10 ?s with Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore

Posted online: January 2018

Musician, songwriter, producer talks longevity in the limelight, pushing artistic limits, and living life under the radar in Santa Barbara

By Gina Tolleson Photographs by Anton Corbijn

   1 Depeche Mode, almost more than any band I can think of, has the unique ability to be in the limelight and then drop out under the radar. And it has nothing to do with not having success, or any other drama over the years, or all the things that come with bands…you just seem to be able to drop in and out. If Depeche Mode were an actor, you would be Daniel Day Lewis. How do you pull this off? 

That is a good observation! We have naturally evolved into working in four-year cycles. It wasn’t planned that way. We never sat down and had a meeting to decide how often we should release albums and tour, it just happened organically. Since 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion we have been working this way. That’s basically how long it takes us to recuperate after a tour, spend time with our families, complete any side projects, and write songs for a new album. From 1981 to 1990 we put an album out almost every year, but that was not sustainable long-term for the band or the fans.

2 Is living/retreating to Santa Barbara part of that respite? What brought you here in the first place?

I decided to move to America in 2000, and California was the plan. I could never imagine myself living in Los Angeles. I try to go there as little as possible! Friends recommended a few places, and Santa Barbara came up a lot. I went on a reconnaissance mission and fell in love with the town. I love it because it is one of the most stunning places on earth as well as a great place to relax and not be bothered too much.

3 Depeche Mode has gone in and out of being a trio, which is a major dynamic in a band. How does that affect the alchemy of the group? Is it different for you when it’s a trio versus not?

I think we were always destined to be a trio. Vince Clarke, one of our founding members and the main songwriter at the time, told us he was leaving before our first album had even been released. After the success of that album, the remaining three members went into the studio as a trio to make the second album. We then brought in Alan Wilder to play live with us while touring that album. As we got on really well with him and he was a great musician, we asked him to join the band for the making of our third album in 1983. He stayed with us until 1995, when he decided he had enough. We were back to a trio and have been ever since. Making decisions is much easier as a trio because you can’t have a split decision. That was a problem when there were four of us. I would like to mention Peter Gordeno and Christian Eigner at this point. Although they don’t record with us, they have been an integral part of our touring lineup since 1998. Peter plays keyboards, and Christian plays drums. The songs often become very different entities to the album versions when we play live because of their input.

4 There are so few bands that attain both longevity and also push the limits artistically. Maybe a handful—and you are at the top of that list. It’s hard to be cutting edge as you get older, and yet, Depeche Mode never seems to lose the edge. Where does the inspiration/motive come from? 

We have never wanted to rest on our laurels, and we try to push ourselves with each project. I think it helps that we are an electronic band at our core, and we always try to keep up with current technologies without trying to sound current, if that makes sense. Without wishing to sound like a diva, I think we would have given up years ago if we didn’t feel relevant. We recently returned from a three-and-a-half-month tour of Europe where we were nicely surprised once again by how young a lot of our fans are. We must be doing something right!

5 The new album, Spirit, seems to push the limits a bit. How is it different from your last? What allows you guys to reinvent?

The new album is much more political than our previous albums. There is unfortunately a lot to write about at the moment if you start getting into social commentary. The world is in a mess.

6 Santa Barbara is an intersection of many factions of the arts, and Depeche Mode seems to be that as well. Fine art, design, and staging all seem to be an intrinsic part of any new album. Do you take on each new album as a bit of an exhibit, or is that just something that comes after you’re done with the music? 

We have been working with Anton Corbijn since 1986. His first job with us was the video for “A Question of Time.” He has admitted to us that the only reason he took the project on was because he fancied shooting a video in America! It had nothing to do with the song or the band. Luckily we got on really well so we gradually started to involve Anton in all of our visual output. He is a true artist and we trust him intrinsically to this day. He is involved in our photographs, videos, DVDs, live-screen footage, sleeves, fonts, etc. 

7 Has Santa Barbara inspired your Songwriting?

This is the age-old question: How much is your art influenced by your surroundings? Without being able to point out any song in particular, I think that apart from Spirit, my songs have generally been more positive and for want of a better word, spiritual since I have lived here. I lived in West Berlin for a couple of years in 1985 and 1986 while I was writing the album Black Celebration. I don’t think that was coincidence!

8 How is playing the Santa Barbara Bowl different for you? I always hear artists say they love it. Besides the obvious intimate beauty, is there any reason why for you?

The Santa Barbara Bowl is just special. As you say, it is beautiful. It sounds great, and I have lived here for 17 years. To me it feels like I am playing to my home crowd. It is also the smallest venue, apart from one casino, that we will play on this tour and that is a nice change.

9 What are the things you love to do in Santa Barbara that would surprise people? 

I have no idea what surprises people these days! When I am not working, I love to spend time at home with my wife, Kerrilee, our two young daughters, and my son. Kerrilee and I both love Ethiopian food so we love to go for lunch at Petit Valentien on weekends. I am a keen runner, so I love to go running in Santa Barbara. It is the perfect climate for running, usually.

10 I saw the movie Atomic Blonde recently—a sexy spy film that Charlize Theron crushes as a double agent in 1989 Berlin. The soundtrack slayed, and they included two Depeche Mode songs—“Personal Jesus” and “Behind the Wheel.” Why does ’80s music always make films better?

I think it is a nostalgia thing that only works for people of a certain age. Perhaps a 20 or 30-year-old would not feel that ’80s music makes a film better. Which leads me to a nice way to end this interview. If it were Depeche Mode being played in the film perhaps a 20 or 30-year-old would feel that it was enhancing the film because luckily we still attract a young audience!

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