Photo: Travis Shinn
Depeche Mode has sold more than 100 million records during a career that’s not had a lull over the course of three decades. Arguably the most popular and successful electronic band of all time, they still release albums that debut in the top 10 and continue to draw arena-sized crowds. Their influence can be heard in house, techno, industrial, EDM, and even hip-hop (Kanye West has cited them as a major influence).
Yet apparently that list of achievements isn’t impressive enough to get them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (The 30-year-old institution will induct its class of 2015, which includes Green Day, Lou Reed, and Joan Jett, in Cleveland this Saturday.) Last week, Billboard reported that the induction committee sees bands like the Cure and Depeche Mode as “weird outcasts from England who wear mascara,” quoting one insider as saying, “You and I will die before those groups are in the Hall of Fame.”
Fortunately, for Depeche Mode’s Martin L. Gore, “It’s one of those things that I don’t think about too much — I don’t lose sleep over not being nominated,” he tells Yahoo! Music. “We’ve known for years that it’s been run by people that have probably very different ideas of what has been inspirational in the making of music, especially over the last 25 to 30 years. They were probably very good at nominating people from the rock ‘n’ roll era, but beyond that, they’ve probably lost touch a little bit.”
Besides, he asks: “Are there actually any electronic bands that have been nominated, or are actually in the Hall of Fame?”
Informed that Kraftwerk and Nine Inch Nails had both made it onto the ballot — the latter, ironically, before Depeche Mode, which Trent Reznor has named as a main source of inspiration — Gore doesn’t miss a beat, saying of the NIN frontman: “Yeah, that’s because he’s worn less mascara!”
Gore is not one to rest on his laurels — or even take an extended honeymoon. The recently married 53-year-old came off Depeche Mode’s 10-month world tour in March 2014 and got straight to work on MG, a darkly emotional, evocative collection of 16 instrumentals, including “Europa Hymn,” which features an animated music video by the London-based collective M-I-E. Set for release on April 28 via electronic music pioneer Daniel Miller’s Mute Records — Depeche’s original label and home to VCMG, Gore’s 2012 techno project with former Mode mate Vince Clarke of Erasure — the album was recorded at Gore’s home studio in Santa Barbara.
Yahoo Music spoke by phone with Gore about the project, his thoughts on perhaps segueing into film scoring, his enduring love of electronic music, and more:.
YAHOO MUSIC: At a time when so many of your contemporaries are slowing down and not working so hard, you’ve turned up your nose at the idea of taking a break. Why?
MARTIN GORE: I had a few instrumentals left over from the Delta Machine project that we decided not to use. We’ve come to a point where we just have too many songs because we have two songwriters now, with me and Dave [Gahan, lead singer]. That’s new over the last few albums. There really wasn’t any room for the instrumentals, so it was a question of trying to find a home for them, really. I quite liked the idea of making an atmospheric kind of cinematic instrumental record. Once the idea stuck in my head, I went at it full-tilt once the tour finished.
Which tracks were they, the ones that laid the foundation for MG?
I already had “Elk” written, and “Brink” and “Featherlight.”
“Elk” to me is one of the more ominous tracks. That, “Swanning,” and “Creeper” are so dark, they seem to be written expressly for a David Fincher film. Could MG possible be whetting your appetite for doing film work?
I’ve always been up for the idea of doing film work. It’s just the right director coming along at the right time, really, because with Depeche Mode, we work in a four-year cycle; that’s the way we have worked over the last God knows how many years now. So the right project would have to come along just as we finish the tour. Once that little window goes, then I’m back to songwriting for the band, then we go into the studio and start recording, and then we go on tour. It would be an interesting thing to do, but all of the planets would have to align.
Look at Trent Reznor and the work he’s done scoring The Social Network and Gone Girl. MG seems to be a step in that direction.
Yeah, well, I do like the more kind of experimental stuff that Trent Reznor does, the soundtracks and the Ghosts project.
I know you’re a Brian Eno fan. Any other inspirations for this record?
I really like Aphex Twin’s older stuff, like the Selected Ambient Works, volumes one (85 to 92) and II. I’m not saying that this is anything like that, really, but as instrumental albums go, they’re a big influence.
Why did you want the album to be entirely made up of instrumentals?
Words and music are a powerful combination, but music itself does something that is kind of hard to explain and hard to put your finger on. It gets into us. I think it’s something to do with our evolutionary past or something. It’s probably the first way we ever communicated, before we ever had language. It probably works it’s way into our brains in ways that words don’t.
Often song titles are taken from a word or phrase in the songs. But with an instrumental — and certainly with these instrumentals — it seems many of the titles are taken from the feeling that the song invokes: “Exalt,” “Hum,” “Brink.”
Sometimes, it’s not as straightforward as you may think. If I give you my mundane reason why I named what I did, it takes away all of the imagination from the listener. ‘Cause it’s great that if you listen to an instrumental and you’ve got one word to go off, then it’ll take you on a journey. I might say “Well, actually I called it that because there was a sound in there that I’d named something similar, and it just takes away all the mystery.
It’s also interesting that it’s a completely electronic record, because, over the years, Depeche has evolved into a serious rock band.
I really wanted it to be a purely electronic album. It has a bit of a sci-fi feel to it, and I like that idea. The moment that you add guitar, it immediately brings it to a different reference point, and the listener is dragged back into the modern day. Because guitars are what we’re so used to. Whereas, synths, even though electronic music is so prevalent these days, they still, if you use them in the right way, can hint at the future. They have a far more futuristic sound to them than a guitar does or a real drum kit.
Isn’t that funny, because there was a time, after the ‘80s, during the grunge years in the early '90s, when synths almost dated a record. Now, it’s come full circle, to synths sounding quite modern.
Yeah, it’s true. When we first started out, electronic music was new. It was groundbreaking. Then, suddenly, we were one of a handful of bands left; everybody else had ditched it. It was seen as a bit passé at the time, and we felt like we were carrying the flag. I suppose we did kind of evolve into an electronic rock band, for want of a better term. But we’re very electronic-based, still. We use guitars, and we use a real drummer live, but in the studio, we are very electronic.
But you, personally, have become very synonymous with the electric guitar over the years — probably going back to “Enjoy the Silence.”
That is true, because I find it extremely boring to play live and be stuck behind a keyboard rig. There is so much more connection with the audience when you’re down the front, and you can look into actual people’s faces and see the emotion. So that’s why I like to do that live. With this record, I’m not planning to go out on tour with it. I can’t imagine how I would present it. I can imagine getting some great films made and getting up onstage and maybe playing like one part or something, but I don’t see it as a great touring prospect.
Even though Depeche’s music has remained experimental and alternative, it must be very different making a record outside of the confines of the group. Does it feel freeing?
In a way, it does. I don’t have any expectations for it. I mean, the most I could hope for is that somebody likes one of the tracks and thinks, “Oh, I might use that in my film.” I think they might be a bit too weird maybe for advert spots, but you never know.