Martin Gore · INTERVIEWS
July 22, 2020
Erica Synths' Ģirts Ozoliņš visited Martin Gore in his Los Angeles' studio in January 2020 to talk about early influences, production & song writing process, life changing documentaries & what Martin finds to be the biggest threat for the future of the music.
Martin, you have inspired millions of people with your music. What inspires you?
Martin - I think that I have had a passion for music from a very early age. It has been the only thing that ever interested me. You know, I realised few years back that I got my first job when I was thirteen or fourteen - as a paperboy. And I used to spend all of my wages - which was not a lot - on singles. And then when I was sixteen I got a job in a grocery store and my money went up. And I used to spend all of that money on albums. And from there it went to musical equipment and it's been the only thing that I've been interested in... I didn't take it for granted that I would be involved in music for the rest of my life because that was a dream. But somehow it happened. I am fortunate that I get to do the only thing that I've ever been interested in.
Which records were those? I guess there were a lot, but there must have been some direction?
Martin - Yes, so when I was thirteen or so, glam-rock was big, Bowie was always a big influence. But I was also into bands like T. Rex - and we are getting inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame the same year as T. Rex. That is cool!
If you think about collaborations, if you could pick anyone - living or dead - with whom would you like to collaborate ?
Martin - That's a very tough question. Usually I like to create music while being isolated. So even though I really admire a lot of musicians just the prospect of working in a room with other people, I find it… I don't know… Maybe a little intimidating. I do it very privately.
How does it work with Depeche Mode then? Do you come together with already matured ideas which you then merge?
Martin - The songs themselves are individually developed and demoed. When we get into the studio we work with a producer. The songs are then collaborated on by the band, the producer and whoever we have decided to involve in the project with us.
How about Personal Jesus, which is one of my all time favourite songs - does it sound exactly like intended?
Martin - No, the song was there, the chords were there, the vocal melody was there, but it didn’t have the kind of energy that the end result has. We had decided to keep demos very basic back then so that the band wasn’t just recreating the demo with better sounds.
You have quite a lot of gear at your disposal. How do you pick what exactly will be used in a particular piece of art ?
Martin - Yeah, it is very overwhelming. When I walk into the studio and think what should I do today and where should I start, I always have to keep in the back of my mind that my ultimate goal is to write songs. Because it is so easy to get caught up in learning how to use gear all the time. And recently there have been days that I have not been feeling very inspired, so I actually decide that I am not going to try and be creative at all, instead I am going to learn how to use a piece of equipment. And I will read the manual or watch tutorials online, and then at the end of the day I feel quite good that I have not wasted the day, but at the same time I do not get the same exhilarating feeling I get from writing a song, obviously!
So the song writing process is superior for you.
Martin - Yes, that is the ultimate, because without songs we would not be where we are today. We wouldn’t have what connects us to people. It is not only words but also the music. I think you have to have a connection with the fans.
Yes, but still - when you come in the studio - do you have this specific sound in your mind that you then pick specific gear for to create? How does the process go, how do you decide?
Martin - It is a bit of a random process. I go through phases of using different gear. I always use some eurorack sounds and often some MU sounds but other instruments I often choose on a whim! Recently I got into the Elektron stuff and also pulled out the OB-6 and Prophet 6. The Arturia Microfreak has been another favourite over the last couple of months. What will the choices for the next few weeks be?!
When you are working with your colleagues and friends from Depeche Mode, do you have a specific schedule when you must go to the studio and are forced to have a creative output or do you work separately? How does the process go?
Martin - Well, by the time that we decide to go into the studio, we already got the songs ready.
So each of you have something ready?
Martin - Yes. It is me and Dave who write the songs individually. We listen to each other’s demos before we go into the studio and then we work with a producer to make sure the songs are all working as a whole.
We don’t have a set timeframe for album releases or tours. Nobody pressures us, we can work at our own pace. Coincidentally, we have been releasing an album every 4 years since 1993 though!
What was a major break-through in your musical career?
Martin - One of the big ones was discovering synthesisers. I think I was around seventeen when I saw my first synthesiser. A friend of mine had one and he lent it to me for a week. Until that point I had only played guitar, so it was such an exciting thing! Then I saved up money to buy my own synth which was a cheap Yamaha CS5. And that is how synths entered the world of Depeche Mode. When we first started out Vince played guitar, Andy played bass and I played a synth. By the time Dave came along later that year, we had changed to three synths and a drum machine. The others also saw the possibilities that synths offered.
But now you are still sticking to a guitar.
Martin - When we play live, I play a guitar because I feel more of a connection with the audience. The few songs that I play where I am behind a keyboard, I feel quite distant.
Yes, that is something I recently realised - when you have a pre-patched synthesiser and you just change patterns, rhythms and patches - that is not really an interaction with the instrument. With a guitar you actually have to play.
Martin - Yes, and you are so much closer to the audience that you can actually look people in the eyes.
Besides being a musical genius, what other qualities or interests do you have?
Martin - I am not a musical genius! I am more of a jack of all trades, king of none! I got just enough knowledge in songwriting, guitar playing, synth programming ,etc, etc, etc to make a career of my passion. My other main interest is documentary films. I am so obsessed with them that I find it quite hard to watch acted TV or films these days but I have started opening up to them!
My favourite movie of last year was Jojo the Rabbit, I think it got some Oscars too. It’s a comedy about the World War II and a kid who has an imaginary friend - Hitler. It is at the same time very dark and very enlightening.
Martin - I will try and watch it, but I should be very careful watching films about the Nazis, because I am reading a book right now about spies during the World War II (Agent Zigzag), and I find myself dreaming a lot about Nazis (laughs - ed.).
When it comes to documentaries - is there a certain direction you go ? Is there a topic you are the most interested in ?
Martin - I think I pretty much watch documentaries about anything. When we have a list of documentaries in front of us I always say to my wife - which one could be life changing?
Martin - It’s difficult to find them. There are ones that I watch that make me give up certain foods - that’s a bit of a life change. When I watched Cowspiracy, I didn’t eat meat anyway, but I gave up fish. I give up fish on a regular basis for three months or so after watching a documentary(laughs - ed.).
I gave up shrimp. A month ago I was in Mumbai and I went walking around the city, ending up on the docks where fisherman come in with their catch. There were two hundred women sorting and cleaning shrimp just like that - on the floor. Imagine a huge hangar and people just sitting on the floor and manually cleaning shrimp.
Martin - Sometimes there are documentaries that just have so many different facets. Years ago I watched a documentary called “Virunga” that I loved. It was about a national forest in the Democratic republic of Congo and it had so many layers-the survival of the last remaining mountain gorillas and the rangers who were trying to protect them from poachers. There was also a civil war going on, there was a company trying to get drilling rights in the national forest. It had a bit of everything.
Martin, could you name a few documentaries that you consider as a must-see?
Virunga, The Internet's Own Boy, Children Underground, Tough Bond, The Fog Of War, The Act Of Killing, Capturing The Friedmans, Jesus Camp, Searching For Sugar Man, Restrepo, Armadillo, Born Into Brothels, Blood Brother, Marwencol, Iris, Hondros, Project Nim, Terms And Conditions May Apply, The Unknown Known, Five Broken Cameras, The GateKeepers, Iraq In Fragments, Food Inc, The Fog Of War, Don't Look Back, Good 'Ol Freda, Inside Job, Catfish, McCullen, Lake Of Fire, Grey Gardens, Girl Model, Running Stumbled, The Invention Of Dr. Nakamats, I Think We're Alone Now, The Facebook Dilemma, For Sama, Devil’s Playground, Pressure Cooker
Back to the music. I find your music transcending time, a lot of the music expires - if you take most songs from the 80s they do not sound up to date nowadays. Which is not the case with Depeche Mode, for most songs. How do you see the future of music? What is coming up next? Where is it heading?
Martin - I am a little bit worried that music is becoming an algorithm. Soon you will be able to put your preferences into the computer, like I want a song with 6 chords, in the key of C minor and I want a singer that sounds like a cross between Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, and compose me a random poem with lyrics like Nirvana. I do not know how far we are from being able to do that.
Technically? I think we are quite close. So could you say you are afraid that music is becoming soulless?
Martin - It is fantastic that music is now so accessible and that anybody can make it. But with it becoming easier and easier to make music without passion or talent it’s scary to think what that could mean in the future.
There are often times when I feel creatively envious about someone being able to invent something. For example the Plasma Pedal (effect pedal from Latvia based company Gamechanger Audio - ed.) which we ended up making into the Plasma Drive module. The concept to boost sound through 3000 Volts and make it into lightning made me creatively envious - in a positive way. What about you? Have you had a song or piece of art that you felt you wish you created?
Martin - Over the course of my life - sure, things like David Bowie for instance- Life on Mars is just incredible! They don’t just drop out of the air. I always thought that there is something very special about the sound of The Beatles. Doesn’t matter what they did, some of it is not that good you know, but it doesn’t matter. I really don’t know what it is, maybe it was the chemistry between the four of them. Nevertheless they were able to do very experimental music and nursery rhymes, but it was all okay and I think that was an amazing achievement.
If you had to move to the moon and you had a reasonably limited luggage allowance. What would you take with you?
Martin - I hope my wife and kids can come.
Let’s say you are not moving there forever.
Martin - That’s a good question. Would I be able to get internet up there?
Martin - An Ipad or a Kindle to be able to read. I would take a guitar. If I could take one synthesiser - I really don’t know what it would be!
I believe that one of the purposes of being alive is to pass our knowledge to the next generations. What are you passing to the next generations?
Martin - I suppose the band has helped to make electronic music not just accessible but also acceptable. When we first started it was quite unusual and not accepted at all. So we used to go to the interviews expecting a battle or a fight - and it often was. The majority of journalists disliked us immensely for a chunk of our career (laughs - ed.). So that is one thing. Beyond that I don’t know, earlier I mentioned the fan base that we have. I do think that we have a special connection with them. I don’t know why that is, it is almost like we have unwittingly created a cult! Mostly those people have connected to the records and the feelings that our records give them.
How do you see your kids growing up and their interests being shaped? Do you try to lead them somehow?
Martin - I have three older children, they are 28, 24 and 17 years old at the moment. And they are all very musical even though I never tried pushing them into music. They naturally gravitated towards it. The 28 and 24 year olds are both making music, playing live sometimes. And the one who is 17 is very good at piano - both jazz and classical. And the two younger ones - they are three and four years old, and I don’t push music on them either.
Like you said, they draw better than you do!
Martin - Yes!
I have to ask, there is this meme about Depeche Mode before and after Berlin. What happened in Berlin?
Martin - I think that partly it was a natural process of growing up. When we released our first records we were very young and naive, I was 19 when our first album came out. And we also grew up in a small town outside London called Basildon. It was quite disconnected from what was happening in the world so after we started touring - in 1982 we had been around the world, our minds expanded. We also met Gareth Jones and I think that he had a very big influence on me. Gareth was a vegetarian, when I met him and I realised that what he was eating I would prefer to what I was eating, so I became a vegetarian in 1983. Four years later I started eating fish again, but like I mentioned I go back and forth with the fish eating. I think it was his idea to go to Berlin, because he was living there at the time. We jumped at the chance to go and work because of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, and I think the city itself probably had an influence on us. We were there, we were away from our girlfriends, we made it an adventure. We went partying every night.
Martin, you have over 40 years experience in a music industry - what would be your advice to young/beginner musicians?