To commemorate the passing of one of the key figures of twentieth century music, we present our interview with Lou Reed from 2000, around the release of Ecstasy and only a year prior to 9/11, published here in English for the first time.
Mr. Reed, New York has changed since you performed live with The Velvet Underground some thirty years ago.
Did it really change that much?
Don’t you think so? I heard that Mayor Giuliani reigns the city with a zero tolerance policy. Woody Allen has left Manhattan already.
In all honesty, I couldn’t care less about Woody Allen. Giuliani on the other hand… he’s the devil! He’s the incarnation of evil. He’s a right-wing wretch.
If you were as young today as you were in 1968, would you feel equally at home and inspired in today’s New York? I mean, thirteen years after Andy Warhol’s death?
Absolutely. The city is still vivid, and full of artists, musicians, and actors. They inspire each other, you know? The only thing that has changed are the spots and places. The caravan of the subculture is constantly on the move. You call that gentrification nowadays. And if you’re lucky, Giuliani isn’t there—yet.
And what happens if he is?
At the moment, we are facing an economic boom that knows no comparison. There is too much money in circulation. Everything is getting more and more expensive, especially the rents. I have the impression that it started a couple of years ago—and now they try to cover every single square foot with buildings. I mean, look at the Times Square. It resembles Disneyland now. All those young stock brokers and investment bankers earn too much money. They are the reason that there is no more affordable space to rent.
High rents are a poison for every city’s art and music scene…
I personally wait for the day the stock market crashes again. We need another Black Thursday. When the stock exchange rates start to fall into fathomlessness, you better have reserved a seat in the first row. I would like to be an eyeball witness of that event.
Getting older, looking back: how do you see your first steps with Andy Warhol today?
I still suffer from the bad sound our early recordings used to have. Everything was drowned in the noise and in order to correct that I researched and spent insane amounts of money to have our music remastered in the best possible way technically. I couldn’t stand the background noise and the hissing any more. Without my initiative, we’d still listen to the same unlistenable shit. So, if you listen carefully to my new records, you will notice that they sound clear and clean. That’s how I like my music to sound. Clear, clean, and powerful. That’s my agenda. Everybody can record a lo-fi record nowadays, but what’s the point in doing so? I know how much it takes to record a very good-sounding album—and I am willing to dedicate the time and to invest the money needed to achieve exactly that sound.
Would you go that far that sound is more important than the song?
No, I’m not a perfectionist. I’m not interested in virtuosity either. But if I hear a song such as “Call My Name”, I hear only what I don’t get to hear. It’s like suffering from phantom pain. I hear the lost frequencies, the irrecoverable musical shades and overtones. I don’t give a fuck about what you or somebody else thinks about those early recordings or if you happen to like the muffled sound of The Velvet Underground’s albums. I only hear the mistakes, the missed opportunities, and the flaws. Man, if money could recover what got lost, I’d fundraise it immediately.
So, what do you tell your recording engineer when you go to a studio to record a new album?
He should document and record everything. He should take equal care to record both the low humming of the guitar amplifier and the feedback that occurs if you softly touch the strings of an electric guitar. He should basically record every single dirty sound that comes out of my guitar and my amp—but he better make sure that the recording is crystal clear and absent of any white noise.
Apart from you there’s only a few other musicians around who are known to have ruined their careers willingly by releasing extremely uncommercial albums. You did so with releasing Metal Machine Music. I mean, I think the album is great, but…
Wait, wait, stop! I didn’t ruin my career with Metal Machine Music! I just had a different approach to music at that time and that’s why I did the album. If I start to become interested in something, I get obsessed. I never tried to be voluntarily uncommercial. Honestly, I was convinced that Metal Machine Music would get its audience as it was the only album I could identify with at that time. As far as I remember, I have always only done what I wanted. I still love Metal Machine Music. I also love Berlin—that’s another album many people still seem to misunderstand. I’ll tell you something, I recorded these albums exactly the way I did because I’d heard them in my head. And I mean I heard every single damn detail. I just had to record it.
I just wanted to say that it wasn’t always easy for your fans to follow you.
Metal Machine Music would have had—if they’d only listened to me—and should have had a warning sticker: “Attention! No Songs! No Singing!” But my record company didn’t have the guts to print the sticker. Instead, you’d find that one little sentence, “Electronic Composition,” in the small print. If someone had bought the record back then thinking and hoping it was a typical Lou Reed rock’n’roll album, he’d probably have been disappointed. But instead of marketing the record faithfully, only three weeks after its release my record company deleted it from the back catalogue. I mean, don’t forget that Metal Machine Music clearly marks the exact birth date of industrial music. I probably don’t have any reason to complain as nowadays everybody with a brain seems to appreciate the record for what it is.
What kind of appreciation are you talking of?
I know a lot of DJs who understand the music on Metal Machine Music as ambient industrial music—and they play it regularly in their sets. Brian Eno notably wrote in his book A Year with Swollen Appendices that Metal Machine Music was the only record that had impressed him when he recorded his first album of ambient music. Same mindset, different result. I remember I was happy when I read that. It was very nice of him. And here’s a fun fact for you: a couple of years later, a museum in Stuttgart used Metal Machine Music for a huge installation, but the only copy of the album they could get hold of was this atrocious sounding French CD that doesn’t sound at all as it should. Don’t buy it if you get it.
Do you pity the poor Stuttgart art audiences… ?
I actually did. It was the moment when I decided to let the original masters be restored and polished. The final result actually sounds great. I didn’t expect anything else.
And when will the record be re-released?
You touch on a sore point here. Once a year I beg my record company to re-release the record. Last time I visited my A&R in his New York office I played the freshly remastered tapes to him. I told him that I had invested my own fucking money into getting these tracks polished and that I had commissioned Bob Ludwig, the world’s best recording engineer, to take care of the process. But they couldn’t have cared less. These record company people are a bunch of hypocrites. They are complete ignorants.
You don’t feel you were taken seriously?
Exactly. And that’s a very bad feeling. I mean, the only thing they had to do was to pay for the pressing. I had paid all the rest. “Here, you can have it, take it!” No studio costs, no money needed for the recordings. Nada. Zero. But they didn’t want to release it. I really felt bad for quite a while.
Why don’t you just record a new album with electronic compositions? Today, the world seems ready to appreciate such a radical piece of new music from you.
But I don’t want to repeat myself. By the way, I belong to those people who constantly have been victims of libel and slander. Every fucking journalist in the world thinks he can write me off. Whenever I changed direction or recorded albums such as Metal Machine Music or Berlin, these muckrakers would assume that I did it just to fulfill a contract. It’s an uncomely experience to get hit with when you’re weak and vulnerable. I mean, there have been record stores in the U.S. that have boycotted my albums. It felt like book burnings. These babbitts hate everything erratic or incalculable. May they burn in hell.
On your new album Ecstasy there’s a song called “Like a Possum”. It’s eighteen minutes long and, if you ask me, the guitar feedback sounds like a distant echo from Metal Machine Music.
I’m glad to hear that. I love this song. I spent years of my life waiting for a technology that is so advanced that you can record and thus hear the sounds of an electric guitar the way it really sounds. You need the best studio technicians and the best gear to get such a result. But it’s worth the pain. Every night, when the recording sessions were over and everybody would leave the studio, I’d grab the tapes with the guitars we’d recorded and listened to them at home. For hours at night, I’d listen to these guitars in all their eternal beauty. Of course I listened to them loud. And I mean really loud! As loud as it can get. And I found peace. Man, I wish we’d have had these possibilities back when we recorded Loaded.
Wow, you sound really enthusiastic!
This song is the best I’ve done in some years. I think of it like a punch in the face from Muhammad Ali. Bang! Like a volcanic eruption. Like the glowing beauty of a hot lava stream.
In the song you sing the line, “I am the only one left standing.” Do you feel like the last survivor of a world gone by?
Every one of us, and I am sure you too, have seen close friends die. Through AIDS, through drugs, cancer, or an accident. The older you get, the more friends will fall. That’s the price you pay. I am 57 years old now and will soon celebrate my 58th birthday.
Do you sometimes ask yourself how you’ve managed to survive the life you’re living for so long?
Sure. I’ve put my dick in every hole available. But in a way, I haven’t lived a different life compared to many others. I mean, most of us have experiences with drugs, many of us smoke and drink too much. I am no different except for the fact that I have always been in the limelight.
Do you regret that?
The limelight? No! The only thing that sometimes annoys me is the fact that I have to promote my work personally. Album after album, year after year. Maybe, for my next record I should record one interview that you could access only via a phone number: for questions about the new album press one. For questions about The Velvet Underground and Nico press two. For questions about my private life and other gossip press three and hang the fuck up. ~
This interview was originally published in German in Die Woche in 2000.
I’ve heard some wild stories about your living situation in London…
Oh yeah, it’s true. I almost had to bail from that place.
Apparently because you were too loud.
That’s right. It’s a sorry tale. My windows have been smashed and my neighbors have hung denunciatory notes on the trees warning me that if I am too loud one more time, they all know the number of the court. That’s not good. It’s not a good development.
Are your neighbors fascists?
Yes, because they have never spoken to me face to face. They prefer to complain by telephone and anonymously, rather than to ring my doorbell.
So as an act of revenge, you’re planning to begin your England tour in your apartment.
Yes, that’s the plan. The only thing I’m still waiting for is to get a qualified person to certify that the floor will be able to bear the weight of so many people.
Will it be a public concert?
Yes, it will be a big party. But I want to make sure that the floor won’t break in if a hundred people come.
So you at least don’t want anybody to hurt themselves?
No, at least not my friends.
We have met once before, two years ago.
It’s strange to see journalists a second time. It degrades the work that you’re doing to a job.
Because you’re confronted with a déjà vu situation?
Yes, because you see the same person a second time—in a similar situation and in order to do the same thing, namely to do an interview. It’s bizarre.
On the other hand, you say that making music is a “work in progress.”
Yes, that’s quite right. Why?
Doing interviews is also a “work in progress.” Every conversation influences the next. Themes or topics are brought up because in the previous days you had been speaking with somebody completely different about something, and when you are in a conversational situation again you are reminded of the previous conversation.
I understand. There are some journalists, though, that ask you the same questions two years later but just change the title of the album that you’re talking about.
If everything is a “work in progress,” are there also advantages to seeing each other again after two years?
Maybe it’s just that it irritates me to talk to different people the whole day long about the same topics. You then have to come to terms with suddenly being asked something completely different.
Your new album Richard D. James is only a half an hour long.
I took longer working on this album that on any of my other albums. For me the new album is worth as much as my others. It’s about quality, not quantity.
I only ask because in interviews you happily talk about how you have dozens of hours of unreleased material. When only a half an hour’s worth subsequently comes out, one can’t help but wonder about it.
For me, it’s not about releasing four or five triple albums. That’s too much. No one would be interested in it, quite apart from the fact that it would be technically impossible. But that’s all irrelevant anyway, because I’m only marginally interested in what has been released by me.
Parallel to the CD release of your new album, you’re releasing the same songs as maxi singles at 45 rpm. If you play them at 33 rpm, then this hectic, tense material becomes very relaxing and atmospheric. Is this a coincidence?
Many of my tracks are better if you play them at 33 rpm. I have never denied that. That’s also why my pieces are so short: you can only press them onto maxi singles if they are short at 45 rpm. If they go for too long, then they don’t fit onto the vinyl—and then you can’t play them slower. That’s also the real reason why my album ended up so short. Buy it on vinyl. Instead of 33 minutes, you actually get 45, you understand? And there you have it, an album of standard length.
So those who now only have a CD player cannot enjoy these subtleties?
Is that not a bit arrogant?
There are also CD players that allow you to change the speed.
Hardly anyone has CD players like that these days.
DJs have these types of CD player.
Brian Liesegang from the American rock band Filter is a fan of yours. He told me that he is fascinated by how you would tell lies the whole day to make yourself more interesting.
There you go, that’s exactly what I mean! I find it weird to spend my time sitting down with journalists who end up writing things about me that I never said. I mean, who’s telling lies here? I read interviews that I have apparently given in various newspapers and think, “Wow! I said that? That’s a lie!”. Oh well. I can tell you that I never say things that aren’t true.
Brian Liesegang is amazed by how you apparently play games with the press. Anyway, who says that that wasn’t a bending of the truth itself?
I cannot think of any lies that I have ever told.
Should one always tell the truth?
I don’t like statements. If one were to follow them, it would only lead to everyone doing the same thing. That would in turn mean that the world would become boring. If everybody always only told the truth, we would all get bored pretty quickly. I like not knowing if someone is telling me the truth or is lying to me.
So should we all sometimes not tell the truth?
Why not? There’s nothing bad about being reflective. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with not thinking things through. But then it becomes easier to make people angry if you don’t think about what you say.
I can easily imagine how you could infuriate people.
Why do you say that?
The last time we met, you gave monosyllabic answers.
Oh yeah, that’s right. I was like that back then.
Your own gravestone will adorn the cover of your album. Is that not a bit sarcastic?
It’s not the album, it’s the cover of a maxi single. It’s titled “Richard James”. As opposed to the album, which is titled Richard D. James. The difference is that the “D” is missing. To correct you, it’s not my gravestone; it’s that of my brother. My brother died at birth. He was also called Richard James. By the way, that’s not a lie. My mother really struggled to deal with it, and therefore named me after him when I was born. My brother was supposed to continue to live through me. As a result, I have felt guilty my whole life. I don’t know if you can comprehend that, but it’s like that for me. My name is Richard D. James.
Why do you feel guilty?
Because I could never get rid of the feeling that I should assume the identity of my brother. It’s as if my mother didn’t want to accept his death and therefore gave me his name. But it’s not something that really bothers me these days.
Was it your idea to assign the label “Heavy Listening Music” to your music?
Who says that?
Your record company.
That’s strange; I find my new album to be quite accessible…
And as always it is almost completely instrumental. Only on one piece can you hear a child singing.
That’s me actually. I changed my voice on the computer to make it sound like a child’s voice. I’m giving a lecture about my arms and legs.
Do you write songs or tracks? What is actually the difference?
A song is more structured than a track. A track doesn’t necessarily have a defined end and no defined beginning. It has more something to do with a texture. On the other hand, a song has refrains, verses and a beginning and an end. So I probably write tracks rather than songs.
But is there a reason why you don’t write texts?
Actually the same reason why I don’t like giving interviews: I don’t like disclosing too much. ~
This interview was originally published in German in Sonic Press in 1996.
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.~
Following our recent interview with Dave Gahan, we present a special interview with Depeche Mode’s songwriter Martin Lee Gore, originally published in German ten years ago in 2003—on the occasion of his solo album Counterfeit²—for Alert Magazine and conducted by our editor-in-chief Max Dax. It’s reproduced here in English for the very first time.
Martin, do you like America? Do you like country music?
I love Willy Nelson. Why do you ask?
Because when it comes to Depeche Mode, everybody thinks of electro pop. Or concerts in sold-out stadiums. Or Dave Gahan’s drug career. But you recorded cover versions of traditional American country ballads on your second solo album Counterfeit².
That’s true. The opening song is an old blues tune called “In My Time of Dying”, and it blew my mind a while ago when I listened to Bob Dylan’s debut album that was released some four decades ago. I listened to it on vinyl of course, and realized that this song was a cover version, too. It wasn’t penned by him; Dylan only rearranged the song. Especially if you take into consideration how he sings the song. So, I liked the song and the mood of it, and I started to search for the original version. I finally found a version by Josh White on a gramophone record from the 1930s. But this again only was an interpretation as “In My Time of Dying” is a traditional tune. I continued to search for even older versions and finally got hold of a rendition by Blind Willie Johnson—again a recording from the ’30s. In all three different versions, the melody was almost similar-sounding and the lyrics varied only here and there. But the structure of the song was always the same. I wondered why the lyrics of these old songs never seem to be identical, but I soon found out that this is part of the American oral tradition of passing on songs from one traveling singer to another. One singer would leave out a line or invent a new one while keeping the structure of a song intact. I understand the American song culture as such an oral culture.
You also recorded a second ballad from the same period.
That one is called “I Cast a Lonesome Shadow”. It’s a song by Hank Thompson. That’s a real country outlaw ballad. Everything is perfect. But it isn’t a traditional. Thompson wrote it in the 1950s.
The beautiful thing about these old tunes is that they rank around old myths and legends. They are like alternative history lessons. Greil Marcus called these songs messages from the old, weird America.
I was less impressed by this theory of the old, weird America. I simply felt drawn to the sad stories that don’t have a happy ending. I never liked the idea of writing happy songs myself either. Happy go lucky songs don’t have the power to reach and touch you deep inside. They won’t stick. I feel closer to the universe writing or singing songs that deal with solitude or melancholy.
Do you think it’s a sign of quality if a song is written in minor chords?
If I write a song, most of the chords—but of course not all of them—are minor chords. Then again, I don’t start writing a song with the intention to be a sad one. It just happens, you know? Many people have told me that the songs that I covered on my new record feature the same topics like songs I write for Depeche. I guess that this is not a coincidence. I probably just feel like walking on safe territory. I just like that kind of music.
Aren’t you annoyed by the fact that every kind of solitude and melancholy has already been articulated?
I can assure you that I simply don’t care what other people have or have not done prior to me. I only care about the things that I’ve already done as I don’t want to repeat myself. Then again, Dave [Gahan] once said this brilliant sentence: “Martin has built a two-decade-long career on one single theme.”
And? Is it true?
Maybe? Most of the songs I write for Depeche deal with various aggregate statuses of relationships. These are good songs because they always have a twist—an unexpected ending or shift. That marks the difference compared to other pop songs. But I admit it can get difficult when people start to expect a certain kind of song from you. So, I guess that’s what you call craftsmanship when it comes to songwriting: How can you write something that is truly you without becoming formulaic? That’s probably one of the main reasons we always pause for so long between Depeche Mode album releases.
Are you saying that you have to live through certain things—be it relationships—to be able to write about them? I mean, it’s basically you who writes the songs for Depeche Mode, and not Dave Gahan (who is singing your songs).
I can only speak for myself, but it certainly is difficult for me to write under pressure. That’s why it always takes three or four years to write and record a new album. Back in the days when we basically had started the band, everything in hindsight seemed so much easier. Maybe it’s because everything you go through when you are young is genuinely new. When you grow older, you go through the same things again. It’s a big difference if you write about something new or something you happen to see again. It could also be that the brain is computing faster when you are younger, who knows? Finally, something I’d call quality control didn’t play any role when we started. We just banged out our stuff. Today we think about it so much more. I wouldn’t feel comfortable to think about releasing records in the same insane speed like we used to.
Your connection to Germany seems to be a continuum through the decades. You learned German as a foreign language when you were a student, you recorded a couple of Depeche albums in Germany, and you even covered Nico’s “Lied vom einsamen Mädchen” in German. Do you like its slippery grey skies?
I’d say it was a lucky coincidence that I chose German as foreign language in school—and not, say, Spanish or French. West Germany clearly was the country I felt primarily drawn to. For most of my pals though, Germany remained strange because they couldn’t understand the language. In 1984 I even moved to Berlin for a couple of years. And of course, this stay did form me. I had a German girlfriend for five years. Things like that impress you, and they substantiate feelings that you can have towards a country. And for sure I was always interested in certain German music—namely Kurt Weill. If I had to pick one song that I really love, it probably would be “Lost in the Stars” by Weill.
That’s also the song on your album that comes closest to the original. You almost didn’t touch the arrangement. Did you show too much respect?
You are right and you are not. I mean, how could I have approached the song differently? The song is perfect. It was the first song of the album that I was certain to include. From day one. All the other songs I interpreted far more radically. And then again: Kurt Weill didn’t record “Lost in the Stars” in an electroacoustic version. But his music and his chord progressions are so unique that leaving out a single note would create a gap. It’s totally different with John Lennon’s songs. I could reduce “Oh My Love” to a fraction of the original chords and it was still the song.
You like collaborating with German avant-garde producers when it comes to commissioning remixes. Don’t you know Stefan Betke of Pole fame?
Stefan is a very kind guy. I once met him after a Depeche show in Berlin. I love Pole. Another German musician I really like is Uwe Schmidt aka Atom Heart. He did a remix of my version of “Stardust”.
Do you also follow other German musicians such as Coloma or Kreidler who tend to blend song and abstraction?
Of course I check out the German stuff that is being published. But not only. I also listen to music from other countries. I am totally into new music. I constantly buy new records, especially contemporary electronic music, underground electronica, minimal house, clicks’n’cuts. Stuff like that. It’s not my fault that the field of electronic music lately split up into so many different fractions.
You recently even started a career as a DJ.
Oh yeah. I started it for fun and it has become a real habit. You know, I started off in a very small bar in Santa Barbara where I live. The bar belongs to a friend of mine, that’s why. On a really good day I spin records in front of maybe a hundred people. On bad days I play to a dozen guests—and some of them are even playing snooker in the backroom. They are not even listening to what I am doing, but that’s alright. For me, something else matters: I really listen to the music I am spinning. I’d call it conscious listening. Even if I’m just packing my bag, selecting the records that I want to play, I hear the music in my head. I haven’t DJ’d often recently. But that doesn’t keep me from constantly buying records via the internet. It’s a pleasure to spin records in a real club as you sometimes only hear the bass when you play it loud.
Andrew Fletcher has also started to spin records. He was recently in Cologne.
Were you there?
Andreas Reihse from Kreidler was there.
Ah, Kreidler. I sometimes play some of their tunes as well.
He told me that it must have been quite a surreal situation as the promoters tried everything to keep the event low-key.
I understand. They wanted to avoid too many Depeche fans showing up? It’s strange sometimes. In Santa Barbara nobody has to keep anything secret at all. They don’t seem to care that much. Which is a good thing, as I prefer the Californian sun to the grey Cologne skies.
When Depeche Mode recorded the album Songs of Faith and Devotion in 1992 in Hamburg, you went clubbing and visited the Mojo Club on Reeperbahn. The day after all the newspapers printed their ‘exclusive’ story about that night out.
That was fun, I agree. It was the same in West Berlin, by the way, when the city was still surrounded by the wall. But you know why we chose to record in cities like Hamburg or West Berlin? Because these were exotic cities to us. I still remember how we’d hang around in London and ask ourselves where to record the next album. Somebody would say “Berlin” and we all immediately liked the idea. We liked Berlin because cool bands like Einstürzende Neubauten lived there. Not least Gareth Jones used to live in Berlin—he was our producer. He’d say, “What about the Hansa studio at the Berlin wall?” And we all just agreed. We found it exciting. We actually wanted to undergo an adventure and Berlin just promised that to us. So there we went and we did indeed record Construction Time Again at Hansa studios. It was a pretty awesome time. So why not record the next and the following album there as well? During that time we decided to always fathom a period of recording in any given city as an adventure trip. And that’s what we did when we recorded in Spain, in Italy—and in Hamburg.
And there you went into the Mojo Club and everybody was staring at you. Isn’t this annoying?
Honestly, this only happens to us in Germany. We call it the Michael Jackson syndrome and we only experience it here. It doesn’t happen to me in Santa Barbara, anyways. I live quite an anonymous life there. People who are way more famous than myself live in Santa Barbara. I recently watched this TV special about Michael Jackson. And I can assure you that I felt for him. This guy can’t take a walk anywhere on this planet without provoking immense reactions from the people around him. And the best thing is, the same people criticize him for not being “normal”.
Does it help to always travel as a group of at least three or four men when you are on tour or recording?
Not only Depeche Mode, but also other bands before you have created this image of an outlaw gang from a Western movie. Beards grow, hats are bought, suddenly even tattoos are being displayed. Is Depeche Mode a band that is held together by a gang mentality?
Absolutely. And I am not only talking about touring when we emphasize all that in our shows. It also goes for all the trips to America or Europe when we had to just do a TV show. Especially when it comes to TV, we felt pity for all the solo artists who were featured in the show as well. They hung around in their dressing rooms all alone or, in the best case, together with their personal assistant. These people live a life in solitude. Actually, at the moment I am experiencing this life too, as I am promoting my solo album. I am traveling only with my manager. I am missing the feeling of being part of Depeche Mode. Suddenly I have become one of the ones I used to feel pity for—because they always disappeared from the set of the TV shows without a trace, whereas we as a group of guys would discuss which club we’d like to spend the night.
We were a gang in the true sense of the word. Like in a Western movie, it starts with your body language and ends with the amounts of alcohol you drink. Back then, Dave still drank and even Alan Wilder was still part of the gang. You have probably noticed that in good Western movies all the protagonists drink their whisky from bottles that have no labels—and they start at noon. We were a gang of four and we felt invulnerable. We’d land at an airport and would already feel that we’d taken over the city for this one day. That was something. It was a great feeling. After our shows or on days off we’d go to clubs, us, the gang of four, well-dressed. We always felt like we were entering the saloons of some remote frontier towns. And then we’d start to drink. We always had great nights out because we never felt lonely, even if we were in environments we’ve never been before. All this doesn’t happen anymore. This has, of course, to do with the fact that Dave doesn’t drink anymore and that Alan has left the band. A trio simply ain’t a quartet—no matter how you look at it. But then again, we again follow the narration of the Western movies where the bad gang always gets decimated during the film.
In other words, only you and Andrew Fletcher have survived. Two’s not a gang.
That’s true, but we now have a drummer, a keyboard player and even background singers.
The way you tell the story is very entertaining. But Dave Gahan almost became a deadly victim of this lifestyle. He overdosed in 1996 in Los Angeles. How did this moment change your life and the way you look at your past with Depeche Mode?
For all of us this has been a very tough time. Especially as we didn’t know how to communicate with Dave anymore. I mean, Dave is a difficult personality, no matter how you look at it. And we all knew that he had serious drug problems. But you can’t really help a person if he doesn’t want to be helped. When it happened I started to also look at my own life with different eyes. I can only say that I was lucky that I was never drawn into such a mess. In that sense I’ve never been in a situation that constrained me to radically change any of my habits.
In the film The Last Waltz, Robbie Robertson famously states, “You can’t live the life on the road forever—sooner or later it will destroy you.” Depeche Mode sell out stadiums wherever they go, year after year after year. Do you sometimes think about quitting the life on the road?
First of all, Dave is clean and sober now. He lives in a completely different world than he used to. I really sometimes can’t believe how he managed this change in his life. I pay the biggest respect to his self-discipline. Dave is just an incredible man. He can walk out of the dark realm of the dressing room onto the stage facing 20,000 people—and he gets this adrenaline kick. Believe me, even if many things on a tour are a daily grind, you cannot help but get highly emotional when you are standing in front of huge audiences like that. Always. And after the concert, Dave straightaway heads for the limousine that is waiting for him backstage and immediately drives to the hotel. That’s the end of any evening for him. Maybe, in his hotel room, he still reads a bit in a book or he goes to sleep. I envy him for that discipline. I couldn’t do it like that. I always say: Every world tour with Depeche Mode takes five to ten years from me. It’s not a healthy life. But that’s the way it is.~
This interview was originally published in April 2003, in Issue 10 of Alert Magazine (© Alert Magazine)
The affinity for the weird, obscure and bizarre has gained momentum in the last few years reinforced by the likes of tumblr as catalysts of visual ‘debris’. The hunt for the abstruse and low-brow is no passing pop culture fad for audiovisual bricoleurs Jigoku though. Driven by the need to unearth and manipulate random VHS tapes of exploitation cinema classics adding a custom-made soundtrack, the AV collective is hardly a novice on the scene. Jigoku have collaborated with the likes of Italian soundtrack legend Alessandro Alessendroni or Rekids’ Matt Edwards. With the launch of their label Iron Triangle and DVD ‘From the Vaults Vol 1’, a compilation of trailers and edits from their vast collection of exploitation video tapes carefully hand-picked over three decades of digging all over the world, we have caught up with Jigoku’s Lovely Jon, old school East London free party veteran, to talk about the medium and the message.
Can you tell us about your new label Iron Triangle?
The Iron Triangle is myself, my fellow Jigoku compadre Gareth ‘Cherrystones’ Godard and our blood brother Joel Martin. We’ve all been through the rigour of the music business but have remained a tight, close unit. You see many artists fucking each other over to ‘get ahead’ – this can be a fickle, plagiarised, cut throat musical world (even within the ‘below radar’ independent sector) and we remain very loyal to one another. The label is a branding of our unity and an outlet for future mixes and other like-minded projects from our family and friends such as Aneet Nijjar (who runs the excellent cult movie and music website Days are Numbers) and John ‘Capracara’ Burnip of Churchill’s Leopards.
What is the genesis of your obsession with exploitation cinema?
I was definitely a child of the UK video nasties era and would regularly bunk school to watch immortal classics such as Zombie Flesh Eaters, Evil Dead and Cannibal Holocaust with large groups of friends before my mother arrived home from work! By my teenage years I was a regular at the legendary Scala cinema in Kings Cross which really shaped my appreciation and vision of how far reaching exploitation cinema could take itself – they expertly programmed incredible genre hybrids that encompassed the weird (Thundercrack!), the art house (Herzog’s Aguirre The Wrath of God), the trash (Meyer’s Supervixens) and the plain obscene (Pasolini’s Salo 120 Days of Sodom) and as for those all night shows (!). It was wild to be amongst the sleaze bags in and outside the cinema doors since the area was well known for it’s prostitutes and degenerates at that time and the whole experience was a genuine ‘coming of age’.
Do you approach working with visuals in a similar way as working with music?
Very much – the two mediums are one and the same. I got this early on from seeing three seminal movies in my youth – The Omen (Jerry Goldsmith’s score is so fucking BOOMING when those set pieces are unleashed), The Conversation (whose eerie, intricate sound design is a master class in manipulation and unease) and Suspiria (a wall to wall epiphany of the competing mediums that really is the litmus test of what was to follow). I can hear a tune or be watching a scene and instinctively know what will work – when you lock in to the rhythms of sound and vision the two threads come together perfectly.
How do you source your material? Where do you find it?
In regards to sourcing – home work, toil (steadily accumulating knowledge through the passage of time) and most importantly sticking with it (this is a passion not a fad – even the most internet savvy will hit a brick wall eventually – you have to go all out to get on top of what material is out there – the bottom line does not end with the IMDB). Where do I found my gear? – all over the world: boot fairs, abandoned video shops, flea markets, collectors and yes the internet. However, the crucial link has been traveling, going directly to the source – if you’re in Thailand – hit the smaller towns where there are no tourists.
Could you recollect a particularly memorable VHS trip?
I was in Lisbon in the late 90’s and hanging out at the Barrio Alto. I came across this small video shop tucked down a back alley way off the main strip. Sat inside a thrift shop which sold plugs and sink plungers was this sweet man with a lumberjack shirt and crowbar moustache. We started to chat and struck up a deal as he had many treats (an uncut Exterminator 2, Italian Giallo slashers and Euro crime obscurities lined the shelves). The boxes were thick with dust and he offered to clean them. I told him it was ok as there were so many but he insisted and sat there gently cleaning the boxes with love and care all afternoon. He made those tapes shine like diamonds and I will forever be indebted to that lovely man and his thoughtful gesture. For me that’s what VHS digging is about – it is very much a ‘hands on’ experience that typifies grass roots blue collar culture (which in turn reflects the movies themselves – these are not cinematic creations designed for the tastes of the elite and bourgeois).
You work with the analogue medium of a VHS tape, what fascinates you on this medium?
I’ve always been fascinated with the ‘look’ of imagery through VHS – the soft fuzzy textures, low end humming and grimy facade add a sleazy, mysterious texture that definitely accentuates a grubby vibe. I guess there’s a nostalgia value base going on too but there’s definitely something uneasy and edgy unleashed when you watch certain movies on VHS compared to the shiny, glossy sheen of Hi Def DVD.
Do you think the current retro-mania and nostalgia for the analogue is a sign of some greater shifts in cultural consciousness?
Well I would hope that analogue and digital can thrive with one another in the future but we’ll have to wait and see as retro-mania has a habit of burning itself out as the culture vulture zeitgeist drop the ball and then move on to ‘the next thing’. But you can definitely see the interest in analogue as a resistance to our ‘digital future’. You only have to look at all those wonderful Wolf Eyes tapes to see there are forces at work kicking against a controlling system which wishes to abolish hard copy media and have us all sitting at home zombiefied, having our lives streamlined for us.
What are your plans with Jigoku?
Despite a recent impromptu show at Rough Trade nothing at this present time, however, we are beginning to put in place plans for our follow up to A Visual Mix Tape. Myself and Gareth really want to push the envelope with this one and take it to the next level but we’re in no hurry – as has been said we’re like The Ramones of this shit – fads come and go but we’ll still be there kicking against the pricks!
You can tune in at 10pm tonight (22 February 2012) to listen to Lovely Jon’s 3-hour guest mix featuring Punk, Glam, Bass, Dub, New Wave, Soundtracks, Rap, Rock, Psych, Jazz, Afro, Funk on Deep Frequency.
Read our interview with Lovely Jon and Matt Edwards about The Machine project here.