, you're setting yourself up to be followed."

Q: Maybe the fans of Depeche Mode differ somewhat from Oasis fans?

Andy: "Well, they are so famous. Everyone's mam & dad knows them. Even grandmother would recognise him. They're every week in every paper. One at eight people have bought their record in England, which is an incredible amount of records. We're just on a different level and I think it's good. A band like Duran Duran, allthough they don't make records anymore, are more likely to be recognised on the street than we would. Cause they are celebreties."

Martin: "In an abstract way we were on the 101 albumcover. Allthough you saw pictures of T-shirts and merchandising, the faces were there. And on Songs Of Faith & Devotion again our faces were in an abstract way visible. And on Barrel and the next single our faces will be on the cover." I understand that was also Anton Corbijn's idea. He wanted to give your music a more human feel

Andy: "He's trying to get our personalities across, yes. And it might be nice to have a bit adulation now and then, ha ha!"

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