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- Posted on Nov 23rd 2007 5:00PM by Steve Baltin
There's an intensity to the music, particularly a song like 'Down,' that will transfer to the stage well. When you were writing the album, were you thinking at all in terms of the live aspect?
When I'm singing and then when I'm coming up with the sort of vocal melody idea, I put myself onstage, for want of a better term. It's like I'm performing. So for me the song has to translate live, and I think about performing that song to people. It's like I'm trying to get across to people and express my feelings, but visually I go to a live performance. And I think that's a big difference between myself and Martin [Gore] in the way that we write. Probably what I have contributed to Depeche over the years is I'm thinking about how we're going to do it live and how we're going to perform it. In saying that, at the moment, I have no plans to perform [laughs]. But the record was definitely written under that kind of premise. For me the record has to play from start to finish like you're performing a set. When I listen to an album, I want to be taken on a little journey.
What kind of journey does 'Hourglass' take you on?
For me, it's about growing up and recognizing parts of myself that sometimes I try to kind of push down, whether it be that aggressive sort of sexual energy that comes out of me onstage, which I'm a little bit of afraid at times. Instead of being afraid of it, I've kind of embraced that side of myself. And then there's also that side of me where I want to listen and be a little bit more sensitive about things -- although that sounds hokey as it's coming out of my mouth. But that's also part of me; the caring father and husband that I am. I can be this and that, and it's kind of like the movie 'Sybil' [laughs]. I have the different personalities and parts of myself that finally seem to be coming together, and I'm finally accepting the fact that this is all part of me and it's OK. So to write and record about it and put it into music makes perfect sense. When I say the songs are sort of written to perform that's kind of how my life is; it's up and down like that. Sometimes I'm okay with it, I'm there, and sometimes I want to hide away in the closet. And sometimes I turn into this animal that wants it his way all the time. It's that human instinct that at times totally terrifies me and at other times totally intrigues me, like why is it I can change on a dime the way I feel. But I turned 45, I'm no longer 25, although I feel like I'm a 45-year-old man trapped in a 25-year-old body. Maybe the reverse [laughs].
In what way?
Still trying to hang on to being terrified of getting old and not being able to do what I want to do and at the same time embracing that and being OK with it. It's not so terrifying as long as I'm like talking about it and producing music out of it in the moment that I feel like I should be, and not relying on past successes or past times to reflect where it is now, just going there and being OK about it. It's kind of like the death of the rock star. It's happening, and so I'm going to do it with making music and do it as well as I can. I say that, and then I immediately think of a band like the Rolling Stones that are still performing, but to me I feel like there is a time where it's going to come to an end. So I want to do as much as I can before that moment. I know that sounds weird, but it's like I always feel like I'm up against the clock somehow. I think that's why I wanted to go into the studio so fast after finishing a world tour with Depeche. It was like I had some ideas and I wanted to get in the studio and start working on them; I didn't want to take a break.
When you're younger you don't think about time. Many artists who've taken long breaks between albums -- as they get older they don't want to waste time anymore.
I feel like there was certainly a period in my life where I feel like creatively I wasted a lot of time. When it was the peak of the success of Depeche Mode, I spent most of my time in a bath. That's where I was at that time and that's not to say I didn't have a lot of fun, but I think today it's very different for me. I want to be doing something creative and I don't want to be sitting on my ass doing nothing. But I think it is a very natural thing to hit this part of my life and start thinking about the future. I hate to sort of say that or even admit that I feel like that, but it is there for me. I see my kids growing up and I want to keep being creative, and the only way to do that is to throw yourself into it. You can't sit around talking about it like I did for years. So making this record also enabled me to also see that it's OK. There is no race to finish.
Earlier, you said you prefer the album being recorded as if it were live because that's what a concert should be -- fun, spontaneous, and alive.
Exactly. And I think over the years there have been times when it's been about building and getting bigger, and are we moving in the right direction and a lot of focus gets put on that when you're in a band that's been successful for many years. And I'm coming round to the idea that that's not how it should be. Certainly today, in the current way the music business seems to be, it's like loads of bands don't seem to be given the chance to even develop an idea. It all moves way too fast. But I think it's going to change, and it's gotta become about the work. An album that really was inspiring for me during the making of this record was [Nick Cave's] 'Grinderman' album, which I thought was just very spontaneous and full of energy, and I found it inspiring to listen to. 'Hourglass' is very, very different, of course, but to me it's like Nick Cave seems to be on that path. We're probably a similar age. Maybe he's a little bit older than me, but he seems to constantly be producing really good work, and I think that's just because that's become a priority. For me, making 'Hourglass' I finally feel like I'm starting to find my own voice, if that makes any sense, like a voice that I feel comfortable in. It's no longer a mishmash of imitating all these different things over the years that have influenced me.
You mentioned coming to terms with the dual sides, the animalistic and sensitive. Did writing this record help in that process, and was there anything you learned that surprised you?
One of the big things that's come up for me is how controlling I am. It's something that I always will kind of blame on somebody else, but I've realized how much I kind of want it my way and I want it now, and that doesn't always work. Sometimes you've got to step aside and allow something to just happen. In songs like 'Use You, 'Deeper and Deeper' and then a song like 'Miracles,' that is a complete sort of contrast, but at the same time is ironic in the way that it totally contradicts itself all the time. It's like I wanna believe in something, but not really. And I know there's something way more powerful than me, but not really. It's kind of trying to really step out of the ego a little bit and allow things to happen, rather than steer them in a certain direction. I think when I started out making this record and writing I didn't really have any clear idea of where it was going to go. And once we started writing and recording, I started to see a pattern in the writing, certainly lyrically, where that was coming out. There is that side of me that's really aggressive and can be overbearing, but it's OK.
Going back to the idea of music taking you on a journey, what are some of the records that really do that for you?
Certainly some of those early David Bowie records -- 'Ziggy Stardust' was definitely a performance for me and modern records, Sigur Ros was one of the first bands of late that kind of took me back to that place, that music can be transcendent and take you to places visually that you don't necessarily have to be dictated to by the lyrical content. The music actually moves me. But Bowie records, a couple of early Stones records like 'Let It Bleed.' There are so many. Johnny Cash. Quite often for me, I have to believe the voice, what is coming from the voice to be taken on that journey. You get that from Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Kraftwerk. For me it's always sort of a visual place. It has to go somewhere visually.
It's a very diverse list. It goes back to that philosophy of good music just being good music.
Right, and all that sort of early Roxy Music, Iggy Pop. Certainly when I was growing up, the Clash were sort of a very important band for me when I was a teenager. Somehow it enabled me to live and identify with a feeling that I had and couldn't really put a finger on at all at that age. But music's always been there for me in that way. It's always enabled me to have hope.
Was there a moment where you realized that Depeche Mode had that same effect on people the Clash had on you?
We have been fortunate enough to do that, and I think that comes with time. It's like somehow something that Martin and I do together has over the years, whether it's his songs and my voice, how that works together I don't know. But somehow it seems to have really helped a lot of people to go through the things that they're going through.
When you think back of being a kid listening to the Clash's records, could you have ever imagined you'd be in that same position for other people?
When I was that age, I felt like it was the only possibility for me. To be quite honest, when I'd see bands performing I felt like I could get up there and do that. If these guys can do this, I can do it. I can also be the complete opposite of what I'm being told at school here. It's like that kind of thing, the feeling of hope. It gave me the ability to dream.