The long and winding Mode

BROODING ESSEX BOYS Depeche Mode are back once again with 12th studio album Sounds of the Universe.

By Adam Zacharias

Published: Sat 25 Apr 2009, 9:37 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:00 PM

Despite their notoriously dirty sound and dark lyrical content, the band have sold an enormous 75 million albums worldwide – with their last four albums all charting in the US and UK top 10.

The British trio, who celebrate 30 years since their inception next year, have released Wrong as the lead single from Sounds of the Universe, featuring a typically twisted and uncomfortable music video (see it for yourself, strange stuff...).

The New Wave survivors are also preparing to kick off a mammoth world tour, starting in Israel on May 10th. Their show at London’s 20,000-capacity O2 Arena sold out in just one hour, showing that public demand for the band is still as strong as ever.

Guitarist Martin Gore, lead singer Dave Gahan and keyboardist Andrew Fletcher discuss the new record and what it’s like being in Depeche Mode in 2009.

Where does the title Sounds of the Universe come from?

Martin: It was a name that came up quite early on. Sometimes we get album titles early and we stick with them, and sometimes it’s last day, mad, everybody trying to think of any title that comes into their heads. We just felt that it summed up the eclectic nature of the songs and the sounds on the album.

Dave: I think the songs on this record have more of a positive spin on them – more open and spiritual, for want of a better word. I think our music has always been atmospheric and visual. Sounds of the Universe just sounds right, and I like the arrogance of it.

Does the record contain any central themes?

Martin: 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.

Andrew: Depeche Mode normally write songs about the world we live in and life in general. Musically we’ve maybe gone a bit more electronic on this album, Martin’s had this obsession with buying old synthesisers on eBay – as soon as one arrives we get it out and try it, so that’s been quite cool. Martin’s really become quite prolific in the last couple of years so we’ve got a lot more songs than we normally have.

How long did it take to make the album?

Dave: We first got together in January (last) year. Quite often a song will be structured around Martin playing a guitar line or me singing, and sometimes us doing that together. We took the songs away before we actually began recording – I went straight home to New York and began working with my voice on Martin’s songs. I really was inspired by a lot of them and I wanted to bring something to those songs with my voice, so I began to work every day as if I was rehearsing for a tour. (Producer) Ben Hillier was one of the first people to notice how much preparation I had done, but it really served me well once I stepped up to the mic in the studio.

Andrew: I think in the end it took about five to six months, which is usual time for us. We recorded most of it in New York and some of it in Santa Barbara.

Has the interaction between band members changed in recent years?

Dave: 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 –quite often I’ve witnessed them coming to life, and that always feels good. It’s really difficult sometimes singing somebody else’s songs and trying to interpret them, because on the one hand I’m going to do my own thing, but on the other hand I have the songwriter sitting there who’s very meticulous about how he wants that song to sound. In the past I’ve allowed that process to be as it was, but I think on the last couple of records, and certainly this one, I’ve felt much more confident about what I’m bringing to the sound and it’s allowed me the freedom to just express myself. It’s 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.

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

Why did you choose Ben Hillier (who has produced artists including Blur, Elbow and Doves) to work with you on the album?

Martin: We enjoyed making the last one so much (2005’s Playing the Angel) and we were really pleased with the end result. It just seemed really a stupid idea to me for us to be considering somebody else when we’d left on such a high note.

Andrew: It’s unusual for Depeche Mode to pick the same producer twice. We tend to move – well actually what tends to happen is the producer doesn’t want to work with us again because it’s normally the worst year of his life!

Dave: Ben knows what he can get out of us. He knows the best way to keep us working and to keep the energy going in the studio, and he’s very musical. One of my fears about Depeche Mode is that we become like a parody of ourselves and start to think we can rely on past trophies to get another one, and it’s not how art is. You’ve got to keep trying to move forward and challenge your own ideas.

Why did you select Wrong as the lead single to the new album?

Martin: We unanimously chose Wrong – without even really talking about it – 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. We always like to do something different as a first single just to announce that we’re back.

Dave: It’s 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. We chose it because we felt that it was striking and that it was a good song for the next chapter of what we’re doing.

What are you looking forward to with your upcoming world tour?

Dave: Well the first show is in Tel Aviv, which is very exciting because it’s the place that we were supposed to finish the last tour with. Unfortunately we couldn’t play there for various reasons but mostly because there was a war beginning there – not that there hasn’t been a war there for a very long time, but this was actually happening in the back yard if you like and we felt it would have been irresponsible for us to expect a large number of people to be in a park with all this stuff going off. When we even started to talk about the tour, we talked about beginning it in Israel.

You’re playing stadium shows as part of the tour – what’s different about performing in a stadium?

Martin: I think that we’re starting with stadiums this time just because I suppose we feel we can. We’ve done very well in Europe over the last few tours and the last one was particularly successful – all the promoters are telling us this is what you have to do next. It’s something we’ve never done so it’s a challenge for us and it just makes sense for us to be doing that at this stage of our career. For me there’s not really much of a difference once you get beyond a certain number of people at a concert – maybe that sounds a bit blasé and crass, but you can only see beyond a certain point. In some ways it gets less scary the bigger it goes because you feel almost kind of inconsequential. When we play warm up shows and there’s 300 people and there are people on top of you watching you play your keyboard or the guitar and studying your hands that’s far scarier.

What’s it like being in Depeche Mode these days?

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

Martin: I’m very happy being in Depeche Mode. We’re getting on very well and 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 [any] real contentious issues going on between band members. It’s a joy to be part. I think that we’re making a great album and already ticket sales seem to be doing amazingly well, so everything’s looking positive for us. I think the atmosphere within the band has 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. I think everyone is a lot less precious about everything now, we can sit down and have a meeting and see other people’s points of view and concede certain things. I think we have a general respect for each other now that maybe wasn’t as prevalent before.

Sounds Of The Universe is out now in the UAE.

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