Monday, 7 March 2016

RETRO #1: DEPECHE MODE INTERVIEW FROM NO. 1 MAGAZINE, 26 FEBRUARY 1986

One site that I would recommend you all visit is Depeche Mode Television Archives (http://www.dmtvarchives.com/) They have compiled an incredible number of interviews, television appearances, pictures and more spanning the whole of the band's career. Even what you think is a quick look at the forum there can turn into hours lost in the history of Depeche. The forums and archives can be viewed if you aren't a member of the site, but you 'll have much more fun if you sign up. Who knows - you may have something in your own archive that you can contribute to the site.

The good people at DM TV Archives have allowed me to use their material this month and I'll be sharing various things from their treasure trove over the next four weeks. Today though, I thought it would be of interest to share an interview Depeche Mode gave to the now defunct UK magazine No. 1 from February in 1986. I thought (1) it would help give some historical background and (2) help my writer's block which, as I type this on Sunday 21 February, is causing me some concern. Here's the interview - enjoy it and go and register at DM TV Archives. You will love it there.


BACK TO THE WALL
[No. 1, 22nd February 1986]


DEPECHE MODE EXPLAIN THEMSELVES

For Depeche Mode Berlin has become a second home. It’s a city which suits their temperament and throws a reflection across their music. Berlin is a strange, eerie place, an island surrounded by a wall and bordered by a no-man’s land littered with crosses marking the graves of those who tried to escape from the East and failed. In February Berlin is chilling in every sense, it has an edge and Depeche Mode like that.

In the past three years, Modey have spent a third of their lives here, mostly in the famous Hansa Studios where they recorded “Construction Time Again” and “Some Great Reward”, and are now finishing the new LP, “Black Celebration”.

Walking out of Hansa’s control room, the members of Depeche Mode are a black celebration themselves. Dressed from head to toe in black leather, their skinny frames and pale faces make them appear mean. In fact they’re all exceedingly placid and pleasant but the image suits them like a second skin.

“I feel ill,” Dave Gahan announces, indicating some stains on his brand new leather pants. “Sick.” Alan Wilder and Martin Gore follow him into the rehearsal rooms and hit the fridge. It’s not just armies that march on their stomachs. When Depeche are on tour or in a studio they keep a well stocked larder of vegetarian goodies for snacking on.

Martin examines a cheese roll with that customary far away look in his eyes. He always looks like he’s just about to say something earth-shattering. But he never does.

Fletch is bumbling about in his usual fashion. He reads a story in the Sun about “Simon Jilting Yasmin for model” and tuts. “There’s no truth in it but these people ask for it.” Fletch is a moralist.
  
WHERE THERE’S A WALL
 Eventually Dave Gahan feels well enough to chat. I ask him what the fascination is with Berlin?
“It’s the atmosphere. It’s a little place and it feels very cut off. There are no distractions like in London. I can’t work in England anymore. It’s funny. The studio is right next to the Berlin Wall but none of us has ever been to the East. Martin tried once but they refused him entry. Didn’t like the way he was dressed. Thought he was a hooligan. People imagine we work here because it’s wow, you know, really heavy, but I don’t feel that. The place is quite suburban. Berlin’s like Brixton.”

Fletch puts down his paper and we talk about the new single “Stripped”. All the band are excited about the song which sounds quite risky after the cheerfully old-fashioned pop of “It’s Called A Heart”.

Fletch: “The idea of “Stripped” is to get away from technology and civilisation for a day and get back to basics in the country. It’s about two people stripping down to their bare emotions. In the video we’re seen demolishing a car and taking a TV apart… it’s a bit, er, symbolic.”
Gahan says: “It’s not about sex. It’s to do with having nothing except yourself. The people in the song could strip off if they wanted to though. The song is also a bit chancy. It doesn’t capture you immediately. Some people hear it and say “Is that it?” Others go “Brilliant!”.”


  
THE POWER AND THE GLORY
All the band agree that the single will stand out on the chart but Dave seems to like it more than the others. “I stuck out for it ’cos it excites me. It feels powerful to sing. The chorus is rousing and mob-like which I can get off on. Our last single was just alright.”

From what I heard of the new album, “Black Celebration” is going to surprise everyone who still thinks Depeche are a weedy pop group. Martin Gore’s writing gets closer to the bone every day.

The title sounds a bit morbid I venture. “Yeah it does,” Dave agrees, “but it’s a common thing. At the end of a working day you go out and drown your sorrows no matter how shitty you feel or how bleak your future looks.”

Martin and Alan join in, but first Martin makes a rare announcement. “I feel at the moment I’m coming across totally wrong in interviews. And it’s all my fault. I can’t do anything about it. I say the wrong things.”

Having made this rather strange little speech Martin falls silent for a second. “The problem is, I can’t open up and explain the songs. When I write it all seems logical. I create the right atmosphere – which is an attempt to get away from the softness of contemporary pop – but I know we’ll never be totally extreme. Depeche Mode is a democracy and that stops me writing everything in one direction. Apart from that I still believe in an old-fashioned song style and I like lots of melody. Some people can’t handle that. We can be really poppy one minute or we can sound harder and moodier.”

Alan Wilder reckons that the band are “alienating some of the teen market but gaining more respect. We don’t put ourselves across very well but we look better these days.”

Depeche Mode always put a line on their album covers which tries to sum up the mood of their work. This time the line is “Life In The So-Called Space Age”, a typical example of Martin Gore’s mixture of cynicism and common sense. "It means that despite all this,” he gestures vaguely around, “all this can go on and nothing is changed. People are still emotionally numbed by material possessions.”

Wilder qualifies the statement. “So many interferences surround you in the Western World, they take the place of your emotions. People say Martin’s songs are simplistic but that’s a positive factor. He gets his point across.”

Not everything on “Black Celebration” is so sombre although one song, “It Doesn’t Matter (2)” is, Martin says, “very desperate. Very very morbid. There is one quite funny song called “Sometimes” which is about someone who questions their surroundings and ends up becoming tiring and over apologetic.” Gore laughs nervously because he is a very autobiographical pop writer and the song is about him.

A beer arrives so Martin perks up. “We’ve got this new minimal concept. I try to do the least amount of work possible so I’ll get paid the same and be able to go out clubbing more.”

The rest of the band have a Martin Gore theory according to Alan. “The theory is Martin is a lazy sod who writes an entire album in an afternoon but pretends he hasn’t so he can take ages to think about other things and do nothing.” Martin makes another of his off the cuff statements. This one is a real cracker. “Four people is the right number for a pop group. History bears me out. Five people looks wrong and three is plain stupid. Four looks powerful.”

You’ll be able to see just how powerful Modey look and sound when their five month world tour kicks off in late March. Dave is enthusiastic:

“We haven’t played England for a while but I’m dying to get into the big halls again. I imagine some fans are a bit cross that we’re doing Wembley but we have to break out of this credibility thing. I thought The Cure doing Wembley was brilliant and I know I need large crowds these days to excite me.”
  
BAND AGED
In this mood Depeche Mode are showing every sign they’ve grown up, moved on, as they put it. Gahan isn’t one for any false modesty. “No, we’ve influenced a lot of bands into a harder sound, Arcadia perhaps, Tears For Fears definitely. It paid off for them. Frankie did that too. I can’t stand bland, textured music. No one goes out on a limb. Glammy pop bores me silly. Obviously I won’t name them because I hate everything in the charts. I ignore it. I suppose A-Ha will take away everyone’s girl audience for a while because they’re hunky good looking chaps,” Gahan chortles. “The problem is that they probably speak funny.”

 Fletch looks worried. “They probably speak better English than you do.”

Dave: “Rubbish. I bet they don’t.” Gahan has got the bit between his teeth. “We haven’t got any competition. We’re out on our own. You can’t categorise us. Maybe sometimes we’re a bit fussy with not putting pictures on covers but it’s better not to go downhill and be stuck with a stupid image. Look at this stuff about Simon Le Bon: poor bloke’s just got married but because the Sun have got a grudge against him they’ve stitched him up. For us it’s a fluke that we’ve avoided all the crap but I could see us getting huger. The German press invents stuff about us all the time.”

 One of last year’s best kept pop secrets was Gahan’s wedding to long time girlfriend Jo. “That was good. Just me, Jo, Fletch and Grania [sic] (Fletch’s girlfriend), mums and dads. Alan and Martin missed the registrar’s but came to the party. It hasn’t changed the way we are. We’ve been together ages.”



Dave is the last Basildon boy left in Depeche. Even Fletch has moved out. “Best thing I’ve ever done. It’s the first time I haven’t either been with parents or in a hotel room.” I ask them what they think about tax exiles and Fletch, who is normally the most self-effacing member, explodes: “It’s DISGUSTING.” He shouts. “It’s a joke. All these so called socialists. Look at Spandau! You take a year off and your career suffers. There’s no place like home. I believe in the welfare state and if that means paying 50% tax I’ll do it.”

Gahan agrees. “It’s like the 70s all these bands living in mansions. If we did that the band would split up. And the money they save on tax they spend on first class air fares. They all come home every weekend!”

Fletch is really hopping mad now. “Mansions! Air fares! They’ve got no confidence in their own futures. It’s like they’re making it while they can. We intend to stay around.”

Dave Gahan gets up and wanders towards the control room. Before he goes in he turns round and says, “The thing is, by Christmas we’ll all be millionaires anyway. We know that.”
I’m not sure if he was joking or not. 
  
Depeche Mode must rate as one of the most consistent if not one of the best pop bands of the 80s. They have a distinctive sound, but not so much so that each release sounds like the last one.Their lyrics actually mean something without being pretentious and over the top. Yet they never seem to get the adulation that their competitors get. Strange that. 

Let’s hope that the haunting stillness of ‘Stripped’ puts them up where they belong, before Frankie and Spandau reappear.



1 comment:

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