Dave Gahan may be the voice and snaky hips in front, but it’s Martin Gore, with his choirboy vocals, perverse stage getups, and hyper-emotional songwriting, who provides Depeche Mode with its dark heartbeat. Nearly 30 years after Gore, 47, and his bandmates first plugged in their synths, the Mode remain one of modern music’s most successful groups, selling 75 million albums and inspiring countless sensitive teens to turn their diary entries into dance music. On the eve of releasing their 12th album, Sounds of the Universe, Gore called from his Santa Barbara, California home to talk about the ’80s, parenthood, and God.
The new album is almost gleefully retro Mode. Was that deliberate?
I started getting back into buying old analog gear while we were recording. Lots of old drum machines and synths. It wasn’t a conscious thing. I didn’t consider myself a collector, but boxes of vintage gear would turn up virtually every day. I think this record is a modern take on an older sound.
Do you ever listen to the old records for fun? Are you a Depeche Mode fan?
Am I a fan of the band? [Laughs] Well, I never go back and listen to old records unless I have to because there’s a reissue coming out. But of course I like what we do. In the grand scheme of things, I think we’ve done pretty well. If God was judging us, I think he’d give us a seven. I don’t think we’d get a ten.
Is what God thinks important to you?
Yeah, it is. I also think it’s important that we keep up a certain level — that we have a great legacy that we carry with us.
Part of that legacy is bringing technology to a rock’n’roll format. Do you feel responsible for every arena-rock band with a synth bank today?
Well, technology is a bit of a double-edged sword. Used right, it’s a wonderful tool, but unfortunately, it makes it easier for a lot of mediocre people to get really crappy ideas out.
Watch: Depeche Mode, “Wrong”
There’s humor in songs like “Master and Servant” and the new album’s “Corrupt.” But it’s often misunderstood — fans take songs at face value. Hasn’t there always been some irony there? It’s almost a blues thing: the out-size, wry take on sexuality.
We’ve been doing electronic blues music for a while. On [the 1990 album] Violator, especially. I don’t know if it’s cool to say this anymore, but I grew up listening to Gary Glitter. A majority of his songs were in that shuffle-blues beat, and I think that’s probably why I tend to write like that.
Speaking of Gary Glitter, you’ve always been a pretty flamboyant dresser.
Well, I loathe the idea of going onstage in a T-shirt and jeans.
Yes, but there is a middle ground between jeans and a T-shirt and, um, leather bondage gear.
Right. Well, I have tamed it down a bit. Obviously, I look back at some of those pictures in the ’80s and I just can’t imagine what was going through my head.
Have your children seen the old photos?
Unfortunately, they have.
Are they at the age when they’re starting to rebel? Considering how easy it is for them to find out about things like your legendarily debauched 1994 Devotional tour, do you have a difficult time reprimanding them?
It’s a very interesting time for me. I’ve got two teenage daughters. One is about to go off to college. My 13-year-old is heavily into My Chemical Romance and the emo scene, dyeing her hair and putting thick makeup on. And, you know, it’s not easy for me to say, “I don’t think you should be going to school like that.”
Is there a theme to the new record? Most Depeche Mode albums have subtitles actually written on the sleeve.
This one is a really eclectic collection of songs that somehow work as a whole. But if you want a theme, it’s probably “songs in the key of space.”
Are you interested in commercial space travel?
I don’t think I’d particularly like getting in a rocket and going up there, no.
I just read about a proposed hotel in space where you’d be able to see 15 separate sunrises from your window because of the speed it would be traveling.
Well, if they start doing that…