Phoenix. Photo: Christopher Polk, Getty Images AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Depeche Mode,…
- Posted on May 6th 2011 9:00AM by Stephen Dowling
'Wake and Be Fine' is one of 11 songs gracing the band's sixth album, 'I Am Very Far,' a record that may just catapult the band from mid-level cultdom to wider success. Sheff and bass player Pat Pestorius sat in a London pub nursing pints after a rousing show in a church the night before; all part of the build-up ahead of the record's release. The pair tell Spinner of the disc's ambitious recording -- one that saw this most literate of indie band's stretch their songs almost to breaking point -- and why they're determined not to repeat themselves.
'I Am Very Far' seems a very conscious effort to move things on musically from your last album, 'The Stand Ins.'
Will Sheff: I don't like it when a band is just staying in their comfort zone. I know a lot of really great bands and really talented people who have been doing the same thing again and again and not really leaving their comfort zone. And I don't even know if they're aware they're not leaving it. It's frustrating as a fan, 'cause as much as you love that old stuff, you're waiting. I always feel like you should kind of be "born again" every record; records should be like a rebirth of the band.
When I come into a record I always say, "The last record was s---, everything I've ever done right up until this point was garbage. This is the first time I'm going to really do something good." That's a helpful thing because I'm not every going to rest on my laurels. I throw my laurels in the toilet and start all over again.
Can this be counterproductive though? Turning your back on your strengths?
Will: I don't think it's counterproductive, because I think the tendency to do the things you always do is so incredibly strong. There's some kind of scientific explanation for this, how the mind makes trailways in your brain. Like how if you're always thinking the same thoughts, you always go to the same memories. Your mind gets used to blazing these same chemical trails. You're always going to do the same damn thing.
You've talked about limiting your cultural input while you're writing songs.
Will: I'll say I'm not allowed to listen to any music except this certain kind, like a very specific musical choice selected to put me in different headspace. And I'll only let myself listen to that. Reading books that are jarring or rigorous or supposed to restructure the way I'm thinking a little bit. Going off into seclusion, or a different location that I'm used to so that I'm not sitting in the same stagnant world. And trying to bring a tremendous amount of discipline to it, like I'm a priest or a monk or something. I don't think it can be a casual thing, I think it needs to be really intensive.
So what were you listening to when it came to writing songs for this record?
Will: A big rule I made was that I wasn't going to listen to any Western pop music. I could listen to pop music that wasn't from the West or I could listen to Western music that wasn't pop, but basically what I wanted to do was ban rock and pop from my mind. It was all scrambled up. It could be from any culture or tradition, there was no rhyme or reason. It was this clashing salad of all this different stuff. I wanted to hear different approaches to melody and different approaches to rhythm, and not hear that much English. I wanted to flood my brain with things that seem alien and hard to wrap my mind around so that I would feel disoriented by it.
When did you feel like it was starting to work?
Will: I think 'Rider' was the first song where I was really excited about what it was doing and I felt musically and especially lyrically it was pointing towards something. There were some songs that existed already that I knew I could use and it would make sense. 'Mermaid,' although I'd begun it a while ago, it was the seed of the record.
'Lay of the Last Survivor' would be another one. I had a dream one night when I dreamed up all this music and it was set to a film and I woke up and I thought, "That's got to be the direction of the new record." This image that I had in my head and the feeling of it, this certain emotion that was associated with it, and it came to me in a sentence what the record meant. I held on to that in my mind for a really long time.
Can you tell us what that sentence is?
Will: No. I don't want to say the sentence, I think it would reveal too much.
Recording 'Wake and Be Fine' sounded pretty intense.
Pat Pestorius: It was kind of like assembling a machine. Like in the morning, here's this wheel and this gear, and how do they sit physically. Here's the guitar brigade, and the bass brigade and the pianos, all that push and pull on the gears and the mechanisms, and then pour the fuel in and see if it works. Recalibrate, recalibrate, all the while wearing funny hats. It was this mechanistic jumble. And then by 5 o'clock it's running, and by 8 o'clock it's really cooking.
Will: We finished it about 1AM. It does really feel like a machine. There's something really fascist about it. There's people completely sublimating their personalities to play this brutally aggressive thing; "I have to completely wipe my brain of my own individuality to play this part exactly in unison."
Pat: We used terms that don't exist, like "linger," "half-linger." The whole arrangement was given these made-up terms. I had a boom stand turned sideways with the song on a big poster board with different notes and arrows drawn around, because otherwise it was hard to keep track of where the arrangement was going, things were shrinking and expanding.
To an outsider it must have looked like madness.
Will: That's part of the idea. To get into a situation where you're recording a bit of madness. You're working with really old-fashioned effects, not like a pedal or a computer algorithm. What it sounds like when 12 people are playing the exact same thing in unison, and also what it sounds like when 12 people are working very concertedly on something that's almost maniacal.
'I Am Very Far' is out on JagJaguwar on May 9 in the UK and May 10 in the US.