With nearly 30 years in the limelight and more than 100 million albums sold worldwide, Depeche Mode could easily sit back and enjoy the silence. Yet now that the British electro-pop outfit has released its 12th studio album, Sounds of the Universe, the influential trio — Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher — will jumpstart a 24-city North American stadium tour on July 24. Gore, the group’s chief songwriter, tells us about their early wrongs but details why Depeche Mode has always done right by devout gay fans.
By Brandon Voss
David: Your self-deprecating new single, “Wrong,” sounds like it was written by someone who just had a really bad day.
Martin Gore: I think it was probably more than a day. [Laughs] I hope people don’t take it in a really depressing way, because I like to think that I’ve somehow made it into a bit of a comedy moment. There’s a bit of black humor in there. It makes me laugh when I say that “there’s something wrong with me chemically, something wrong with me inherently.”
Dance remixes of “Wrong” are burning up the clubs. As a songwriter, how do you feel about other artists remixing your tracks?
We put a lot of time into choosing the remixers who actually work on the tracks. We generally use an artist that we genuinely like, an artist whose work we think is challenging, and we’ve always managed to catch people who are just about to break. I totally think our remixes over the years have been of a very high caliber.
Has Depeche Mode done anything wrong enough to regret?
“Regret” would be too strong a word, but we’ve done a lot of things wrong. When we first started out, we were just young kids, really, who had put a band together. Suddenly we were rushed into the spotlight. If there was a photo session and the photographer said, “Put on these stupid outfits,” we said, “Okay.” We just went along. We have to take some of the blame for some of the stupid outfits as well, because we didn’t have a stylist styling us; we just wore what we felt was appropriate, which was totally inappropriate.
What fashion statements will you make on your upcoming tour?
I’m going to be a cosmic Teddy Boy. I don’t think the term “Teddy Boy” exists in America, does it? It’s like a ’50s rock ’n’ roll look where they have the pompadours and the drape jackets. Me and a friend of mine, Sara Freegard, came up with the idea, and a punk tailor in London, Tom Baker, made all the stuff. And I’ve got these amazing shoes that were made by Terry de Havilland.
Sounds of the Universe will be released as a special edition CD/DVD and a deluxe box set with loads of exclusive extras, including demos, behind-the-scenes interviews and other making-of material. Why was it important with this album to share so much of your process?
One of the ways you can try to get around people just downloading stuff on the Internet is by providing quality and something the fans really want to get a hold of. The music will all end up on the Internet, no question about that, but here there are three DVDs and special booklets, one by Anton Corbijn of band shots and another of candid shots from the studio, and that’s just something you can’t download. The better you make the package, the more likely people will go out and buy it, and we’re really proud of this album. We’re in rehearsals right now for the tour, trying to put the set list together, and it’s the first time we feel we could and should just go out and play the whole album. But we realize we can’t do that because that’s sort of indulgent.
“Oh Well,” which appears on the box set edition and as a b-side of the “Wrong” single, marks the first time you and Dave Gahan wrote a song together. Was that a harmonious collaboration?
Well, we didn’t sit down in a room and write a song together. It started out as a techno track that I wrote. When I first played it for Dave, he liked it so much that he went back to the hotel that night and started writing some words and melody on top of it. But this album is actually the most relaxed one we’ve ever made, and there was a really great atmosphere in the studio. Everybody was a bit sad when the whole project finished; we wanted to carry on, and that’s never happened before.
You once said your large gay fan base was “really an achievement, because we are not a gay band ourselves.” The Bloodhound Gang’s 1997 single “I Wish I Was Queer So I Could Get Chicks” even contains the lyric, “If I were gay I’d… appreciate Depeche Mode.” Why has the gay community always been so drawn to Depeche Mode?
One of the things you touched on is the dance aspect of the band, because we do put out a lot of dance tracks and remixes. And there is a real sensitive side to the band, which our gay audience relates to. Our music was quite out there, I suppose, and maybe in some ways that helped gay people to express themselves. People come up to me — sometimes gay, sometimes straight — and say, “I just want to tell you that your music has changed my life.” That is such an amazing statement, and it happens on such a regular basis that it seems like I’m making it up.
I read that it’s not one of your favorite tracks, but did you have any idea that “People Are People” would become an anthem for the LGBT community?
I didn’t realize that at the time because I was writing more generally about hatred I’d seen. At one point I was chased for absolutely no reason whatsoever by guys who decided they wanted to beat me up. They ran up behind me and started kicking and punching me. Fortunately, I’m quite a fast runner, so I only got beaten up a bit before I managed to run away.
Did you like RuPaul’s 2006 “People Are People” cover?
That one must’ve passed me by. I’ll have to YouTube it.
What about Hilary Duff’s recent single “Reach Out,” which heavily sampled “Personal Jesus”?
Yeah. I think it’s interesting that younger audiences are interested in sampling our music, and we felt it was harmless enough to approve the use of it. It’s always flattering when someone covers your song because it means they obviously like you, and the song must mean something to them. Unfortunately, the majority of the requests I get to approve come from Germany, and they’re usually just techno versions that have no inspiration whatsoever, with some guy singing over-the-top in a really heavy German accent. I still usually approve them. They have to be really dreadful for me to say no, because these people probably put their heart and soul into covering our songs. But it’s great when people do amazing versions. When Johnny Cash did “Personal Jesus,” that just blew my mind.
David, May 2009; extended online version.