For issue 27 of our print edition published in the spring of 2009, I met up with Depeche Mode in NYC. The trio was assembled to promote their latest album, Sounds of the Universe. The full-length featured a slew of singles including “Wrong,” “Peace” and “Perfect” and received a positive reception from critics. Here’s my conversation with Andrew Fletcher and Martin Gore about producing their twelfth album, sobriety, choosing a set list and the unexpected benefits of Dave Gahan’s solo career.
If you think that veteran electronic act Depeche Mode are a bunch of Debbie Downers, think again. Sitting in a swank New York hotel room with Andrew Fletcher and Martin Gore (singer Dave Gahan is on his mobile taking care of some business in the lobby) a few weeks before the release of Sounds of the Universe, the Mode say the public perception about them is sometimes a bit off.
“In our own country, England, we’ve always been known as sort of gloomy and doomy,” says Andrew Fletcher. “A lot of DJs used to play up on that especially on our single ‘Enjoy the Silence.’ [Sings a scary melody] WOOOO-HHH-HAAAAA.”
Martin Gore, who is about to sip a hot cup of tea, lets out a huge guffaw and nearly spills his drink on his lap.
While Fletcher and Gore are kibbutzing nonchalantly about the new album, some fans were actually concerned about the band’s fate after Gahan released his impressive second solo album, Hourglass, in 2007. Though Hourglass received great reviews, Gahan chose not to tour the release like he did with his first solo outing, 2003’s Paper Monsters. Gahan’s decision paved the way for Depeche Mode to begin work on their twelfth album, Sounds of the Universe.
Martin Gore: “I honestly think this is the most enjoyable album we’ve ever made.”
Andrew Fletcher: “And this is your first sober one. That could be it.”
“Now that Dave has a solo career, the sort of routine we’re in is that he finishes his album
and then he waits to see if he’s going to tour,” explains Fletcher. “Since he didn’t tour, we’re actually earlier in the schedule than we were with that the last album.”
Did Gahan’s recent album affect the band in any way? “To be honest, Dave’s solo stuff has in a lot of ways brought the band closer together because he has a new-found confidence,” Fletcher says. “The fact that he’s writing songs for a Depeche Mode makes me feel that there’s more unity than there was.”
Martin Gore nods his head in agreement. “The fact that Dave did another solo album really took the pressure off me a lot. I realized there was going to be quite a big window between us finishing our tour and us getting back into the studio again. I took about six months off before I went back to writing, then I wrote all through 2007 into 2008. I was actually much more prolific than I ever have been.”
Depeche Mode played the first date on their gargantuan Tour of the Universe — which comes to North America in July and August — in Luxembourg on May 6th. Famed photographer/director Anton Corbijn designed their minimal stage setup and shot exclusive films for the tour. The only problem they had was deciding on the set list which needed to be culled from a catalog of over 200 songs. Judging by the pair’s interplay, the process might test the band’s renewed sense of camaraderie.
Gore: “You have to remember that we have to play at least six or seven songs from the new album….”
Gore: “What? Are you that pedantic? There are certain songs that it would be a sin not to play, and if you don’t, you run the risk of alienating your audience. We can only play 20 songs live so it doesn’t give us too many songs to maneuver with.”
Oh dear, they’re starting to sound like an old married couple, aren’t they?
“I honestly think this is the most enjoyable album we’ve ever made,” Martin concludes.
Andrew: “And this is your first sober one. That could be it.”
Gore: “That could have something to do with it. Andy disagrees because we didn’t do any recording in London, and he didn’t really get to see his family much last year.”
Fletcher: “I was basically living in a hotel for too long last year. I still think the general atmosphere was one of the best.”
As Fletcher and Gore reflect on Sounds of the Universe and their upcoming 30th anniversary (Fletcher: “I think we’re all in agreement that we formed in 1980!”), Gore says they had to deal with a new obstacle upon the completion of the album: separation anxiety.
“Dave and I actually felt sad when we got to the last day of recording,” Gore admits. “You never feel like that at the end of making an album. Usually it’s like, ‘Thank God we got through that!’ ”
Image by Anton Corbijn