By Vincent PollardBritish synth-pop pioneers Depeche Mode have just released Delta Machine, their 13th studio album, and at this stage in their career, the band needs little introduction, having toured worldwide and recorded for over three decades now. Delta Machine was recorded in California and New York City and was produced by Ben Hillier and mixed by long-time collaborator Flood. We caught up with keyboardist and founding member Andy "Fletch" Fletcher to chat about Depeche Mode's recent year off, their forthcoming tour, the making of their new album and working with new bandmate Christoffer Berg, better known as producer for Fever Ray and the Knife.
Is there a concept behind the new album? It's interesting. What normally happens in Depeche Mode is Martin writes some songs, he does some demos and we go and listen to them and normally we change them completely but this time we seem to have the direction right. So we decided that would be the rough direction of the whole album, which is a sort of bluesy feel mixed with electronics. Not to say that every song's like that but it's an overall theme.
How do you feel it compares from your recent output? I think it's better than the last album. I don't think we'd got that sort of direction there. I think there's a lot more energy on this album. In terms of how it fits in, Ben Hillier was the producer of all the last three albums so I suppose there is a hint of his imprints on it but it's hard for me to tell at this stage to be honest. Usually I can judge albums a year later. Amazingly we actually finished ahead of schedule, which we'd never done in our careers so that was incredible as well. That tells you it must be a good album if you finish early!
It feels to me like there's a bit more of a techno and contemporary electronic music influence happening, especially on tracks like "My Little Universe." Well, "My Little Universe" is a very techno track. It's out there that one. It's a little jewel, that track. It sort of breaks up the more built up tracks and where it is on the album — track 5 — it's really a nice position. What happened with that song, it was just sort of a normal pop track really and we layered and layered and layered stuff on it and it wasn't sounding right so in the end we just completely stripped it down to how it is now, and now it sounds great. I'm talking about so much stuff "on," so many tracks used up, and really just taking bare elements of things — a couple of melodies, a couple of sequencers. It's just amazing.
I think it's probably my favourite track on the album. That's one of the nice surprises really. We thought that track was going nowhere and could see it just as a bonus track or something but out of the blue a bit of magic occurred.
Was it a deliberate focus to meld some classic-era Depeche Mode with other elements that are pushing your sound forward? No, nothing we do is that deliberate, although when you've got certain elements like Dave's voice and Martin's songs, there are always gonna be flashbacks but it's not done on purpose. When you're working on an album you either accidentally find a direction or you know the direction to begin with, and with this album we started listening to Martin's songs and we just knew what direction to move in and it's sort of a weight off your mind really. With Songs of Faith and Devotion I think we were always searching there for a direction and maybe we didn't find it, you know. The important thing with the new album is that it's actually quite minimal. At the moment we're rehearsing and we're even surprising ourselves how little is going on and I think that's a nice thing. You can hear a blues influence on certain tracks and a techno or electronic influence on other tracks and sometimes they merge together.
Hence the album title - Delta Machine! Yeah. [Laughs] For once it actually describes the music and what the music's like.
On "Slow" you can really hear the blues influence come through. That, believe it or not, was a song that was written for Songs of Faith and Devotion and for some bizarre reason never got recorded. Martin was going through his demos and came across it and said "Actually, this is quite good" so he did a new demo and it's a great song. "Goodbye" at the end — that's quite similar, and "Heaven" too, although it's not as directly bluesy as "Slow" or "Goodbye."
There are some recent Depeche Mode studio photos showing a serious amount of modular synths. Were they used a lot on the record? No, that's just for show! [Laughs] Yeah, everything's used and it looks good as well. It's a combination, when we're in the studio we need a sound and it's a case of "Hmm, what shall we use now?" and sometimes it's modular or analog and sometimes it's digital. We've got this monstrous set-up and it's literally "Take your pick!" It's quite nice. There are little bits [of the modular synth] in everything.
I guess you're not taking any of those on tour with you! No, I don't think so. They're worth a lot of money and very unreliable to go on tour with. They tend to go wrong very easily, especially when being carried around so we just have to sample and create other sounds really. It would be a great look on tour though if I had a bank of those behind me! In the early days we were always buying the next synth out, you know. Even something like the PPG, in the early '80s, it was a great a sounding keyboard but went wrong every time we took it out on the road. It couldn't handle the tour and being on a truck.
What's your live set-up going to be on this tour? We have drums, guitar and keyboards and the weird thing is with this album, that we didn't really have with the last album, that actually almost every song on this album sounds good live. Except for maybe "My Little Universe" and even that could be made to sound good live. Obviously we can't go on and play the whole album with all our past career as well, so it's quite interesting that they all sound good. We've just been rehearsing last week and it sounds great.
Who else plays on the record other than yourself, Martin Gore and Dave Gahan? It's a team effort — obviously Ben Hillier, and we have a guy called Ferg [Peterkin] who's the engineer and we brought in this guy called Christoffer Berg, who's a young Swedish chap. He makes his own music and he's a real genius and a lot younger than us so he brings some young energy in. He was excellent. So the team in the studio was about six including Dave.
Talking of that young energy, are you seeing younger crowds coming to your shows? Obviously a large section of our fans are older but we have up until now succeed in bringing young fans in as well as the older fans. It would be quite disappointing if we were just playing to an old set of fans who were gradually getting older. We'll see on this tour what the mixture is. I did a year of DJing before this album — all over Europe, all over Asia — and I was just amazed by the young kids at the front.
Do you think that Martin's VCMG project with Vince Clarke and your year off DJing refreshed you guys a bit? Yeah, I think it does. Although I'm very much a commercial DJ. I mean that's my side in the band, I am quite commercial; Martin's quite techno and Dave, he's a bit of a rock man, although he's changed a bit recently. So you imagine all these different fields coming together and that's what you've got with the album. When I DJ I play electro — some old and some new — and more commercial chart records as well but based on electro. I went to Australia and to China. Really went to these far out places.