Interview / Promotion par Uncredited | Vox | 1993 | 17885 caractères. Temps de lecture : 13 min 25 sec
Half a mile from the studio in Barnes, South London, where Depeche Mode are recording their tenth studio album - a short walk across the ragged common - stands the tree where Marc Bolan met his death, two weeks before his 30th birthday.
Quite how Pop's glamorous elf would have struggled with the problems of being a famous thirty-something are for the angels to tell, but, for the four members of the Mode, that third decade has been a period of reflection, transition and depression.
"Over the past few years, I went from being a lad to being a man," Dave Gahan will say, a good hour into the interview. But, by that time, the other things he has said will drain that phrase of all sense of cliche. In those two years, he explains, his marriage broke up - amid, it seems, more than the usual amount of heartache - and he did exactly what his own father had done to him: walked out on a five-year-old son. Earlier this year, he was re-married.
"Suddenly I've been able to breathe and really take control," he says. "It's been a long, painful process which I'm still healing from, but suddenly I have a lot more perspective on what I want from life."
Much of Gahan's turmoil, during this period, finds expression in the Depeche Mode album we are here to discuss: Songs Of Faith And Devotion. Seldom has he sung with more strength and conviction - particularly on the opening 'Condemnation' - and rarely have Martin L Gore's lyrics seemed so peculiarly apt to his situation. But in the main, the album has a positive, uplifting air. Gore, the thoughtful Alan Wilder, and pragmatic Andy Fletcher, seem to have coped with their early 30s (and with the band's gradual shift into the global super-league) much better than their front-man. Their confidence is reflected in the use, for the very first time, of outside musicians, Gospel singers and even a full-blown orchestra.
Still, it's Gahan - now sporting shoulder-length hair and a goatee beard - who best expresses the intent.
"We're trying to lift people to a higher level, to take them somewhere where they can find something spiritual, or whatever you want to call it," he explains. "Everything's in such a sorry state at the moment."
The band started work on the new album in March, 1992, after taking a full year off. They insist in being interviewed separately, so it's hard to get a consensus view, but it seems that it took much longer for the group to 'gel' after their return.
"It's been a difficult album at times, there's no doubt about it," says Wilder. "The fact that we took a break away from each other, that people went and did things with their own personal lives - had children and moved to different parts of the world - has given us all a different perspective on what the group was and is, and what it means to us all. Coming back together has taken a long time to get used to. It's probably only now, in the last two or three months, that the unity of the group has solidified again. I think, for a long period this year, there were a lot of disparities between the different members of the group."
The "disparities" are not elaborated on, but it's not difficult to surmise what they might be. Gahan was obviously unhappy and unsettled, "living out of a suitcase" between Los Angeles and London. Wilder had recorded a solo album, under the project name Recoil, during his year off, so he'd barely had a break from studio work. Fletcher and Gore had discovered the joys both of fatherhood and, in the case of 'Fletch', restaurant management: he's now a silent partner in an establishment in St John's Wood, North London. Clearly, they were being pulled in all directions.
"At one point I was actually thinking of doing another solo record," says Martin Gore, "but then, when I had a daughter, it was like something else that was just more enjoyable than going back into the studio. I'd rather have a daughter and get into Sega Mega-Drive and Super Nintendo. I ended up wasting months on Sonic The Hedgehog!"
Depeche Mode's dilemma is thus the same as any of the bands who broke through in the early '80s: how do you combine a career with family life? For Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, the answer was to split up and become easy fodder for Hello! magazine. For Madness - six out of seven of whom have two children or more - a reformation has meant regular group meetings to dove-tail their touring activities with school open-days. But Depeche Mode are different. Whilst recognising that the rock'n'roll lifestyle can wreck relationships, they are planning their longest tour ever in support of the new album - an astonishing eighteen months.
"I'd like a life outside rock,' says Gahan, "but, at the same time, I'm in it right up to my fucking neck, and I'm going to remain in it. My wife would back me 100 percent, even if it meant us spending a lot of time apart. What we have is much stronger than that."
Wilder is equally adamant.
"My wife and I have been together a long time and it's become so normal," he says. "It doesn't seem weird to her when I go away.
"I mean - there is no ideal situation is there? She'll come out to certain places of her choice - Paris, perhaps. She doesn't bother with Cleveland!"
Depeche Mode's determination to thrust ahead into the '90s, whatever the risk to domestic bliss, is not arrogant (they all believe their family lives will stand the pace) but it has something of the nature of revenge about it.
England has not been kind to them. Critics still snigger about the lacy lingerie and dresses Martin Gore wore back in the early '80s. Their music is dismissed as 'cold', because it was, but only for an album or two. Radio One only plays their records, Fletch reckons, because it feels it has to. They are a hugely successful export to every other country in the world - much bigger than, say, Queen ever were - but they remain unloved and uncelebrated at home. One solution, it seems, is to build on their American success, which began in 1985 with the Top Ten success of 'People Are People', but they won't do it by climbing into bed with MTV - "all of a sudden it's like they've grabbed you", shudders Fletch - or by advertising Pepsi. They're even split on the idea of playing stadiums any more, with only Gahan, it seems, particularly keen on the idea.
No, they'll release their LP, play their 18 months of dates and see what happens.
"We won't blindly rush into anything," says Wilder. "Perhaps, sometimes, that's been to our detriment, perhaps we needed to be a bit bolder and we could have hit this point a couple of years ago. But in the end, caution's a good thing."
If Depeche Mode's approach to success has been cautious, the records and tours they have produced have not been. On single alone, they have trounced the idea of a merciful God ('Blasphemous Rumours'), glorified in sado-masochism ('Master And Servant') and explored obsessional love ('Stripped', 'Personal Jesus'). Their songs can brood, but they can also tick along beautifully from moment to moment, and they never lack compassion. Martin L Gore is a master of changing emotions and the shifting view-point.
"I think I've always written nice songs," says Gore in his careful Cockney way. "Even when I've been accused of being depressing, I think the songs have always shown the light at the end of the tunnel.. 'Master And Servant' is the one that people will pick out, because they think it's just about S&M. If you analyse it, it's not.
"The pop song is such a harmless format. If we were just screaming over noises and we were called 'avant-garde', we probably wouldn't get away with some of the things that we do..."
Is S&M actually important in Gore's life, then, or is he just playing provocative games?
"No, I've always tried to write from a personal point of view. I don't see any of the things I write about as being pervy, you know? I actually really like the imagery of S&M, and the clubs and things like that, but I wasn't just glorifying it."
There doesn't seem to be much of that sort of thing on the new album.
"Oh, I think it's probably there if you look for it," he laughs. "We had someone down the other day who's writing a biography for us, and it was really funny because he was talking about this pervert thing as well. We played him four or five tracks and when it got to 'One Caress' and it started off, 'Well I'm down on my knees again', he went, 'Oh good!'." Gore gives another one of his sudden, exploding laughs.
With his Thunderbird-puppet features peering out from under a ski-hat, slightly hunched shoulders and the ubiquitous leather trousers, Gore cuts a flamboyant figure in the pub, just across from the studio, where we talk. He's good company, holding his cigarette, oddly, between thumb and forefinger and drawing on it deeply like a sinning schoolboy as he ponders the questions. Some strange conspiracy between his teeth and his tongue means that he doesn't pronounce the ends of a lot of words and the beginnings of ones that start with 'th' or 'sh'. It's like a ventriloquist trick.
With dozen of fine songs to his name, Martin L Gore should have been publicly lauded, alongside more ordinary songwriting talents like Mick Hucknall and George Michael, for a decade or more - but it's not something that concerns him.
"We've been invited to the Ivor Novello Awards, we just never go," he says. "I mean...awards ceremonies. Who wants to go anyway? I don't want to belittle them, but how important are they? It's embarrassing having a gold disc on your wall. It's like saying, 'Look how important I am'."
It does frustrate him, though, that British critics still label his music cold and doom-laden, and invariably mention his past penchant for wearing women's clothes onstage.
"It was such a small phase," he says, "and so insignificant. It was totally blown out of proportion."
Do you regret doing it then?
"Well, I probably will in about four years, when my daughter can look back and see pictures. Try explaining that!"
As befits its positive, uplifting message, the new album is chock-full of religious references. At some points, Gore has Gahan sounding like a crazed whisky priest, announcing, 'Friends, if you've lost your way...' in the middle of the extraordinary 'Get Right With Me', and declaring 'I have to believe sin can make me a better man' on 'One Caress.
"I've always had a fascination with religion," explains Gore. "I've never actually been a devout Christian or followed any religion particularly, but I've always liked the idea of belief...
"For the title of the album, we wanted to get something with religious overtones but also a hint of ambiguity. Songs Of Faith And Devotion sounds very devout, but at the same time, faith in what? Devotion to what?"
In Gore's case, the answer to both questions might be 'sex'. For all its biblical overtones, the new album is still suffused with sexual desire. In fact, 'In Your Room' may be the most sensual piece they've ever recorded.
"I think, probably, 70 percent of our songs are about, or touch on, sex,' says Gore. "Personally, I find it an important thing, I find it amazing when I talk to people and they consider it a secondary thing in life. For me, it isn't something that's very secondary."
Ask Gore to elaborate on the meanings of particular songs and he'll shake his head, citing the example of Chuck Berry, who confessed he'd only written 'Sweet Sixteen' because his publisher had told him that was the age of most of his listeners, so why not target them?
"For me, that lost it," Gore laughs. "I can't listen to that song any more."
Pressed on his preferred songwriters, however, he'll cite Leonard Cohen - "that won't surprise the people who think I'm a doom merchant" - and Kurt Weill, "especially when he wrote with Bertolt Brecht."
Gore writes exclusively in minor keys - 'Get Right With Me' is his first ever to feature a Major one - never tries to write hit singles ("The moment you do that, you've lost it"), and, although their boss at Mute Records, Daniel Miller, will drop by during recordings and offer advice, neither Gore nor the others are bullied by record company interference.
"The last time that happened at all, I think, was in 1986 when our American record company (Sire) made us flip 'Stripped', which we'd spent three weeks perfecting - for the B-side, 'But Not Tonight', which was a throwaway thing we did in a day, because there was some naff film, called Modern Girls, that wanted to use it. It bombed, they lost our respect and that was it."
Much of the band's irritation over that decision must have stemmed from the fact that 1986 was the year when almost everything else was going right for them Stateside. They were not US stars, by any respect, but Los Angeles' now-famous K-ROQ radio station, and various others in New York, had championed their case to the point where tickets for Depeche Mode concerts in those cities could sell-out in a few hours.
The outdoor shows that summer were elegantly-designed, beautifully-lit in purples and reds and very, very loud. Gahan's assertion that Bono came along to the band's 'Violator' tour, three years later, and "nicked a lot of our fucking ideas" is said with an affectionate laugh, but it may not be too far from the truth. In his white Levi's, white vest and short, spiky hair, closer to the style of Marc Almond than Axl Rose - Gahan himself, from 1986 onwards, was already stirring plenty of camp and irony into the concept of the crotch-wiggling rock front-man, even if he lacked the head-hugging 'fly' sunglasses...
"What you've got to be careful about," he says, "is that there's a fine line between 'Come and look at me, I'm God' and 'Come and look at me, I'll entertain you and make you feel like going home and fucking your girlfriend'. I definitely fall into the latter category."
Just as Gahan could be tempted to lose his head onstage, so his offstage life began to fall apart during the mid-to-late '80s. Perched on a stool, in the half-light of the studio, clearly nervous - the laughs, when they come, arriving just a little too suddenly and loudly - Gahan nevertheless seems keen to air his problems, publicly. He's being brave. Depeche Mode have rarely discussed their personal lives in interview, but this time around, he gives the impression that he thinks it may help.
"Over the years, I think I was a pretty shitty person," he says. "I didn't like what I saw and what I was creating very much in my own life. This is very personal, but it's also very relevant, I think, to the way I've wanted to push myself with this album.
"I'd been with my ex-wife, Joanne, for a long while, and we used to be really great friends, and that had deteriorated - mostly on my part. Ninety percent of that was my doing, definitely. But I now know that it had to end, as much heartache as that brought on for everybody concerned, because I had to regain perspective on what I'd really wanted to do, and be able to put all my heart and soul into making music, which is what I really love to do. It's easy to lose your perspective on things."
A lot of people might say you made the selfish choice - choosing a career over the health of your marriage...
"Well, I wouldn't want it to be seen like that. There was a lot more to it than that choice. There's a big difference between what you believe is love and what hits you as actually being love."
Gahan was married for the second time - to an American, involved in the music business - earlier this year. "That was an easy decision to make. It was black and white, the difference." But, though he claims to be happier than ever, he's tormented by the idea that he walked out on his wife and five-year-old son and is obviously far from recovered from the trauma. It is much this pain, rather than the positive feelings engendered by his new relationship, which feeds his extraordinary performances on the new album.
"It's really difficult for me to talk about this because I still haven't got over the fact, really, that I'm now a part-time dad, you know? And that, no matter how hard I want to think I can influence my son's life, there's very little I can do.
"My dad left myself and my sister when we were very young, in a very vulnerable position, and I've done the same thing with my son. But at the same time I haven't," he says, "because I'm determined to make it work. I'm determined, much as he might hate it, to force myself on him. I'm going to see him next week, actually. I'm going down to his school next Friday to meet all his teachers and that kind of stuff. And Joanne's really good about all that - she understands the importance of me seeing him and Jack being able to see me. She's been really good about it.
"What I hope," he says, "what I really hope, is for her to meet somebody and fall in love and realise that, probably, we weren't in love at all. That would be the best thing for me, because it would remove a lot of the guilt that I now feel..."
If that last comment sounds selfish, well, perhaps it is. But, rightly or wrongly - and perhaps most strongly because there's still so much certainty elsewhere in his life - Gahan has moved his work with Depeche Mode into the centre of things. It's important to him that it's based on honesty.
"For me, at the moment," he says, "'average' is no good, 'okay' is no good, or 'we'll get away with it'. I want brilliance out of life, I want the best: passion, sex, love. I want to feel moved by things."
For the moment, at least, it sounds like the cry of a numbed man.