Since lashing out of Basildon, Essex in 1980, post-punk trailblazers Depeche Mode have made a speciality of not looking back. Their forward-facing ethos has seen the band aggressively forge their way across sounds and styles, from industrial and musique concrète to electronic and New Wave, leaving new generations of disciples (and the entire genre of synth pop) in their wake.
A year-and-a-half after Depeche Mode staked its place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020, founding member and keyboardist Andy “Fletch” Fletcher tragically died, shortly before the band was set to begin recording a new album. The loss thrust an existential chasm before the band’s surviving founders — lead singer David Gahan and guitarist, keyboardist, and lead songwriter Martin Gore — and their new material, much of which had gestated during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and thematically drew on that time.
Where others might break, Depeche Mode leaned in, continuing on as a duo with Fletch in spirit. From crisis came Memento Mori — Latin for “remember you must die” — the band’s fifteenth album, released March 24. Its 12 tracks reveal Depeche Mode in vital form, careening from foreboding opening to closing resolve, and reveling in paranoia, compulsion, exhilaration, and release in between.
As the band embarks on its first tour in more than five years, KCRW DJ Raul Campos caught up with Gore at rehearsal in Los Angeles to reflect on loss, a life defined by music, and the relentless pursuit of joy against the weight of the past.
KCRW: A lot has happened with Depeche Mode recently, including the death of founding member and keyboardist Andy Fletcher last year. Where is the band at these days, after 40-plus years of making music?
Martin Gore: You know, I knew Andy from school. We knew each other from the age of 11. So obviously, big loss. Everything now is different. Everything is a first. Everything new that we do is just the two of us.
How easy or difficult was it to continue on? Was there ever an idea of, “Maybe we’ve just got to call it now?”
Well, we had a schedule already prepared. Andy was supposed to be joining us on that schedule, and he died about six weeks before we were due to start the recording process [for Memento Mori]. So I think we just decided that mentally, it was probably better for us to stick with the schedule and focus on music, focus on something that we both love. And that helped us, I think, in a way, to get over the initial stages of Andy's loss.
You've basically been making music all your life. What still drives the fire in you and Dave?
Music is the only thing that we're interested in. And it's been that way since we were kids, really. Everything that I've ever done in life was all based around music. Even when I was a young kid and I got my first job as a paperboy, it was just so I could save up money to buy singles. And then I got a slightly better job at a grocery store. And then I could afford to buy albums [Laughs].
So much within Memento Mori touches on an underlying theme of death, and that we're only here for a limited amount of time. But it’s also uplifting — that we want to make the most of it and live in the present moment.
You know, I hadn't heard the term “memento mori” until about a year ago. One of my friends mentioned it to me, and then I looked it up and thought it was a great album title, for a start — very bold. And it also seemed to fit very nicely with the songs that I'd been writing. I saw it from day one, really, as something more positive than negative.
How have changes in the band and in how you and Dave see the future play into the album and your songwriting?
Just turning 60 for me was a big deal. My stepdad, the dad that raised me, died at 61. And my biological father died at 68. So when I hit 60, you start kind of thinking about those things a bit more. I don't know why. 59, I wasn't worried — it was just that six in front of the number.
I don't want to say that I've got really morbid or anything, but I think it felt right for me to start writing more about death, maybe, for this album. Maybe that will change by the next album, or maybe the next album will be so morbid… [Laughs]
But you're already thinking about that about the next record. There really has never been that, “We’ve got to stop. The fact that there's always going to be new feelings, new emotions, is really what your music evokes.
We've always felt that we should make an album before we go on tour. We don't want to just go out and do a greatest hits tour and not put out any new music. It's important for us to be doing stuff that we feel is relevant and new.
You guys have been very DIY and so tight-knit for many, many years. Drawing on that, what advice do you have for that young singer, songwriter, producer, musician?
Just try and do something that's different and unique. Develop your own style and don't try and sound too much like anybody else. Obviously, take influences from people you like, and maybe take influences from different genres of music as well. If you're an electronic artist, don’t just listen to electronic music, maybe listen to some rock music or to some gospel music and, you know, mix it up a bit.