Depeche Mode's Martin Gore

June 1, 2009

DEPECHE MODE MAY BE ONE OF THE LAST bands many would expect to find featured in the pages of GP. After all, the mega-selling Brits have been household names for 25 years on the merits of their distinctive brand of moody, synth-driven hits—including “People Are People,” “Personal Jesus,” and “Policy of Truth”— not because of any penchant for blazing solos or maniacal fretboard antics. But a close listen to every Depeche Mode album from 1987’s Music for the Masses onward reveals an increasingly significant role for 6-strings, including the cleanly plucked harmonics and swinging, half-Johnny Cash/half-Goth acoustic riff that drove 1990’s “Personal Jesus,” and the glorious Gretsch growls that powered 2005’s “Suffer Well.” In fact, although guitar rarely commands the spotlight in the traditional sense on planet Depeche, co-founder and primary songwriter Martin Gore—who also handles keyboard and occasional lead vocal duties—ensures that they play a far more integral role than many listeners might realize. And he doesn’t outsource the guitar slinging, either—a point which is well illustrated by going behind the scenes for the making of the band’s latest album, Sounds of the Universe [EMI].

Although Gore knows synths the way guys like Eric Johnson know Strats, keyboards were not the Big Bang that began his musical development. “I started playing guitar when I was about 13,” he recalled, speaking over the phone from New York City just prior to the release of Universe. “In the very first incarnation of the band, I was the only one who actually played synth—Andy Fletcher played bass and [former vocalist] Vince Clark, played guitar and sang— and I’d never had any kind of keyboard training whatsoever, so I learned keyboards through guitar. We felt electronic music was the way forward at that point, however, so we decided to become an all-electronic band. That’s when we drafted vocalist David Gahan and became Depeche Mode. It wasn’t until a few years later that we realized we were really restricting ourselves by not opening up to any other kind of instrumentation.”

With each outing after Music for the Masses, Gore embraced guitar more wholeheartedly, culminating in 2005’s Playing the Angel, which found him conjuring loads of burnished, vintage guitar tones and ringing, ethereal chords. Gore explains how he views the guitar’s role in the band today: “We are still predominantly an electronic band, so we use guitar parts as atmospherics or layers over other instrumentation. And we often treat and process the guitars a lot, so sometimes it’s not even clear if you are hearing a guitar or a synth.” The guitar work on Universe is more interesting and involved than ever before, veering sharply toward the experimental.

Gore says the more adventurous guitar parts on Universe are largely due to the existence of eBay, without which he couldn’t have assembled the arsenal of gear he used to create the album’s impressive array of tones. In his online bidding, Gore received invaluable guidance and input from producer Ben Hillier and engineer/ programmer Luke Smith (who also worked with Gore on arranging guitar parts and getting tones).

“It was amazing,” says Smith of Gore’s eBay haul. “Martin was buying all of the kit he’d ever wanted, along with any new and experimental gizmos that tickled his fancy. We started with a lot of gear, and by the end of the session there was a veritable smorgasbord of devices available to satisfy any palate, which acted as a kind of endless stimulus. Everything was always new and exciting, which had a remarkable effect on the session. I very much doubt I’ll ever witness a similar situation again.”

Gore echoes that. “I don’t think we can play down the effect that the parcels arriving every day had on the record,” he says. “Many days we had two or three packages arriving and it would always be exciting to open them and see what was inside. The contents would inevitably get used either that day or the following day.” Asked how he avoided acquiring any technological turds, Gore said, “A lot of it—especially the old synth stuff—I’m quite aware of. But it’s so easy to search for information online these days. If there’s something you think looks cool, you can Google it and find lots of reviews and often YouTube videos, as well. You can’t always tell exactly what something sounds like, but you do get quite a good picture between the two methods.”

Some of Gore’s favorite acquisitions included a ’66 Fender Duo-Sonic and a ’68 Gretsch Bo Diddley. “The Gretsch really sounds good—it’s got a very chunky tone,” Gore raves. “I also got quite a few Maestro pedals—a PS-1 Phase Shifter, an MPS-1 Mini- Phase, and an FZ-1A Fuzz-Tone—as well as Ross compression and distortion pedals that I used a lot, too.” [See the “More Gore Gear” sidebar for additional pedals and processors.]

Evidence of how ingeniously Gore, Hillier, and Smith used their new tone tools abounds on Universe. “In Chains” features deliciously warped, funky chord stabs achieved by routing Gore’s Gretsch Double Anniversary through a wah and into a Rivera Venus 6 combo, after which Engineer Ferg Peterkin played the track through large monitors back into a studio room to add extra ambience. On “Corrupt,” Gore got a digitized buzzsaw- type sound by plugging the Gretsch Bo Diddley into an Electro-Harmonix Bass Micro Synthesizer, a wah, and a Divided By13 LDW 17/39 combo. “I controlled the wah with my hands while Martin played the riff,” Smith recalls. “This enabled us to get a nice, slow curve on the effect. We also plugged a D.I. in after the effect pedals to split the signal in two, and then we put one signal through a Cyndustries Cynthia Dual Sawtooth Animator [which generates a seven-oscillator signal from a single input waveform] and the other through a vintage EMS VCS3 synthesizer.” Gore played his DoubleAnniversary through the Divided By13 amp and used a D.I. to process it through the VCS3 to get the in-your-face industrial sounds on “Fragile Tension.” And for the disintegrating sounds on “Come Back,” Gore used a Silvertone guitar through the Divided By13 and a Fender Vibrolux, both recorded with just room mics. “The sound was huge and mesmerizing,” says Smith. “I took the track into a different room and ran various sections through Cycling 74’s Max/MSP software, which lets you make your own processors from the ground up—kind of like a limitless digital modular synth system.”

Despite his eBay prizes, Gore’s favorite guitar remains his beloved lime green Gretsch Double Anniversary, dubbed “the Green Knight” after luthier David Knight, who modified it in the early ’90s to be feedback resistant. For the last several albums and tours, Gore has been plugging into Rivera Sedona and Fandango amps, but for the Universe sessions he relied largely on the Divided By13. “The studio we worked in happened to have it lying around, so we tried it and it had a really different sound than the Riveras—it was better for more aggressive parts and harsher tones.” Gore also used old ’50s Gretsch amp owned by Gahan, and he points out that all his new toys weren’t just used for guitar parts. “We put a lot of the synths through amps and pedals, too.”

In addition to aiding him with using all the new gear to get guitar sounds, Smith backed Gore with his own acoustic track on “Little Soul.” He’s also quick to herald Gore’s guitar prowess. “I was astounded at how prominent the guitar aspect of the band actually was,” Smith says. “Even though the band is synth oriented, the little flourishes of guitar seriously define the mood and aesthetic and are integral to the overall sound.” Asked what struck him most about Gore’s guitar style, Smith says, “Martin has a uniquely captivating yet energetic style I’ve never witnessed before. It places a real emphasis on the blues, and that aspect of his playing collides with his desire to innovate by choosing unexpected notes and rhythms. Nearly all of his playing is just with the fingers and thumb—and the groove is incredible. Simply listening to him playing an acoustic and singing along is almost a religious experience. At the beginning of the session, I acquired a bashed-up old acoustic in a thrift store. It played hideously, but in Martin’s hands it sounded astounding. This perfectly illustrates the ‘sound is in the fingers’ theory to me. Another thing that really impressed me is the band’s dedication and persistence. Both Martin and Dave worked tirelessly to get the perfect sound and perfect performance. In these days, when a lot of musicians simply want to fix everything with software, such dedication is rare.”

More Gore Gear

Additional effects pedals and processors used on Sounds of the Universe.

’70s Acoustic Reverbrato oilcan reverb Carl Martin 2 Wah
Death by Audio Supersonic
Fuzz Gun
Devi Ever Shoe Gazer
Empress Superdelay
Jacques Trinity Filter/Auto Wah
LastGasp Art Laboratories
Cyber Psychic Parametric
Oscillo Filter
LastGasp Art Laboratories
Super Oscillo Fuzz
Lovetone Big Cheese Fuzz
Lovetone Brown Source
Lovetone Doppelganger
Lovetone Flange with No Name
Lovetone Meatball
Lovetone Ring Stinger
Lovetone Wobulator
Maestro Flute Emulator
Maestro Pitch Shift
Maestro Ring Modulator
Metasonix TM-1
Waveshaper/Ring Modulator
Metasonix TM-2 Bandpass
Moogerfooger EP-2 expression pedal
Moogerfooger MF-101 Lowpass Filter
Moogerfooger MF-102 Ring Modulator
Moogerfooger MF-103 12- Stage Phaser
Moogerfooger MF-104z Analog Delay
Moogerfooger MF-105 MuRF
Moogerfooger MF-105B Bass MuRF
Moogerfooger MF-107 FreqBox
MultiVox Reverb/Delay
Mu-Tron wah
Pigtronix Echolution
Ross Flanger
Ross Phase Distortion
Tone Freak Abunai Overdrive
WMD Geiger Counter

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