2024-07-04 Depeche Mode Live Wiki interview with Matrixxman on 2017 album Spirit

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Notes

Chris Baird on behalf of Depeche Mode Live Wiki interviewed American electronic musician and DJ Matrixxman via email regarding his involvement with the production of Depeche Mode's fourteenth studio album, Spirit.

Find Matrixxman on Instagram, SoundCloud, and Spotify.

Interview

Chris Baird: My introduction to your work was via Depeche Mode, my first purchase was the ‘Homesick’ vinyl. How did you start take the route towards becoming an electronic musician?

Matrixxman: Thanks [sic] you for grabbing the wax!

I took ecstasy around 17 or 18 with my best friends at a huge rave in Washington DC. We heard Roni Size perform live in the main room at Buzz and the other room had JJ Frost with either MC Questionmark or MC Fearless. We found the music so compelling that we vowed to embark on a lifelong pursuit of making the most futuristic shit ever. Paavo Steinkamp (the other half of our duo formally known as 5kinAndBone5) and I have unfinished business and must continue where we left off, as my techno adventures took me down unforeseen paths. Sometimes you have friendships which are deeper than mere friendships and more akin to a spiritual alliance. I suspect we will be getting into mischief and continuing this creative antagonism in some form, one way or another, in whatever realms that lie beyond this corporeal existence.

CB: Ableton or Protools?

MM: Ableton. I know Protools is the industry standard but it is painfully inefficient for production. My workflow is Ableton primarily for techno or sound design stuff and FL Studio for anything trap or rap related.

CB: How did you get to be part of the Spirit team?

MM: Got a call one day from Martin Gore out of the blue. I was in a busy steak house eating alone whilst on the road doing DJ gigs. I don't even recall what country I was in at that particular moment. It was so loud inside that I had to go somewhere quiet to properly hear him. It was a surreal evening.

CB: Were you a fan prior to meeting them?

MM: Of course. Always thought they were hella cool but never had actually delved deep into their discography. I came to know a lot of their older material after this took place. There are so many gems and slept on bangers that still hold up to this day and sound mad ahead of their time.

CB: How were you introduced to DM?

MM: As a child their music was basically everywhere around me in the 80s. I have distinct memories of hearing DM and thinking to myself, "wow! this is kinda dark and haunting. I love it..."

In terms of the actual introduction I believe Martin had come across my techno tracks and was familiar with my work. Also James [Ford, Spirit producer] has a manager who used to work with me as an agent. Shout out Oli Isaacs.

CB: Do you recall how many demos were brought by the members individually?

MM: Nah. Only James would know that.

CB: Were the demos close to the finished articles?

MM: Yeah Martin's song writing process is fire. Listening to his demos was fascinating. They were dope as fuck. He could ostensibly release their music with Dave singing to his songwriting per their usual formula without any producer involved. The old model of having a "producer" might be antiquated now that I think about it. Take for example a modern duo like Boy Harsher. As far as I know, they simply write their songs and don't rely on outside producers as they essentially produce it entirely themselves. The demos maybe get fleshed out more as they record them but having an outside producer can start to steer things away from the core vision. I guess that is necessary in some cases but perhaps not needed all the time. DM mentioned on previous albums (not sure which ones) sometimes their demos were fully discarded and built up again from scratch. So one can only speculate how those would have turned out had they kept the original cores of those tracks in tact.

CB: You're listed as programming, what did that cover?

MM: I mainly assisted with programming synths and drum machines. Fortunately it wasn't limited to just patching cables and technical shit, as there were a few tracks that required some melodic additions so I was thrilled to contribute in that manner too. The soaring Pink Floyd-esque arpeggio on "Cover Me" for example. We had hit an interesting place where the track clearly needed some extra additions to "tie the room together" in a manner of speaking. At one point Dave was sort of prodding us like, "This one needs something. Get off your arses and throw some darts. Go on then!" I'm fully paraphrasing him but it was something along those lines. At that point I hummed that particular arpeggio to Martin and he approved. So we patched it up in his modular rig. I hate modular synths actually but Martin's monstrous rig had even me impressed. lmao

The aforementioned "Cover Me" arp might sound somewhat inconsequential but it seemed to give the track a larger than life feel. There were a few other small creative tasteful additions but that is the one I'm most proud of.

CB: It's been suggested by James Ford that there may have been ‘too many cooks’ and it was a little dysfunctional. How did you find the working process?

MM: HAHA. I mean, yeah. James is correct. I did my best to stay out of his way and only offer up some creative input when it was asked for. The thing about James is he is a bad ass motherfucker. He could have done the work of both myself and Kurt with one eye open and a hand tied behind his back. The man knows his shit. So Kurt and myself were truly superfluous when having someone as adept as James around.

CB: Martin Gore is a Eurorack fan, what other equipment was used?

MM: A fat Moog Modular from James Rig. Elka, Synthi, and quite a few other cool synths whose names are eluding me without an internet connection at the moment (I'm writing this on my way to Dubai.)

CB: We're starting to find the odd sample on DM's later work. I'm undecided as to whether there's a Verve sample on "Going Backwards". Was there any crate digging or sampling on the album versions of the tracks?

MM: Not to my knowledge actually.

CB: While programming the tracks, did you build, replace the demo tracks or did you start from scratch?

MM: James made some good calls with keeping much of the original source material from the demos. After all, Martin had some nasty synth and drum machine work laid down already. There was no need to waste it.

CB: My favourite tracks on this record is "So Much Love". What was your favourite to work on?

MM: Hmmm. Poison Heart remix. Thanks to Kurt for recording me noodle on the piano in the studio. With that particular track I got to take it into a proper dark ass direction. A couple of the original album versions (like Poison Heart and another; I can't remember which) started to sound quite rock-oriented which is cool but I was happy to get dark and trip hop as fuck on the Poison Heart remix. I saw a couple comments on YouTube videos even saying that the remix was better than the original so that was flattering...I didn't expect to read that from some random fans.

CB: Do you recall any outtakes?

MM: There must have been some.

There's a funny story about Fletch (RIP) during one of the live video shoots. He screwed up playing something and immediately looked over at me as if it was my fault screaming, "Charlie!!!" and everyone in the room erupted into laughter. Presumably because they knew I wasn't at fault lol. I think he accidentally toggled the white noise on his synth or some shit because it made a crazy noise outta nowhere. I nearly pissed myself laughing too. Mind you, I had to play two separate synths alternating in the same songs, so I was fully concentrating my ass off. I'm not even a musician really but this was my first band experience ever. So I was the perfect target for Fletch and I suspect he utilised that to the fullest 🤣

CB: At my grand old age, I'm more interested in production techniques than song lyrics. How did the bonus remixes come about? They sound a bit like you, were you responsible?

MM: The band and James knew that I'm mostly known as a producer (in my own right) so once we finished the album ahead of schedule everyone basically said, "Ok Charlie you can man the helm and oversee a bonus remix disc." Which was great as I couldn't fully let loose with the album and was kinda trying to stay out of everyone's way. James said I could have requested being credited as the producer on the remix disc but I think it was too late at the point so it was just credited to us all jointly. But yeah, that was me with the band loosely giving me ideas and Kurt also lending a hand. It was crazy fun. Also nerve wracking to have them watching me. I recall Fletch got slightly irritated with me eating a kale salad while at the computer starting up the session one day. I was hungover due to hanging out with him at the hotel bar the night before 🤣 Grateful for those awkward ass moments with him. He was unique and did serve a vital role in balancing things in the band somehow.

CB: Were there any more?

MM: Any more outtakes? Don't think so.

CB: Martin Gore's a techno head, did you teach him any tricks?

MM: Hell nah. He was schooling me, if anything, left and right.

CB: You performed with the band on the Highline Sessions, were you involved in the arrangements?

MM: Kurt was running the show there. I'm eternally thankful for him even thinking of having me participate. I guess he sussed out I could do some basic shit on keys so he kindly and painstakingly showed me the parts to play. He gave me a week to rehearse. I was crazy nervous. Two synths and a hand on each synth for numerous songs. It was a lovely bonus to the studio sessions. Not in a million years would I have imagined that I would be playing alongside Depeche Mode. That's the shit dreams are made of. That is technically my only experience playing in a band. James pointed that out to me and laughed as if to say, "You lucky mf!" lol

CB: "Going Backwards", "The Worst Crime", and "Heroes" were recorded for the Highline Sessions, was anything else recorded?

MM: Yeah I think a couple more tracks but I can't remember. I learned all the parts Kurt showed me and was playing simply from muscle memory like a damn robot.

CB: DM went on tour straight after, did you have any involvement with getting anything ready for the tour or was that left to Kerry Hopwood?

MM: No involvement there.

CB: Martin Gore often makes a mix for the tour intro music. Did you have any suggestions?

MM: Nah he handles that all himself.

CB: I used to run live music venues and as my brother is in a hardcore band I'm very familiar with a lot of punk, metal, hardcore etc. I quite like the Bronx. I know you like Minor Threat and Fugazi. Ever had the urge to remix a Hardcore track or would that be sacrilege?

MM: Haha good question. I would like to make my own hardcore stuff at some point. I have a couple of fast ass punk joints that are approaching hardcore levels of energy. Me playing guitar and singing on 'em. I've been sidetracked by making Sigilkore (a very rare and based type of dark underground trap) but at some point I might resume those punk explorations. Always wanted to do a hardcore 7" record :) let's see


Charlie