Depeche Mode Not As Bleak As Its Reputation
By Ed Condran ~
On the eve of its 30th anniversary, Depeche Mode continues to evolve.
Unlike many of its 1980s peers that are content to ride the wave of nostalgia, the influential British electronic act continues to break new ground.
Vocalist Dave Gahan has added a fresh element to Depeche Mode’s sonic repertoire since he has become a songwriter at mid-life.
His contributions to the group’s latest album, ‘Sounds Of The Universe’, which dropped in April, and 2005’s ‘Playing The Angel’, have made things a little more disparate for the act.
Gahan’s lighter lyrics are a nice contrast to guitarist-keyboardist Martin Gore’s dark, subversive but melodic songs.
Depeche Mode will showcase cuts from ‘Sounds Of The Universe’ when it returns Saturday to The Borgata.
Keyboardist Andy Fletcher recently called from Montreal to chat up the disc, detail how difficult it is for the group to come up with a setlist after three decades and share why he will hit the blackjack table in Atlantic City.
Q: How much of a boost is it to add another songwriter’s contributions to the band after all of this time?
A: It’s great for us since Dave is such a great writer. But I’m just happiest for Dave because his confidence is higher than ever. He was obviously always contributing since he’s our vocalist, but now he feels like he’s contributing more than ever. Dave was one of the few singers who didn’t write his own lyrics. There’s Roger Daltrey and some others who don’t write the lyrics, but Dave has something to say. These are some of the most well-constructed songs we’ve ever come up with. Dave had something to do with that.
Q: He provides a considerable contrast to Gore’s intense songs.
A: It does provide a nice contrast. It’s just great for us. Dave’s songs are a bit different. It makes it interesting for us since people like to call us doom merchants. We’re not that. We write about life, everyday life.
Q: Your band has never quite gotten its due from music scribes, but you have influenced a diverse bunch of bands.
A: It’s true. I don’t think journalists care for keyboard-driven bands as much as the conventional guitar-bass-drums type of bands. But we’ve heard nice things from many bands that are more diverse than you might think. We haven’t just influenced the Killers, who we met. They’re very nice, respectful guys.
Q: But heavy, guitar-driven bands such as the Deftones and Fear Factory have cited Depeche Mode as influential.
A: You don’t have to sound just like us to be influenced. When we were starting out, we were influenced by Kraftwerk and early Human League, but we didn’t sound like those bands. We developed our own sound. You need to carve out your own existence, but you have to start from somewhere and it’s great to hear that some bands started playing together because they heard Depeche Mode.
Q: What do people fail to pick up about Depeche Mode?
A: That there is hope in Martin’s songs. His message is that there is hope. It’s not all bad.
Q: I think fans get that with ‘Enjoy The Silence’.
A: It’s funny you mention that song. That was a melancholy ballad when we entered the studio. But we changed it when we added a disco beat and Martin added the guitar riff. We knew within an hour that we had a hit record. That has never happened before. We just knew that one was for the masses.
Q: What other Depeche Mode songs are dramatically different than the original versions?
A: Aside from ‘Enjoy The Silence’, there was…
Q: How about ‘People Are People?’ That must have morphed dramatically from demo to finished product.
A: It did. When we started that song, it was quite straightforward. But all the metal noises we added onto that song came after we went crazy with samplers. We just started banging on metals left and right. We just kept banging and adding to the song.
Q: How difficult is it for you to compile a setlist?
A: That’s the hardest thing we have to do. Recording the album was easy compared to putting together a list of songs we’ll play at shows. That’s really difficult since we have 200-odd songs. It’s hard to come up with a list because it’s not easy to put everyone’s favorites onto a list when you have to promote an album. It’s hard to make everyone happy. We could if we played three-hour sets like Robert Smith (of the Cure) plays. But the difference is that Robert just stands there and sings and plays guitar. Dave gives everything he has and you can’t do that and play for three hours. Dave is all over the stage. He puts everything out there until he’s dead.
Q: It’s been a tough period for Gahan. He suffered from gastroenteritis and then bladder cancer, and after recovering from that, he tears his calf muscle while performing.
A: It’s been a bizarre time for Dave, but the good news is that he had the gastroenteritis. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have found the cancer and it would not have been such a wonderful picture two years from now if it wasn’t discovered. He had the bladder surgery and things are better. But he was lucky that they found it. And then there is the calf muscle thing for him, but he got through it all. Dave’s tough and so we’re on tour.
Q: That brings us to Atlantic City. The last time you performed at The Borgata, it was an energetic, fast-paced set. Do you remember the show three years ago and did you have a good time in AC?
A: Yes, I remember the show and what I did later. When I come back, I have to play blackjack again. The reason is that I had my biggest win ever when we played The Borgata. I had an amazing run of luck. I thought that they were letting me win because I was the artist that just played their casino.
Q: But it doesn’t work like that.
A: I know it. I was just fortunate.
Q: How much did you win?
A: Let’s just say that it wasn’t a sum that would put me in the big league of gamblers, but it was good for me and I’ll be back at the blackjack table.
Depeche Mode appears Saturday at The Borgata, 1 Borgata Way, Atlantic City. Peter, Bjorn and John will open. Show time: 8 p.m. Tickets: $125. Information: 866-692-6742.