As the primary songwriter for Depeche Mode, Martin Gore is the architect of some of the most darkly beautiful and sexually interesting pop music ever. When the band hit in the early '80s, they were groundbreaking, taking their synth-driven tales of kinky sex and near-spiritual romance to the top of the charts. Provocative phrases in songs like "Master and Servant" and "People Are People" -- and the band's judicious use of leather pants and eyeliner -- made the band extremely gay-interesting, if not gay-identified: though Gore is married and has two kids, he never made noise about correcting assumptions. Meanwhile, his intensely romantic lyrics provided enough electricity for the band to top the album charts in the grungy '90s (more than ten years after their debut), steer them past a rough patch that saw frontman Dave Gahan attempt suicide and enter rehab, and continually re-emerge with major hits. DM's brand of electropop has become classic, and much-copied: as the airwaves fill with acolytes, their sound is as fresh as ever. Their new album, Sounds of the Universe, comes out today. This summer, the band embarks on their first stadium tour of Europe. Gore spoke from his Santa Barbara, California, home.
Out: Why'd you come back?
Martin Gore: We never really go away. We have a hiatus of about three to four years between albums. Not because we're lazy. I got back to songwriting in 2007 and wrote through that year. We had a band meeting around February 2008, where we decided to get back in the studio. During that time Dave put out a solo record, so he was busy with that.
When you first arrived on the scene, your songs were a kind of pop-chart solace for sexually ambiguous and generally kinky-minded people. As the primary songwriter, do you take credit for that?
The whole process of songwriting and the way you're able to communicate with a mass of people globally is an amazing concept. I've had people come up to me saying, "You've changed my life." A little idea you get in the room on your own, doodling away and go out there and affect so many people's lives.
Did you ever feel like you were getting away with something?
I like the idea of doing something different. Early on, somebody somewhere called it "perverted pop" and noted you could get way with murder if you dressed it up in the guise of pop. [Laughs] We were very aware of what we were doing.
As a songwriter, are you still interested in the same themes?
I think that there are certain things that are recurrent. Recurring nightmares, maybe, that keep coming back. Dave sometimes laughs that I've made a career out of five topics.
Obviously a general relationship theme. Love, lust, sex, power. They're all kind of interlinked, really. Maybe it's one topic.
You were playing with the ideas of sexual ambiguity at a time when pop stars who were actually gay were dancing around the issue or denying it.
We didn't feel like it was harming our career at all. I wasn't doing it for shock value. I was just playing with it, enjoying it. I look back at some of the outfits, and I laugh now. We saw some pictures recently and were laughing because I had on like a knee-length leather dress. I remember underneath it, I was wearing stockings and suspenders, and I was going on TV like that. It seemed like fun at the time, and I didn't think too much about the consequences. I think it some ways it was a little bit groundbreaking. It did help some people deal with their identities.
Do you have more male or female disciples?
I would say fifty-fifty. I think I get more males come up to me saying, "You and your music have changed my life." That's what I hear so much.
These days, every guitar band is taking their turn at the electropop you pioneered -- what do you think of The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, et. al.?
I like them, and MGMT. I think the stuff they do is great. It's always really flattering. We seem to have influenced many different genres of music: someone you don't expect very much, like Kanye West. It's nice.
What electronic music do you like now?
I DJ about two or three times a year, and I listen to a lot of dance music. My favorite artist at the moment is somebody called Rekorder. I think there's a lot of good electronic dance music that's being made. Personally, I think the majority of the challenging and interesting stuff is coming out of Europe. This may sound sacrilegious over here, but the American dance scene has been stuck in a time warp for the past 20 years. It doesn't seem to move. The whole house scene seems to be the prevalent one.
According to your press release, you overcame differences with Dave Gahan to make the new album. What were they?
For me, there weren't really any big issues. I think Dave did a lot of talking at the time of his solo project about me being the dictator and not allowing him to be creative and put his ideas forward. A lot of that really was talk, because the first time he really seriously presented demos for inclusion on an album was "Playing the Angel," and we got three of them on there. The only other time he came forward with an idea was one very, very basic idea, which was him singing on his own on a beach. That was for the "Ultra" project. We didn't feel like it was a perfect song and didn't know what to do with it. That was a tension, I suppose, but I didn't feel a big tension between us. The band at the moment is the best it's ever been. The recording was a joy. We were a bit depressed when the recording sessions came to an end; we were having such fun.
Did you literally kiss and make up?
Oh, I don't think we had really big issues. We didn't really need to.