Following our recent interview with Dave Gahan, we present a special interview with Depeche Mode’s Andrew Fletcher, originally published in German four years ago in 2009—on the occasion of Depeche Mode‘s album Sounds of the Universe—for Die Welt newspaper and conducted by our editor-in-chief Max Dax. It’s reproduced here in English for the very first time. Photo by Luci Lux.
Andrew Fletcher, your singer Dave Gahan once said, “I’m only famous, I’m not a musician.” What exactly is your job with Depeche Mode?
If you ask that way, then I’m the opposite of Dave. I’m a musician but on the street nobody will recognize me. Within the band, I contribute the element of pop. Martin L. Gore, who writes most of the songs, loves American blues and country. And Dave has discovered jazz for himself. I, however, will probably eternally feel loyal to the simple pop melodies and the lightness they stand for. My kids also like pop.
As a pop star, can you sleep longer than the average guy? Or do your kids wake you up each morning?
I have always been an early bird. When we’re not touring with Depeche Mode, at home I go to bed regularly around 7pm while my wife rarely goes to bed before 1am.
It’s a pity for those who do not drink, as when they wake up in the morning that is the best they are going to feel all day.
I just like the scent of the morning. Nothing can beat a coffee before sunrise, when everybody in the house is still sleeping.
And what happens if you go on tour with Depeche Mode?
Then the clock turns. I feel attracted to good hotel bars, after all.
What defines a good hotel bar?
That the elevator to your room is close. One drinks and you know you only have to get in the elevator to fall into your bed. So you have another drink, knowing you’re already home, practically.
Studies say that every member of a successful band—from U2 to The Beatles—within decades gets reduced in the public awareness to a pattern, an image. Does one become a cartoon-character, being a rock star?
I heard about this thesis. Firstly, I want to add that the media life, starting with the promotion you are doing, up to the interviews, somehow allots a role to every rock star in a band, in which one grows into. Therefore you become a caricature of yourself someday. But I suppose this is normal.
Who are you?
The tall guy in the background, without whom this international corporation called Depeche Mode would never work. There is this big misunderstanding that in guitar bands real men are working real instruments—evening after evening—while in a synthesizer band like Depeche Mode nobody works, because it’s all machines. But that’s bullshit.
What is so specifically different?
The ambiguity. Apart from the singer, the audience doesn’t really know which role which musician has within the group. But bands like Kraftwerk or Depeche Mode actually work as divisions of labor collectives. The contribution of each individual remains invisible. And because I don’t push myself to the fore, many mistake me for the fifth wheel.
Do you think that you and your share in Depeche Mode are perceived wrongly?
Sometimes it’s frustrating not to be taken seriously. After all, you could also say my job is the most important; without me there would be no band anymore. But it’s the same in big corporations—the people that do a good job in the background don’t get as much attention as the ones who’d get onto the microphone and announce the good quarterly figures.
Is Depeche Mode a band or a corporation?
A band, of course. But I understand what you mean. As far as I’m concerned, you can call Depeche Mode also a corporation.
Corporations communicate via a corporate identity with the public. Also, Depeche Mode have fine tuned their public image for two decades now by photographer and director Anton Corbijn. What does he have that others don’t?
He made us ‘cool’ in 1989—by exposing our comic features. Before that we were just another electro band. But with his help, we became rock stars. He’s one of the few who has understood the very special humor in the band right from the start. I would declare him a full value band member.
Don’t you find it irritating that he’s also responsible for the public image of the other huge stadium acts of the ’80s, such as U2?
No, it simply shows that he’s thinking in other categories and that he has left the small-scale behind him. He can communicate with masses, across cultural borders. By the way, it was him who made U2 to what they are today.
You called your new album Sounds of the Universe, the tour is titled Tour of the Universe. Is this an example of the special humor you were talking about before?
Exactly. We wanted to come across as a bit arrogant, but in a funny way. It’s the same sense of humor in titling one of our albums Music for the Masses 22 years ago.
About your hometown Basildon, you once stated that whoever grows up there, “steals cars and goes to church on Sundays.” Is that also a glimpse of that humor?
Well, we all basically had protected childhoods in Basildon. I was born-again Christian, so I went to church each Sunday. Only Dave Gahan’s youth was a bit fragmented. There was something with his father.
Would you say a good band is like an outlaw gang in a western? I ask, because Martin L. Gore says so.
As a rock star, you are a king for one night whenever you enter a town—especially in the States. For one night, we’d own the saloon, the gambling tables, the alcohol, and the girls. And the next evening another city was at our feet.
You talk in past tense.
Everything has changed. We all have family and children now. I’m the only one left in the band who fancies a drink. One vice after the other goes overboard. You can’t pull off that lifestyle for ever.
Sounds of the Universe has a warm tone to it. You must have used analogue gear from the ’60s.
True that. One night Martin had a dream: an orchestra of synthesizers tuning in, like the musicians of a philharmonic orchestra tune their instruments in the pit—this cacophony of string sounds before a classical concert starts. He then dug deep into eBay, swapped his addiction to drink to the internet and purchased hundreds of vintage synthesizers on auctions. Every day a new package gets delivered to the studio, and like little kids we always unwrap these ancient machines, plug them in, and check out how they sound. Every one of them has a very specific sound, you know.
Do Depeche Mode feel forced to present with each new album also a very new sound?
Probably that wouldn’t be possible. Because of our limitations, we are not capable of reinventing ourselves. But what we actually try to do again and again is to develop the sound from album to album a bit further.
Is that the formula of success then?
I think so. I mean, in the course of events, we became the biggest cult band in the world this way.
What do you mean with “cult”?
We are definitively not mainstream. We don’t have the one big hit—and a yawning void behind it. We don’t get beleaguered by paparazzi like Madonna or Michael Jackson.~