Interview: Depeche Mode

2009-04-24 13:37
Depeche Mode (photo: Anton Corbijn)

Martin Gore: It was a name that came up quite early on which is a bit 50/50 with us, sometimes we get album titles quite early on and we stick with them and it seems to keep everybody happy and you know it works for the whole project and sometimes its last day, mad, everybody trying to think of any title that come into their heads so we just felt that it summed up the eclectic nature of the songs and the sounds on the album.

Dave Gahan: I think the songs on this record are… have more of a positive spin on them, more open, spiritual, for want of a better word, in its content and sort of looking outwards a lot more, and you know I think our music has always been - we try to make it anyway - atmospheric and visual and it’s a great….Sounds of the Universe just sounds right, and I like the arrogance of it.

Andrew Fletcher: Also the word universe has come up a few times in the lyrics for the new songs and you know we think it’s quite pompous which it is…. and slightly witty so we thought it was a good title.

DG: I always find it difficult to pinpoint any themes that sort of that go along with the lyrical content and musical content but they develop, they seem to develop during the recording, I mean there are definitely themes there within the songs, and I would say that they’re loosely tied together.

MG: I think that there’s quite a broad variety really, there’s not really a theme to the record other than all the themes that I always write about I suppose. I keep joking about it, that I keep writing the same songs over and over again, but it’s sort of true up to a point.

DG: I interpret them as looking at my part in situations and they can be everyday situations or situations that are happening in the world and quite often how I feel about that is how I use my voice, you know I kind of want to draw you into the song.

AF: Depeche Mode normally write songs about life, the world we live in and life in general, that’s one of our sayings and musically we’ve maybe gone a bit more electronic on this album, Martin’s had this obsession with buying new (corrects himself) old synthesisers on ebay and that’s been quite interesting and quite you know… as soon as one arrives we get it out try it and stuff so that’s been quite cool. I think the main thing about the album which is different… Martin’s really become quite prolific in the last couple of years so we’ve got a lot more songs than we normally have.

DG: I think that the interaction for me personally with Martin has changed quite a bit, I feel more confident about my ideas and I also feel like those ideas are really heard and you know quite often I’ve witnessed them coming to life that always feels good. Its really difficult sometimes, for me in the past me singing somebody else’s songs and trying to interpret them, it’s a little tricky because on the one hand I’m going to do my own thing but on the other hand I have the song writer sitting there who is very meticulous about how he wants that song to sound and certainly how he wants the notes to be heard and the words to be sung. And so in the past to be quite honest I’ve sort of allowed that process to kind of be as it was but I think on the last couple of records and certainly this one, like I said I’ve felt much more confident about what I’m bringing to the sound and its allowed me the freedom to just express myself within a band and you know its always a compromise that’s what part of being in a band is, but quite often what happens in that compromise is you’re pleasantly surprised by other things that if you allow it to happen don’t try and sort of control things all the time and go into a certain direction, which we all do but on this album what I’ve noticed being quite different to others is I felt like Martin and I have been joining a lot more and somehow without even talking about it really we seem to be going in the same direction with what we wanted to do with these songs.

AF: It’s been a very good vibe and we seem to be getting on very well together and I’d say the atmosphere has been really quite stable and you know just very creative and it couldn’t be better to be honest.

MG: I think the atmosphere within the band has just been improving with time, we’re quite famous for not getting on at various points in our history and I think it really has become a thing of the past. We got on fairly well during the making of Playing The Angel and the tour I think was a joy to be on and everybody enjoyed it and was pleased when it ended but also left it with a little bit of regret so I think we’ve just continued in that vein and I think everyone is a lot less precious about everything now, I think we can sit down and have a meeting and see other peoples points of view and concede certain things and you know I think we have a general respect for each other now that maybe wasn’t as prevalent before.

DG: The techniques that Martin and I use are quite different. Martin’s much more traditional in the way that he will sit down with a guitar and develop an idea or sit at the piano and develop the idea develop the notes where he wants to go with them and and he’s a way more accomplished musician I would say than I am. You know I write in a very different way to him….when I was demo-ing the songs that I contributed to this record I had in the back of my mind all the time don’t be too kind of meticulous about how I want things to be because I want the input, whoever the production team may be and Martin certainly in the studio to contribute ideas to those songs and Martin was very…. he contributed a lot to all of things that I have on this record.

MG: Yeah I don’t think you can really tell when the songs are back to back that a song’s mine or Dave’s because it does go through the whole Depeche process and Ben’s production, and once Dave’s sung the vocal and I’ve put backing vocals on it and played guitar on it, it ends up sounding like us.

AF: We tend to treat each song differently, the idea is to try and create for that song the best possible atmosphere, the best possible treatment to suit that song and most of the time we get that right and sometimes we don’t. Like I say its been quite interesting, Martin’s addiction to vintage synthesisers and drum machines, because it has made it quite creative in the studio because when these things arrive you have to work out how its used and from there something comes from it.

MG: I think all the songs on the album sound very different but the fact that I’ve been buying so much stuff, old analogue drum machines and synthesisers on ebay, has helped to shape the record in some ways. Packages were turning up daily and we were using them as they arrived and that obviously had an impact on the record.

AF: There are differences between Martin’s song writing and Dave’s song writing and regarding all songs are really treated in the same way when it comes to the actual recording. Dave’s been really improving over the last…., especially from his last solo album he’s very confident now in the studio, really at the end of the day I think it would be quite hard to distinguish which was a Martin song and which was a Dave song. 

DG: I do have my favourite tracks on the album at the moment and they change all the time, I think my favourite is actually Come Back which is a song that I wrote with Andrew and Christian which has really come a long way from the demo. In Chains is another one which I really like which I think is a classic soul song, its got that kind of feel about it, that it could have been something that Marvin Gaye performed, that kind of soul-y song, its got beautiful lyrics and it was great to sing, it was one of the most challenging songs for me to get where I wanted it to be vocally with my voice but we got there in the end.

AF: I suppose every musician would always say they like their new album, if you start to say you don’t like so many songs its pretty weird, but there’s a lot of good songs on this album and quite a few of my favourites: Perfect I like, In Sympathy, Wrong, Fragile Tension, I mean there’s a lot of ... it’s quite good at the moment I don’t tend to be that bored, imagine I’ve heard these things about a thousand times you know, so that’s a good sign.

MG: We unanimously without even really talking about it I think chose Wrong as the first single just because we felt it was more of a statement, it was very different for us there are other tracks like In Sympathy which is maybe more classic Depeche Mode and I’m sure at some point that may come out as single, whatever a single is these days whatever a single means these days, as maybe a promotion tool for the record at some point. We always like to do something different as a first single just to announce that we’re back.

DG: It’s sort of an unconventional pop song if you like. It’s almost more of a rap or rant or something and its groove is a little different too in that way. And I think we chose it because, we didn’t choose it because we felt it was the best song, we chose it because we felt that it was striking and that it was a good song to choose for the next chapter of what it is we’re doing.

MG: We’ve chosen Anton because we just have such a great relationship with him and I think he is just very good at what he does. It’s difficult for us to think of working with other photographers even though we are because the results we get with Anton are always so good and apart from that he always make the actual photo session so enjoyable, you don’t feel like you’re just stuck in a studio I don’t know why I think its just because we know him so well.

AF: Anton Corbijn has been our sort of visual man for quite a while now and gets involved in videos, covers, in almost a fifth man and you know with the live set and stuff like that so you know, we really love Anton’s work so we continue to work with him.

AF: The first idea we saw was just a symbol, we couldn’t even…., a ‘D’ and an ‘M’ but to us it looked like an ‘O’ and an ‘M’ but I think the rest of the stuff had been sent in by mistake. Yeah its good with Anton you can give him a title like Sounds of the Universe and he can come up with something that’s not crass and looks good.

DG: You know our fans show up for us and the rest of it is…you can’t really…. you never know what’s going to happen. I think we’re making a record that is the best record that we’ve made in a long time and of course everybody says that and it sounds totally sort of clichéd to say it, but I’ve enjoyed making this record with the guys and you know I think we’ve had fun doing it, you can’t really ask for more at this stage we’ve had a hugely successful career up until this point, there’s not really much more you can ask for. I think that people will be pleasantly surprised.

MG: With the success of the record I don’t know what we’re expecting really because its really hard to gauge what it means in this market place, even if the record sold half what the last one did maybe that’s good, who knows.

AF: The media reaction’s important for our egos, and sales reaction is good as well you obviously want to be seen as recorded something that’s decent and good and you want it to do well, but you know we don’t have ambitions to go in the stratosphere regarding our popularity we’re quite comfortable with how popular we are at the moment.

MG: I think that this record is different to all of our other records, and maybe they’re all slightly different, you know I think some maybe have a bit more of a kind of a twin feel or something but not really I think they all have an identity and I think that this one just fits in in the kind of history really, it seems to fit neatly in with the history of the rest of the stuff that we’ve done.

AF: You can’t really tell that until the few years after, we’re so immersed in all this at the moment. All we know is the songs are really good and I think the sounds are really good so we’re hoping its going to stand up to the albums of the past.

DG: It’s my job and it’s a really good one, again you know it sounds really cliché to say but you know this…. who knew like almost 30 years down the line that there’s still the opportunity to make the kind of music that you want to make.

MG: I’m very happy being in Depeche. I’ve said a lot that we’re getting on very well, the atmosphere is always good these days, there aren’t many days when we’ve got a meeting and you come in dreading it or there’s real contentious issues going on between band members, it’s a joy to be part of the whole thing and I think that we’re making a great album and I think that already ticket sales seem to be doing amazingly well, so you know everything’s looking positive for us.

AF: To be in Depeche Mode right now is really good because the vibes between the band is really good, we feel we’re making a good record and it’s a good time.

The British synth-pop legends chat about their new album, Sounds of the Universe, the changing dynamics in the band after 30 years, photographer Anton Corbijn and more.
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