Since the 1981 release of Depeche Mode's debut, Speak & Spell, leather-clad electro tarts Dave Gahan (vocals), Martin Gore (keyboards, guitar, vocals) and Andrew Fletcher (whose real musical role in the group is somewhat of a mystery, though he's often credited as a keyboard player) carved a path through history via synth. pop sounds that waver between buoyant, dance floor fodder and dark romanticism. Coming together on the heels of the U.K. punk explosion of the late '70s came as a blessing and a curse for the forward-thinking electro-pop pioneers. At the time of their emergence their sound was completely alien to the rock-afflicted masses, but when they hit the states a few years later they were selling out venues as large as the Rose Bowl.
Over the years they've lost and gained members, but Gahan, Gore and Fletcher have carried on. With their latest release, Sounds of the Universe, they've tempered the bombast of their more recent years with a return to old-school form that culminates in yet a new direction in what has become a truly timeless sound.
Chad Radford: So what exactly do you do in Depeche Mode? There's a scene in the film 101 where you say David is the Singer, Martin writes the songs "
Andrew Fletcher: ' and I just kind of bum around.' That's the scene, right?
Yes, but I suspect that you do more than just kind of bum around.
Right. Well, that is pretty much all that I do. One thing to remember about a group is that there is electricity that keeps it all together, especially a group like Depeche Mode. Not everybody can be Dave Gahan or Martin Gore. Im the man in the background. Initially -- the first 13-15 years that we were around we never had a manager and I used to take care of that side of things. So yeah, Im just kind of the man in the background and thats what I like to be.
Would you say that you are the guy behind the curtain, pulling the strings?
Im not so sure about that (laughs). I try to anyway.
Did your role change when Alan Wilder left the group after Songs of Faith and Devotion? You went from a four-piece to a three-piece, so I assume that someone had to pick up the slack.
No, not really. Alan was a very great musician, and we did sort of replace him with people in the studio and people on the stage. But I feel that my role has largely been the same through it all. Although we do have a manager now, so Im not so involved with all of that stuff any more, but apart from that no. My role hasnt really changed. Weve sort of been Well... Were very lucky in that we all come from the same town and have the same sense of humor, and unlike some bands who have been touring for almost 30 years we dont absolutely hate each other. And really, we had been a three-piece before Alan was in the group as well, at least for a time. But it doesnt really matter all that much though. The way we make music is primarily in the studio. We are primarily an electronic-based band, so for us its all about layering sound and creating the best atmosphere for the songs that have been written outside of the studio. Weve been working with some great producers as well, so its not really a problem. Weve got a couple of guys on stage, a drummer and so forth, so weve kind of replaced him like that. But it was quite a shock when Alan left the band, mainly because it was totally unexpected. But when it happened we had no qualms about wanting to carry on as Depeche Mode.
And Alan went on to do Recoil.
Right, he went off to do Recoil and we havent really seen him since.
You haven't seen him at all since then?
No, not really at all. But he always was a bit of a loner and he lives out in the countryside of Britain somewhere, so we just never get to see him.
Since then you've gone through some specific phases. I tend to think of Sounds of the Universe as being not quite as bombastic as Playing the Angle, but not as delicate as Exciter Its somewhere in between with crisp, low-key songs, which I think encapsulate a pretty solid era for Depeche Mode. But through it all, there is something so distinctively the same that it's easy to liken your sound now to what you were doing throughout the '80s and well into the '90s -- a time when Depeche Mode set a serious standard for electronic music.
We had a big fight on our hands in the 80s. The press was very much fixated on rock. These days the writers tend to be nice to us, but back in those days they had a lot of fun putting us down, didn't they! They didnt even think of us as a proper band, really. We didnt use a drummer, and we used tape machines, but we knew that electronic music was way forward for the time. In some ways it was good and in some ways it was bad, but almost all pop music these days is electronic.
Im sure that writers were mean to Kraftwerk before you.
No, I dont think they were quite as mean to Kraftwek as they were to us. But indeed Kraftwerk really are our heroes. We were lucky that punk happened at the time when it did, and that we were onto what we were doing at the time. That was a very exciting time, but then when punk started to recede, peoples interests went back to listening to Kraftwerk and all sorts of early electronic music and things like that.
Did you like punk rock when it was happening? Did you feel like you were a part of it?
Oh yeah, it was a fantastic time. Along came bands like the Sex Pistols who really demolished everything that had was going on before it. It was all about attitude and not being technically brilliant, and playing an instrument. It was about ideas. In many ways it was a lot like how electronic music is now with all of these young kids sitting around in their bedrooms making music. It really is quite replacing punk, at least in the way its being made.
Along those lines Depeche Mode never sounded like anything on commercial radio, but when you came to the states your fan base was huge. You even sold out the Rose Bowl. Forgive the pun, but what made Depeche Mode music for the masses?
Yeah, when we were touring in America back then we hadnt had a top 40 hit of any kind but we were playing to 30,000 people. It was a vibe, really. I can't really explain it.
So many years later you still have a huge fanbase. When you come to Atlanta this time around youre playing Lakewood which is a big venue.
Yeah, it is quite big. We've played there a couple of times now, I think.
You've been getting plenty of radio and video play in the states for decades now and youve maintain your fan base; even continued to acquire younger fans. It makes me wonder where does Depeche Mode fit-in, in the American pop-culture climate of today?
Weve had 30 years of making music and we are a good live band, and we have always tried hard to be just that. As an electronic band it has always been important for us to get out there and show people what were like and put on a great show. Of course were pleased that were able to sell tickets over in the states. I honestly dont know why we keep getting the attention of younger people, but I do know that when were playing concerts we always see younger people in the audience. Who can say really. But it happens. Take a look at someone like the Cure, for example. They seem to have a lot of really young fans coming around as well. Not sure why.
Looking back over the years do you have a favorite Depeche Mode album?
Ive got two of them. I like Black Celebration, and I like it mostly because there arent many big songs or big hits on it. I just think it is a really odd selection of tracks and the sound is really great. And then of course there is Violator which was perfection. Floods production with Kevorkians mixing coupled with some of our greatest songs It really is perfection for us. I cant say that I like one album more than the other because Black Celebration is always in my heart, but in my mind it has to be Violator. It's such a perfect album for us in every respect.
Depeche Mode plays Aaron's Amphitheatre at Lakewood with Peter, Bjorn and John. Tues., Sept. 1. $29.50-$83.50.
(Photo courtesy Press Here Publicity)
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