2016-01-25 The RobCast, Los Angeles, CA, USA
In 2016, American author Rob Bell interviewed Martin Gore for an entire hour at Gore's Santa Barbara home studio. The interview was probably recorded just a few days before. Rob boasts that this is the first ever podcast that Martin Gore has appeared on, and technically this is true, although some radio shows that Martin appeared in over the years did upload their episodes as a podcast later on. While Rob is also a pastor, he is a very modern one, so whenever faith is mentioned in the interview (and there are some moments, not only initiated by Rob but by Martin as well), it's more about spirituality than religion. Rob is constructing his questions live, so sometimes the questions aren't phrased very clearly, but he has a habit of nevertheless making his question very clear by rephrasing it several times. Taking place at Martin's own home, Martin is in an extremely relaxed mood, and on top of that, Rob is as cheerful as a young puppy, which motivates Martin to paint humorous scenes in such a way that he's waiting for Rob to start laughing.
The entire podcast can be heard and downloaded on Rob's website here, but has also been hotlinked below. Go to the very end of the interview to listen to what DM's next plans are. A transcript of the interview has been made below for your convenience.
- Duration: 59:56 minutes.
Rob Bell: Hi everybody, and welcome to another RobCast. We are actually on location, and we have an audience of three. So I'm here with Martin Gore, welcome Martin.
Martin Gore: Thank you, hello Rob, good to be here.
Rob: This is so fantastic: you have done so many things in your life, but this is your first time on the RobCast.
Martin: First time on the RobCast, and maybe it could be my first time on a podcast.
Rob: Is it really?
Martin: I can't remember doing an actual podcast where I sat and spoke.
Rob: Oh, this is just - "where you sat and spoke"?
Martin: Yeah. I mean, there have been music podcasts, you know, I've put music together for podcasts before.
Rob: Yes. But now you're actually on one. This is a big moment. Big moment. And then, obviously, [Rob's wife] Kristen Bell is here, and neighbour Susan? We'll call you neighbour Susan. And Kerrilee. So, we - lovely ladies on the couch - we're in... this is your studio.
Martin: It is, yes.
Rob: And you come here each day, and you make this glorious noise.
Martin: Yeah, I come here each day. I do something in here every day, whether it's actually [to] create a track, or make a sound or just fiddle around with a piece of equipment.
Rob: Do you ever walk out at the end of the afternoon, and [go] just like, "I didn't do one interesting thing today"?
Martin: Yeah, that happens, of course it does.
Rob: And do you ever walk out thinking, "The thing that I made today? That's pretty good..."?
Martin: I think I always feel good if I manage to get some kind of an idea of a song down. It changes your whole mood. I don't know if - you talked about Kerrilee on the couch there, that's my wife Kerrilee - I don't know if she notices the days where I walk out and I think, "I didn't do one thing in there today", and the difference between those days and the days when I finished a song. But I am definitely different. [laughs]
Rob: [To Kerrilee] No really? She's nodding her head vigorously. You can tell when he wrote something he likes?
Kerrilee: Yes, absolutely.
Rob: You can tell? Isn't that fascinating. I also find it interesting: everybody I know who's doing work that brings them joy, has days when they're like, "Yeah, I didn't really make much today." But in order to make other stuff, somehow that's part of the bargain, or the deal.
Martin: Yes. I mean, I don't think that anyone could ever expect to be able to be creative on a daily basis. There are gonna be times when something just magical just happens, and times where you're just at a complete loss.
Rob: Exactly. I was writing a book, it took me eighteen months, every day all day, to write this book, and it got so hard at different times, I would work for like a week on a paragraph or I'd work for a whole day on a sentence, and at the end of the day, delete that sentence. And I remember, the only thing that got me through is, the only way to make this, is to keep all the... It's like a search for all the stuff that doesn't belong in this book. And by the end of this process, somehow I will have deleted enough stuff [that] there will be something left. Which is sort of the opposite of it. So let's go way back: what are your first music... What did you first find yourself making music or enjoying music or understanding or appreciating it?
Martin: The first experience I had with music was discovering rock 'n' roll, and I was about ten years old. And I found a plastic bag full of records in my mother's cupboard. And we had a record player at home, so I was just fascinated by the technology, by the fact that you could just put this thing on, the arm came across. But just the sound that came out of the speakers, and I didn't understand what it was at the time, what attracted me to it. I think it was definitely something mysterious, but I would even go as far as to say that I didn't understand sexuality at the time or... obviously, because I was ten. [Rob laughs] But listening to rock 'n' roll records, there was something in there, that maybe I didn't understand but that I wanted to understand.
Rob: Yeah, it's like it'd strike some chord in you that you don't have language for or even a comprehension of, but it's real.
Rob: And it's sort of vibrating in there. What were some of the records?
Martin: Elvis was on a lot of those records, there's quite a few Elvis singles. It was mainly singles.
Rob: Was she not playing them? Why were they in a plastic bag?
Martin: Oh, now I've got another story to add to that. [laughs] Because, obviously I loved these records, and I played them to death, and I think when I was about fifteen, I came home one day - maybe I was older, maybe I was more like eighteen, nineteen, and I was doing stuff with the band - and then I came home, and I wanted to listen to these old rock 'n' roll records because I hadn't heard them for a while, and I went looking for them, and I said, "Mum, where are those records? Where are your records, your old rock 'n' roll stuff?" She said, "Oh, I threw them away, they were old." [laughs]
Rob: She didn't know that you had been listening to them?
Martin: Well, yeah, but maybe I hadn't listened to them for a couple of years or so, because by that time I had got my own jobs and made a pittance, but spent every single penny that I made on buying records.
Rob: And when did you start playing music, or creating music?
Martin: I had a friend who played guitar, and he taught me a couple of chords when I was about thirteen. And I think he also taught me how to, like, read the guitar tabs, so I bought a guitar tab book, and taught myself the rest of the chords. And then there was this kind of like paper magazine, and I think it was weekly, maybe it could have been monthly, but I think it was weekly, and it was called 'Disco 45'. And it had all of the words for all of the chart songs in it. And I used to just sit in my bedroom and work out how to play the songs. Obviously, there was some that I couldn't because they were too complicated. But I used to spend years doing that, and I think that was one of the greatest things I ever did for myself, because just sitting there and working out the chords to songs and how the chord structures go: you go from a verse to a bridge to a chorus, and doing that over and over again, it was probably a great training for songwriting.
Rob: Yes. And the first one where you realised there's a 1, 4, and 5 and a relative minor and you realised almost everything stays within that, "Oh my Word, there's like a math underneath this or something!" Fascinating how many people say that, "Oh I spent ten years in my bedroom with a guitar", do you know what I mean?
Rob: "I built a ten-thousand hours up", or whatever.
Martin: Yeah I did. I mean, I never became a great guitar player, but I think it was more songwriting.
Rob: Wait... [to the ladies] I'm not going to let him get away with that!
Rob: "I never became a good guitar player", I'm sorry, it's a friendly podcast, but I can, like, push back on that. [both laugh]
Martin: No, I don't think I ever, I never wanted to learn guitar solos.
Rob: Right, right.
Martin: I never wanted to be a guitar hero, it's something that never crossed my mind.
Rob: The guitar serves some larger thing called "The Song".
Rob: As opposed to [imitating electric guitar sound] "'Weew, weew', look at this!"?
Martin: Yeah. In fact, for the majority of those years, I played like a nylon acoustic [guitar] in my bedroom. So the wailing guitar solos didn't really work on it, anyway.
Rob: That's funny. You know, I remember my college roommate, Ian Eskelin, who will be so excited that we will are talking. I remember him saying one time to me, [in] like 1990, he's like, "The thing about Depeche Mode songs is that you can play them on a guitar." And he was always like, "And I bet underneath it all, somewhere, there's like an old, battered acoustic [version] that Martin Gore has." Like, he used to - like you do when you're in college and you're listening to your favourite albums - but he always used to have this theory, "That's why they're so great, because you can strip down all the various layers, and somewhere under there, the song works with just a guitar."
Martin: Well I used to always write on a guitar or a piano or something, or a keyboard, just to get the chord structure, the words, and I felt that, if the song is working in that context, then it's going to work when you put it to a beat or when you get electronics involved. And I'm gonna dig a hole for myself here, because I used to say this all the time, I used to say that if you start on electronics, you can fool yourself into thinking that what you're working on is better than it is, because you might get carried away with an amazing sound you've created, but you kind of disregarded working on the words, or the chords. But as time when on, I just think for inspiration - I still sometimes write songs on guitar and piano, but - sometimes these days, I do actually start with... you know, I might get a loop going on the modular system with, like, some drums and a baseline, and that might start me off with the idea for a song.
Rob: Yeah. So you're thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, you're playing guitar, you're playing guitar... When do you start playing... When does, like, "Let's form a band!" come into it?
Martin: Well, I had a friend who had a synthesizer, and he lent it to me for a two-week period. And I just really enjoyed it. I was a big fan of Kraftwerk at the time, and there was a burgeoning electronic scene, and there was bands like The Human League, whose early stuff I really liked, it was much more experimental than the The Human League stuff that is popular in America, which was kind of the 'Dare', 'Don't You Want Me' stuff. But their first couple of albums were quite experimental, and they had an EP out before that called 'The Dignity Of Labour', which I really liked. But anyway, there was a burgeoning electronic scene, so after this two-week rental of the synthesizer, I decided to go and buy one. And it just so happened that Vince and Andy had just formed a band-
Rob: -Nor, Norman?
Martin: No, that was my band, we weren't electronic. No, so they were called at the time No Romance In China. [laughs]
Rob: Ahhh... That was like, mid-'70s?
Martin: This must have been like, 1980, I think. It could have been late 1979, early 1980.
Rob: '80. No Romance In China? That's like the best '80s band name ever! 'No Romance In China'! Can that even fit on a poster? That is fantastic!
Martin: [laughs] So at the time it was just Vince and Andy, and they hadn't played any shows for as far as I know, but I think they got wind that I was gonna buy a cheap synthesizer, so that was it, I was in the band. I think they came with me. They came on the train with me to London, to actually go to a music store, and I bought my first synthesizer, which was a Yamaha CS5, like a very small, cheap monophonic thing.
Rob: Yeah. I love how many band stories are, "Well so and so had equipment, so they're in." Like, "You have a drum-set, so you're in."
Martin: Yeah. [laughs]
Rob: So you're playing and, so where does Depeche Mode come in this? You've played for a while with them, Vince Clarke [and] Andy Fletcher, and you're playing with them. Does it get ahead of steam, are you any good? Do you have like, grand dreams or are you just like, "This is how we meet girls"? What does it mean to you at that point?
Martin: I didn't take it very seriously. I think that Vince was very, very driven, at a very young age, and I'll give him a lot of credit for that. But at the time we're talking about - this was before we'd even met Dave, so - the first thing that happened after that was, they were so impressed by my synthesizer-
Rob: [laughs] -and it was called "a synthesizer"?
Martin: [surprised] Yeah, yeah, it was a synthesizer, yeah! ...that they decided to also buy cheap monophonic synthesizers, and we were gonna become an all-electronic band. So, we did.
Rob: And were other kids in bands at that time doing this?
Martin: In England, there was, like I said, this scene that was happening, but we didn't have anyone in our town that was doing it. It was quite rare, still.
Rob: Yeah... Amazing. But somehow you're like, "Let's do it this way"? So you did it that way?
Martin: Yeah, the only other person was my friend whose real name was Rob Allen, but he went by the name Rob Marlow. [laughs] He was the one who lent me the synthesizer, he did have a band, but I was in his band as well, so that's why he had kind of an electronic band, because I was in the two bands.
Rob: And you're playing clubs...?
Martin: So we had a really bad name when I joined Andy and Vince. I'll give Vince credit for this as well. He came up with the name Composition Of Sound, which is awful-
Rob: Ahhh, second best '80s [band name]-
Martin: -no, that's awful! Especially when it was abbreviated to CoS, which I believe is a lettuce. [laughs]
Rob: [laughs] Composition Of Sound. Ahhh, just so, awkward and great at the same time.
Martin: So we used to rehearse once a week at a youth centre, that's what they're called. And Dave came along for some reason, to one of our rehearsal sessions. And I think Vince must have asked him, "Are you interested in joining a band?" And we did an impromptu audition, and he actually sang 'Heroes' by David Bowie.
Rob: Hmm-mm. Good choice.
Martin: Yeah, I don't know how we played it, because we definitely didn't have that kind of musical expertise at that point, but we somehow must have muddled through it.
Rob: And could he sing then?
Martin: Yeah, he could, yes.
Rob: How old was he?
Martin: He always has been - well, he still is - a year younger than us, so I think we were... I think Vince was 20, I was like 19, so Dave was probably 18.
Rob: And you were like, "That guy can sing"?
Rob: If it was a movie, was there like a magical moment, where one of you was like, "We got what it takes, we can go all the way"? Or was it just, "Oh wow, this is interesting. Maybe we could do something else"?
Martin: No, at that stage it was still thinking about, "Oh well, now we got four members, we're kind of a band, maybe we should get some gigs."
Rob: Sometimes at that age, people are like, "Oh, this is what we're born to do, we're gonna go to the top", but for you it wasn't that? Well, you're British.
Rob: So there's a bit more... Eddie Izzard has this great line about a British kid, like "I wanna go to the moon!" "-You're British, kid." "I wanna sell shoes!" "-That's more like it." He has this whole bit about...
Martin: [still laughing] Well, yeah. Well, Vince was quite driven as I said, so-
Rob: -So, he's pushing.
Martin: So once we started playing a few gigs and we started getting a small, local following, I think we then went into a recording studio, and maybe we recorded like three or four songs. And then Vince and Dave would go up to London and set up meeting with record companies and get sent out the door with their tails between their legs. But they kept at it for a while, but that didn't really get us anywhere, so...
Rob: And are you working just a regular job, are you in school, what are you doing when you're not doing 'Composition Of Sound'?
Martin: Oh yeah, so the moment Dave joined the band, we did change our name to 'Depeche Mode'.
Rob: Aaah, got it.
Martin: So I'm not sure if we actually played any gigs - I'm sure maybe one or something - under the name 'Composition Of Sound'. If I say we never did, someone's gonna tell me, "Yes, yes you did!"
Rob: "I've got a bootleg of it."
Rob: And Vince was writing a lot of the material.
Martin: Vince was writing pretty much all the material at the very beginning.
Rob: And then you make the first album.
Martin: Yeah, so I did write two songs on the first album.
Rob: Then, after the first album, he leaves, and you start writing, taking over the major load of writing.
Martin: Yeah, the weird thing about it was, he told us he was leaving before the first album was even released.
Rob: Oh, and was that panic? Or was that, "Oh, we're gonna be fine"?
Martin: I think it was the wonder and the naivety of youth [that] meant that we didn't panic at all.
Martin: We'd found a kind of mentor. We are still really good friends with this guy called Daniel Miller who was the head of Mute Records, and he was one of the leaders of the independent label scene, so he owned this independent label called 'Mute'. And we met him in 1980 when we supported one of his artists called Fad Gadget.
Martin: Fad Gadget.
Rob: That's just fun to say. "Fad Gadget"! Unbelievable!
Martin: [laughs] So yeah, we supported Fad Gadget at this pub in London called the Bridge House, which was a little bit of an institution, as far as pubs go. I mean, it only held probably, like, 150 people. But we had played there on our own before, and in the beginning we only had like, ten, fifteen people turn up. But the night we played with Fad Gadget, obviously he had a big following, so there was an atmosphere. And Daniel saw us play and came backstage after, and said, "Do you wanna do a one-off single deal?" So, of course we said, "Yes!" I mean, not only was that amazing that someone had come backstage and offered us a one-off single deal, [but also because] it was Daniel Miller, and it was Mute Records. And he was probably the only all-electronic label in England at the time. And we were big fans of things like DAF, Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft, that he had put out, and he had his own thing called The Normal who did the original of 'Warm Leatherette'.
Rob: So you sort of admired this and looked up to this whole scene and him and the work he was putting out, and then he wants to make something with you.
Martin: Yeah, and it was just a one-off single deal, and I don't know if I've ever really spoken about this, but there was some other funny things that - you know what Doctor Who is?
Martin: So we got a residency in a place called Croc's, which is in a place called Rayleigh, just outside of Basildon, where we grew up. And we met this one guy there who had an idea that he wanted to take us to Africa and play kind of like Doctor Who covers or something. Or, no, it was Doctor Who outfits! That was it, Doctor Who outfits! I don't know how he thought... But you know, when you're young, it sounded like, "Oh wow, maybe there's something in this. Maybe he's got a vision." Thank God, thank God Daniel came along when he did! [laughs] We could have been in Doctor Who outfits in Africa. I don't know what appeal there would have been for Africans in an English band in Doctor Who outfits, playing electronic music. [laughs]
Rob: That story is so awesome on so many levels. So many people, when they see somebody doing something and it's going well, and they've reached an audience or they've thrived or whatever, there's this, like, "Well, you must have started out and it must have been great and it must have...", but you were, like, one turn or conversation away from Africa and Doctor Who. Like, it could have gone some other way, but it didn't. I just find the whole... That's just a great mystery.
Martin: Well, the other mystery is that we actually went with Mute Records. Even though we loved them and they had all the aesthetics that we loved: the electronic side of it, there was the independent side of it which meant that they weren't part of any big label... But of course, they had no money. So they weren't offering us anything. And at the same time, we were being courted by big labels, like at the time there was Polydor, and I can't remember some of the others that were chasing us, but we had two or three of them that were after us. And they were offering us, at the time, 100.000, 150.000 pounds.
Rob: Which must have been crazy money!
Martin: For us, at that point, that was crazy money. And we said, "No, we are going with Daniel", because we trusted him. And I think that was a miraculous choice, because, like Wham! for instance - by the, I think it was the same guy who was chasing us, and I think it was Polydor - I think they ended up getting completely ripped off, didn't make a penny for the first, I don't know how many years.
Rob: Man. It's fascinating to me how many people early on had these moments where they either went with integrity and what they had in their heart, or large money. Somewhere in there, there was like, defining moments, where they went with soul and integrity and aesthetics that lined up with what they wanted to do, over big money. And then later, were like, "That was the right thing". Because oftentimes, it's "Oh, of course you could make those decisions, look at how well you've done." And I'm always like, "No, I guarantee you, they probably started making that decision every time."
Martin: Yeah, we came from very working-class backgrounds, it wasn't like we had so much money that we could easily make that decision. I worked in a bank, in a clearing house, until our second single, just before our second single was released, that's when I left, and decided to take it seriously. I decided to take it seriously when the first single got to, like, number 50 or something, 50 something in the British charts, because we literally hadn't done anything to get it to number 50. We hadn't taken it that seriously. So we started thinking, "If we take this seriously, and actually put a bit of effort into this, maybe we can make something of it."
Rob: That was so great. OK, so was there a day at the bank, that you had your last day at the bank, and they were like, "What are you gonna do?" and you were like, "I've got a synthesizer"?
Rob: I mean, there must have been some day when you were done at the bank? That must have been a huge moment?
Martin: I had to give my notice, yes. And I remember my manager saying to me, "You're making a big mistake."
Rob: Yes! I was just gonna ask, was there a manager who said, "Do you understand the mistake that you're making?"
Rob: Because there's always some manager saying "Do you understand the mistake that you're making?"
Martin: Yep. Yeah no, there was, and I think I realised before that when they sent me off on some kind of like, course, that was to further my banking. And I had to study, like, accountancy and law, and I think I was supposed to do the course for six months or so. And I think I survived about two months, and I went to my manager, and I said, "I just can't do this, I'm really sorry."
Rob: [laughs] Ahh, that is so good. So, then the band takes off, then album, album, album... When did you realise, "Oh wow, these songs strike a chord with people"? That you could make something and then you'd share and it would do something in people?
Martin: I think that took a while, because the first album for instance was very different, because nine of eleven songs were written by Vince, and we just write in completely different ways. And even with the second album, I didn't really know what I was doing, I was still only, like, 20 I think. And it did feel like I had been thrown in the deep end, so it's a real mishmash, and there's no real direction, there's this kind of pop, and there's, like, little hints of a direction that we might be going in in the future. But I don't think there's anything on there that made people turn their heads and go, "Wow, they're doing things really different", apart from the electronic aspect. Because there are some people who loved the fact that we were still going down that electronic route, and very early on there were some people from, like, the Detroit techno scene who say that they were influenced by our early stuff.
Rob: Yeah. "Just Can't Get Enough" was [on the] first album?
Rob: OK, so, and that's Vince?
Rob: So, we go from "When I'm with you baby..." within a couple of albums, 'Black Celebration', 'People Are People', those are very different. I mean, there's a depth that, in only a few albums, what you're singing about and writing about, shifts. That's a long way from "When I'm with you baby..." Do you know what I mean? What were your influences? And I know for many people, Depeche Mode was singing about The Big Stuff, when lots of people were like, "Hey baby..." Do you know what I mean?
Martin: I think that meeting Daniel was a big turning point in our lives. And then I would say that another big turning point in our lives was meeting an engineer called Gareth Jones, who was living in Berlin at the time, suggested that we go to Berlin to record an album, and he was vegetarian, he was worldly, he was older than us, and I just think that that just helped to... for me personally, I was very inspired by being around Gareth and being around Daniel and recording in Berlin. We went to Hansa Studios-
Rob: -which is where David Bowie went, and where U2 went later.
Martin: Yeah, and where Iggy recorded, and obviously they were our heroes, so we couldn't believe we were there. But I just think it was the right time as well, because we were maturing. We were all get getting older, and we were getting to travel the world. I mean, [in] 1982 we did our first tour where we travelled Asia and got to witness Asia as a twenty-year-old or whatever, [or] a twentyone-year-old, and I think that had a big influence on the writing for 'Construction Time Again', which was more of a kind of outward looking album, not an album of love songs.
Rob: Because, you're good British kids who work in banks, and you have tea with your mom, and then all of a sudden you're in Berlin, and then you're in Asia. I have to believe that your head must have been spinning at certain moments. Like, we're a long way from the village... Do you know what I mean? From "my bedroom with a guitar", and the cultural... and the raising of consciousness, let alone a vegetarian engineer who's been, like... At a young age, those have a huge impact. Did you ever just think, "How did we...?" You must have had like a conversation going among yourselves?
Martin: Everything did happen quite quickly before us, because, I remember when we first went up to London, when we were nineteen or whatever, when we were recording the first album, I think Daniel suggested, "Let's get an Indian." And we all looked at each other and were like, "Indian? What's that?"
Rob: "Curry? What are you talking about?"
Martin: We came from Basildon, at that time, there were very few restaurants in that town. I think there was one Chinese takeaway or something. I think you could sit down, because once we tried to go in and sit down, but they wouldn't let us because we looked too weird.
Rob: I just find it... There's all sorts of theories about why people grow, but generally, we are handed something in life that we don't, [with] our current categories and labels, don't have any way to make sense of, and so, when confronted with something new, whether it's pain, loss, suffering, some cross-cultural interaction, we either... it breaks us... and that's what allows you to move forward in the greater enlightenment/consciousness/expansion/growth/maturity/spirituality/etcetera. We either are willing to go through that pain of, "I'm a long way from where I grew up", and we move into greater maturity/growth/expansion, or we dig in our heels, and resist it/fight it, become even more entrenched. But what I always find the great mystery, is that for some reason, at each stage for you all, is [that] you just kept going, [to] Berlin, Asia...
Martin: Yeah well, when Gareth suggest Berlin to record a part of 'Construction Time Again', we jumped at it, and we loved the experience, and within two years of that, I was living there.
Rob: Oh were you? Right!
Martin: Yeah, so I moved from Basildon to Berlin.
Rob: Unbelievable! So how long did you move in Berlin?
Martin: Two years.
Rob: Incredible. And was your family back in Basilton [sic]? Like, could they come with you, in a sense? Not like, move there, but did they understand what was happening, like "This is great", or were they just like, you know, "Send cards"?
Martin: Yeah, no one ever came over when I was there, to visit. But no, I think that they understood that, yeah, the band was doing well, by that stage. So it wasn't... If the band had been doing horribly, they might have been saying to me, "What are you doing? What are you doing, son?"
Rob: Right, right, right. And so: another album, another album, another album, and then you're like, arenas, stadiums, videos, it gets really big. When does it get crazy? Is it just one flow, gradual, or were there moments where you looked at each other, like, "Oh this is, like, the next level."?
Martin: I think we were very fortunate that things were very gradual with us. So with the first album it was successful in England, and it did kind of okay in Europe, but 'Just Can't Get Enough' was kind of a very underground hit, maybe in clubs in America, but nothing really. It didn't make that many inroads. So maybe by the second or third album we had started to do a bit better in Europe. But we kind of had written America off. We just felt that we were too European for America.
Rob: Yeah. And for a British band, America is just massive, wide, vast. So at what point did you have some moment, like "Let's try America"?
Martin: Well yeah, we almost gave up, I think we played in 1983, and we were playing small theatres, and the attendance was kind of okay but not amazing, and every interview we went into was kind like justifying ourselves as a band, because we were electronic and we weren't "rock". So we almost gave up. And then, I don't know why, but somebody talked us in coming back in 1985, I think it was, [when] we came back.
Rob: Depeche Mode almost gave up.
Martin: [laughs] No, in America.
Rob: Oh, in America, okay. Phew! But justice is a hard slog, yeah.
Martin: Yeah, it just seemed like, we were just like hitting our heads against the wall every time we came to America. And then we came back in 1985, and the whole alternative radio thing had happened.
Martin: And we just couldn't believe it! We were playing sheds and there were like 15.000 people there every night. It was incredible.
Rob: Absolutely incredible. And then the Rose Bowl, the '101' album is '90...? '89, '90?
Martin: I think we actually played in, I think it was '87, '88...
Rob: So within, whatever, five years, you're playing the, you know... That's just unbelievable. Now, there are, like, fans, I'm assuming you're having, like, super-fans, outside the hotel, there's travel, money, people coming at you, wanting to be in on the inner circle, how did you personally cope? Or how did you... Did you have somebody, like, "Okay, this is how you manage this level", or were you just sort of figuring it out? I mean, a lot of people, their own sort of sanity goes out the window at some point, because it's just... I mean, we've seen that happen so often.
Martin: Yeah, I think our sanity did go out of the window, and we did what, I think any, well most, young people in our situation would do. We ended up, like, partying, that became part of our M.O., every... The shows were kind of, like, very secondary back then. It was like, "Let's get back to the party."
Rob: Oh, really? It was like, "Let's play this show and then let's party"? Fascinating. And did the wheels come off at some point?
Martin: Yes. So, in 199... Well, before then, really. I was gonna say, 1993/'94 tour that we did for 'Songs of Faith and Devotion', it was an eighteen-month tour, and we went all over the world, and there were times when we were in Singapore, and we had been on tour for, I don't know, fourteen months, and you start having these thoughts, "Why are we in Singapore? We don't even sell any records here. I'm just gonna get drunk again!" We all managed to get through that tour without dying, but just about, I think.
Rob: Yeah. Fascinating. Now, from early on, there's this spirituality, sexuality... You're not always writing about what other bands are writing about. There's a depth, there's a profoundity, there's this... What I pick up, there's a [familiarity] with the sacred, but it's not the "sacred", necessarily, of the cathedrals, it's the "sacred" in flesh and blood and skin and bone, and, where did that [come from]? What were you reading? What were your... The spiritual themes that are running through this, it's techno music, it's computer music, it's "we can dance to it", but it's also speaking to the soul. Where did that... Did you have a model for that, or were you just, "This is what these songs should be about"?
Martin: I didn't-
Rob: -God, that was a long question.
Rob: I just kept going!
Martin: You know, there wasn't a model, a template that I had.
Rob: Sometimes people are inspired by somebody, who are like, "I wanna do that", but...
Martin: Yeah, I think I've always been interested in spirituality, and religions even. I've never followed a religion. Sometimes I envy people who do, because I feel that they have something that I never quite get to.
Rob: Like a grounding, or a path.
Martin: Yeah. So, I was quite familiar with the Bible, and I used to read other religion's books, and I found that quite motivating when it came to writing songs. I think it's always a good topic, especially if you can then turn in into, like you say, more of a "flesh and bone" thing, and twist it slightly. I always quite liked the idea of being in a pop-group, but being able to be as subversive as I wanted. I quite liked that. There's something nice about, "Oh, they're just a pop-group", but...
Rob: Right! Oh, I love to hear you say that, because that's what everybody who is sort of reading the liner notes of your albums is [thinking], like, "This guy is... He knows what's doing, right?" So you had this, "Yes, we're just a pop-group, come buy a ticket, dance, buy the T-shirt, great." But then these themes that what we're talking about are some of the deepest questions and subjects that humans have been wrestling with for thousands of years. I assumed Church of England would have been big in your village? Or was your schooling giving you some of that imagery?
Martin: Well, funnily enough, Andy and Vince used to go to the Methodist Church, and I think they were going there when the band first started. This is probably stuff I should not be telling anyone. [laughs]
Rob: Well, don't worry. Don't worry, it's just a podcast. We just edit that last part out.
Martin: [laughs] But I remember, Andy I think it was, inviting me along to the Methodist Church one night, and I think I must have been sixteen or seventeen, or something like that, and I just went along, there was like a concert on, or something. I think Vince was actually playing. And he had an acoustic duo at the time. [laughs] But there wasn't a lot going on in Basildon, apart from sitting in your room and learning songs from 'Disco 45', so for a short period of time, I used to go along to the Youth Fellowship, like, occasionally. Even though I didn't believe any of it. But I found it kind of interesting. And I also found it interesting that every week they used to finish with their prayers, and it was usually prayers for people who were sick and dying. And then the next week they'd come back and most of the people on the list were dead.
Rob: [laughs] And you were like, "Something about this is not working!"
Martin: Yes! Again, I think it was inspiring, in a way, even for songwriting, because I think Blasphemous Rumours was kind of based on that kind of experience.
Rob: Aaah, yeah, yeah, like, "This sort of thing says the thing, but it's actually not working. Or at least this understanding of it doesn't seem..." So you're writing lyrics: did you ever bring David some lyrics, and he'd be like, "What the... What is... I can't sing this!", or, "This is amazing!", or would you discuss, or would he just [go], "Ah, Martin, the transcendence and imminence of the corporeality that I see here with your pro-materialism understanding of..." I mean, did he have, like... What are those interactions like? Because, songwriters in other bands probably aren't being like, "I think you should sing this." Do you know what I mean? At that time.
Martin: Yeah, I don't think we ever had a real in-depth conversation about the songs, you know-
Rob: -No way!
Martin: Dave always says that he likes to get his own interpretations, which I think is the greatest thing about music, and the greatest thing about words and poetry or whatever, that everybody gets their own interpretation. And I get asked all the time in interviews, "Can you explain this song to me?" and I say, "No, because if I tell you my mundane meaning of the song, it's gonna take away all of the magic that so many people feel for it."
Rob: Because somebody says to you, "Oh my word, this song got me through the hardest period of my life, what was it about?" and you're like, "My... dog... died... and there was cereal... and I had my zipper stuck on my sweater..." Right? I don't wanna know that!
Martin: When I've been asked this in the past, I was using this example: in that bag of rock 'n' roll records, there was 'Sweet Little Sixteen' by Chuck Berry - I mean, Chuck Berry was even done on the Mann Act or whatever, for transporting minors across borders - but in his book, in his autobiography, he said, "Oh, I just wrote that song because my agent told me that that was the age group that I was appealing to."
Rob: ...So weird. Okay, I got a couple of song questions and then we can wrap it up. So I'm gonna ask a couple of song questions: 'It's No Good', that chorus, "Don't say you..." - I'm not even gonna sing it.
Rob: When you wrote that, were you like, washing the dishes and all of a sudden you were going, [to the melody of 'It's No Good'] "tun, tun, tun tun..."? When you come up with a hook that's that just... fantastic, - as somebody who admires a great hook - does that come...? Because, you're in the studio, and all of a sudden you're like, "tun, tun, tun tun...", and were you walking the dog? Oh, I'm just gonna keep humming it.
Rob: Do you know that that works as soon as you find it?
Martin: No. And I specifically remember that song, and one of my friends will be very pleased that you asked about that one, because, there's a friend of mine called Denise D'Sylva, who lives in Australia, and I don't see her very often at all, but when I wrote that song, I thought that maybe it was a little on the "poppy" side. We always have this kind of like, line that we draw in the sand, and if a song crosses over too much, then it's like, "Ohhh, we're not sure, what are we gonna do?" If we do it, we're gonna have to really change it or something. So I didn't think, "Oh, this is an amazing song, this is a great hit", I was [like], "I'm not sure about it", and I actually remember playing it to Denise D'Sylva on a guitar, and she said: [tries an Australian accent] "No Martin, that's it. You gotta do that. That's a hit."
Rob: Oh really?
Rob: She just recognised, in it's most bare bones...?
Rob: So you're not aware that we're gonna get that thing lodged in our front-temporal cortex for the next thirteen years because it's so...? You're just, "It came out somehow, here it is"? You're not necessarily aware of what it is?
Martin: No, I think there have been maybe a couple of times, I think, when we've been in the studio as a band, and we finished something, and we may have looked at each other and thought, "Maybe that could be a hit." There's been a couple of times. You know, we're English, like you said!
Rob: You're British! Right.
Martin: [laughs] One of the funniest ones, I think, was 'Personal Jesus', [of] which we thought it wouldn't get any airplay whatsoever, because we weren't sure if you could even - in America especially - say "Jesus" on the radio.
Rob: Yeah. So, obviously the ancient old question, but what came first with that song? The title, the lyrics, the guitar part - which is just fantastic, obviously...?
Martin: This is gonna start a little strange, because-
Rob: -I think we passed that a long time ago.
Martin: [laughs] When I write songs, I often don't sit down and write a poem, or complete a piece of music and then start writing words to it. I'll pick up a guitar, or I'll start playing some songs on the piano, or start a bassline running on something, and I'll just start singing what comes naturally to me. And that's where the ideas for the songs come from. And I don't know if that's tapping into something that exists somewhere or... I'm not sure. But the songs sometimes kind of write themselves.
Rob: So there's some way in which... It's almost like you allow your mind, the rational/analysing/staring out into distance/always taking in data and the route with which we stand outside of ourselves and go, "I think I'm doing okay, did they like me? Did I...", it's almost like you sort of have to get in the place where that is quiet or out of the way - or the monkey mind, as some traditions say - and then you just sort of listen to what's a layer or two below, and it comes out.
Rob: And that came out: "your own personal Jesus" came out over the top of a loop or a guitar part or something.
Martin: Yeah, I mean, the melody is not that complicated.
Rob: Did the band... Were you like, "It's called 'Personal Jesus', obviously." Was the band like, "Oh, yeah, that will work. It's great" or were they [like], "What? What? What?... This time you have gone too far, Martin."?
Martin: No. Obviously we weren't thinking about it as a single straight away when the band first heard it, and I think it got made much more commercial, in a good way, in the studio, than from the demo. But I think that when we actually decided to release it as a single, we were a little hesitant.
Rob: And then you're the first person to be surprised by how much reception it gets.
Martin: Yeah, all of us! We couldn't believe how successful it was.
Rob: That is fascinating. And 'Personal Jesus' is on Violator. There's a song on there called 'Policy of Truth': what in the world are those sounds? Do you know what I mean? Like, if someone came from a different planet, and I was just playing any music, I'd be like, "This is a guitar, this is drums, this is harpsichord, this is a flute..." But on that song, if I played them that song, I'd be like, "... That's like a... I don't..."
Martin: You mean the main riff kind of sound?
Rob: The riff, there's like three or four parts that are like sort of stacked in very tightly in the mix. I assume there's some really subjective aesthetic thing going on where you're just like, "It should sound like striking the edge of a glass bottle mixed with a..." Do you know what I mean? In the studio, are you just, "I'll know it when I hear it"?
Martin: I think it's more organic than that. I think part of the sounds that you're talking about are samples that we... even during Violator we were doing quite a bit of sampling, so it probably came from some weird Asian instrument sample CD or a classical Asian music CD, with a bend in it.
Rob: Okay, because, our ears, we pretty much know the palate of sounds, and I don't have a bent Asian thing in my database at the moment, so I hear it, and I'm like, "What is..." And then one last question: [on] Live In Berlin, there's this 'Just Not Tonight'...?
Martin: 'But Not Tonight', yeah.
Rob: 'But Not Tonight'. Just 'But Not Tonight'. There's this moment at the end, there's like a refrain - I will not sing it for you - and then the song fades, there's this gap, and then the stadium, slowly, like, like a wave coming towards shore, it gradually begins to form, and you hear a couple of people singing that refrain, and then more, and then more... You're standing there on a stage in a stadium and this thing that apparently dropped out of somewhere for you a month or two or three or years earlier, whatever. Do you know what I mean? You've just given people this gift, the song is over, and an assembled mass begins to repeat this refrain, and it's got joy and grief in it. It feels like everybody is... You know, Buddhists have this thing called resonating interval, when we're all breathing at the same time it's almost like we physiologically begin to sync. Obviously that's the communal power of singing and laughing. Where are you in that moment? Do you know, "Oh, this is the part where we stop and they keep going", are you just present in the moment, [or] are you like, "I need my guitar for the next song"? Do you ever just go, "I'm Martin Gore and I made this noise and this is my life and 50.000 people are spontaneously taking this thing that came through my British man-self"? Do you know what I mean?
Martin: No, it is amazing. Virtually every night when we're on tour, we are extremely spoilt by our audiences. And those magical moments just happen on a regular basis. And during the set, there are probably three or four times where they'll do something like that at the end of different songs. And it goes on for five minutes, and Dave will usually eventually say something or clap his hands or do something to stop them. But it would actually be an interesting experiment to see how long it would go on if we didn't actually stop them.
Rob: Because the crowd would be like, "We can do this all night."
Martin: Yeah. That is a very European thing, by the way. It doesn't tend to happen so much in America. The Europeans love singing.
Rob: Yeah. Because you always had your local, your pub, where everybody sang, and music was shared, and communal. And for so many Americans, music is for people who know how to sing, or performance. You perform because you're a musician, as opposed to something we all share. We don't have a tradition, other than, for many people obviously, a church. Otherwise, there aren't that many communal singing places, as opposed to... And most people live in the suburban sprawl, so there isn't just: you walk down the block and there's a collected body of songs that everybody knows.
Martin: Yeah, well, in Europe, I think that our audience is so fanatical, and it is kind of cult-like, and maybe it's even verging on church-like. So maybe it is a bit like some kind of communion that goes on in those moments.
Rob: Absolutely, yeah. I always say: there's something else going on here. There's something else going on here. There's something that connects us, that flows through all of us, and there are these moments when we all experience it and taste it and you can almost see it in the room. And obviously, religion is the attempt to name that, which can be very helpful, and not helpful.
Rob: Fascinating. So if I did this and not asked you... There will be another Depeche Mode album?
Martin: We are planning to have a meeting within the next few weeks, and we're hoping to get started in April, I believe.
Rob: And do you have stuff swirling around in your head, or your hard-drive? Do you have overall themes and ideas, or just specific little "Don't say you want me..."?
Martin: [laughs] You're a closet singer!
Martin: Are you looking for a backup job?
[both laugh some more]
Rob: Oh, dear Lord, no. Ugh. But if I was...
Martin: I'm sure you could fit it into your schedule somehow.
Rob: You know, I saw Green Day, and before they came out, a friend of theirs came out in a bunny outfit, drunk, and just danced around on the stage, drinking, and it absolutely... the crowd, it broke. By the time the band took the stage, the band was already like, "Let's go!" So, maybe drunk bunny? I don't know!
Rob: But beyond that: no.
Martin: But yeah, back to your question: yeah of course I got some songs finished and demoed, Dave has had some songs demoed, so we're in a good place, ready to get started.
Rob: So the official word is: some men are gonna have a meeting.
Rob: Well, I'm so glad that we could have this conversation, I find it so fascinating. And I love hearing... It's always oddly inspiring to me when people [say], "We took this turn, it went okay, this turn didn't, this was hard. We almost gave up on America, we almost..." The struggle, to me, is as inspiring and sacred as the rocketship-taking-off part.
Rob: And I know I speak for so many people: what you have sung about, it's almost like finding the divine in the daily. Some people will go looking in a cathedral, but some people will go looking in the sweat and the blood and the skin and the soil and the everyday stuff. And that's just very-
Martin: Thank you, that was very nicely put.
Rob: It's really inspiring and really beautiful, so, I'm looking forward to the next thing.
Martin: Thank you.
Rob: Alright. Grace and peace, everyone! We are checking out from Martin Gore's studio.
- He did three podcasts between 2011 and 2014, here are the links: http://clr.net/news.pl?id=201 + https://pro.beatport.com/chart/martin-gores-march-blips/54535 + https://www.dropthebiscuit.co.uk/podcast/martin-gore-2/
- Martin told No.1 magazine in May 1985: "One thing that does annoy me: My mum threw out all my Disco 45s a few years ago. I've never forgiven her for that."
- That's Phil Burdett. He also appeared in unofficial biographies like the one by Jonathan Miller and in Depeche Mode: Random Access Memory. You can read an interview with him here, in which he also mentions Martin.
- Martin is now merging three moments together into one. You can read the correct details here.
- You can read about and listen to the Summer 1980 Demo Tape here.
- That's not true, they played six concerts with Dave as 'Composition Of Sound' before changing their name at 1980-09-24 Bridge House, London, England, UK.
- Yes, yes you did! They played nine concerts as 'Composition Of Sound', the first three without Dave. You can find a list here.
- Currently, no genuine recording of "Composition Of Sound" circulates. There may be one or two fakes labeled as really early dates, but those are just comprised of early live-only tracks from later live recordings as Depeche Mode.
- Read more here.
- That was in August 1981, because by that time DM had even appeared on Top Of The Pops three times.
- This happened in April 1983. You can read some quotes about their experiences here.
- This gig would be an example of that.
- It's widely known information, and can be found in biographies about them.
- She was Jonathan Kessler's assistant during DM's 1993/1994 tour.