Did Martin’s songs change radically from their demo versions to completion?
Sometimes the songs drastically changed from the demo (i.e. Enjoy The Silence), sometimes they were pretty similar (i.e. Shake The Disease). It is probably fair to say that from ‘Violator’ onwards, the final results bore less resemblance to the original demos.
Did you ever feel like you should have shared credits with Martin due to your considerable musical input?
I don’t think the production credits really show a fair reflection of who did what but Martin wrote the songs so it’s quite right that he should receive the songwriting credits.
I have never understood why DM albums after ‘Some Great Reward’ didn’t contain any of your songs?
As I have said in the history section of the A-Files, I think I felt obliged , as the ‘musical one’, to contribute my own songs to some of the early DM albums rather than because it came to me naturally. I much prefer to concentrate on the music.
Having just read your excellent ‘Singles 86 – 98’ editorials, you confirmed something about DM that has bothered me for a long time – namely the extraordinary amount of time you spent in the studio over the years (particularly when the other band members ‘couldn’t be bothered’ or were away on holiday) and why you never or rarely seemed to get the proper credit for all this work. Was it really the general consensus of the band that production credits should read ‘Depeche Mode’ and what about the live shows, you did all the programming, so why were you never mentioned?
I’ve said before that I don’t think the credits on Mode albums really reflected the truth about who produced them but to be honest, at the time I just couldn’t be bothered about getting into big discussions on the whole subject. I was happy to do the work because it was enjoyable and something I was good at.
In relation to this, I remember reading some comments from Fletch and Martin (around the time of ‘Ultra’) that were along the lines of “Alan is really boring….during recording periods, he never came out with us and spent too much time in the studio…” etc. The audacity of some people makes my blood boil! What about you, any thoughts on this?
As I’ve also said before, some of the comments that were made during the promotion for DM’s last album were disappointing although not unsurprising and I can understand a bit of why they might have been said. The simple fact is that most people just do not understand or appreciate that ‘producing’ a record properly requires an enormous amount of energy and concentration. Anyone can go into a studio for a couple of hours a day, take loads of drugs, twiddle a few knobs, whack it all on a CD and call it a finished album but invariably the end result sounds like what it is – lazy and ill-judged. I can’t just roll into the studio at 5 o’clock in the afternoon with a raging hangover and expect to be able to work effectively. This doesn’t mean that I never take a break during a session but as a rule, I like to keep work time and play time separate so I can give my absolute best to whatever project I’m involved in. If this makes me boring then fine…..I’d rather be boring but have a really good record.
I think some of the instrumentals could have had lyrics. How did you decide to put or remove lyrics and release an instrumental track?
None of the instrumentals ever had lyrics to my knowledge. Nor did we ever try to add lyrics to them.
Instrumental tracks such as ‘Agent Orange’, ‘Kaleid’ and ‘Nothing To Fear’ etc – Was this pure Martin Gore work or did other members contribute to them?
They were written by Martin and then recorded in the usual way.
Looking back at your work with DM, do you wish you could have made any of the songs more dark and atmospheric? Which ones would you like to have done differently?
With the benefit of hindsight, I probably could have pushed some of the early stuff further.
Although it maybe let you express yourself more, did it ever bother you that Martin didn’t really care about the production?
Sometimes, but it gave me more space to do what I enjoy.
You’ve said that you didn’t like your songs when done by DM (Keyboard Magazine). Would you consider making your own version of these older tracks?
No, I don’t like them.
Can you think of any examples where Martin’s version of a song was preferred to yours?
It was never as clear cut as that.
In the studio with DM or Recoil, did you or do you actually perform certain parts of a song “live” on the keyboard or is it all just programming ?
With DM, if they were playable, quite a lot of the parts were performed rather than programmed. Same thing applies to Recoil.
Did you ever find recording DM material depressing? What do you think is DM’s most depressing song?
No, not at all. I don’t find Martins songs depressing.
Which D.M. song that you composed are you most pleased with?
None of them.
Which one DM song took the longest to complete, and why?
There have been a few over the years – ‘Master And Servant’ took a staggering 7 days to mix (and we still managed to leave the snare off by mistake:-)), ‘Clean’ and ‘Policy Of Truth’ went through several re-workings and ‘I Feel You’ was also very difficult to mix. ‘Walking…’ and ‘Judus’ both took a long time as well.
I’ve heard a few of Martin Gore’s demo’s and they do sound VERY basic. How did he present an instrumental track to you? Was it just a melody line or did he have a basic track worked out? And were they all instrumentals from the beginning or was it because there wasn’t time to come up with some lyrics?
He produced a basic demo which usually contained a complete set of lyrics with a vocal melody, the chords and one or two melodies. We would take it in whatever direction from there.
How did you used to present your songs to the band? Were they generally all programmed up ready? Did you sing in the studio to indicate to Dave the vocal melody?
Much like Martin, I produced a demo at home which I sang on.
Can you talk a little about the recording of vocals for both DM and Recoil. Do you always have a guide vocal early on (more difficult with Recoil I guess!)? How many takes did Dave normally require to get the final result and was there a preferred time of day for him to record? And for Martin? How did they compare with Toni, Doug, Moby, et al. Did you take the best bits from various attempts or was it normally a complete performance?
With Recoil, because of the way the tracks are constructed (with the vocals coming at the end) I don’t work with a guide. In DM’s case, the guide vocal would normally be sung by Martin at the earliest possible stage when working on a song (although in later days Dave sung some of the guides). The final vocals would usually be recorded once the overall structure and majority of the music was in place and like most artists, were composited from several different takes – sometimes these would be sung over the course of 2 or 3 days, sometimes they were quicker. It was pretty much the same for the Recoil collaborators. Basically different singers have different strengths and thresholds.
Of all the songs you worked on while with DM, which one would you say best describes you and why?
I’ve no idea. What do you think?
I know that you said that DM was never pressured by Mute to be commercial but was the fact that Mute exists (financially) because of DM (and Erasure) ever on the band’s mind?
I think there’s always an underlying pressure felt by DM to come up with hits but, luckily, Martin’s a natural pop songwriter so you couldn’t say it was forced. I do think for balance, Mute could use a few more commercially successful acts on their roster.
I know you said that you would not make comments on current Depeche Mode work but I notice one drastic change in their sound. The hi-hat use in many of their songs are over-saturated and used far too much (my opinion). The beats sound very programmed even though there are several credits for percussionists and drummers. Was the looser sound that you said DM was trying to achieve more of something you wanted or was it a whole band thing because you would never know by the way the new album sounds?
As I’ve said before, we tried to change our approach from album to album. It’s probably fair to say that myself, Flood and Dave were the main instigators for a more open, looser and more fluid sound.
Martin has said in recent interviews in connection with ‘Ultra’, that now that he has hit middle age, it’s getting difficult for him to write more up-tempo songs. He claims it sounds fake to him if they get over the dizzy heights of 100 b.p.m. Do you feel the same way?
Not particularly. I don’t consciously say “Now I’ll write a slow number” or “It’s about time I did a fast track” – the mood of the music usually dictates the tempo.
Unlike many electronic acts, DM and Recoil have never really gone along with the current “in thing” in electronic music. Is this a conscious effort to remain different or something that you haven’t really thought about?
The interesting thing is that over the years, DM just carried on producing music in our usual way and the band has moved in and out of fashion, depending on what’s trendy at the time. It’s always preferable to remain true to your ideals and maintain one’s integrity rather than jump on the latest bandwagon.
You said that for every album that DM tried to take a different approach? Can you explain the change in approach for each album from ‘Construction Time Again’ to ‘Violator’?
I’m sorry but this kind of question can’t be answered that simply. As I’ve said on other occasions, we always tried to change our approach to keep things interesting. I can’t spell out the intricacies of those changes – can’t you hear the differences in the albums?
What was your attitude and reactions towards David when you found out that he was using and how did it affect your work?
It was disappointing. Not for any moral reasons but because his drug use adversely affected his personality and more specifically his greatest asset, his sense of humour. There was also an increase in general apathy and a distance which I found sad considering what an enthusiastic and vital person he really is. By all accounts his unique wit has now fully returned;-)
You said in the’ SOFAD’ EPK something very interesting about minor chords being more powerful than major chords. Apparently, it’s one of the trademarks of DM. Have you always thought this way?
Minor chords will always create a more melancholic mood than major chords. They’re not necessarily more powerful in themselves but one is much more likely to be able to create a darker atmosphere by working in minor keys.
Vince Clarke – major, Nine Inch Nails – minor.
Abba – major, Massive Attack – minor.
And don’t forget, as Nigel Tuffnel said: “D minor – the saddest of all keys”.
I’ve heard many DM fans say (after your departure) “….the songwriter and the singer are still there so the next albums will be as good as the previous ones…” but what I miss on the ‘Ultra’ album is the basslines which I think have been the trademark of DM. Were you responsible for most of these, especially the powerful bassline in ‘World In My Eyes’ which I think is a big part of the song?
I was responsible for quite a lot of them including ‘World In My Eyes’.
I’ve heard a demo of ‘Enjoy The Silence’ and noticed how much the song had changed from the demo to the final version. Which factors determine whether the song is going to be “dark and melodic” like the demo or “more optimistic” like the album version?
This is not easy to answer. There are no rules – you just go on a feeling and allow a song to develop. I thought that particular track would be better with a more upbeat ‘dance’ vibe than as an organ / vocal ballad.
In 1989 I met you at Milan’s Logic Studio where DM were recording some tracks for ‘Violator’. You were working on a drum sound for a long time. How much time would you usually spend on a sound or idea?
As long as it takes. Dan Miller once spent 3 days on a bass drum sound …… and it was still shit 😉
I know that you must have written more songs for DM over the years. Were you reluctant to submit them?
I never submitted any more after ‘Some Great Reward’.
Martin seems to be a little apprehensive about submitting material – I saw the MTV Depeche Mode Rockumentary and he seemed to be a tad afraid. Were you very critical of the songs? Did you ever say “This is not a good song to do, I don’t think it has any direction.”
I would obviously say what I thought the potential of each song was but I would hope that I was always diplomatic and never insensitive with my comments.
I often wonder what some of the DM and Recoil song titles were before they actually got their final name. Please list some and what their original names were.
I’m not prepared to divulge all my working titles over the years but I’m currently working on a track affectionately known as ‘Bastard’. During the last album what turned out to be one of my favourites was for a long time tentatively referred to as ‘Iran’. Don’t bother asking why – it’s too long a story….. 😉
Why does DM and also Recoil use only “normal” rhythms (4/4, 3/4, 6/8). Was it because you wanted the songs to be closer to the listeners or just because you do not like unusual rhythms? Do not you want to produce any Recoil songs in future with unusual rhythms?
Prog. rock anyone?
In the past you said there was an unfinished DM song with a 7/8 chorus. Was the rhythm one of the reasons for not producing it?
No, I wouldn’t say so. There were other factors that were much worse.
Who usually took the initiative to go and bash things in search of novel sounds?
In the earlier days (with Gareth Jones and Daniel Miller), it was like a pioneering expedition. All of us would go off to local derelict areas armed with hamster….er…hammer and tape recorder. In later years, once the novelty wore off, we limited ourselves to whatever was within eyesight in the control room.
I can’t think of any other sample from a DM song being used to build another but I’m sure there are lots. Could you give me some examples?
Um……… no I can’t think of any either, apart from remixes like ‘Breathing In Fumes’ (spawned from ‘Stripped’).
In the past, how were the songs programmed – with some very old sequencers or how? For example in 1981, was the sequencer already discovered? I suppose you didn’t have a Mac in those days?
When I first joined DM, they were using something called an MC4 – a 4-track sequencer. We also used Dan’s Arp 2600 sequencer which required a CV and Gate triggered by a click (spike) recorded on tape. Ironically, this method of sync is actually tighter than Midi. After the MC4, we used an Atari with BBC sequencer and midi or sometimes, the internal sequencer of the synclavier. It wasn’t until ‘Violator’ I think (or maybe even ‘SOFAD’) that we switched to Steinberg’s Cubase which was still run with an Atari + 21″ monitor. I only switched to Mac for the last Recoil LP.
With the multitude of ‘layers’ that Depeche Mode’s songs required, were all synth / sample parts recorded on separate tracks and if so, how many tracks did some of DM’s ‘bigger’ songs require?
In the earlier days we would record 24 track with 2 (sometimes 3) non-conflicting parts on each track. When mixing, one could rely on automation to separate out each individual sound to it’s own channel, with dedicated effect and so on. Later, we recorded with 48 tracks so that monitoring would be easier when working on the songs. We would also run parts live unless they needed to be recorded to free up a synth or something. Some of the more complicated Mode recordings included ‘Master & Servant’, ‘Black Celebration’, ‘Clean’ and ‘I Feel You’.
Did you use effects units on each track or were ‘built-in’ keyboard effects sufficient?
It’s only in more recent years that keyboards come with their own effects units built in. Usually, dedicated outboard effects work better and we used plenty of them. Most sounds would tend to have a particular effect of its own with the better quality reverb and delay units saved for the vocals.
Finally, would the whole band be present during much of the recording or was it limited to the ‘essential’ folk?
It changed over the years. In the earlier years everybody would be there with the result often being lots of chat and mucking around with little actual work being achieved. As time went on we all realised that less people in the control room equalled more work done. On the last few albums, it would only be those that were essential or specifically needed.
When in the studio recording the ‘Violator’ and ‘SOFAD’ albums, did you generally run the synth parts live by MIDI or did you commit things to a sampler or tape and then sync the tapes up with new parts as you recorded them?
We ran things live for a while until we were happy with the song structures. Then we recorded most of the parts to multitrack.
I’ve noticed that you a high level of sibilance in your voice. On ‘101’ it’s very perceptive when you do the chorus with Mart. Do you have difficulty processing your voice or do you like it that way?
Is it you playing piano on ‘St Jarna’, ‘Pimpf’, ‘Memphisto’ and ‘Sibeling’?
Yes, I think I played on all of those.
Some of the Mode tracks from ‘Black Celebration’ have six or eight little melodies all working together in a kind of techno-fugue (i.e. ‘Here Is The House’, ‘Black Celebration’). Was Martin responsible for all of these little melodies or did you or Daniel Miller add some during the production phase? Or take a track like ‘Enjoy the silence’ – the single version was a LONG way from the Harmonium mix with just the pipe organ and Martin singing. Who added all of the melodies? Ultimately, where does one draw the line between songwriting and production?
I can’t remember who did exactly what on each track but in the case of ‘Black Celebration’, some melodies came from the original demo, some came about in the studio. Actually, Dan and I often felt there were too many counter-melodies and not enough space in the music. With ‘Enjoy’, the Harmonium version is basically the original demo. The LP version came together in the studio. Go to Report -editorial / octoberfor more info.
I’m ‘old school’ when it comes to song writing. Lyrics + chord structure equals the song, everything else is arrangement and production. Not everyone would agree though. It’s difficult to say with something like Recoil for example. I never sit down and ‘write a song’, they just evolve during the recording / programming process. Had we taken that approach with DM, then the publishing credits would have been different.
Joining the band full time with the making of ‘Construction Time Again’, did you have any qualms about stepping in with an ‘accomplished’ band and did you contribute as much to the album as you would have liked, being the ‘new guy’? How quickly did the original members of DM accept you and the contributions you could make?
I had no problem getting involved – the others weren’t particularly precious about the studio. The most protective person was actually Daniel Miller who very much controlled the studio direction at that time.
Did Depeche Mode retain the sounds that were used over all the past years prior to ‘Ultra’ ?
Most of the sounds are scattered around on various discs, DATs etc. They are also accessible from the original multitracks.
I read the August editorial and I found it very interesting. During the entire ‘SOFAD’ project, you were the one person that kept on working while the others were on holiday. Was this the case with the earlier albums and projects too and didn’t the others ever want to help out?
It was actually during the making of ‘Some Great Reward’ that I finished the record while they went on holiday, not ‘SOFAD’. During SOFAD, Fletch went home for personal reasons and during the ‘Devotional’ tour, I did a lot of work in the studio when people were on holiday or during periods of down-time between different legs.
Were you responsible for all the samples used in DM?
No I wasn’t. There were many other people involved in DM’s production over the years.
Can you give an example of where your voice can be heard on a DM release?
A lot of the backing vocals – ‘Everything Counts’ for example. You may find something useful in the editorial on the making of the singles.