Depeche Mode open up about Andy Fletcher’s death and new album Memento Mori
THE name of Depeche Mode’s new album had been decided before the death of keyboardist Andy Fletcher last May.
But when the founding member passed suddenly, aged 60, the title took on a deeper meaning to frontman Dave Gahan, and guitarist and keyboardist Martin Gore.
“Memento Mori means remember you must die,” says Gahan. “But also, that you must live life to the full. And that became incredibly apparent when we lost Fletch.
“So now, every day, I take a moment to think, ‘You got it pretty good’.”
Gahan, 60, is sitting in a central London hotel to talk about the band’s melancholic 15th album.
But promoting the record without their founding member and friend has hit them hard.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” says Gahan. “Every time we do something, I expect Fletch to walk in the room. Doing a TV show, having photos taken or making a music video with Anton Corbijn, all these things are now very different.”
The band commenced writing Memento Mori during the pandemic and naturally the subject of mortality emerged as a theme.
“Like everybody I was terrified of catching Covid,” says Gore, 61, the quieter of the two band members.
“Me and my wife were very careful and I didn’t get it until 2022.
“You always worried that you would be that weird anomaly that was going to get it and just, you know, drop dead.”
Gore feared lockdown would stunt his writing.
He explains: “The pandemic hit, and I started thinking, ‘Oh God, there’s not a lot of stimuli going on’.
“I was walking in my garden, and that was it.
“But fortunately, Richard Butler (of The Psychedelic Furs) had texted me around April 2020, saying we should write together.”
The pair had met a few times over the years but never worked together.
“I texted him back and he sent me a few lines, and I put them to music,” says Gore.
“We finished the song and we decided to carry on and ended up writing seven songs on the album.
“At the time, we thought about doing a side project.
“I liked the songs so much and I thought that they really fit in with the Depeche Mode aesthetic.
“So, I rang him and he was happy to go along with that. I was really pleased.
“I’ve never written with anyone outside of the band, ever.”
Gahan was equally impressed with the new songs, but not so keen on Butler’s vocals.
“The first demo I was sent was Favourite Stranger, with Richard singing on it. All due respect, I love Richard, but I said to Mart, ‘You’ve got to get rid of him’,” laughs straight-talking Gahan.
“I asked Martin to send an instrumental so I could put my own thing on it.”
Gahan added: “Martin told me that he’d written some songs with Richard. And I said, ‘I don’t care if you wrote them with the f***ing Arsenal football team. If you’ve got a good song and Richard’s OK with us using it then I’m fine’.”
The first album to feature Gahan’s lyrics was 2005’s Playing The Angel and he has contributed three songs to Memento Mori: Wagging Tongue (a rare Gahan/Gore collaboration), Speak To Me and Before We Drown — which could be his finest work. The last time I interviewed Depeche Mode, for 2017 album Spirit, Gore confessed he had found it difficult to share songwriting duties. Today he is more accepting.
He says: “When Dave first started writing, it was difficult. In my head, I was the songwriter.
“That had been my job up until that point, so it was natural to feel territorial. But as time went on it’s become more natural.
“Now I’m fine with it. And I think he gets better with each record.”
Memento Mori is Depeche Mode’s best album in years. Soul With Me, sang by Gore, is divinely gorgeous while Never Let Me Go and People Are Good, about positivity, are classic Depeche anthems. The fan reaction to first single Ghosts Again has been heartening to the band. Gore says: “We are so pleased Ghosts Again is out now and getting an amazing response because we finished the album so long ago and we’re itching to get out there now and play live.”
Gahan adds: “It’s a song of perfect melancholy joy. It makes you feel happy but at the same time fills you with sadness.
“As soon as I heard the demo I was like, ‘Alright, I’m in’. Just when I thought I was out of it, I was sucked back.”
Gahan confesses he had been apprehensive about returning to the band before the pandemic and had questioned whether he would make another Depeche Mode record.
He says: “There’s a point where you feel it’s enough and maybe the band is coming to an end. And I felt like that before we started this record.
“Being in this band is a tall order for family and friends, too. You’ve got to throw your whole self into it — I can’t do it any other way. I set the bar so high myself when it comes to making music and going on tour.
“And a Depeche Mode tour is like f***ing a military operation. Everything about the show takes all of me. I don’t have any energy for anything else and that affects my family too.
“So that was something I had to consider like, ‘Guys, what do you think?’”
Gahan hired a personal trainer to help get him in shape ahead of the band’s mammoth world tour, which kicked off last night in California.
He says: I’ve been getting ready this last year, working with this trainer who works with football players, basketball players and dancers.
“I’ve worked with this guy four times a week, using machine-like Dickensian torture devices.
“At first it was hell, literally torture. I thought I was dying but the more I did, the more I wanted to push myself as far as I could.
“Before I go out on the road, at least I know I’ve given it my all.”
Living life to the full is something Gahan feels strongly about since Fletch was found dead at his London home last year, having suffered an aortic dissection — a tear in a main artery from his heart.
He says: “I have a good life and I pinch myself daily.
“I live in New York, I have a beautiful apartment, a fantastic family and friends and a life beyond my wildest dreams. I’m grateful for what I’ve got.
“Losing Fletch has been tough. When our manager Jonathan called to tell me, I thought I was going to pass out. When I put down the phone, I sat there sobbing.
“Fletch’s funeral was brutal. When Martin and I both saw Daniel Miller (Mute label boss who discovered the band in 1980) we stood up and he put his arms around us . . . the three of us just lost it.
‘Rally the troops’
“Later, it was nice as we shared great stories about Fletch and laughed at things he would say.
“I couldn’t watch the first Chelsea match after he’d died, because Martin is an Arsenal fan and Fletch was a Chelsea fan and always very competitive about it. It was always a thing between us.
“When we were making the record, when I went to sing vocals, he was in my conscience all the time. I wish I’d been more kind. Martin said I was being silly, that we loved Fletch and he loved me too.”
Gahan adds of Fletch: “He was the biggest supporter of Depeche Mode, the biggest fan. Rally the troops, that was Fletch’s role.
“I’m just glad I got to see him at Westminster Hall when I played my Soulsavers show at the end of 2021.
“That was the last time I saw him. We spoke and had a hug, thank God.”
Putting on a gruff voice to imitate his friend, Gahan recalls: “He said, ‘Looking good, Dave. Good show’.
“Fletch hadn’t heard these new songs when he died. He was preparing to come out to the US. Martin and I had demoed around 12 songs with producers James Ford and Marta Salogni and he was flying out in the next few weeks, which he never got to do.”
Gore grows emotional when he discusses Fletch, and reveals he still cannot comprehend that his bandmate and pal has gone. He says: “Andy was my best friend — I’ve known him for so long.
“We went to school together before the band, so I’ve known him for 50 years.
“His death came completely out of the blue — no health issues that anybody knew about.
“It’s hard for those left behind to deal with it.”
I ask Gore how he feels about fan speculation that former band member and keyboardist Alan Wilder, who quit in 1995, will rejoin the band in Fletch’s absence.
Gore dismisses the idea, saying: “I try to block it out — it’s just fan stuff.
“The fans love us, but we can never win.
“We haven’t spoken to Alan about it and I don’t think Alan would even want to rejoin. We haven’t even considered it.
“But we are so lucky with our fan base, that they’re there every time we put a record out.
“And we always get younger fans, this time through TV series The Last Of Us using our song Never Let Me Down Again.
‘A lot to celebrate’
“The tour is going to be something special, as it has been six years since our last album and we’ve had to carry on without Andy.
“It feels good to now be interacting with people again.”
Gahan adds: “It’s been tough but it’s definitely a new beginning of something.” And he rubbishes claims Depeche Mode plans to call it quits, recalling how they survived the departure of founding member Vince Clarke in 1981.
He says: “When Vince and Alan left, people thought it might be the end but we carried on.
“We’ve just announced some more American shows. And we’re playing big stadiums all over Europe like Twickenham in London and Malahide Castle in Dublin. These gigs have all sold out.
“It’s crazy. It’s been tough but we have a lot to celebrate, and we aren’t going anywhere.
“We can’t do anything better than this.”
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