Alan Wilder- Recoiling To Depeche :: Skrufff.com21.06.2007
Reported by Olly @ Trackitdown on June 21, 2007
“Depeche Mode floats me and I must say it’s a good thing they carried on, since we’re talking about finance. And of course, Mute re-issues material all the time which keeps me afloat and enables me to do what I’m doing here. It’s great and I don’t forget it. I would never denounce my Depeche Mode days for that reason alone, amongst other things.”
Sitting in a West London office on a sunny afternoon Recoil mainman Alan Wilder admits his earlier career in Depeche Mode means he’s comfortable enough financially never to have to work again, though he’s chatting today to promote his new Recoil album Subhuman. Featuring American bluesman Joe Richardson and lyrics covering incarceration, religion and war, the album is a million miles away sonically from the electronic pop of his past, reflecting his cheerful freedom from commercial considerations.
“They don’t matter at all when we’re writing and recording, they only figure after the record is finished,” he laughs.
“I then do everything in my power to try to promote, sell it; everything apart from playing live. I’ve worked all these years to make enough money to make the kind of music I want to make- it’d be stupid to dilute it for commercial reasons. I still try afterwards to play by the rules, for example by making the first track palatable for the radio listeners and cutting it from eight minutes to three and a half which is in itself a challenge."
Skrufff (Benedetta Skrufff): You’ve recently taken a six-year break in recording from your last Recoil album, why so long?
Alan Wilder: “It was just a length of time that got longer and longer. I just wanted to take a little break after my last album “Liquid”, as it turned out to be mentally draining for me in the end. The break also coincided with us having another son, so I just got very involved in family commitments and all that goes with it… in a good way. I felt guilty all the way nevertheless, then after a while the idea of going back to work started to get a bit daunting as I knew I had to learn all the new technology. So I kept putting it off but eventually my missus gave me the final push and here I am.”
Skrufff: I guess your priorities change over time?
Alan Wilder: “Well, exactly. And you realise that actually there’s more to life than just being in a studio. Even when I’m in the studio now and being very serious about it, when I’m not there I can just forget about it.”
Skrufff: I understand you found Joe Richardson by googling ‘‘Blues singer/songwriter’, did you have to dig deep?
Alan Wilder: “Not all that deep. Yes, it’s a random event, I could have found someone else that could have equally been good, but what was so surprising to me was that he was virtually the first person to come up in my search and he was exactly what I was looking for. I was wondering who was this famous blues singer whom I’ve never heard of? So I researched him a bit more and no, he’s just a talented man who never really had a break. I then contacted him and asked him if he wanted to do something. The only thing was that after I saw his picture, I wondered if he would have been interested in me, because he just looks a bit . . . grizzly. He turned out to be a big pussycat though, very open minded and very willing to try new things.”
Skrufff: How familiar was he with your work?
Alan Wilder: “He wasn’t at all. He hadn’t heard of me and I don’t think he’d ever heard of Depeche Mode. He has his own circle in Austin, Texas, where he lives and plays live in his three piece blues band every weekend, he lives in quite a small world in a way.”
Skrufff: It seems an extremely random way to select a musician: how much did you actively seek that random element: how big a role has luck played in your life?
Alan Wilder: “In my life I’ve had a lot of luck. I can remember when I was eighteen and I was convinced, absolutely confident that I would have achieved what I wanted to achieve. I had total self-belief at that age which, looking back, I cannot understand how because I have nothing but self-doubt now. Which I think by the way, it’s a good thing to constantly doubt what you’re doing, but if I had self-doubt when I was eighteen I probably would have never ended up where I did. It’s that confidence that comes with youth that enabled me to make something happen. Whether that was me, or luck, or fate, who knows. I think if you’re positive enough you can make your own luck.”
“I wasn’t arrogant about it, I wasn’t going around the place saying ‘I’m gonna be this or that’, but I had an inner self- belief and I knew, I just knew that music was all I wanted to do. I wasn’t clouded by any other aspiration. Music was the only thing I was interested in. And that kind of helps.”
Skrufff: Why did you want a blues singer/ songwriter in particular: what was it about the blues that attracted you?
Alan Wilder: “Partially the idea of wanting to ‘warm up’ electronic music. To me the extreme opposite of it is the blues, because of the raw, immediate emotions it contains. There’s also the inherent melancholy of the blues, which combined with the ‘coldness’ of electronic music, gives life to something new. I dabbled with it before on my other work to a more or lesser degree by using blues samples or by having the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet on one track of the previous album. This time around it wasn’t a conscious choice but it just happened. Pretty much all the tracks had that slant to them and that’s when I thought ‘let’s find an authentic blues singer to sing them’.”
Skrufff: Joe Richardson shares thoughts on the ‘murkier side of New Orleans life and incarceration’ : what is it about the darker side of life that intrigues you more?
Alan Wilder: “I think the darker side of human nature is always more interesting, more fascinating than any other angle. With me it also seems to be a recurring aspect, which is even more interesting given that I don’t write any of these words and I don’t even dictate to these singers what to write about. It’s all down to their own choices, but there must be something within the music I give them that makes them feel appropriate to come up with these ideas.”
Skrufff: The press release says ‘subHuman asks us to reach within ourselves and extract the very essence of what makes us human’: what do you consider is a person’s essence?
Alan Wilder: “It’s recognising that part of yourself that is able to act out your deepest, darkest thoughts. I don’t think it takes that much twisting to bring that side out of us. It’s in all of us and we see it in our every day cycle of life, look around you and see what people are doing to each other on whichever level. We sit in our comfortable little homes thinking it’s them and not us; well actually it’s in all of us and one day or another we’ll have to face it.”
Skrufff: Why you won’t play live these days?
Alan Wilder: “It doesn’t come natural to me, and it’s not that I’m desperate to go out there and perform either. I don’t need to do it. I liked being on the road, but that I suppose is different. If I’m honest I didn’t particularly enjoy the actual two hours on the stage, though there were of course moments when I did. Moments when I’d get into it and enjoyed the crowd. We had great crowds, but because you’re repeating the production night after night, you’re on an automatic pilot then you switch off from it, it’s not particularly creative. I could have easily bypassed that and enjoyed the travelling, the parties, the people, but not so much the concerts.”
Skrufff: How did those touring experiences affect your regular life?
Alan Wilder: “I did find it a bit of a strain to be on the road all that time, to some extent it led to my divorce, although I think it would have happened anyway. I also had to put on hold any idea of having a family because I didn’t want to be an absent father, so there were many ramifications and that amongst other things was all tied up in my decision to leave Depeche Mode when I did. At that point I really wanted to have a different kind of life that wouldn’t involve this circus.”
Skrufff: Mike Oldfield was chatting about Tubular Bells last week and said the success he experienced was ‘terrible’ (You lose your privacy and can't trust anybody because you don't believe they like you, although they like to be associated with you” ): how much was it like that for you?
Alan Wilder: “I’ve never suffered fools, I could always see through the sycophants. I do think there were lots of people who used to hang around us, and that did have an effect on some of the other band members. I certainly didn’t like to see that, but it’s part of being in the public eye; there will always be those characters around you. We all know that we only have a handful of true friends in this world, most people can count them on one hand and if you say you have anymore than that you’re lying.”
Skrufff: Has success coincided with happiness for you?
Alan Wilder: “Not really, because for some of that time particularly towards the end I wasn’t happy at all. I was being very successful in terms of earnings, but at the same time I was going through a divorce. Material success and happiness to me don’t go hand in hand. The last album we did “Songs of faith and devotion” even though it was the unhappiest album to make it was the best one in terms of music. Probably the worst time we’ve had as a group for not getting on with each other, was during the recording sessions of that album in Madrid, where I think we made the best music we’ve ever made. Two of my favourite Mode tracks were written in that time. Tension worked in our favour musically.”
Skrufff: Dave Gahan famously flat-lined a couple of times from his heroin use: how did you manage to avoid getting into that state?
Alan Wilder: “What drugs? You either have an addictive nature or you don’t. I drink a lot, but I don’t consider myself in any way susceptible to becoming an alcoholic because I can stop at any moment, and sometimes I do. I just have a little break and don’t feel any adverse effects or anything like that. I think it’s in your nature to need a crutch and I don’t feel I need a crutch. Although I enjoy social drinking, I don’t regard it as a crutch.”
Skrufff: What do you make of modern pop culture: see any/ many future Depeche Modes out there?
Alan Wilder: “I don’t think so. It’s partly my age, but I just can’t be bothered to be searching for new music. There’s nothing that immediately hits you from radio and immediate sources, so you have to start searching to find interesting stuff whereas I tend to look through my CD collection instead. Kids may think you’re boring though.”
Skrufff: Well, their idols today are the same ones we used to have even down to their fashion . . .
Alan Wilder: “I know, my twelve year old daughter listens to all kinds of music from the past and she’s really enthusiastic about it, which is really encouraging for us. She also likes new groups though she loves the Sex Pistols and any other punky things I might play to her.”
Skrufff: Anything you’d change looking back?
Alan Wilder: “No really. Probably I shouldn’t have let my first marriage go on as long as it did, but generally I’ve been very lucky and I wouldn’t change that much.”
Recoil’s new single Prey is out now, their new album subhuman is released on July 9, on Mute Records.
Benedetta Ferraro (Skrufff.com)