|December 7 2000 by Daniel Barassi
How is the mixing process going?
It's going very well. We're working
with someone we've never used before - a guy called Steve Fitzmorris -
and he's extremely fast. We're basically playing catch-up with him now.
We're having to get the rest of the songs up to scratch because he's already
mixed all the ones that were ready to go, and now we're trying to get stuff
up to the mix stage. We're not as fast as him. He's super speedy.
How is it working with someone
you've never worked with before?
He's really great. As I said, we've
never worked with anyone quite this fast. On his end of things, he's ahead
of schedule. But, because we're not quite as quick as him, I think we may
end up not quite finishing before Christmas - like we originally had planned
- and maybe going into about a week or two next year, which we had always
pencilled in anyway. We knew that was a possibility. But, if we go a week
or two over schedule, that's nothing for us.
Compared to previous albums, how
would you compare these new songs? Did these come easier for you? Is there
anything in your life right now that made the songs seem more significant?
After I got into the flow of things,
everything has been really natural, but I did struggle last year when I
first started writing. I was supposed to start writing in January or February,
and when it got to October and I still hadn't done anything, I was getting
into a kind of panicky state. That's when I decided I needed some kind
of comradery during the writing process. That's when I got Gareth Jones
and Paul Freegard involved. From that point on, it came a lot easier to
me because I knew they were sitting there waiting for me to come up with
ideas. There were certain songs where they were sitting in the studio waiting
to go, and I would say "ok, well give me a couple of hours and I'll go
over to the house with my guitar, and I'll come back with an idea and a
basic song". That really gave me focus, which I didn't have before. I think
sometimes you need a bit of pressure. For all those months when I was just
sitting at home doing nothing, had I had that kind of pressure, knowing
there were people waiting on me, and desperate to work, maybe I would have
done something a lot earlier.
From a songwriter point of view,
what is it like to actually have that pressure put upon you for new songs?
The label wants new songs, fans are getting anxious...
All of that wasn't working at all.
I had all those pressures during the six or seven months when I was desperately
trying to write on my own at home. I knew that the band needed songs. I
knew that the record label wanted us to put something out. I knew there
were millions of fans all around the world waiting for material, but that
didn't seem to phase me. I still couldn't sit down and force myself to
write anything. It's only when I physically had people sitting in the studio
waiting to work that the pressure got to me. I think it was also a very
nice process. One of the things that was important was the comradery -
we had a really good atmospheare going.
When you write a song, I assume
it's a lot easier to take your time than to have people sitting there say
"write songs - now".
I never write that way anyway.
I don't wander around, see something interesting, and think that I have
to write about that. I sort of just drag everything out of the subconscious.
They often are first person perspective, but somehow they're dragged out
of some deep depths, and I'm not quite ever sure where they come from.
I've always said it's a weird process for me anyway.
Is there any music you have been
listening to lately that might have had some sort of influence on the new
I think there's nothing you could
say we've been totally inspired by that's made us go down a certain route.
I think when we first started out with the record, Daniel (Miller) was
sending a lot of his radio shows. He was playing some really weird stuff.
A lot of "Clicks And Cuts" stuff. It's just people making avant garde electronic
music. It's kind of like a punk ethic for me because they obviously don't
particularly want to sell many records, and I really like that ethic. (laughs)
These days a lot of so-called indie and alternative bands set out with
the premise that they want to be the biggest band in the world. It didn't
use to be like that. I really like the sound of a lot of the records because
they people were starting out with the idea that they'd be really happy
if they sold ten records in the world.
The remix that you did on On's
"Soluble Words" back in 1999. How does that particular sound reflect, if
at all, on the current album?
Not really, no. I think that was
the first thing that me, Gareth (Jones) and Paul (Freegard) worked on.
It was either that, or we might have done one instrumental before we got
to grips with the album material. But no, that was just something that
I was asked to do - The Ken Andrews / On thing - that was something I was
asked to do, and I really liked the track. There's not many tracks that
come along that I really like, and want to work on, and that one was special.
The sound of it was just the way we decided to take it at that point in
time. I don't think it really has any bearing on this record.
How do your home demos sound compared
to the studio versions for this album?
Well this time, because I work
with Gareth, who's an engineer, and Paul, who's a keyboard programmer,
the songs were actually a lot more finished when they were brought to the
studio stage. But having said that, most of them now have changed quite
drastically anyway, because we're working with Mark Bell, who I think must
be one of the best producers in the world at the moment. I think what he's
brought to this record is absolutely fantastic. He doesn't do anything
in a conventional way. The whole way he thinks is just different. He will
never come up with an idea that is clichéd.
How many songs are you singing
on the new album?
At the moment, two. There's only
one vocal left to do, and it's down to Dave to sing it. I think Dave will
be singing it, but we've only got two weeks to go now. We can't actually
get into doing vocals in January, and Dave also has another vocal to do
for a track for a b side, and I'm always cautious about saying there will
be two, just in case it changes. It is definitely penned for Dave.
For the last few albums (including
this new album), you have had guest players on the album. What do you feel
this brings to the album, and how do these guest musicians get picked?
(They're) usually people that we
like, and have an interest in working with. But having said that, this
time we did actually work with somebody that was really a totally off the
wall coincidence. While we were recording in Santa Barbara, we were trying
to put a percussion loop in time, and it was very complicated because it
was a 4/4 loop over a 3/4 beat. This percussionist just happened to walk
into the office, and Jonathan, our manager, was there and said "Oh, you're
a percussionist. Maybe you can go in there and help him try and put this
percussion loop in time". So anyway, he came in and just introduced himself.
He said "Oh, I'm a percussion player. My name's Airto. If you ever want
me to do any percussion, just give us a call". So we did a bit of research
on him, and he's one of the top percussion players in the world. Apparently
he can play a month at Ronnie Scott's in London. (laughs) That one wasn't
necessarily someone that we earmarked to work with, but it just happened
to turn out that way. One of those nice little coincidences.
What is it like working with Mark
Bell? How do he compare with other producers you have worked with?
He's a lot more "hands-on" than
most people we've worked with in the past. Tim (Simenon) was more of a
conceptual man, and he had the team around him. He would say "I want it
to be like this" or "I want it to be like that", and then it was up to
the team to somehow achieve that, whereas Mark - any sound he can imagine
in his head, he can produce it within five minutes.
He's one of those guys that I hate.
I can never get the sounds I want out of keyboards.
Yeah, me too. (laughs)
In the video and pictures on the
web site, you can be seen messing with a Roland JD 800, a Technics 1200
turntable, as well as other equipment? How much of a "hands-on" position
are you taking on this new album?
I'm more hands on at an earlier
stage. Like I said, the demos are far more finished when they actually
get to the studio, so obviously a lot of those parts are actually still
used, even though there's still quite a bit that's been produced before
Mark's even heard it. Apart from that, Mark is so good with sound, that
I tend to take a background seat from that stage, and I'll tell him what
I like and what I don't like, which is in a way kind of how I worked with
TIm (Simenon) as well. Me and Tim would conceptually talk about the songs,
and then put ideas out to the team, whereas this time I can leave Mark
to do stuff. I can say "I like that", "I don't like that", "I think that's
good because of this or that" or "That's not working because I think that's
wrong for this song"...just working like that.
Besides the analog gear, what other
types of sounds are you incorporating onto the new album?
As I said, we used Airto for percussion.
We've got some real drums - not a lot - but we've got Christian, the drummer
we used on the last tour, in to play some drums. We're using guitar, and
Knox (Chandler) scored some strings for us in one of the songs, so there's
a string quartet playing on one of the songs.
Being the man who writes the songs,
how hard is it for you to let a remixer tear your work apart? Do you look
upon it as such, or just as a necessary evil of the recording industry?
That can go either way. We usually
choose people that we respect. Fifty percent of the time you're plesantantly
surprised what they've done to one of your tracks, and fifty percent of
the time you think "what path were they trying to go down there?" - it
just doesn't work at all. It's an interesting process. It's not a process
that I hate or anything, and the ones that we end up putting out I think
are always interesting. There are some that we reject, that the world doesn't
get to hear...
The BT mix of "It's No Good" comes
Well, there are others. There are
loads over the years that have never seen the light of day.
I've actually heard one of Coil
doing a remix of "Rush", and it sounds like they had the masters to work
Coil did do one. Did that one never
No - that never came out.
Well, that would be one that didn't
see the light of day.
I can see why. (laughs)
How do you think the new material
will translate to a live format?
I think that they'll translate
really well to a live format this time around. I'm sure that we'll only
be playing five or six songs maximum from the new album. I mean, you can't
play more than that without it getting really overindulgent. So, I'm sure
there'll be five or six of the songs that are most suited to the live environment,
and I'm sure they'll be great.
With the upcoming tour, have there
been and thoughts yet on the size of the tour, extra players on stage,
opening acts, et cetera?
I think we're planning to use the
same musicians that we used last time, because everyone got on really well.
They got on so well that we couldn't turn them down again. (laughs) The
size of the tour, I imagine at this stage that it's probably going to be
around five months.
When I talked to Andy, he mentioned
that with the band having families and such, it's hard to take time away
from them to do the tour.
Exactly, and last time we were
sort of testing the waters, because we hadn't done it for a while. It was
a bit of an edgy time for us. We survived four months, so this time we're
thinking possibly we can manage another month. But, I wouldn't want to
do much more than that, because it's starting to get into dangerous waters
Back when you did the World Violation
tour, you had the acoustic set in the middle. Among collectors, this is
one of the higher priority things to find copies of. Is there any chances
of another acoustic set in the upcoming tour?
We haven't really discussed yet
the set list. That's something we have to sit down and do in January. We
sort of want to decide it up front this time quite early, because it's
a question of transferring all of the songs onto the format that we're
going to use live. A lot of that can be done over in England, before the
guy that's working on it comes over to America. So, we need to know by
the end of January at the latest. Up till now, we haven't really discussed
it at all as a band, so I really don't know.
With the current state of radio,
how do you feel the new Depeche music will fit in. Are there any concerns?
I don't think it will fit in at
all, and do I have any concerns? No - not at all, because when did we ever
Great answer! (laughs)
Your official web site recently
came in 19th in a net poll voted on by over 75,000 people on dotmusic.com.
Are you surprised by the constant support of Depeche Mode fans, and what
do you think has kept the band so strong for two decades?
There was a time when the fans
used to surprise me, but they've been so solid for so long now, and I know
that we have this solid, rabid fan base. It gets to a point where it just
doesn't surprise me anymore. You know. They're crazy - in a good way.
There are a lot of "uncirculated"
recordings of Depeche Mode floating around the net, some of which are your
demos. From a songwriter point of view, how do you feel about having those
It doesn't bother me, but the funny
thing is half of the ones that are supposed to be demos are not even us.
Somebody told me that they had 74 minutes of stuff they downloaded, and
they said they'd make me a copy. I said I was really interested to hear
it, just to see what it was. About three or four of the tracks are really
interesting because they were demos that I had totally forgotten about
and I probably don't even have copies of. The rest of them were just, like,
rock bands playing us, and things like that, but people tend to believe
that it's us. All you have to do is to say on the web that it's Depeche
Mode, and people tend to believe it. There's this new thing. Have you seen
this "Sweetest Condition"?
Oh yeah. I heard it. It's painful.
It's actually funny. They're called
it "Sweetest Con". They're actually honest. Everyone else doesn't quite
get that. (laughs) It's not us at all.