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Founded by a quartet of synth-loving schoolmates from Essex, England, in 1980, Depeche Mode ascended to rock stardom with their boundary-pushing music.
Forty-two years later, founding members Martin Gore and Dave Gahan are about to embark on yet another sonic adventure with the release of their 15th studio album, Memento Mori, and a world tour that kicks off March 3. They will play a number of arenas in North America (including L.A.’s Kia Forum on March 28) before heading to Europe, where they will headline a series of stadium shows.
Tragically, one of their founding members will not be along for the ride: Andy Fletcher died unexpectedly earlier this year. That the new album, titled well before Fletcher’s passing, is named for a Latin phrase about “the inevitability of death” adds unintended significance to the project.
Gore, 61, opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about his thoughts on grief and mortality, and his memories of the band’s historic 1988 Music for the Masses tour stop at the Rose Bowl stadium, attended by 60,000 devout worshippers and captured in the D.A. Pennebaker documentary, Depeche Mode: 101.
How were you able to continue to create and be productive after the profound loss of your friend and bandmate, Andy Fletcher? Because I think you were mid-album when it happened?
Well, we weren’t actually mid-album. We had all the songs written and we had an idea for the album title already. And we were due to start recording with Andy about seven weeks after he died. He was very excited about starting working again. And then he passed away. And so it’s just very sad, so unexpected.
Did it slow the process down or did you feel somehow committed to finishing it for him?
I don’t think we really considered [ending] the band or anything like that. I think that we just felt that it was probably healthier for us to continue on with the schedule that we had booked. Because it’s quite good to have something to focus on, and music’s always a bit of a healer, anyway, as John Lee Hooker once said. So I don’t think we ever considered not finishing it. It just seemed natural to focus on something and get it done.
And the title, which you chose before all this, is Memento Mori, which refers to the inevitability of death. What are your thoughts about mortality?
The reason really that title stood out to me was because of the pandemic and watching tallies around the world and in America rise. And also hitting a milestone birthday of 60, which kind of hit me like a sledgehammer. You start thinking more about mortality. And I’d never heard that phrase before. From the moment I heard it, I just thought, “That is a perfect representation of the songs that we have ready for this record.” And also it was a very strong title.
I told a few friends that I’m going to be interviewing you and over and over I kept hearing from LGBTQ friends how much Depeche Mode helped them get through their teen years. Were you aware that your music was connecting specifically with gay youth as you were making it?
I think we’ve always been fairly aware of that, yes. Especially during the ’80s, I would say more. Maybe further on. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe it was an image thing. Our image was quite androgynous in the ’80s, especially. And even after that.
Did you get pushback for your image? Did the record companies say, “Can you butch it up?”
(Laughs.) I think we were fortunate that we were always on, for a very long time at least, and for all of the ’80s and ’90s, a small independent label. We were on Mute Records, and Mute was licensed through different majors around the world. So we had that kind of umbrella protecting us in many ways. We were free to also experiment musically and do whatever we wanted. We never had people breathing down our neck saying, “You can’t do that.” [Music producer] Daniel Miller, who is still involved with us to this day, was very instrumental in our career and allowed us that freedom to evolve naturally.
I’ve seen conflicting accounts of how you named the band. What’s the official reason the band is called Depeche Mode?
Dave was at art college and really into fashion, and there was a magazine at the time called Depeche Mode from France. So it was originally his idea and we kind of stole the name from the magazine.
Because you liked the sound of it?
Yeah, yeah. Really. I don’t know. It sounds like an odd story, but people don’t really question it. It’s funny with band names. After a certain point, people just accept them.
A fan, very early in your career, in Belfast, threw a roll of film onstage in an envelope with his address on it. And you took pictures on tour and mailed it back to him. And they’ve recently gone viral. His widow put them on Facebook and now they’re everywhere. Have you seen those?
I did. I did see that story, yes.
Do you remember that at all?
To be honest, I don’t, but I can imagine that it happened, because in the very early days, Dave’s girlfriend and my girlfriend used to run our fan club. And they were probably on tour with us, saw it was thrown onstage and probably just did it for us. That’s a guess. Maybe I’m not giving ourselves any credit and maybe we did do it because we were kind of young and nice, too.
Seeing those pictures for the first time — did it elicit anything? What do you think when you see yourself so young and just starting out?
I’ve seen so many pictures of us at that stage in our career anyway. I’m used to it.
I wanted to ask about the Rose Bowl show of 1988. That was the other thing that people kept bringing up to me — how groundbreaking it was, how historic it was, how it changed their life. From your perspective, being up there on the stage, what was so special about that show?
Well, it was such a milestone. It was a milestone for us. I think it was kind of a milestone for alternative music, really. And funny enough, I was talking to Daniel Miller recently about this, how seven years prior to that show, we were playing at a pub called The Bridge House in Canning Town, London, to about 30 people.
It’s just incredible. Seven years. Now, seven years goes by in the blink of an eye and we release an album or something. This is going to be six years between our last album and this one. Because of the pandemic.
There’s a shot of you in the Depeche Mode: 101 documentary looking at Dave Gahan right before you take the Rose Bowl stage. You’re playing “Behind the Wheel.” And you just can’t believe it. You’re just giggling to each other.
I’m sure we were probably terrified. But it was an amazing event.
Would you ever play the Rose Bowl again? Maybe do a kind of 101: Part Two?
I’m sure we’d consider it, but we don’t really know what we’re doing beyond the dates that we’ve announced so far. So who knows what’s in the future for us?
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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