As a founding member of iconic synthpop group Depeche Mode, Martin Gore supplied the creative muscle behind much of the band’s material for over three decades. But, as he told Electronic Beats’ Max Dax from his home base in Santa Barbara, California, many of his instrumentals will never make it into Depeche Mode’s official catalog or that of VCMG, his project with bandmate Vince Clark. Instead, the overflow has surfaced on MG, Gore’s new 16-track solo album, which he describes as sci-fi inspired and purely synthetic. The album is due out on April 27/28 via Mute. On April 22nd, Gore made MG available for advance listens via Ustream until the morning hours. Unfortunately you are a bit late to the party and will have to wait until next week’s release. To bridge the wait, read on for Gore’s thoughts on science fiction, creative exhaustion while touring, and more.
Hi Martin. Your new solo record MG is an instrumental album that seems to draw heavily from science fiction.
That’s well observed. I like science fiction, and I especially like science fiction films.
What are your favorite sci-fi films and books? Do you prefer Russian, Polish, British or American works? They all have a different mindset, don’t they?
I didn’t really specialize in a specific sub-genre of sci-fi, to be honest. I didn’t even start off with that concept in mind. When I was writing songs for Depeche Mode’s Delta Machine, I mapped out four or five instrumentals that we didn’t use on the album or on the deluxe edition because we had too much material.
Have you been more productive lately than usual?
No. David [Gahan] is writing for the band as well, so we just had too many songs and there wasn’t enough space for all the instrumentals, and for a while I didn’t really know what to do with them. Then a friend suggested to me to record an instrumental record where I could use these song orphans. I hadn’t really considered doing an instrumental album but I immediately liked the idea. I always liked to do things that I’ve never done before and to explore new musical territory. So I pretty much went straight into the studio and started recording new music the moment I got back from the Delta Machine tour. It was only after I had already arranged a few tracks that I started to think about the science fiction element. The imagery that I visualized was definitely inspired by science fiction, and I realized that I should keep that in the back of my mind while recording the rest of the album.
Science fiction fans usually fall into one of two factions: those who admire the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, who shot Solaris in 1972, or those who love Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both films basically mirror one another.
I didn’t really get that specific with it.
Could you then describe what you mean when you use the term “science fiction”?
It was just very loose and very vague, you know? If I close my eyes while listening to the music on MG, I imagine astronauts or spaceships drifting around in space.
Jupiter and beyond the infinite?
Yeah, that kind of thing, yeah.
What about Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner? You live in Santa Barbara, and Blade Runner is probably the penultimate sci-fi film about L.A.
You know what? I do like the rain in Blade Runner.
It also rains in Solaris.
Yeah, but we’re suffering terribly from water shortage in California right now. I recently watched Blade Runner with my 12-year-old son. I wanted to show him the American sci-fi classics like Terminator, Terminator 2 and Total Recall because he’s at an age where all of that is really exciting.
Do you and your son talk about the films you watch after you finish them?
Yeah, a bit. I think he just loves them as adventure films.
Would you fancy the idea that the music on MG would be used as a score in a future science fiction film? Did you have a cinematographic use in mind?
I like the idea that somebody could listen to it and like it and go: “Oh that could work in a film that I am making.” It may happen, it may not.
You mentioned that you wrote MG after finishing the last world tour with Depeche Mode. I spoke to Warren Ellis of The Bad Seeds the other day, and he told me that after every tour he kind of falls into a hole and has to recalibrate, because playing shows every night is so different from daily life. Did you start working on a new project immediately as an act of self-preservation or rejuvenation?
In the past, coming back from touring was more difficult for me than it is today. I’ve had times when I’ve found it very difficult to adjust to normal life after a tour, but that’s changed. I found it a lot easier to fall back into a normal routine after our last few tours, and I think that going to the studio every day does help, because you can’t work when you’re on tour. Every time, I fool myself into thinking that I’m actually going to write while I’m on the road—like after a show or on a day off—so I get a set-up in my room. I carry the gear around with me for months, and eventually I realize that it’s never coming out! When you’re in the middle of a tour and playing every other day, the last thing you want to do is immerse yourself in more music and try to be creative. I find it extremely hard to be creative while slogging through a tour.
You’ve been on tour many times. Does that lifestyle become routine, or does every tour have its own “smell” or conditions? In that sense, how would you describe the Delta Machine tour?
A tour is a lot of fun—at least, that’s the way I see it. I really enjoy touring, and being on stage is a great feeling, but it’s also hard work. On the Delta Machine tour we played pretty much every other day for long stretches. On our days off we would travel to the next place. You don’t get into the city you’re playing until about 6 p.m., and that’s when you get to eat dinner. The last thing you want to do at that point is get your computer out, set some speakers up, and then start working. It just never happens.
It’s a different life pattern.
Yes. It’s just a different lifestyle, and it’s not conducive to being creative. Still, it’s quite good to have a long stretch of time without being very creative, because when you then get back to your studio you can tap a reserve of creativity that’s been bottled up inside you.
The album Delta Machine was based on modular synthesis, but it also had this extraordinary blues feel, and I think that the Delta vocabulary comes from the Delta blues.
That’s a good observation.
Yet MG lacks blues patterns.
In that sense, maybe it was good that the instrumentals didn’t make it onto the Delta Machine record, as they would have stuck out. When I started writing the album in earnest, I had this idea that I wanted to keep it very pure and electronic. Unlike the tracks that I wrote for Delta Machine, I never once thought about picking up a guitar or using any real instrument to make sounds. In hindsight that would have been completely wrong, and I also knew that I didn’t want to have any vocals on it. I just wanted to keep the tracks very synthetic.
Was there a reason for that?
The songs that I had written during the Delta Machine sessions were already more than sketches, so I just wanted to carry on. It just wasn’t right to be using guitars and real drum sounds and things like that.
Which were the songs that you had written before?
I wrote “Elk,” “Brink” and “Featherlight” during that period.
It’s interesting that the names you gave the tracks influenced their identity.
I wanted to give them names that meant something to me. They don’t necessarily have to mean anything to anyone else. It’s a bit like a song with lyrics: it’s good when you name a song and then let people use their imagination. One word can send you on a trail thinking about what a song could possibly be about. All the track titles mean something specific to me, but it would take away all the mystery if I told you more about them.
OK, so I won’t get too specific, but could you elaborate a bit on the track name “Europa Hymn”? It’s the only title that’s not cryptic or dream-like; it’s pretty precise. Why did your album need a “Europa Hymn”?
Well, as I said, I’m not going to tell you exactly why I named it that, but I thought that it could lead to something if Europeans started thinking about something aligning.
You’re from the U.K. but now live in the U.S. Has that changed your perspective?
I’m not sure. I like living here because it feels a bit remote from Europe. I think Californians fancy a very healthy lifestyle, and that probably helps somehow—but I doubt that different songs or thoughts would come out from my inner soul if I wrote my music in Dresden or elsewhere.
Do you have a strict routine when you work on music? Do you wake up, have breakfast then go to your studio and write?
Yes, that’s me. Every day I get up and then I go to the studio. Most days I start by about 11 a.m. or noon12 a.m., and usually I finish by about 6 or 7 p.m.
So you’re not a late-night worker like you used to be?
Not when I write. Since MG is a solo album, it was a more relaxed kind of work pattern compared to writing and recording songs with the band. As a band we obviously work late nights, but that’s a completely different thing because working on a Depeche Mode album is a much bigger project. We’ve got a team and an expensive studio, so it just seems a waste to finish work at 6 p.m.
Mute signee Zola Jesus reflects on the monopolization of mainstream music and reveals her latest tune, “Compass,” which drops February 9.
Hello. There is an heretofore unheard Zola Jesus song embedded below. It’s called “Compass,” and it’s the anthemic b-side to “Hunger,” a single plucked from her latest LP, Taiga. But rather than writing a tired track description about the rolling drums and astral vocals of a backup choir, we’ll let Zola depict the sonics herself.
“‘Hunger’ is about the mania of trying to experience life before it’s over, constantly scraping and racing to figure out the proper course for existence,” Zola explained. “‘Compass,’ on the other hand, is about falling back and trusting your intuition. It’s the resolution to the blinding passion of ‘Hunger.’ ‘Compass’ feels triumphant because in a sense it is—it’s the freedom of giving up control and letting yourself live without giving too much thought to it. Where ‘Hunger’ is tense and erratic, ‘Compass’ is loose and euphoric.”
While we had her on the line, we took the opportunity to flesh out some interesting statements she made in her recent ABC column for Electronic Beats Magazine. Last year, she told us that Sia’s success gives her hope that pop music’s restrictive conventions are crumbling, so we asked her what elements she personally wants to introduce to the mainstream universe.
“One of the most vital problems with modern pop music is the messages in the songs,” she responded. “It’s frustrating to see the power of mainstream music become totally wasted and exploited by meaningless content. The figures of popular music have also become increasingly narrow. In the past, it wasn’t uncommon to see rock and alternative music climb the charts and play on the radio, but now it’s nothing but a monopoly of milquetoast corporate control. Growing up and listening to pop music as a young child, I understand the impact of pop icons on children. It’s frustrating to watch kids grow up without strong alternative icons.”
It’s articulate remarks like these that have cemented Zola Jesus’s status as one of our most revered icons of contemporary alternative music. Go on, Zola.
The elegant alt-pop singer filled out our latest ABC column with wise maxims about death, nose jobs, and the mainstream music industry.
For Nika Roza Danilova, creating Zola Jesus was a way of coming to terms with quitting the opera training she’d undertaken between the ages of seven and seventeen. While the project came to life as a lo-fi affair, Danilova’s gravitation towards pop became apparent on her second album, 2010’s Stridulum II (Souterrain Transmissions). There, cavernous space and a fondness for gloomy power ballads inspired some corners of the music press to label her sound “goth”—a categorization that was underscored to a certain extent by last year’s Versions (Sacred Bones, 2013). With her fourth album Taiga (Mute) under her belt, the former philosophy student tells us what’s playing in her mind.
…as in ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER. Favorite Schopenhauer quote: “After your death, you will be what you were before your birth.”
…as in BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP. When I was doing a Maida Vale session for Rob da Bank’s Radio 1 show, I made someone at the studio show me the room the BBC Radiophonic Workshop used to work out of. It’s no longer used for the same purpose, but I could still smell old tape reels and Delia Derbyshire’s perfume.
…as in CONRAD SCHNITZLER. Conrad & Sohn is the best father/son record I’ve ever heard.
…as in DEATH, the greatest motivator.
…as in EMPIRES. Genghis Khan, all the way.
…as in FRENCH. “Il faut cultiver notre jardin,” as Voltaire wrote at the end of Candide.
…as in GOTH. Lazy journalism.
…as in HATERS. Haters love to hate on my nose, yet accuse others of being vain and insecure for getting plastic surgery. Make up your mind, because I have: the nose is staying.
…as in INDEPENDENT. If you were the last person on Earth, could you get on?
…as in JESUS, a figure that holds all the power for some, and nothing for others.
…as in KINDNESS. It’s one of the few things that separates us from the savage.
…as in LIBERTARIANISM. Harm principle!
…as in MUTE, a legacy I’m proud to be a part of.
…as in NO FUTURE. No future for you/No future for me.
…as in OPERA, an art form on the edge of becoming obsolete. Microphones killed the opera star.
…as in PHILIP GLASS. I recently saw Einstein on the Beach, and it was one of the most transcendental live experiences I’ve ever had. His work puts the listener in a trance and pushes you further inward with each repetition.
…as in QUASAR. The only thing cooler than a black hole is a quasar.
…as in RUSSIA, my ancestors, deeply familial. Frustratingly troubled.
…as in SIA, who is responsible for some of the best pop songs on the radio. For someone as uncompromising and unique as her to have a hit record in the States gives me hope that pop music is ready to loosen its strait jacket.
…as in TRAPPED. It’s easier to feel trapped than to feel free. Humans thrive in structure but that can quickly imprison us if we’re not careful.
…as in UNDERWHELMED. I’m allergic to it. If you can’t poke and prod people and incite strong feelings, do nothing.
…as in VOID. Fear of the void keeps me awake at night.
…as in WISCONSIN. Snow. Birch forest. Deer. Wolves. Ginseng fields. Home.
…as in THE XX, an extremely sweet & hard-working bunch with a solid vision.
…as in YOUTH. I fed into the ego/I fought what brought me closer to my youth.
…as in ZOLA. Harsh realist.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2014 issue ofElectronic Beats Magazine. Keep an eye out for the next edition, as it will arrive soon!
It seems that Zola Jesus has created a theme for her forthcoming album, Taiga: magical coniferous forests. The title of the record refers to a Russian word for the boreal forests, which Zola describes as a “feral, untapped world that could happily exist without us”, and the video for “Dangerous Days” seems to depict just that. Zola is the only human in the clip; she’s seen traveling via boat across a glassy lake and standing in a dense forest wearing various drape-y garments. The whole thing has the vibe of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones in that it seems to take place in an alternate, enchanted, and vaguely-medieval universe, until it evolves into full-on CGI wizardry. Check out the exclusive European video premiere here before Mute releases Taiga on October 6th.
Alison Goldfrapp, photographed in London by Georg Gatsas.
Wyndham Wallace sits down for an intimate conversation with Alison Goldfrapp, one half of the British pop eccentrics—and this Friday’s headliners at the sold out EB Festival Cologne—Goldfrapp. This interview was the cover feature of the Spring issue of Electronic Beats Magazine.
In the suitably quiet surroundings of a private London member’s club, Alison Goldfrapp’s gentle demeanour suggests an artist at last at peace with herself. With Tales of Us, her sixth album alongside musical partner Will Gregory, she has concocted arguably the most sophisticated record of her career. It’s a work that reflects the contented life the charismatic singer has found in nature—that is, both her own, and that of the world’s at large.
Alison, how have your fans reacted to your recent change in style? There’s a notable musical difference to the acoustic approach of your new album Tales of Us to your previous work.
I got this tweet from someone the other night who said, “I’m really sorry, but I just don’t like Tales of Us. I like Supernature, Black Cherry and Head First.”
Do you respond to messages like that? I’d be inclined to say, “Just listen to those records, then. No one’s forcing you to listen to the others.”
I did respond to him. I said: “It’s amazing: I’ve done six albums, and you like three of them!”
So I discovered you and I have something in common: we both grew up with a military officer father in the same county of England, Hampshire.
Well, my dad wasn’t an officer after the war. He was only in the army because generations and generations of his family were all officers. He was just shoved into it, and as soon as he was able to get out he did. I never knew him as that person at all.
You spent most of your childhood growing up in an English market town called Alton. Did you find it a little stifling?
I hated it, absolutely hated it! As soon as I turned sixteen I left school and went to London.
What was it about that environment that you found so unpleasant?
Just its small town mentality. Maybe it was something to do with the era as well. It was just horrible. It was quite violent, I found. A lot of people getting beaten up all the time. Bored teenagers, very aggressive.
I know you often travel to Norway and I have to say I find small Norwegian towns significantly more refreshing than those in England. The Scandinvian bluntness is enormously refreshing—this lack of bullshit and self-consciousness. Did you come across that?
Bluntness, yeah. Don’t even get me started talking about it. But everyone I met was extremely friendly, quite open, even though they can be quite blunt. I remember I met this really old guy up there who used to be a vet, and he was talking about the Lyngen horses to us, which apparently nearly went extinct. He managed to breed a few and bring them back into the valley. It was lovely. He took us into his house, so we met his family. They’re certainly not as uptight as us city folk, now are they.
I’d move there if I could afford to.
I nearly had a heart attack when I came back from my trip there and looked at my bank balance. It’s insanely expensive. But those sorts of places have vast spaces I find really appealing.
Why do you think you’re so drawn to the countryside?
I was brought up to love it. My Dad was very, very keen on that. He really instilled in us that it was bigger than us, and therefore we should look after it and respect it. For me, it’s a bit of a religion. It feeds the soul, and it’s a place to think, and a place to create, and to be in awe of, to find peace in. It’s kind of everything, really. I love being in the city as well, because it’s fun culturally, but it doesn’t give me the same sense of fulfilment.
So when you say your Dad instilled this in you, how did he do that?
Basically we’d have to go out at five o’clock in the morning and watch the sunrise, so we used to sit in the woods and we weren’t allowed to talk. He was quite into Zen. We’d just sit in nature, and had to listen and watch.
For how long at a time?
I don’t know. It seemed like fucking hours to me! But I was very young. And whenever there was a full moon we drove to the sea and swam. We lived about an hour and a half away, so it would be like “Full moon! Get in the car!” That was one of the last things I did with my father: swim in the sea under a full moon. And we used to swim in the sea at all times of the year. It didn’t matter what time of year it was: you had to get in the sea! That was probably his army officer bit coming out. I did a lot of walking and hiking with him, too.
I read that you used to sit down as a family to listen to music and then discuss it?
Yeah, yeah. I really appreciate that, because he taught me how to listen to things, and not just music. The feeling of sitting in the countryside: just sitting there and listening to things, watching. This idea that you could learn a huge amount just by being with something and not doing anything. Just observing.
I think people don’t really listen very much like that any more, do they?
It’s hard. I feel like you have to set time aside to do that. And then, quite often when you do, it’s a bit like meditation: it’s very hard sometimes to just get in the zone and not be distracted by all the other crap that you fill your head with.
One of the lovely things about preparing for this interview was that I got to listen very closely to Tales of Us. I realized I don’t do that with music enough anymore, or I get distracted when I even try.
Everyone’s running around like crazy. We’ve all got our gadgets, and I think that’s why I like being in nature so much.
Are you good at leaving your phone behind?
I’m not bad, actually. Although now I take it because I like taking photos and putting them on Instagram.
You’ve spoken in the past about how you have to go away to write.
Fortunately, or unfortunately—I swing either way—we have a studio out in the countryside, and it’s a really great place to work. I like isolating myself, but it’s also a bit of a struggle sometimes because it’s not brilliant for one’s personal social life.
So do you struggle being alone?
No, I just mean I have to leave London, which is where all my friends and family are, and I’m a bit of a hermit for however long it takes to write an album. So it’s a bit antisocial, in a way. I love it, but I’ve been doing that for quite a while now. I’d like to try and write a bit of an album not in isolation, just so I can go and have a drink with some friends of an evening. That would be nice.
I’m intrigued by this idea of taking yourself away with the goal of writing a record. It sounds like you get up in the morning and say, “OK, time to write another song.” Is it that disciplined?
Yeah, but I think being creative is that, really: you have to sit and wait for things to come, but at the same time you have to work at it as well. It’s a constant yo-yoing between the two, and, once you’re in that writing mode, then your brain is looking at everything and seeing everything as a potential sound or story.
Why do you think this record ended up sounding so bucolic?
I think it’s a very strong part of who I am, and our influences musically. Will and I have always loved the romance and drama of strings and melody. I really wanted to do something that was much more stripped back. Life needed to be more spartan, and more bold, and more focused. It felt like that was a good metaphor for everything in my life. We’ve always loved playing with so many different sounds, and most of our albums have been quite intricate in terms of there’s always something filling the space. I wanted to see what happened if we took all that stuff out. There was something quite liberating about just selecting one or two or three instruments and working with that. I like the discipline.
You’ve done similar things on records in the past, but was your spartan approach to Tales of Us a sign that you’re mellowing?
[laughing] I don’t know if it’s that. I feel more confident, that’s how I see it. I’m simply more like that with everything in my life: food, partners, money. I suppose that’s what happens when you get older. You know what you need and what you don’t need, and you know what you want to hear and what you don’t want to hear. I think that’s also interesting when you’re working. It’s like looking at everything through a magnifying glass, because you’ve just got one piano sound. There ain’t anything to hide behind.
I couldn’t help but wonder whether this record was a sign that you’re more comfortable in your personal life. You seem generally to be a pretty private individual, but one thing I’m aware of is that, in terms of your romantic life, you—how shall I put this?—“changed direction” recently after meeting film editor Lisa Gunning…
Haha! I’ve moved over to the dark side!
Yeah, you’re “shopping on the other side of the road!’” So perhaps this album is a sign that you’re much more comfortable with yourself, and you can actually relax at last.
Well, nothing happens in isolation. I’m sure there are lots of contributors to that, but yeah, that’s one of them. I mean, my mother also died. That was quite a big thing. That was three years ago now, but I’ve realized that I had to keep a lot back from her. I loved my mother dearly, but maybe a sense of feeling that I don’t have to…
… suppress things?
So there’s a sense of release?
Yeah. Probably. I don’t want to focus on that too much, but on the last album there was so much stuff going on, in terms of the business side of things as well that was really uncomfortable. We changed management about three or four times. We had a real string of bad luck. Creatively it wasn’t my best moment. And then with Lisa, yeah… There were some bad people around us, and it really makes you address what’s good and not good, and what you need and don’t need. And love, and nurturing, and creativity: it was a bit of an awakening, all that stuff, and I think that makes you go, “What do I want? What do I need, and how do I achieve that? I’ve got another chance to do something I really want to do, so don’t fucking waste it!”
You and Lisa have collaborated on a series of short films for songs from the new album. I’m not really a fan of music videos, but “Annabel” and “Drew” are impressive. There are a few things that struck me about them, the first being that you don’t seem to be trying to make strictly promotional videos. They’re more short stories. They exist on their own.
Well, I didn’t really want to make a video again in the sense that we’ve made videos before. I was really dissatisfied with that, and this album, because of the kinds of books that I was reading, and the films, all this storytelling, it seemed to make sense to do a video that was more like a film, that actually told a story and didn’t have to adhere to all the things that traditionally pop videos are meant to do. Lisa is a film editor, and because we live together it meant that we were talking about ideas, and she was hearing the music a lot, because I’d go home and work more on songs. So it just seemed natural that she should get involved.
I was particularly struck by the depiction of the human body. It’s very sensuous, and we’re more used to seeing such things sexualized. It’s like you were using its form in the same way you were employing images of nature.
The videos have got a sensuality to them, and I think they’re about the idea of discovering who you are, and identity.
I wondered, however, whether you worried that making as many as five videos would restrict the manner in which the songs themselves could be interpreted, because your lyrics are quite enigmatic, and if you make a video it narrows possible interpretations…
That’s why I’ve always struggled with videos. I feel like the music and our songs,—and the way that we write songs—are such a visual experience, for me and for Will, which is maybe why we explore sounds and visual things differently. When I’m writing I’ve obviously got my own little cinema film going on, but this is the nearest I’ve got to expressing it in a way I’ve wanted to.
There’s a great line in “Annabel”: “Why couldn’t they let me be both?”, which refers to the protagonist’s confused gender identity, which obviously comes out in the video.
I thought, if you just listen to the song, maybe you’d think it was just about a little girl, you know? So it felt really important to make that film. He’s a great kid as well, isn’t he?
He is indeed. Taking part in that can’t have been an easy thing for him to do, though.
No. We actually auditioned a lot of boys. Half of them vanished as soon as we said, “We’d like you to wear a dress.” But he had something about his face—his expressions, his stillness. It’s quite interesting seeing boys of that age because they’re quite fidgety, quite hyperactive, and he was the only one who was really quite still in his movements, where he could just look and it felt like there was a real presence there. It’s quite funny, though, because he was at that age where we thought, “Oh my God, in two weeks time he might come back and have a beard! He might suddenly turn into a fully fledged guy!”
Do you remember the moment when you realized you could actually sing?
Yeah, I do. Very, very vividly. I was in a choir at convent school, which I loved. I think I’m the only person I’ve ever spoken to who really loved being at school with nuns. Most people have terrible experiences. I loved it! They were all fabulous, and I thought they looked great as well! I’ve got this memory of looking up at Reverend Sister Marie, or whatever her name was, and thinking, “She looks awesome!”. She had this really stiff, a-line skirt and big cross, and this black polo neck sweater, and a veil thing, standing in a dark corridor… Sorry, I’m kind of deviating.
You got all dreamy there.
I did get all dreamy. I remember this glitter in the floor. You know that paving that used to sort of glint? I get all misty-eyed about that time in my life. I felt like I was in a film all the time. Anyway, they called it “singing lessons”, and because I was really crap at everything else, it was the only place where I felt free. I think we were doing some scales, and we got to the top note, and the top of my head just started buzzing! I just remember thinking, “This is great! This is better than netball!”
And ever since then you’ve been trying to recreate it?
I’ve been trying to get to that top note. ~
This text first appeared in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 37 (1, 2014). Read the full issue on issuu.com or in the embed below.