2006-09-29 - Mute - A Broken Frame Remaster
[I typed out the text:]
"The beginning of their so-called dark phase..."
Depeche Mode: 1982
Neil Ferris: Depeche Mode had probably been going, as far as the media were concerned, as far as I was concerned, no more than 9 months, maybe 10 months. And Dan said, "I gotta tell you some news: Vince is leaving the band." I went, "I don't believe you, he can't be leaving the band. We've only just got there, we just had three hit records." And Vince was leaving.
Chris Carr: My initial reaction was... hell. There was, "Is he coming back? Is he not? Has he gone for good?"
Vince Clarke: The deed was done, yeah. It's like packing [up] your girlfriend, you can't go back.
Chris Carr: "Yes, he's definitely gone for good." Then there was a period from our side of stuff, "Do you think that Depeche are gonna continue?"
Dave Henderson: I think at press, people were, "Well, they're just gonna implode now, because, what's gonna happen? There's not gonna be a Depeche Mode." And I remember people being very interviewed in what Vince was gonna do, and vince's next project.
Martin Gore: He announced it at such an odd time. I'm not even sure if the album had been released.
Andy Franks: It's like, "What the hell are you doing? You've got that sort of opportunities that most people would kill for."
Vince Clarke: I was just being a miserable bastard, you know. I think that they knew that I was gonna do something. We started bickering and there were more arguments, especially when we were in the tour bus, and I just got fed up with it, really.
Dave Gahan: He came to me and he said, "I don't think this is something I wanna do, and I don't like all the questions we get asked, I don't like doing interviews, I don't like doing TV, I don't like touring..." He said all these things, and I was like, "Vince, that's what we're gonna be doing."
Vince Clarke: I think the band were really pissed off, I know they were. I know because they felt that I had left them in the lurch.
Martin Gore: I think that he just felt that he could do it on his own.
vince Clarke: When I made the decision to leave Depeche, it was... I know I did think that I wouldn't be recording again. I was gonna get a job, actually. But I did a demo for Alison Moyet, played it to Daniel, and Daniel, just about, showed enough interest.
Chris Carr: And the next thing we knew is Vince and Alison, and as a PR company we had Yazoo to kind of contend with and work with as well.
Jaqcues Attali: The success of Yazoo was incredible. It was very difficult to think that one day at this time, Depeche is fact would be one day much bigger.
Martin Gore: In some ways, for Mute, it must have been a blessing, because Vince went on to become successful.
Interviewer: [pretending to be Daniel Miller] "You don't need them." [laughter]
Martin Gore: Yeah, it was probably Daniel who actually told him to leave.
Chris Carr: Daniel was kind of, I don't know if by design or by accident, was fairly good at shephering the situation.
Daniel Miller: Everybody was knocked back, but I don't think anybody felt that it was the end of the band, in fact, the band in particular were very determined to move on.
Neil Ferris: I remember Dan's exact words, he said, "It's Gonna be alright, Neil, don't worry, it'll be alright: Martin can write some song." And I thought, "Oh God, what are we doing?"
Andy Fletcher: It really didn't sort of worry us that much. It should have worried every other band when your main songwriter departs, but we didn't even think about it, we just carried on.
Daniel Miller: We discussed what we were gonna do about replacing Vince, and the band thought that there wouldn't be a straight replacement, initially, to kind of draft somebody, but they needed an extra keyboardist for life.
Andy Fletcher: We had put an advert in the NME for "Synthesizer player, under 21."
Alan Wilder: I had been in and out several bands in the period leading up to my joining. At that time, I was just sort of looking around for another job, something that was gonna pay the wages. And there was this advert in the Melody Maker, and I kind of almost knew who it was immediately, even though it didn't say from the advert, because I had just read somewhere the week before that they'd lost a member, and I thought, "Oh, it's probably Depeche Mode", even though I did not know that much about the at the time.
Dave Gahan: We auditioned at Blackwing, as usual, and all these strange and wonderful characters showed up, and they were all dressed up to the nines but couldn't play, and Al came along and could play anything. We thought we'd really get him by asking him to play, like, a bass line and a melody at the same time, and he did it, and we were like, "Wow, this guy is, like, amazing."
Alan Wilder: When I went initial audition, it did seem very simple what they were asking me to do, very simple one-line tunes and a bit of backing vocal. But apparently many people had struggled to do that, and I didn't.
Daniel Miller: And I think they were a bit intimidated by it as well, because he was such a good keyboardplayer. While they were struggling playing the notes, he was just kind of reading a newspaper and reading at the same time.
Dave Gahan: So he was in. And, I think we've paid him some ridiculous amount, like 100 quid a week or something, we gave him like 100 quid a week, for the first couple of years, till he finally turned around and was like, "Am I in the band?"
Chris Carr: He, while it wasn't initially apparent, was a steadying hand.
Dan Silver: It was more like a band who were together than three guys and Vince who wasn't having a good time, so in that sense, the machine was not broken, it was just changed.
Andy Franks: Charlie Wilder's first gig, wasn't that at Crocs?
Daryl Bamonte: Ehm, he played at Crocs, yeah.
Alan Wilder: And then, within a space of days, I think, we were all whizzed off to New York to play a gig, and I think that was the first sort of proper gig.
Andy Fletcher: We did Top Of The Pops and then got Concorde over for our first gig, so, we didn't go on stage until 3 o'clock in the morning, none of our synths were working, Dave, meanwhile, had decided to have one of his tattoos removed and it had all gone septic, so we had a lead, a dancing lead singer, with a septic left arm in a sling, so it didn't look very good. And I remember when we came off and we was really tired, it must have been about 5 o'clock in the morning, we got out of that place, the Ritz, and this bloke shouted to us, "What happened to you guys, you used to be good!" We all, all of us, remember that comment, and feeling really down, and it was just one of those tours, it wasn't that successful. We just honestly thought that our music would never ever be compatible with what the Americans want.
Daryl Bamonte: The other three decided that they wanted to make A Broken Frame on their own, otherwise it would have been perhaps perceived that Alan was pulling the strings as people thought Vince was, so people got confused, and I think a lot of fans thought that after the first bout of tour that Alan had left, because the album had come out, and he wasn't mentioned on it. But for them it was the best move, because they wanted to prove that they could do it on their own.
Chris Carr: I think, to a certain extent, there was, "We don't know what to do", and also "He's not one of us". And, I think, individually, if you kind of consulted them, they would have all said, "I think he should be a member of the group." But do it collectively, and you're into committee land, and if anybody can muddy waters, it's Depeche, [they] collectively can do that. We felt sorry for him, but understood what they were doing, and that was that.
Dave Gahan: We went into the studio, and Martin was given the tall order to come up with, like, 10 songs.
Daniel Miller: I hadn't really heard very many of his songs, but the others had and knew his potential.
Martin Gore: I think, at the time, I was quite excited about it. It was the obvious choice for me to take over, because at that point, Dave didn't even write songs.
Andy Fletcher: Well Martin was in some ways a more experienced songwriter already than Vince. Martin had been writing songs since the age of 14. And he wrote some fantastic songs then, which some of the songs he wrote then made it onto A Broken Frame.
Vince Clarke: I knew Martin wrote good songs, because I had heard his pervious band, Normal And The Worms. They were kind of quite unconventional. It was tasty, savourable, as well, in retrospect it did, I think, in songwriting.
Daniel Miller: It would have been weird doing Speak And Spell Part 2 with the nature of Martin's songs, they were much more complex, melodically. I just don't think it would have worked to make that kind of record. So I think they definitely wanted to spread their wings and work in a different way.
John Fryer: The technical side of it had moved on, so it was as bit easier to work, and if you recorded something on day 1, which you didn't like on day 4, it was easier to go back and replace that, whereas before, if you were on the 8-track and you would have bounced it in with some other sounds, you're kind of stuck with it.
Andy Fletcher: It was more sort of how we would record an album now, because we hadn't been playing a lot these songs live, so it was putting them together from scratch.
Dave Henderson: It was set up for a full [album], so people weren't expecting a lot of it. Your main songwriter is gone... As I say, it was very, very tribal, a lot of people were into lots of kinds of music, so what Depeche Mode did within that area of music, people just thought, "Oh, that's okay, but they're not gonna have the big hits like they used to."
Andy Fletcher: We didn't have a vision at all. We were sort of torn between being a pop band on Smash Hits and sort of a cooler, alternative band.
Neil Ferris: Peel was playing the band, Peter Powell was playing the band, Janice Long was playing the band, so in terms of the credible end of radio 1, the after 4 o'clock going until the evening where you wanted, as a promotion man, you absolutely wanted your band to be embraced, they were embracing the band. It was more that the guys in daytime radio who just didn't really kind of quite understand a band that were all keyboards.
Dave Gahan: Neil knew that it was gonna be really hard to get over on the radio, and of course they hated. By that time, we were all already hated by radio deejays, and they would often comment on how "doomy" we were.
Neil Ferris: When See you came out, I don't think it, in terms of trying to get where I wanted to get, achieve very much more. Yeah, we got on the radio. Yes, we did some TV. We probably did some TV in those days that we shouldn't have done, which I felt was kind of probably my fault, but I was so desparate to move the band forward, and to get more people to know about them, and to break the band into a bigger arena, that we probably did stuff that, in retrospect, I probably would have never allowed them to do if I had been a few years older.
Martin Gore: We were just so young and stupid, that we agreed to anything that anyone offered us. There was always an argument, "It goes out to so and so many million people". "Okay, we'll do it." [laughs]
Alan Wilder: Looking back, of course we overdid the real pop stuff, but it was sold to us that we really needed to do those things if we wanted to keep having hit records, and so we just did everything that came along. As time went on, we became a bit more choosy. But that fear of being forgotten, I think, was always there.
Daryl Bamonte: See You, which was the first single from A Broken Frame, was probably more poppy than the singles from Speak And Spell, in a way. But a lot of the other songs on A Broken Frame are much darker, like Fransky said.
Andy Franks: The video for See You wasn't particularly dark, was it?
Daryl Bamonte: No. [laughter]
Chris Carr: It surprised me that it didn't become as big as it became, but from our side of stuff it was the early days, they still weren't kind of ready, so we were in a comfort zone.
Martin Gore: We're generally sort of, like, very pessimistic people, but for a very short period, we felt a little bit invincible, and when The Meaning Of Love came out, we expected it to do even better.
Andy Fletcher: I remember it had gone in the charts at number 5, and we were sort of thinking it might go to number 1 and stuff, and when when we came, we got off the airplane, and got the chart, it was, like, gone down to 17.
Martin Gore: And that was our first jolt of failure, even though ut still got fairly high. It felt like a disappointment after See You.
Daniel Miller: Everybody was a bit shocked by that, but it wasn't one of their best singles.
Martin Gore: Daniel thought that Gallup must have made a mistake. [laughs]
Andy Fletcher: It was a bit too... teeny.
Martin Gore: I don't blame the press for not giving us not much respect in those days, there was lots of, like, teen magazines around that [time], Smash Hits and things like that, and we did the lot.
Chris Carr: The whole credibility angle - and I can't stress the importance of that as much - in those days it was vital. It was like, "Okay, we don't want to be interviewed, but put out a side of us that people are gonna have to pay attention to. So artwork was the first kind of sign that there was something more to this band. At the time there were a lot of journalists who were all ex-art school, etcetera, so the link was being made: these guys, they may not make good music, but they're beginning to be very savvy in other areas.
Brian Griffin: Well, it was remarkable. I remember when I first saw the polaroid, it was just unbelievable. And so after I processed them all up and Daniel came down to Rotherhithe here, to the studio.
Daniel Miller: I popped down to have a look, and just looking at the lightbox and I was seeing this image and I thought they were fantastic, I couldn't quite believe how strong it was.
Martin Gore: When we actually saw the cover, we thought it was quite a stunning picture, and it did go on to win awards.
Andy Fletcher: It was 'Sleeve Of The Year', wasn't it, and it's just an amazing picture, fantastic picture. He paid up for Speak And Spell! [laughs]
Dave Gahan: I think it's one of the best things that we've done, actually.
Brian Griffin: Probably the greatest colour photograph I've ever taken, I think. I'm egotistically enough to say that and say, "Okay, find me a better one."
Martyn Atkins: Brian had an idea for a photograph of some kind of person breaking the frame of the photograph, but I think, I consciously wanted to steer it more in that kind of Russian iconic imagery, because I think it was something that I kind of liked the look of, [and] Daniel was very much into.
Brian Griffin: We did have heavy discussions about it, so I would say it was like a complete collaborative idea, really.
Andy Fletcher: Brian would just come to the studio and talk about things and we wouldn't have a clue what he was saying, really, because it was all art talk. He'd just go, "...Yeah, I can see this... the sleeve... the field...", you know. We'd go, "Oh, alright, just do it."
Brian Griffin: So we all set off in this location bus, with my assistant Stuart Graham, Jacky Fry, the lady who was going to be the peasant, and it was just pouring with rain, just horrible. But one thing you know in photography is that rain can be really good, because when rain stops, the sky can become very interesting.
Martyn Atkins: We had hailstones and rain and all sorts of stuff, but Brian's ego will probably tell you that he did it all himself. Wouldn't you, Brian? [winks at camera and gives thumbs up]
Brian Griffin: And Martyn Atkins said - he came up on his motorbike - he said, "Oh, I'll better go out for getting lunch, then." So he rode off on his motorbike for lunch, and then the rain stopped.
Dave Gahan: It was just one of those, as he would have said, "The magic was there." It was the "magic." It was the "magic."
John Fryer: To be honest with you, I think the songwriting has got so much better, it's so superior to the early days.
Jacques Attali: It was not completely mature, the personality of Martin at the time of Broken Frame.
Dan Silver: It still sing quite poppy, I think Martin's depth came a bit later.
Martin Gore: For me, it really does not work as a whole, because some of the songs I had written when I was 16 and we were reinventing them as electronic songs. Some of the songs I was making up in the studio, and I think it's, for me, probably our worst album.
Dave Gahan: It was so difficult for us at that time, in retrospect. First of all, we had lost our main songwriter. The 'second album syndrome' usually is that you get, like, slaughtered anyway, no matter what you do. And we kind of made this moody, odd-sounding record.
Danie Miller: Ad maybe by going with something like Leave In Silence we had quite a bit of a reaction to that, to go with something that's much more darker, and that was kind of the beginning of their so-called darker phase, really, Leave In Silence, that carried on to this day.
Martin Gore: I look back fondly on Leave In Silence. I think that was a turning point for us, and realised that maybe that was a way to go forward.
Chris Carr: Leave In Silence was kind of like a watershed: that's where things started to come together, where they started to take themselves fairly seriously.
Dave Gahan: We felt, I think, more comfortable in that mood, that was definitely where Martin was, melodically, and I've always said and I've always thought that Martin writes beautiful melodies, and lyrically, it's just a lot more melancholy.
Neil Ferris: Put it to one side: this is not a pop group, this is not a band that is making 3-minute crappy pop songs, this is a band that has got longevity, this is band that you want to go and see live.
Daniel Miller: I thought that Leave In Silence came together really easily, and we just got a groove going and it fell right instantly. And I think one of my favourite songs on the record is The Sun And The Rainfall. I love that song.
Andy Fletcher: It's a really good song, but I'm a big believer that songs that are put on the end of albums always get lost, and that's one particular really good song that I think gets lost because it's the last track of the album.
Dan Silver: They had led the audience to their space was the key. It was no problem. Now obviously, if their audience is deciding that they didn't like the tougher stuff, then they could have been in a lot of trouble. But they didn't, so they were fine.
Chris Carr: People started to see things that were happening, that they weren't weren't gonna disappear, that there was an intelligence at work, and that they were forging ahead in their own direction. But they are breaking into their own territory, at their own pace, and there's this innate sense of timing. It was becoming apparent that they were here to stay.
Sleeve notes [scanned by me]:
[Transcribed into text using OCR:]
‘A Broken Frame’ was Depeche Mode’s second album, but their first without Vince Clarke. When Vince left the other three felt very strongly about moving forward. There was never any discussion of splitting up, it was the opposite really — there was a determination to continue and be successful in a way, to show Vince they could do without him. Vince had been the main driving force in the band, both musically and career wise, and obviously that had to change. The new musical driving force was going to be Martin, while Fletch took the reins in a more managerial sense. The band grew up quite quickly after the split. It was all hands to the pump, and they suddenly had to take more responsibility. I wouldn’t exactly call it a blessing but what came out of it was very strong.
We knew Martin was a really strong songwriter. When Vince had written the songs he had a very clear idea of what he wanted them to sound like. Martin wasn’t quite as clear, and his demos were more basic — it was voice, Casio keyboard and foot tap! In some ways that was good because it was starting with a completely blank sheet, the song was open to go in any way we wanted it to go. But that was also quite challenging because we had so many choices and decisions to make. We were starting from a very different place than we did with ‘Speak & Spell’.
We recorded at Blackwing, the same studio where we made ‘Speak & Spell’. Martin had brought a PPG, one of the first digital keyboards. It was called a wave table synth and was pretty advanced for its time, but very unreliable. We got some sounds on it that we wouldn’t have otherwise got — the choir sound on ‘See You’ came from that. We were still very much using the same stuff we were for ‘Speak & Spell’. But we were also going into other territory, exploring new ground, and starting to use real sounds. I remember we got Blancmange in to do some on-the-spot marching for ‘Shouldn’t Have Done That’ because they were in the studio next door, making their record, and they were mates with Depeche Mode. Solidarity in electropop.
There was never any sense of trying to make ‘A Broken Frame’ sound the way Vince would have done, If anything Depeche Mode wanted to create new trademark sounds. They definitely wanted to move on from ‘Speak & Spell’. And Martin’s songs are musically more complex, so it naturally went in a different direction.
With ‘See You’, the song had been written and I started to get a fairly random bass line going on the sequencer, which is roughly how it ended up on the record. Then Martin embellished the track with more melody lines, but there was no sense of what the beat should be, we were just starting completely from scratch. We released ‘See You’ as a stand-alone single before the album and it became their biggest UK hit to date at that time. It went to Number Six.
The band’s image in the press was changing too. After ‘See You’ became a huge hit, they were suddenly perceived to be teen pop stars. They were grouped by the media with artists like Haircut 100, Altered Images and Kim Wilde. I remember the audiences at their shows were incredibly young at this point. They appeared on mainstream pop shows, Jim’ll Fix It and things like that. They were not totally comfortable with all that, it made them embarrassed, but they did it. It was their teenypop moment.
Alan Wilder joined on the ‘Broken Frame’ tour to play live, before the album was even made, but he wasn’t involved in the recordings. The initial idea was to hire him just to play the keyboard parts live. They played at the Ritz club in New York in January 1982, their first American show, which was fantastic and absolutely packed. Most of the people at the gig had come from out of town and they were cool young kids.
At the time a number of new alternative radio stations had started across the US, and they were all trying to create a new sound. They found this identity in bands like Depeche Mode, The Cure, Echo And The Bunnymen, New Order — even though there probably was not much crossover between those bands in the UK, there was in America. Basically they were interested in new English acts who were not rock bands. It was a completely underground thing, but these stations would later become crucial in the rise of alternative music.
‘A Broken Frame’ is a transitional record, and maybe not one of Depeche Mode’s strongest albums. But looking back it contains a lot of pointers for the future, especially on the more experimental side. Tracks Like ‘Monument’ and ‘Satellite’ are real road signs for the kind of sounds and ideas they would develop on later albums. We experimented a lot more than on ‘Speak & Spell’, which is good. Some of those experiments succeeded and some failed, as you might expect. But the band were still young, trying out new directions, finding their voice.
You can still hear that on this record. It sounds like a new beginning.