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[Melody Maker, 22nd September 1984. Words: Mark Jenkins. Pictures: Tom Sheehan.]
" You have to take risks… you can’t be safe all the time, even if the kind of people you might offend are just the sort to kick up a fuss and start petitions and that sort of thing. "
Summary: A balanced, nimble and thoughtful band interview allowing the band to speak about the impetus behind the Some Great Reward album without hindrance, the interviewer wisely refraining from comment for the sake of it. The band also discuss the practical matters behind recording and performing. One of the meatier 1984 articles. [2734 words]
View pages: cover page 1 page 2 page 3
Clunk Every Trip" [Record Mirror, 10th March 1984]
"Deconstruction Time Again" [NME, 22nd December 1984]
"Boys Keep Swinging" [No. 1, 19th January 1985]
"If You Call Yourself A Pop Band You Can Get Away With Anything" [Record Mirror, 23rd August 1986]
Depeche Mode have a problem. It’s not enough to be big in Britain any more – they have to think about being big everywhere at once. That makes considerations like having a single banned by the BBC fade into insignificance, although there’s a good chance that will happen if they choose to follow up “Master And Servant” with the closing track of “Some Great Reward”, their new album.
“ ‘Blasphemous Rumours’ is really not an anti-religious song,” insists Dave Gahan. “Of course it’s a personal statement on Martin’s part” (Martin Gore’s writing again dominates the album) “but at the same time it’s a statement of how everybody must feel at one time or another. We all had a bit of a religious upbringing, Andy particularly, and I went to church regularly for a year or so when I was about 18, so there’s obviously a bit of a rebellion against that. It’s just that – some of the things we noticed, like there’d always be a prayer list for certain people and the one at the top always died. Things like that…
“My mother’s side of the family were always religious, involved with the Salvation Army and so on, but she lived through so much tragedy… I don’t know how I’d feel by now, but then I’ve never been religious although she stuck to her beliefs. I used to go down to Sunday School with my sister on our bikes and instead of going in we’d just ride around for a couple of hours, and when we got back we’d say it was great.”
The others agree that it’s not religion itself but having religion (or politics or any other belief) forced onto you that they dislike.
“People get too much preaching – even around the town in Basildon, you know? People cling to religion through fear of death,” offers Martin. “It’s not a bad thing to be religious, in fact I think I’d be happier if I did believe.”
“I turned away from religion because I found I was leading a really boring life,” says Andy. “I wanted to live life to the full but I was trapped, and I thought ‘if I die tomorrow that’ll be it’… it’s a shame that Christianity is perverted and hyped so much, because it does have something to offer.”
It turns out that Dave Gahan’s first public appearances were singing carols with the Salvation Army around the age of eight, something he couldn’t think of going back to because “so many unhappy things have happened that I just feel it can’t all be true.” But “Blasphemous Rumours” is a strong (as well as catchy) song and needs a strong place on the album, BBC or no BBC.
“You have to take risks… you can’t be safe all the time, even if the kind of people you might offend are just the sort to kick up a fuss and start petitions and that sort of thing. They’re still a minority; we even had problems with ‘Master And Servant’ when the BBC called for a copy of the lyrics to check them out, but only one guy thought they were obscene, and he was away on holiday when the final decision was taken! The girl who took the decision agreed with us that it’s about love and life, which of course it is.”
Pressured into making some comparison with Frankie, Dave goes thus far and no further. “ ‘Master And Servant’ is a bit more subtle than ‘Relax’ but then it’s got a very different point to make. Frankie’s records sound good – but we don’t like to make a lot of comments about other bands…”
Writers like to sum up albums at a stroke, whether the artists want to make it that easy or not. Suggesting that “Some Great Reward” is dominated by “anti-love” songs brings a considered but emphatic “No” from Martin.
“ ‘Lie To Me’ isn’t an anti-love song… it’s about a situation of paranoia which anybody could find themselves in. ‘Somebody’ is pretty much a straightforward ‘I love you’ song if you like, certainly not an anti-love song. The album’s about all sorts of things apart from love through… power, religion, life.”
“Some Great Reward” has once again been produced by the band, engineer Gareth Jones and Daniel Miller, the man behind Mute, The Silicon Teens and The Normal. But Miller’s been quoted as saying that he doesn’t see himself as a producer…
“It’s a co-production. Daniel takes ideas from the band as well as giving them, but it’s difficult to explain what goes on over a period of four months. It’s all quite diplomatic, and he won’t make us use anything we don’t like, but every team works in a particular way that’s very hard to explain. We need an outside view or we wouldn’t take so much care over the songs and the sounds – if it wasn’t for Daniel we’d have a lot more arguments too!”
The band feel that their standards have gone up on this album, and swear that the backing tapes from the “Speak And Spell” tour now sound horribly sloppy to their newly-trained ears.
“We spent days doing just one or two sounds or rhythms this time – we went over the top really and it cost us a few bob, but it’s paid off because this is the first album we’re all really proud of. Not that we don’t like the others, it’s just that this one is so much better in terms of sound quality.”
On the subject of backing tapes, was there any desire to try to play a completely live set on the forthcoming tour?
“We’re aware of the limitations of using a backing tape, it takes away a lot of the spontaneity, but we can’t see ourselves playing with a live drummer at this stage. Nobody could play precisely enough or give us all the sounds we’ve used in the studio, but we’ve found other ways to make things a bit more visual.
“We’ve got a moving set with lots of scaffolding, slide screens and so on to match the album sleeve – Jane who worked with us last time wanted to take some of the ideas a bit further – but we don’t think there’s any danger of being compared to industrial bands like Einsturzende Neubaten. 
“Granted, we use a lot of metallic sounds, but so do a lot of people from Bowie onwards, and in any case we’re using those ideas in the context of pop songs. Hitting bits of metal is very visual, and you can’t get away from the fact that some of our old TV appearances with three pairs of hands playing keyboards were just boring!
“You need something else, and when we’ve got something more visual we look more confident – that’s why we do things like playing the shawm (a Chinese oboe) on the ‘Everything Counts’ video, even though it was just another keyboard sound. Some people wrote to us to say they felt cheated that we hadn’t spent three months learning to play a shawm, but I don’t see that at all…”
Dave’s main pleasure in the band is still live work, despite the feeling that they’ve taken on a lot in the new gig schedule.
“The fewer gigs you do on a tour the more you enjoy yourself. I love the audience contact, it gives me a big kick that you can’t get in the studio or on TV – I always feel a great deal of power when I can make 6,000 people do what I want. We’re about to embark on a huge tour, though – more dates than we wanted to do really, ending towards Christmas and taking in Germany, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland.
“There are a few days off, but the gigs are mostly back to back – when we get a day off it’s always a Sunday in Hanley. Have you ever been in Hanley on a Sunday? You look at a couple of antique shops, you wander about thinking ‘what the hell can I do?’, you go back to the hotel and watch a couple of videos. It’s awful.
 - The Jane in question being Jane Spiers, who provided lighting design on the Construction Time Again tour and graduated to set design as well on the Some Great Reward tour. [continue]
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