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'Sounds Of The Universe'
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Depeche Mode - Since Martin quit his drinking about 3 years ago he got a new addiction: eBay
Posted on 16 Apr, 2009

"Tea and Biscuits", that is the promo code name for the new Depeche Mode album "Sounds of the Universe", labeled by Dave Gahan as being a rather arrogant album title. And actually, when I arrive in the posh London Brown's Hotel in Albemarle Street, Mute could not have chosen a better name. The hotel itself has a very distinguished UK look and feeling and tea is served as being 'Tea for breakfast' in silver sets with the better UK traditional sweets on top. Delicious. While the other journalists wonder around I notice the band's manager Baron Jonathan Kessler next to me. I don't bother chatting him up as he clearly has other things on his mind. Instead I ask for a coffee with hot milk and wait to go up for the interview with Depeche Mode's Andy Fletcher, always willing to spill some nice beans.

I listen to the album on my iPod and again notice the increased interaction between Dave Gahan and Martin Gore via their songwriting. With Martin's technique being much more traditional, Gahan continued to write with Christian Eigner and Andrew Phillpott since after the "Playing The Angel" tour. Add to this that unlike what Depeche Mode usually do, and that is NOT taking a producer twice in a row, "Sounds of the Universe" was again produced by all rounder Ben Hillier. Because - as Gahan said in earlier interviews - "he gave us the kick up the arse that we definitely needed (...) he knows what he can get out of us, he knows the best way to get that out of us, and to keep us working and to keep the energy going in the studio, and he's very musical".

Half an hour later and 6 songs into their new album, I'm taken upstairs - passing by Martin and Dave - by Kessler's adorable assistant May. Before she introduces me to Andy, she tells me that Depeche Mode are by far the most professional people she has ever worked with "because they hold a clear idea and vision on how things should be done". Quite right so it seems as the band is currently taking other bands such as U2 or yet the hyped Radiohead in speed when it comes to offering extra material such as demos and special mixes with their latest album. (By Bernard Van Isacker)

AF: Hey Bernard, we did speak to each other in the past! I remember doing an interview with you a couple of years back... Side-Line has been around for quite some time now, how are things?

SL: Yeah, that's right, all is fine, thanks for asking. But tell me, how have the past few weeks been for you? It seems you have been doing promo non stop and that it's starting to affect your health?

AF: (Smiles) I have a headache at the moment to be honest, but what has to be done has to be done (laughs)!

SL: Let's start then. Whose idea was it actually to release this deluxe box set as well? For fans it's really a wet dream becoming true.

AF: I hope so ! Each time we release a new album, we are confronted with a shifted market and we have to adopt to it each time. With the current download problematic, there was a need to approach things differently again. Unlike what U2 did with their box set, we wanted to add actual content and not just pop out a box set that had nothing really extraordinary about it. For me the U2 box set is lacking this extra. We wanted to set a new standard and I think we have achieved it quite well with this special deluxe release. Yes, content is king and we just had to find a way around the download problem. I think that with this release we have found that way. For now that is, because with the next album the market situation might have changed again. But that's something we will look at then.

SL: I must say I was quite surprised that you actually did put demos on it as well. Usually all band members said in the past that demos were considered as being not finished material that should not see the light of day.

AF: Well, initially it was my idea to put the demos on the box set. I was convinced that this was unique content that people would appreciate and that would make the purchase of this box set worthwhile.

SL: But in the past you guys were not to keen on it, was it because the demos were just not as much evolved as the final versions unlike for instance the "Music For The Masses" demo versions which were quite well progressed?

AF: No, not really. It just was the time to do it I guess. And except for an occasional demo where Martin delivered some really bare versions with just a guitar or piano, the demos usually were pretty much developed and had everything already in there that needed to be in there. In the studio we just record the tracks properly and add the production that they need.

Even Martin didn't mind a all. He was fine with it. The main problem we encountered was to actually find the demos. Basically the 5 people that you'd think who would logically have the demos would be Alan, Daniel (Miller), Dave, Martin and me. But as it ended up, Alan had them somewhere tucked away and couldn't find them directly and that was also the case with Daniel, Martin and Dave. I knew I had lots of demos but they were in storage so I dug them up. In the end I recouped about hundred demo songs - which also means that there are hundreds that we don't have anymore... and that includes for instance the demo for "Personal Jesus" which seems to be lost forever. Anyhow, in November last year I started listening to all of the demos and picked out the ones for this release. Don't worry, before you ask, there will be more demos released in the future but not with this current release. For "Sounds of the Universe" we will only release the ones that are known, nothing else.

SL: In the US you launched a special I-tunes pass that subscribed people to a stream of content. Will they get extra content compared to the European customers?

AF: No, the content will be the same in the US and Europe. The difference is that we just wanted to test this pass thing out in the US. I'm convinced that is the way how downloads will be sold in the future anyhow. People will just pre-order content this way. But it's excluded that iTunes will be used as the only channel to distribute demos.

SL: Why didn't you 'do a Radiohead'?

AF: Doing a Radiohead... Good question. When we started working on this new album we considered various options. We looked at the Live Nation approach, the Radiohead approach and decided that the best thing would be to re-sign with EMI for a one-album deal to see how things would work. On top of that, let's face it, we are musicians in the first place, not distributors or so. And in order to focus on music and not so much on all the extra hassle that comes with releasing an album, we decided to work with EMI. I know some will say, why with EMI again? But unlike what some say, EMI is no longer the monster it used to be like so many other majors. They are all very much streamlined now. There's also the personal level, as we wanted to continue to work with Daniel who is still contractually linked with EMI via Mute.

SL: Then again, you know how a business is run as you set up an own label Toast Hawaii as well a couple of years ago... How are things with Toast Hawaii actually? It's been rather quiet now that the only band Client left. Is it closed down now?

AF: No it's not. Let's say I only have so much time to work with an artist. So, when I work with the band on a new album, I can't spend that time with another band. And since I like to control as much as possible myself, I just have to stop things while I'm on the road or in the studio with Dave and Martin. Anyhow, I haven't really found a band that I would like to sign right now.

SL: Back to the actual release. "In chains" reminds me of those typical Fad Gadget analogue sounds, so does the intro of "Perfect", it's pure Fad Gadget. I guess it brings back the good old memories of the Bridgehouse concerts where you supported Frank Tovey's Fad Gadget project?

AF: Yes it does, the complete album has a lot of Fad Gadget like sounds. And now that you mention it, last Monday we were shooting a new video with Anton Corbijn and his assistant was noone else then Joe, the son of Frank Tovey. I hadn't seen him since the funeral of Frank. That was a weird coincidence for all of us.

SL: The "Wrong" video holds a very nice reference to the film/book "Crash", just like the first single from Daniel Miller's The Normal did. Actually, lots of your videos feature cars. What the hell do you guys have with cars?

AF: Let me tell you a secret Bernard... Martin and I didn't even get our driving license! I live in London and why the hell would I need to drive a car around for over here? Then again, it's actually quite embarrassing as my son does drive. So I guess that the correct answer has to be that since it's Anton who has been making most of our videos, I think he is the one who likes cars a lot (smiles)!

SL: For this release you used a lot of vintage gear, did you get any purchased especially for this release?

AF: Since Martin quit his drinking about 3 years ago he got a new addiction: eBay through which he has started collecting lots of vintage keyboards, percussion gear and guitar pedals like mad. That explains things a lot!

SL: I have the impression that sonic experiments have gotten priority over the melody on this album? I did need a lot more time to get into the songs. It's not that you have made things very easy.

AF: Hm... (silence for a few seconds) I have been over my head into this material for over one year and a half now, so after having heard everything 10.000 times I couldn't really say! I know that we didn't particularly make the sound too complicated on purpose. (Suddenly changes the subject) Then again, you know, back when we recorded "Speak & Spell" we had so little gear and still did manage to make our songs sound the way we wanted, even if we discovered afterwards that our synthesizers could produce a lot more sounds than we thought they could... (then jumps back on subject) But let's take "Peace" for example - which is about inner peace and not about global peace just so you know - for me it's one of the best songs Martin has written for this album.

SL: The perfect Christmas single if I may say so, adding this kind of muzak atmosphere to it, it's almost Erasure like.

AF: (Smiles) Ha, if you say so !

SL: Will it be the new single then?

AF: I think so, for me it has the correct mood. Although, Daniel thinks that "Perfect" would be a good 2nd single choice. We'll see.

SL: I guess that "In sympathy" wouldn't be bad as the next single neither. It has this very nice vibe and could result in some very nice single remixes.

AF: Indeed. All depends on the edits.

SL: The album was recorded both in Santa Barbara, California and New York, the two cities Martin and Dave live. I guess that it were the best places to let them feel at ease?

AF: That's correct, both Martin and Dave needed to be at ease so where could that be the best, then at their homes. Having said that, New York is a way better place to record in than Santa Barbara because really... there's nothing much of a vibe there (laughs)! New York on the contrary has lots of special vibes and atmosphere that makes you want to work on things. We recorded in the same studio complex where Dave has his own studio as well.

SL: Having involved Dave that much again in the song writing must have had a therapeutic effect on him?

AF: Hum, you know, he has been 24 years in the band and even when things were in a pretty bad shape he didn't leave. So, therapeutic? I wouldn't say that. With "Ultra", Martin and I were actually all that he had left. But you're right in that sense that his confidence has grown a lot since. Especially the success of his last solo album "Hourglass" where he reached the number one position in the electronic music charts in the USA did boost his confidence. He was really proud that he'd achieved this because when he released "Paper Monsters" he was still rather unsure with the result, which explains why he said a few strange things here and there in interviews...

SL: That's rather mildly put...

AF: Yes, I know (laughs)!

SL: Were the songs Dave delivered for this record rockier or more electronic in their demo shape?

AF: Well, the truth lays in the middle. From one hand he did deliver more rock orientated music on his first solo album "Paper monsters", but the demos he delivered for Depeche Mode were not all that rocky. What did happen is that the demos got the Depeche Mode treatment and that again is a bit more rocky nowadays.

SL: All is fine in Depeche land, I'd almost say you are all one big happy family again.

AF: (Grins) Well, let's put it this way, Dave is a happy bunny, Martin is a happy bunny and I am a happy bunny. That makes 3 happy bunnies (laughs). We don't argue that much and get along very well. It does probably also explains why Dave is now lots more involved with the band, including as far as remixes is concerned because he was very much involved with the ones that have been made for "Hourglass" as well.

SL: Speaking of remixes what is actually the input from the band nowadays on the remix front? A few years ago the band said that they had actually no input whatsoever. And members here and there said they actually were not all that glad about what was being released.

AF: Let's say that especially Dave aired a lot of discontent in the past due to not being all that confident. And in the process he has done the remixes down. Nowadays both Dave and Martin are very much involved, especially Martin who has been coming up with lots of names. But... yes, I tend to agree, in the past some remixes that have been made weren't really our cup of tea to say the least. Especially those made for our American label that asked for special remixes for 'their market' as they put it. They were not really what we had expected from it. Honestly, this time we are all pretty glad with the remixes, and especially those on the box set are very good, you'll hear and agree when you get the box set!

SL: I sure hope so. By the way, to end, the promo sheet said that "Sounds of the universe" was a 'Violator for the 21st century'? A typo error?

AF: (Looks surprised) Err, we have to feed you guys something to keep up the attention (laughs). No, seriously, we have just read the promo sheet quickly and they usually put stuff in there to get journalists like you all warmed up. It did its work (laughs) ! I suppose there is more written in there that is not actually how I would phrase things (smiles). But yes, you are right, you can't compare both albums anyhow. They don't sound the same just like each album we have done in the past has been sounding different.

The new Depeche Mode album is out now. Only a limited number of the deluxe boxset of "Sounds of the Universe" have been made, order it now at Amazon UK, Amazon US or Amazon Germany.


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