Depeche Mode have survived 30 turbulent years in the music industry – and mellowed with age. Polly Weeks reports.
Many people are nervous about turning 30, seeing it as the end of their youth; the time to grow up and get a sense of responsibility.
The members of Essex band Depeche Mode, who epitomised the New Wave scene of the early 1980s, were no different when their group hit 30 last year.
“There were periods in the middle of our career where all of us had individual problems and it was a bit dicey whether we’d carry on a bit,” admits keyboard player Andy Fletcher.
“We were sort of dreading this 30th anniversary thing because it makes you sound so ancient, but we feel quite proud of it now. The way the music is at the moment groups come and go within years.”
Next Monday Andy and his bandmates Dave Gahan and Martin Gore will release Depeche Mode’s 12th studio album, Sounds Of The Universe.
It’s a major milestone for a band with a chequered history. While groups as diverse as Pet Shop Boys and Fear Factory have cited Depeche Mode as a major source of inspiration, things haven’t been easy.
Andy is frank and open about some of the issues. Songwriter and founding member Vince Clarke left after their 1981 debut was released, then Dave turned to drugs and alcohol as the band grew in fame and reputation. Andy also had his demons.
“The major problems were on a big tour we did called Songs For Faith And Devotion,” he explains. “We were on tour all that time and I’d had a nervous breakdown at the beginning of that tour so it was pretty difficult for me, but then I feel we’re not so unusual.
“We’re all people and lots of people go through these problems in life at times. We’ve come through these problems and come out stronger. I sound like a therapist but I feel we have,” he says.
“Dave has now been clean from drink and drugs for 13 years and even Martin hasn’t been drinking now for three-and-a-half years and it’s a lot of the reason we tend to be getting on better.”
With the band now focusing on the music rather than all of the trappings that have previously gone with it, recording the new album was a breeze.
“Sounds Of The Universe is probably one of the easiest albums we’ve ever had to make,” Andy says.
“There are certain things about what we do which gets harder as we get older - like the travelling around. But the actual recording process was actually very easy and enjoyable. We have quietened down a bit and I think Martin had quite a decent time to write songs and we had loads of songs, whereas sometimes you’re struggling for them. So it was just really easy and smooth. Hopefully that comes thorough in the final album.”
Andy’s quick to add though that it hasn’t always been such a seamless process.
“I think there has to be electricity in a band. Although this album has gone well there have been other albums which haven’t gone so well.
“We’re lucky as a group, we come from the same town and generally have the same sense of humour so we’ve got that to start with.”
This new relaxed attitude doesn’t mean they’ve become bland and boring however. The album begins with a few industrial but danceable numbers, which make way for a darker sound.
“The first part of the album is meant to be a bit more up-tempo, and then I guess it gets a bit more moodier.”
The band will be taking the album out on the road, putting any bad memories firmly behind them.
They play Birmingham’s LG Arena on December 13.
“The only problem we’ve got at the moment is trying to get the set list right,” Andy says. “We’ve got about 220 songs, so it’s a nice problem, but it’s difficult leaving out people’s favourites.”
Fans can rest assured though - he promises Personal Jesus and Enjoy The Silence will be part of the line-up.
All things considered, it’s not a bad way to begin the road ahead to 40 years together.