2006-04-03 - Mute - Speak and Spell remaster
[Transcribed by me:]
"Do we really have to give up our day jobs?"
Depeche Mode 1980 - 81
"Playing The Angel" press Conference, Düsseldorf, Germany, 16th June 2005:
Andy Fletcher: Welcome to all the media, and all the fans for coming this afternoon. We've just come from straight mixing the album, the vibe has been great, and we are confident will be up there as one of our best. It is therefore with great enthusiasm that we feel we are now in a position to proudly the next Depeche Mode world tour. Thank you very much.
Vince Clarke: We just want to really be the Cure, or something like that, or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, or the Human League, from Basildon.
Martin Gore: Vince was obviously the driving force behind the band. It was him and Andy who first formed Composition Of Sound as we were called at the time. And I think they got me in because I was one of the only people that had a synthesizer in Basildon.
Vince Clarke: We kind of realised early on that we needed a frontman, someone who could leap about, to make us look interesting. I think Dave was a friend of a friend, and we did an audition with him. We used to rehearse in one of the local schools, and he came up during the rehearsals.
Andy Fletcher: Vince was sort of the lead singer before that, but he wasn't really comfortable doing that, so we thought we'd grab him. Dave looked better than us, and had about a thousand more contacts: we had no contacts, and he had loads of contacts. And he sang really well as well.
Vince: And we thought, 'Yeah, he'll do.'
Dave on TV show Måndagbörsen, 1982: When we began we had guitars, there was a bassguitar and a general guitar, and a drum machine, but then we gradually we changed over to all-synths.
Host of TV show Måndagbörsen, 1982: why did you quit the guitar and the bass?
Dave on the TV show Måndagbörsen, 1982: It just seemed like a natural thing, like, Martin had a synthesiser, and Andy and Vince bought one, following. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
Dave Gahan: Really, it was convenience. We just gradually changed over because it enabled us to be able to go anywhere with these keyboards, these small monophonic keyboards under our arm, and to sort of plug into a PA system and play a gig - not that we had any gigs, really, at the time, but... It's just, they were quite cheap, you didn't have to have a good amp. We weren't any good at playing guitar anyway. We all sat down and said 'Let's go electronic.' It was more convenience, and we actually played those instruments in a very, sort of, traditional format. There was a bassline, there was a leadline, and there was a rhythmline.
Daryl Bamonte: The two places that I do recall are Crocs in Rayleigh, because that was the residency, I suppose, where they played a few Saturday nights when it opened, and they had all the local crowds, specifically Dave's fashion friends from college, so they quickly gave the band kudos in that area.
Dave: We became, like, the band of the scene down there, and in doing so, had our own following of 50 people or something that would travel up to London. So we sort of created a little buzz without having to try too hard, really, because it were just our mates. We actually went to Rough Trade, and Rough Trade was kind of, like, our last resort, the last place we're gonna go to if we're really that desperate. We were that arrogant or that naive, whatever you wanna call it, that we thought that. They had Cabaret Voltaire... We were making music that was, like, accessible electronic, accessible pop music.
Vince: Well, me and Dave went to all the record companies, because in those [days], you could, you could actually go into the A&R departments, they'd play your tape there and then. It was amazing. I mean, you didn't have to make appointments or anything. We went to Island, we went to RCA, we went to all the major record companies.
Dave: We had this quarter-inch tape that we insisted that the record label would play, and half the time they'd just be like, 'Have you got a cassette? Can you just...?' And we'd be like, 'No, we're not gonna leave unless you play our quarter-inch.' And of course most of the time, record companies would be like, 'Yeah, right, okay, we'll see you later.' But Scott actually played it. He put it on a reel-to-reel, he was tapping his foot, and me and Vince were sort of looking at each other and think, 'That's it, we got it, yeah, we're signed.' And he was sort of coming near the end of it and he was like, 'It's not really what we do, Rough Trade. But, this guy....' that just came in, and Daniel was just sort of blown in the door and was ranting about something, distribution or not being able to find Fad or records in some store, shouting at people. And [Scott] said 'Daniel, what do you think of this?'
Vince: Daniel said 'No. I'm not interested.' Then he disappeared. And then we supported Fad Gadget at Canning Town, and he came along because Fad Gadget was signed to Mute, and he came backstage.
Dave: We knew he was there, because, I think, he was mixing Fad's found. It was a big crowd, it was full up, and Daniel came up afterwards and came up to me, thinking at the time that I was writing the songs or something. And I said, 'No, that's the guy over in the corner there.' He sat down with Vince, he was talking to him for a while, but I kinda gave him the cold shoulder, I think I told him to fuck off, actually, at the time. But he came back again and again.
Vince: He said, 'Wanna do a single? Make a single with Mute Records?'
Martin: We were big fans of Mute at the time, so that was a big night for us anyway, and then to meet Daniel and be offered a single deal on the spot was pretty amazing.
Fad Gadget in the 1980s: Behind me is the public house called the Bridgehouse, well, it's been turned into a hotel now. I did a gig there once, supported by a band called Depeche Mode. The last I saw of them, they were in there at the door with Daniel Miller.
Vince: And it was him and another guy called Stevo, who was making the Some Bizarre record, and he was offering us a deal, as well. And he said, 'If you sign with me, then I can give you a support slot with Ultravox', and that sounded really, like, glamorous to us, so we were torn.
Dave: But they wanted to sign us, like, a heinous 10-hour album deal, and we were not at all interested in that, we just wanted to make a single.
Neil Ferris: It was back in the, probably around 1980, and I was working with Daniel. Daniel had just set up Mute Records. We had put out our first record by a band called Silicon Teens. It was really interesting, because we got to a point when we were going to radio, and nobody actually knew that Silicon Teens didn't actually exist. And we went to a radio interview at Capital Radio, and I remember Dan going in, Daniel Miller was going in, pretending to be a friend of the band, or the band's tour manager, something like that. And we went in, he did the interview, and the girl who was interviewing him said 'No you're not, you're not whoever you say you are, you are Daniel Miller, I went to school with you.' And as we left Capital, Dan said, 'You know, we ought to find a real band, we ought to find a proper band.'
Vince: We knew Mute Records, we had heard Fad Gadget, and he was, like, really cool, we had heard the The Normal single, and the Silicon Teens, actually. So, we just felt it was a cooler label.
Daryl Bamonte: I do remember specifically Dave saying to me, 'We've decided to go with Daniel Miller,' and I asked him 'Why?', and he just said, 'Well, because we just trust him.'
Fletch: For some bizarre reason, we were all working class kids in Basildon, we didn't have much money, and we went to the bloke who was offering us no money. Because, just, we trusted him, and we liked the music on his label. So it turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made.
Chris Carr: Daniel gave them the perfect home, as he's done for all of his artists. It's the idea: think of them having signed to a major; 2 or 3 albums. You just have to look back at the bands that were kind of their contemporaries, who are no longer with us.
Daniel Miller: It became a challenge, because everybody told them, 'Oh, Mute is a nice little label, but you'll never have any success, or international success, with them.' And so, I just thought, 'Fuck that, I wanna see if I can prove everybody wrong. Why shouldn't they be able to?', you know. I mean, the old record companies are quite old-fashioned and very pop-orientated and we were working in a completely different way.
Vince: When Daniel said, 'It's a 50-50 deal', it wouldn't have mattered, if we had signed something or not, because it didn't really mean anything to us. The important thing was that we were going to make a single and go to a real recording studio, and record a song. So, if he had said, like, '99-1', give us a contract and we would have signed it.
Dave: He said, 'I'll pay to make us a single, and do the best I can to what [it is] that you want out of it,' and we said, 'Well, we wanna be in the charts, we wanna be on the radio.' He said, 'Well, I'll do my best'. So we went for it.
Daniel: I was looking for a studio to finish off the Silicon Teens record, the songs which I had done at home in a really basic way. And I was really nervous about going into the studio, I had no studio experience at all, and I felt that I was kind of working outside of the system and that people wouldn't really be sympathetic to what I was trying to do, because they're just used to recording normal bands. But I phoned up Blackwing, it was Eric who answered, and he just sounded very enthusiastic and very open to the way I wanted to work.
Neil Ferris: We put Dreaming Of Me up, struggled to get it on the radio, we struggled to get that first record away, and then Roger Ames, who was an A&R man at Phonogram in those days, approached the band and wanted to sign them. And I sat with the band, I remember Dan sitting quietly in the corner, and I was saying, 'Guys, stay with Daniel. Daniel is really gonna look after you and all.' And it was quite incredible because they were... And I'll always remember Vince Clarke in those days, because Vince was still in Depeche at that point, and Vince said, 'Yeah, it's alright, but if we get famous and we do Top Of The Pops, do you think we can do that in the afternoon so I can get back on the cheap day return of Basildon?'
Vince: When the single got in the charts top 100, we were amazed. Like, when we first heard it on the radio, we just couldn't believe it. It was just incredible.
Neil Ferris: And of course the record didn't fly in the chart; it wasn't a huge success. But, I think, if you look back in retrospect as a first record, it was kind of setting the ground, it was building the right foundations for the future. And the truth is, if you have a record that flies in on your first record as a very big hit, chances are you don't have a long career.
Daniel Miller: Everybody thought it was a good start. Because, I never got anywhere near the charts with any of my singles before.
Martin: To actually reach 57 was a real achievement, and that's when we felt that, if we actually concentrated a big more on the band, and maybe give up our day jobs, that we could possible actually make it.
John Fryer: They were very young, very naive, and very shy. Dave used to hide behind the microphone and stand back in those days.
Dave: We would record like a traditional band: we'd set up the Moog Prodigy or Mart's Yamaha in the other room, in this sort of live room, and plug it in, and sort of play the part. So, it was pretty much, we just laid down each part, like we would [do] live.
Daniel Miller: I wanted to capture, as best I could, the atmosphere, the vibe I got from the songs from when I saw them live, really, using some experimental things, I was quite keen to do that, as we did on some of the tracks more than others, just to have a really electronic pop sound that was theirs, really, that wasn't a copy of something else. I had made my own records in my bedroom, and I had kind of worked in a studio finishing off the Silicon Teens album, and I had worked with Fad Gadget, and couple of other people. But the only reason I was a producer was that, for them, I just knew a bit more about the studio than they did, I think, and also a bit more about programming the synthesizers and stuff like that.
Martin: Well he was a lot more savvy with synthesizers and especially old analogue stuff. So, he brought in his ARP 2600 and ARP Sequencer.
Vince: That was the really all-important piece of equipment that he brought along. Because, it meant that you could actually programme something and it will be on time, so that was really revolutionary for us.
John Fryer: Half of the mixing you do as you go along, because you got to bounce so many tracks together, because there's only eight tracks, [so] you're very limited. So you could have had the drums all on one track, and then bass and pad synth on another or backing vocals, and another synth or another track.
Vince: When there were limitations on what you could do in the studio, I think it was quite good, actually. We were used to it; there were no automated mixes or anything like that, so all of us, the band, Daniel and Eric, would all be at the control, at the desk, turning things off and on, we'd all have cues to get the final mixes down. And it was really exciting. And then we'd all pull into Eric's car to listen to the mix on his car stereo, because we felt that that was, like, a good test.
'Speak and Spell' came from Daniel, the title, and it was from that little toy, the speaking machine. I think there was some discussion about whether we would get in trouble for using it, but it was fine in the end.
Brian Griffin: It was still at the time then, where album covers just, like, sort of happened. They weren't marketing exercises. I mean, I did album covers in my own home, above the radiators or in my bedroom and things.
Dave: I don't know what it's about. I remember when we first saw it, I think we asked him, and he probably gave some metaphoric answer. The best you can get out of Brian. It was a pretty stunning cover, it certainly became a talking point, about this bird in a plastic case.
Brian Griffin: I remember setting it up on my own, actually, I didn't have any help. And, I don't know why I got a stuff swan covered in plastic, I've no idea. I mean, do you have any idea?
Vince: I remember seeing it, and just being amazed at how much someone could charge that, an album cover. I was like a thousand pounds or something, it was outrageous.
Brian Griffin: I mean, everybody was up in arms about it, really. I think they still are. I think they still hate the sight of it! I know it has gone quite famously for being an awful cover, I think. Goodness knows what was going at the time.
John Fryer: The general music industry was surprised because of the success of the band and it being a totally electronic.
Chris Carr: People were about to end the guitar wars, it was the death of the guitar, and Depeche were one of the bands that were supposedly heralding the death of the guitar.
Neil Ferris: And it was just, for some reason, we have seemed to have been perceived in the wrong way, and people didn't take us as seriously as maybe Heaven 17 or maybe The Human League, or some of those bands, which was very depressing, because the band I cared most about was Depeche.
Chris Carr: There was so much pressure to be credible in one respect and also to be a chart act, and initially they were very - and continued to be for quite a while - nervous of the press, and what press would do to them.
Neil Ferris: New Life kind of did change everything. It was a huge record, it went on the radio, after a struggle, but it went on the radio, and the then boys broke them all: we got on Top Of The Pops, it was starting to happen... And I think that for the process of New Life, the band were loving every second of it. It was exciting, they were having a hit record, and we had an album to come shortly on the back of that, and it was kind of getting to the point where, "Yep, we're happening, this is all developing in the right direction."
Fletch: I was actually on Top Of The Pops when I was still at work. I was treated as a hero when I walked in the next day. That was in the days when Top Of The Pops was really popular. So I think I was doing my month's notice.
Martin: I remember not sleeping the night before, which seems ridiculous now, but... Again, we were really young, it was a programme you grew up with.
Daryl Bamonte: There was a bit of fear, because I think that New Life was, like, at number 11, and Martin said to Daniel Miller, "Do you really think we've got to give up our day jobs?" and Daniel had to say, "Yeah, I think you're safe now."
Seymour Stein: I called my office, I said, "Look, if I get on the Concorde - I just have a hunch about this - if I get on the Concorde and come over, can you guys pick me up and take me to Basildon?" And I said, "You know where it is, it's right off the A1", which of course it wasn't. But they knew where it was, fortunately, at least I had the town right, and I saw them.
Martin: We were really shocked that someone from New York would bother to come all the way to Basildon to see us.
Seymour Stein: At that point, there were similar bands around, but I don't know how you could watch them for an hour without falling asleep. Depeche Mode were the first of those bands that were so fucking great live that it was just amazing.
Dan Silver: They were a band who were prepared to work hard, and I didn't want to waste their time with useless shows, but at the same time, I felt that to have a lot of shows in the calendar was always good.
Andy Franks: People were coming with their sort of strange expectations, because they were gonna see probably one of the first shows where there hadn't a band that were playing conventional instruments on stage, so I think people had a sort of strange expectation about what they were gonna see. We were certainly a bit surprised about it, because we hadn't done a show with a band that didn't have a drummer, and in some ways it was quite a simplistic sort of set-up, wasn't it?
Daryl Bamonte: Yeah, but also, it was harder, because you haven't got the visuals of a drummer, and people behind keyboards are obviously restricted. So much was on Dave's shoulders that he used to have really worked the crowd. And it was obviously the music, but also the live side, the way it picked up the reputation of it being such a good night, because he had the famous way of saying, "And you up there", didn't he?
Andy Franks: "And you up there!"
Daryl Bamonte: When we were playing Hammersmith Odeon, he used to include the balcony and just about everyone in there, and it was amazing, it was always amazing.
Andy Franks: But it was, also, from those days, I don't know if it was the fact that they were sort of bound together in uniformity, but he was never one of those guys who would talk to the audience, he'd be like "Come on, get going", or, "You up there", whatever, but it was never a long chat in-between the shows which is carried on all the way through, really, he has never been a vocal person on stage, apart from when he's singing.
Daryl Bamonte: He doesn't crack one-liners, does he?
Andy Franks: No, not like us. He never listened to us, did he?
Dan Silver: By October, they're doing a very serious national tour: they played Newcastle, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Bristol, Basildon, dear Basildon, Raquels, Brighton, Poole, Leicester, and two night at the Lyceum. And, actually, talking of memories, those two nights at the Lyceum were awesome. And I remember pulling the promoter and the hall manager into the venue and pointing at the rear balcony and saying, "Can you see how much that balcony is moving?" Because, it was bouncing up and down, because the kids were bouncing up and down at these two rammed shows. Huge success.
Vince: I don't think we were really thinking past the next gig, actually. The only time it started wearing on me was when we did the last tour, well, when I did the last tour then.
Host of TV show Måndagbörsen, 1982: Do you think that the band will look the same in another two years, with only synths?
Dave on TV show Måndagbörsen, 1982: If you come back in two years time, then you can see. I don't think we're gonna change. You never know though, we might change in a week's time, but, who knows?
In November 1981, following the end of the band's first UK tour, Vince Clarke officially announced his departure from Depeche Mode.
[Sleeve notes, scanned by me and transcribed using OCR:]
When we first went into the studio to start work on the 5.1 mix of Speak And Spell, it was the first time I had heard the album multitracks for 25 years. It took me right back to Blackwing Studios and 1981. It was very early days for Depeche Mode and I was still relatively inexperienced in the studio. But the album still sounds fresh today, if a little naive. The strength and quality of the songs and ideas still shine through.
Speak And Spell was a hugely important album for Depeche Mode and for Mute as a label. I knew they were an exceptional pop group from the moment I first saw them play at the Bridge House in Canning Town in October 1980. It was a simple but effective set-up, and even though it was still early days the songs came across very well and the potential was clear to me.
They were never New Romantics, they were Futurists, a subtle but important difference at the time. New Romantic bands were basically rock bands with a synthesizer player. But then there were other groups, like Human League and Soft Cell and Depeche Mode, who were electronic groups.
I actually didn’t sign a formal record contract with Depeche Mode until many years later but we started working together in October 1980. I thought that if you’re fair with an artist, pay them properly, give them creative freedom and do your best to promote their records, why would you need a contract? Why get lawyers involved? It just seemed impure. It was idealistic but worked well then and continued to do so for many years.
The album was recorded in the early part of 1981 and it was pretty much a replication of what they had been playing live. There were songs that didn’t make it onto the record, and a few were new. But basically it was the set I had seen them playing six months before in Canning Town.
We recorded at Blackwing Studios near London Bridge with an engineer called Eric Radcliffe, who had previously worked with me on Fad Gadget and Silicon Teens. It was a very friendly atmosphere and quite an adventure to use synthesizers to create all the music. Most engineers just didn’t get what you wanted to do.
But Eric, as well as being an outstanding guitarist, was a scientist. He was very into experimentation so it was a good, creative environment. We worked a lot with Eric after that. When Vince Clarke left Depeche Mode to form Yazoo, they even dedicated their first album, Upstairs At Eric’s, to him and his studio.
I co-produced Speak And Spell with the band. All but two songs were written by Vince, and the other two - Big Muff and Tora! Tora! Tora! — were written by Martin. Both of these are significant in that Martin would later become Depeche Mode’s main songwriter, but back then Vince was the driving force in the studio. I was there to help them get the sounds they wanted. I just tried to broaden their perspective as much as I could, to show what was possible with the limited equipment we had.
Vince was on the dole, but Fletch and Martin were still working at the time, and Dave was still at art college in Southend. I think they were hedging their bets. Fletch and Martin still had day jobs when they first appeared on Top Of The Pops performing New Life. Fletch and Martin would come to Blackwing with a takeaway, when they finished work. Martin always added some really nice counter melodies and things like that. I remember working on one track and he was standing there, playing with one hand and eating his dinner with the other. Obviously it was a monophonic synthesizer so you could only use one hand at a time, but he still came up with something amazing.
The first single was Dreaming Of Me, which wasn’t on the album in the UK, although we put it on the US and European versions. That peaked at Number in the charts. Then New Life reached Number 11. It was Mute’s first Top 20 hit. Then the band went to Number 8 with Just Can’t Get Enough. They had also been playing lots of gigs and receiving very good reviews by this rime. I wasn’t surprised but I was really pleased when the album went to Number to in November 1981. It stayed on the charts for 32 weeks.
The success of Speak And Spell coincided with some big changes, both inside Depeche Mode and around them. Mute moved into their first permanent offices in West London and we increased our staff to four. But by the time the album came out, Vince was ready to leave. On the band’s first European tour, in late spring, communication between Vince and the rest of the band just seemed to have broken down.
Vince announced confidentially, to the band and me, that he was going to leave as soon as the album came out. We were in the middle of negotiating an American deal with Sire and didn’t want to disrupt it by making this public, which is a bit naughty. But in the end I think it worked out for everybody, and our relationship with Sire and its founder Seymour Stein continues today. So Depeche Mode played their last show together in November and Vince officially left the band in December.
The rest of the band grew up quite quickly because of that. Suddenly they had to take responsibility. I wouldn’t call it a blessing but I think what came out of it was very strong. Martin was a very promising songwriter and having made such a successful album there was never any question of Depeche Mode stopping. By this point, Dave had quit college and Martin and Fletch had handed in their notices. There was no going back.
Even from before we put the first single out there was a ‘buzz’ that had grown quickly around the band. They started to generate substantial offers from major labels, but I am glad to say they decided to stay with Mute, even with n contract. We enjoyed working together and we trusted each other. It was the right decision, made for the right reasons, because that relationship has survived and thrived ever since. Speak And Spell was a remarkable debut that put the band on the world stage.