Depeche Mode Gets Happy After Years Of Turmoil
By Phillip Zonkel ~
Andy Fletcher was worried about the dark forecast last week.
Fletcher was on the phone from New York City, a stop on Depeche Mode’s ‘Sounds of the Universe Tour’.
The band was to perform at Lollapalooza in Chicago the next day, but the forecast projected thunderstorms.
“Wherever Depeche Mode plays, it rains,” he mused.
For almost 30 years, Depeche Mode, which plays Superpages.com in Dallas on Saturday, has poured its minor-key tsunamis on audiences. Apart from Fletcher, lead singer-songwriter Dave Gahan and songwriter-vocalist-guitarist-keyboardist Martin Gore round out the lineup of the groundbreaking electronica band.
The band started as an electronic-pop quartet, but when Vince Clarke left in 1981 (and eventually formed Erasure with Andy Bell) and Alan Wilder joined, the music matured.
Over the course of several albums (1987’s Music for the Masses, 1990’s Violator and 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion), the band’s sound evolved into a complex and layered soundscape of rhythms and sensual melodies, illustrated on the songs Behind the Wheel, Halo, Personal Jesus, I Feel You and Walking in My Shoes.
Gore’s emotional lyrics center on euphoric and damaged relationships, redemption, masochism and addiction, including Strangelove, Never Let Me Down Again, Clean, Mercy in You and In Your Room.
Sometimes those dark clouds have hung over the band. In the mid-1990s, Wilder departed the band, Gahan had a much publicized battle with heroin, Gore endured several seizures and Fletcher had a nervous breakdown.
After Gahan completed rehab for his drug addiction, the band regrouped and recorded 1997’s Ultra, which was followed by Exciter and Playing the Angel. On these three albums, as well as on the band’s 12th studio album, Sounds of the Universe, Depeche Mode has moved away from its trademark melodies to more minimalist electronica.
During the recent telephone interview, Fletcher talked about the band’s sound, Gahan’s songwriting with Depeche Mode and the group’s new working vibe.
World in My Eyes is your favorite Depeche Mode song?
Yes. It encompasses what Depeche Mode is about, the melody, the riff, the production, the words. When we play that song live, we sometimes look at each other and are like, “What have we done here?”
Since Alan Wilder left the group in 1995, the band’s music has moved away from those groove-oriented melodies and become more minimal. Was that a conscious decision?
Martin, who writes most of the songs, does enjoy minimal electronica music. We try to evolve as a band. The magic of those years was incredible. The type of music we want to make now is different.
How much do you miss that music?
I like all our music, but I have favorite albums. I like Black Celebration and Violator. It’s hard to beat Violator. The new albums are still worthy and relevant.
Martin is guiding the band’s new sound?
Dave writes some good songs, too. Martin does guide the musical direction a bit. His demos guide the direction. He worked very hard on the demos for Sounds of the Universe. We don’t plan the sound and the atmosphere. Our next album could be very different.
With Dave writing more songs on Sounds of the Universe compared to the last album, how has his involvement affected the band?
Dave’s writing has brought us closer together as a band. He feels creatively part of the band. He’s more involved in making the music. Dave always felt slightly uncomfortable as a lead singer in a big band. He was just coming in singing. Now he doesn’t feel so isolated. Dave has contributed to the great atmosphere we have in the band. It’s very joyful to be in Depeche Mode now.
Is that a refreshing change of pace from previous years when the band was in turmoil?
Being in Depeche Mode has always been joyful from day one. We had a few years when Dave was very ill that were tough, tough to keep the band going. It’s a nice atmosphere. It’s a different vibe in the band.
Martin has said that he has stopped drinking and Dave has said he’s clean and sober. Is the band more calm and focused?
It’s a great atmosphere now. Making the album was joyful, no friction. But, sometimes friction isn’t a bad thing with groups. The electricity produced by these individuals can make great albums. We’re pleased at this moment in our career to be enjoying ourselves. It’s a much better space for us now.