|Catching Up With Martin by Michaela
Olexova (October 1996)
Q: How do you feel about the past two years? Have you been doing much?
We've spent a large portion of the last two years making the record we are working on at the moment and before we started the actual recording, I was writing the songs. But I probably started writing the new songs earlier than two years ago.
Q: How long did it take you to adapt to a normal day-to-day life after coming back from such an extensive Devotional Tour?
I actually think it didn't take me very long. I got into some very bad habits on that tour. I was taking sleeping tablets every day and when I got home from the tour, I still had a couple left and so it gave me a few days of good sleep....sleep is a key to happiness (laughs). After that I ran out of those tablets and I was totally back to normal.
Q: Have you kept in touch with one another since the end of the Devotional Tour or just wanted to break and forget about DM for some time?
Because Dave went back to America, we didn't see him very often and we didn't speak on the phone very much, maybe not as much as we should have. We didn't speak to Alan at all, even though he was living in London, which we felt was quite strange and we totally prepared for his decision to leave the band. We actually predicted that months and months before it happened. Andy, I see all the time because we have the same group of friends and so if I'm in London, I'm almost bound to bump into Andy at some point.
Q: Do you think that Dave being in L.A. and the rest of the band being in London affected your relationship?
I think the fact that there is such a great distance between us sometimes raises more communication problems and even though it is so easy to pick up the telephone and speak to somebody, it's just something people don't do as often as they should. We are realizing that we should keep in touch more often, especially when decisions are to be made, if we are on different sides of the Atlantic...
Q: Have you found it difficult to settle down in the studio again after the time off you had?
This record has been really easy for us to make. There is such an easy going atmosphere in the studio, and the team we are working with are all such nice people. So compared to the pressure of making the last few albums, this is totally enjoyable. I knew Tim before and we actually met quite a lot over the years, but I've never spent a lot of time with him, and he's such a lovely person. It feels like I have discovered a new soul brother. When you have to be in a studio with four or five different people all the time, it always helps if you have that bond with them.
Q: When did it come about to start working on the new album?
I suppose it's always down to how many songs I have ready, and demo's, up to a stage where I think they're ready to go into the studio, and start experimenting with. So I think when I had about six or seven songs we had a meeting, and we talked about future plans and when we should start recording, when would be a good time to release something, in theory, and that's when we had those preliminary meetings.
Q: Have you been listening to a lot of music lately? Has anything inspired or influenced you in your current work?
I have always liked to listen to all kinds of music. I just came from the record shop and when I analyzed what I've just bought, none of it is actually current. I got one CD that might have been released during the last three months, but the rest of it is really old stuff. It's not any particular genre of music.
Q: What gigs have you been to lately?
I don't particularly like live music very much. I went to see Oasis at Knebworth, but more for the event really, and I found it quite interesting. I always found it very bland watching bands on stage unless there is something really special happening. Just watching people play instruments has never really appealed to me.
Q: How has the current music, including electronic forms like techno and dance floor, affected the recording of the new album? Especially since Tim Simenon is one of the representatives of such a flow?
I'm really into slow dance music and anything over about 100 beats a minute is a bit too fast for me, and that's really slow. The tempos on this album range from 69 up to about 100 and that's my perfect range. But going back to the music I like, I do generally like a lot of the trip-hop stuff, for want of a better term, I hate the term trip-hop, but it doesn't actually sum up a certain sort of music.
Q: Tim Simenon is known among the fans for his remixes of your songs such as "Everything Counts", "Strangelove"... Why did you choose him particularly?
We all really liked the last Bomb the Bass album and I particularly liked the Gavin Friday album that came out just a couple of months before we started working with Tim. I think the stuff he's worked on with Sinead O'Connor in the past is her best stuff, for me. Tim does have a good ear for dance music. Tim can make something that's 69 beats a minute quite groovy and that's quite important to us because we are in such a slow territory. In the past we have gone much faster than 100 bpm, but when I try writing anything faster that that now it always sounds silly to me, it just loses atmosphere. For me, this record is all about atmosphere.
Q: What is the main difference in the work approach between Tim Simenon and Flood?
One of the main differences is that there is a lot less performance, but that's also probably dictated by the songs more. There's a lot less guitar on this record than on the last one, and probably less than on "Violator" as well. Tim also has a strange set-up and he works with the same team. So in the studio we have a programmer, a musician, an engineer, and Tim, and all four work together all the time, and they have a really good working relationship. With Flood, it was just Flood there throwing ideas at us and saying, "why don't you try this?, get on with this and see if it works" or suggesting something and trying it out himself. Now, sometimes there's two or three different things going on at once...me and Tim might talk to Dave Clayton, the keyboard player, and say, maybe we should try this on this song and he'd put his headphones on and go off and work for a few hours, while maybe we're trying something else out, on a different song. And sometimes, like in New York, I had a set-up in the live room, to write as well. So sometimes there's three different things going on at once. Parallel working, they call it (laughs).
Q: Does it mean that you are involved in the production a bit more than you used to be?
In the past, Alan was almost a control freak. I think he'd even admit he's a bit of a control freak. He tended to really focus on the production and it's something that didn't really interest me as much. Obviously, I cared about what was going on and what the end result was. If I liked what he was doing then I would let him get on with it. If it came to a point where I really didn't like something, then I would say I don't think that works, maybe try something else, which is like you're sort of a background producer. Now I definitely have to be slightly more involved than that.
Q: Did you discuss with Daniel Miller the directions you want to take on this album?
I always play Daniel the demos as soon as they are finished and he generally likes them. I can't remember a time when he said "I really hate this song". We didn't have a big concept before we started this album. I did say to him that I like the idea of it being quite hip-hop based in a certain way. That's why we started thinking about the dance angle and I think it was Daniel who first suggested Tim. He said "what about Tim, he's a nice bloke, you know him already, he's produced a few good records". So we listened to the stuff Tim had been doing and thought, what a brilliant idea. We'd already met him and liked him. If you like people, it's one of the important things in life and everything falls into place.
Q: How many new songs have you written and how many of them will make in onto the album?
At the moment there are nine actual songs with words and there's an instrumental, that will be the first B-side, but we like it so much we might end up putting it on the album as well. We also want to try and do some atmospheric instrumental link pieces. We've got the ideas there but we haven't actually physically done them yet. We don't know how long they are going to end up and if they end up having titles, then there could be like 11 or 12 tracks. If they end up being so short that they are really just link pieces, then we probably won't even name them.
Q: Do you write when you're happy or unhappy?
I don't know if I am ever really happy or really unhappy. I think I always have a certain level and because I am always at that level, that's how I always write. That's always the emotional state I am in when I write. I don't have like massive peaks and troughs of happiness.
Q: What do you do with the songs that don't make it to the album?
Some of them will end up on B-sides and there is probably one or two that I'll end up rejecting, just because I am not sure about them.
Q: Musically and lyrically, does this new album mean any profound change from the previous ones?
I think in some ways, it's very different to the last album and it would probably have made more sense as a follow-up to "Violator". For me, the last album was a bit of a quirk, our pseudo-rock album. This one's far more heavily electronic based, which is where are true roots are.
Q: How long does it usually take to write and then record a song?
To write and demo a song could take a day if I do it all really quickly. But sometimes....there's one song on the album which I kept trying to do a demo of but it just never worked and I kept thinking why doesn't it work? I liked the basic song and I went back to it five or six times and spent like a week each time on it, and in the end I got it to work. But that's just the demoing of the song. When we get in to the studio, some songs fall into place quite quickly and some don't.
Q: Would you say the majority of the new songs are slow emotional ballads or rocky pieces?
There aren't many "rock" songs on the album. There are about three or four that are possible to dance to in a conventional dance sense. Most of the tracks are quite slow, but I think they're slow, but really groovy, they're not un-danceable. There are about four that are fairly up-tempo.
Q: Do you write ideas down when they occur to you? Are they visual?
They are usually visual, but I wish I did write ideas down more often because I believe that my memory is a lot better than it is. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I have a brilliant idea for a song and I remember a couple of cases when I virtually had a whole song written and I think "shall I get up and write that down - no, there's no way that I am going to forget that". I wake up the next day and I can't remember one line and that's really depressing in a way.
Q: What subjects do you touch on in your lyrics on this album?
I think religion is probably touched on less on this album than it has been in the past because I think I've overdone religion. But because it is still a major fascination, every time I pick up a pen, there's going to be a few words in there somewhere. It's probably less religious than previously. I think it's got quite a spiritual feel. There's not really a concept or a theme to the album, but quite a lot of the songs deal with destiny.
Q: Have you ever worried about becoming creatively bankrupt?
I worry all the time about that. I am never convinced that I'm not doing something good until the record is out, it's been reviewed and people are buying it. With the last seven studio albums, I've never been happy until the records have been out, and people are buying them, but maybe there's something interesting happening here. I remember with the last record, I was really unsure playing it to people before it's release, because when you've been working on something for so long that you have absolutely no perspective on what's good or bad anymore. You just hope by trusting your judgment that you haven't gone astray somewhere.
Q: You introduced the guitar on "Violator", drums on "SoFaD", what are you going to surprise us with this time?
I don't think we've had Bob Dylan style ranting before. We have never used a pedal steel guitar in the conventional way before. One of the tracks has quite a country flavor to it. We got a pedal steel player, called B.J. Cole in, and that worked really well.
Q: Have you invited any other outside musicians or special guests to collaborate with you on this album?
We used quite a few different people and sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. We got Jaki Liebezeit from Can to come in and play some drums on one of the tracks. We used another drummer from London, a Japanese guy called Gota Yashiki. We got Doug Wimbish, who played bass for us on one of the tracks and we had Keith LeBlanc doing some drum programming for us.
Q: Have you used any new equipment or new ways of recording, technology-wise?
We have never worked with a programmer before, we've always done it ourselves. I really enjoy having a programmer there, because even though Alan did a lot of it on the last record, you still felt really involved, whereas now it's much easier to just step back and listen to what's happening. It's also a lot quicker working with somebody who knows how to work everything perfectly. He also uses a lot of things like hard disc recording, which we've never used before and which gives you a lot of freedom. You don't have to tape everything you do all the time. We've never had outside musicians constantly in the studio with us before. I suppose we had Alan in the past, and Dave Clayton, the musician we are currently working with now, in a way fulfills Alan's role, but it's far easier to manipulate him. If Alan didn't like something, I am sure he would play it badly, but if we say to Dave, "can you try this out for us", he'll try it, and he's try his hardest to make it work for us. So as I said before, I really enjoy this whole set up.
Q: What places and studios has the new album been recorded at? Have those particular choices had an affect on the way of recording?
We've done a lot of the recording in a very small studio called Eastcote. I think it's helped in some ways to create this easy going atmosphere because we haven't gone to top studios all the time. It's been very low key and it's been something that's helped us to set a tone for the record. But obviously when it comes to mixing and vocals, we have had to go to bigger studios, so we have done some of it at Sarm West, some of it here at Rak Studios and some at Electric Lady in New York.
Q: What is the main difference between recording the album in a rented villa in Madrid and various studios? Was it more comfortable to spend the recording time at one place?
In theory, we loved the idea of renting a villa in Madrid and setting up our own studio, but in practice it was an absolute disaster. We all hated it there because it wasn't really in the center of Madrid. It was about 30-40 minutes outside. So every time we wanted to go out, we had to get cabs into town. The clubs there were open till really late and you come out really drunk and you've got to take a 30-40 minute cab ride home, and the cab drivers never wanted to take us that far. Also living on top of each other became really difficult. We never had any space from each other, so I think we learnt our lesson there. It's much better for us to be living in totally different places and meeting up whenever we have to.
Q: Are you singing on any of the new songs?
Yes, two of the songs.
Q: Are you planning to have your new songs remixed again by the likes of Brian Eno, William Orbit, Johnny Dollar, Steve Lyon, Francois Kevorkian?
We are planning to have remixes. Not necessarily by the same people. So far we've only sorted out one remix and that's by DJ Shadow. He's doing the remix for the B-side of the single. It's called "Painkiller".
Q: How much is there still to be done before the album is completely finished?
We've still got to finish the vocals on about four tracks. Musically, we are probably about 70% there, so hopefully in the next couple of weeks we should get all the tracks up to the mix stage and then we have about eight weeks of mixing booked.
Q: Is there a target audience you want to attract with this album?
No, not really. My soul brothers and soul sisters, that's my target audience (laughs).
Q: Do you think the reaction to the new record might be rather different in Europe than in America? Do you think the music scenes are very different in direction?
I find it really hard to gauge what's going on. There doesn't seem to be any direction to me, it seems there's a bit of a mish mash. If you look at the charts over the years, they've been the same.
Q: Does chart success mean anything to you?
I'd like to say no but unfortunately I have to say yes. It doesn't mean that I lose sleep over whether we are number one but I think if our record totally flopped and didn't make it to the charts, I think I would be quite upset. We have already spent a year working on it and we've got another few months to go, and after all that if it fails to make any charts, I would be upset. When the last record came out, I was on holiday and I got back from dinner one night and I had a fax saying that the album had gone straight to number one in America, England, and a few other countries and I think I was really happy. So chart success must mean something.
Q: Before finishing the last record, there were doubts raised in the press of you overcoming the success of "Violator", do you worry the new album might not be as successful as the previous ones?
During the writing of the last album, I think I felt more pressure than I do this time because "Violator" was by far our biggest selling album up to that point and it virtually sold double anything else and it just seemed like there was this massive attention on us which I don't feel anymore. The last record did ok, but it didn't sell as much as "Violator", it sold more than "Music for the Masses" and "Black Celebration". Maybe that's the amount of pressure I like, maybe I could work it out in units to see exactly how much pressure I can take...."Violator" was slightly too much (laughs).
Q: Do you still worry about how the media might receive your work?
It's always depressing to get bad reviews because I honestly believe that what we are doing is good. But again I wouldn't lose sleep over it because we all know what a fickle world it is, and you could be putting out the greatest work that's been put out in the last ten years, but if somebody has a personal vendetta against you they'll review it badly. So one thing we've noticed is it doesn't matter what we release we get 50% good reviews and 50% bad reviews and I don't think they have anything to do with music, everything is subjective and it's a question of what's going on in a reviewer's head.
Q: Do you watch MTV and are you happy with the way MTV has treated you in the past few years?
I think MTV has helped us a lot because they do seem to have supported us and played us quite a lot and even though we haven't had a single out for three years people still can see us on MTV, but that doesn't mean I am a great fan of MTV. I virtually never watch it and if there's absolutely nothing on TV, I still refuse to put MTV on. But a few times I have seen it I think that MTV Europe is better than MTV in America. MTV America is far too preachy, they are constantly trying to politically correct all of the youth of America and I don't think that's right and I don't think their views are necessarily right.
Q: Why do you think it is that most of the TV stations still tend to present Depeche Mode as that naive synthesizer band performing "Just Can't Get Enough'? Do you have any explanation for this?
Maybe there's a comedy factor involved .....like send in the clowns.....let's show "Just Can't Get Enough" again (laughs). In this country we have always suffered, I think mainly from a press campaign that went wrong. When we were doing ok in this country but we were doing much better everywhere else, we started portraying ourselves as these enormous superstars everywhere else that didn't quite make it here. But the point that everybody missed was that we were doing quite well here too, we just weren't as successful as we were everywhere else. What the average person in the street seems to pick up from that is that we've never had any success at all here. I have so many people coming up to me saying "are you lot still going?...you had a couple of hits in the early 80's, didn't you?" and they remember "Just Can't Get Enough", but partly because of this press campaign and there's probably a few other contributing factors, we're considered as total has-beens in this country by a large percentage of the population, and I hate defending myself. Every now and then I get really angry when people say this to me, and I say "our last album went to number one, how high do you have to get to be noticed?"
Q: Do you read your own press?
When an album come out I get all the reviews and if we do interviews I obviously read them to see what the interviewer's written about us. But I don't ask for every little press clipping that come in, I try to avoid that.
Q: Has "SoFaD" turned out the way you envisaged it?
I think when we started that record we decided that it should have a lot more performance and I do like it but at some points I think we spoiled the songs. On a few tracks we may have spoiled the songs by trying this pseudo rock angle.
Q: When was the last time you listened to Depeche Mode album?
I have listened to "Violator" a few times two or three months ago, only because I was staying at my London flat and it was lying around and I thought it would be interesting to listen to it because I haven't listened to it for years.
Q: When you go on tour again, would you prefer to go with a big production as you did during the Devotional Tour or would you rather play smaller venues?
We haven't spoken about touring at all so we don't know if we even want to consider touring or not. But as I said earlier, for me, watching a few people on stage singing and playing instruments doesn't make a great show. I think if we are going to play live we could have to at least try to entertain people somehow else, so I would imagine that we would need a fairly big production to do that.
Q: Your acoustic version of "Personal Jesus" became very popular among the fans. Have you ever thought of doing or recording an unplugged session?
This is one of the things that we have never considered for some reason and I think it's the word 'unplugged' that really puts me off.
Q: Do you prefer the studio work to touring?
There are lot of aspects on the touring side that I really love but the whole thing is so grueling and physically demanding and it's not even performance. Being the character that I am I find it impossible to finish a concert and go home to bed. So every night we end up finishing the concert, drinking, going out, getting to bed late and then having to travel the next day and doing it all again and it's not very good for your body to do that for 14 months non-stop.
Q: What do you think of other bands covering your songs? To mention just a few - Smashing Pumpkins, Terry Hoax, Diesel Mode...Do you think they do a good job?
I really like Terry Hoax version of "Policy Of Truth". I thought it was an interesting version of the song and the same with Smashing Pumpkins, I thought it was a brilliant version of "Never Let Me Down Again". It was totally not expected. When I heard that the Smashing Pumpkins had done a cover of it I expected it to be sort of really rocky and heavy, but it had a really laid back, mellow feel to it, which I thought was brilliant.
Q: Being a band with a high frequency of bootleg records, does record piracy bother you a lot and are you taking any steps against it?
I think if you are bootlegged as much as we are it has to be healthy, it means there's a lot of interest. We have never noticed it harming us. When we were in New York we went to a few record shops in the Village where there are bootleg specialists and we couldn't believe how many different bootlegs there were. We had like racks and racks and racks...I couldn't even guess but there must have been a thousand or more different bootlegs.
Q: Looking back at the 80's, do you see many changes in how the music business works?
I am not sure because we've really been lucky and I think we've been quite buffeted from the music industry by being on an independent label. I've never really felt part of the so-called music industry because we've always been like on the fringes of it. It's very difficult for me to judge. We don't have to deal with the major record companies very often, obviously if we go to America we do, but that is quite a limited experience. I suppose the licensees throughout Europe are major labels but we're not actually signed to them, we are signed to Mute and we are licensed through them. America is the only place where we are actually signed to a major label.
Q: What do you think of the recent reunions of the bands like Sex Pistols, Van Halen, The Eagles?
We thought maybe it would be a good idea to do an album and get Vince back to have the original lineup and go on tour playing the first album (laughs). Vince keeps saying to us that he wanted to come in and do the programming for us on this record and he said it as a joke but when he said it for the 20th time we started thinking "is he serious?". He said it far too many times for it to be a joke (laughs).
Q: Have you ever felt like quitting?
I think there's been a few times when the pressure's got to me, and I think "is it all really worth it?" But then when you start weighing it up and you think, I do really enjoy this and I love writing songs and I love the whole aspect of being in a band, I love communicating with people. If I just left it because the pressure got too much at some point, I know I'd regret it within about a week.
Q: Did you every get to the point you couldn't handle the fame anymore?
It's really not that bad. I hardly get recognized at all in this country and if people do recognize me they are very cool about it, so I don't find it a problem at all.
Q: How do you mange to balance your personal and professional lives these days?
I work all week, go out all week and I go home for week-ends (laughs).
Q: A lot of your fans take your lyrics quite seriously. Do you feel any responsibility for the effect your words might have?
I always write about things that interest me and I hope they interest other people who may feel similar emotions. If they affects people adversely I don't think I can really take responsibility for that. If I'm going to worry about every word that I write then I think that's like censorship. I think I've got to write what I feel and then people hopefully understand what I mean. If they take it wrongly and feel suicidal or something, I think they've probably started out with a personality defect, and if it wasn't me it would be Ozzy Osbourne that would made them do it.
Q: Is there anything in your career you look back on and say, "I shouldn't have done that"?
We all know that we had a phase where I think we courted the pop press too much and I think our image at that time was really naff, but for some reason it didn't seem to harm us. I think it maybe should have harmed us more than it did. I can't say I really regret it and we seem to have survived it.
Q: What do you think your mission is?
My true will is to be a musician. I realized that from a very young age. I never ever considered doing anything else. When I first left school I didn't know what to do, I had to find a job but I was totally unhappy. That's what always happens, people are unhappy until they find their true will. I was fortunate that I found mine quite quickly.
Q: What has the world go to gain from your music?
I think there's certain amount of beauty in our music and beauty is important.