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Catching up with Depeche Mode

By Jennifer Vineyard, Special to CNN
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Wed April 24, 2013
Depeche Mode has been making hits for more than three decades.
Depeche Mode has been making hits for more than three decades.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Depeche Mode has more than 30 years in the music industry
  • Famous fans include Coldplay and Frank Ocean
  • The group will soon kick off a tour

(CNN) -- Thank Depeche Mode for, shall we say, introducing interesting concepts to the bedroom.

At least, that's what one female fan said during the band's recent panel promoting its13th album "Delta Machine" at South by Southwest. The fan noted that the group's music has helped, umm, set the romantic mood for some.

Reminded of this, songwriter (and sometimes singer) Martin Gore chuckled. "Yeah, that was funny," he told CNN. "Someone once said to us, 'Do you realize how many babies were conceived listening to 'Somebody'?' "

Could the band's repertoire -- which includes songs such as "Master and Servant" (with its pre-"50 Shades of Grey" references to BDSM), "Strangelove," "Stripped," and "A Question of Lust," -- have worked as an instructional manual for fans? Gore's songwriting at its "Goriest" provided a sexual initiation of sorts into a world that blurred the lines between pain, pleasure, love, guilt, and sin.

Sex "is one of the themes I've tackled over the years, because it's something important, and it's something I feel passionate about," Gore said. "But we weren't analyzing it."

Front man Dave Gahan's vocals push the carnal implications, but when Gore added his own voice, it gave a layer of pensive, tortured tenderness. And though Gore might have pushed the sexual concepts visually -- appearing on stage in women's lingerie, skirts, and bondage gear -- the message was a plea to "understand me." A deeper dig into the band's lyrics over a 30 years also yields themes about world politics, socialism, racism and religion. But it was a pre-emo appeal to the alienated and introverted that made Depeche Mode a bridge between the industrial/electronic/goth and pop worlds, making them one of the largest arena acts still considered a cult band.

"I don't know how we managed it," Gore said, "but we're just outside the mainstream. We don't sound like the mainstream. So even in areas where we're extremely popular, we're seen as more of an underground band. Even in Germany, where we're one single away from having more top 10 singles than the Beatles, we're still seen as a cult band, and we have that mystique about us."

Bands such as Röyksopp, Coldplay, Linkin Park, the Killers, and Arcade Fire all cite Depeche Mode as an influence. "It's incredible," Gore said, citing his surprise at Susan Boyle's cover of "Enjoy the Silence." His favorites of the covers of the band's songs include the Smashing Pumpkins' version of "Never Let Me Down Again," and the Johnny Cash version of "Personal Jesus."

"That was very special and unbelievable," he said. "I really didn't think that it was reality when that happened. Someone told me they heard it on the radio, and I said, 'No, you must be mistaken.' "

When Frank Ocean recently introduced himself as a super fan, Gore was happy to make his acquaintance. "We happened to be in the same studio complex, and he was working downstairs with Alicia Keys," Gore recalled. "And toward the end of our session, he asked our engineer if he could come in and have a listen, so when we finished the song, he walked over and said hello. And then he said, 'I've got a track, I'd love to play it for you, I've love for you to do something on it.' And it was really good."

Gore stayed an extra day at the studio to add some material to the then-untitled track, which might find its way on Ocean's next album. "I have no idea whether he'll actually use the pieces we did on there, but hopefully it will surface one day! It sounded really good," he said.

Not a Depechie, however? Simon Cowell. The reality show judge recently became a target when Gore criticized him, joking that Cowell should be shot for his crimes against pop music. Cowell, naturally, shot back with his own vitriol. In response to the fracas, a gun range in Las Vegas added a target of Cowell for anyone wishing to take up Gore's suggestion. "That's funny," Gore laughed. "It was pleasantly reassuring to see how many people seemed to side with me!"

Gore's songs usually start out in a simple style -- "Enjoy the Silence," for instance, originally was a stripped-down affair with Gore singing over an organ sound. "It was meant to be pastoral, and Alan (Wilder) at the time had the idea to put a beat to it," Gore recalled, laughing. "I was like, 'What?! That's going against everything it's saying!' But we tried it, and then I put the guitar riff on it, and then something magical happened, and it became the first or second most popular track we ever recorded. I guarantee you it wouldn't have been, if we had kept the harmonium version."

For the songs that Gahan wrote this time around, such as "Broken," the band altered them "a bit more to fit the whole sonic picture of the album," he said. And some songs, whether consciously or unconsciously, allude to the band's entire sonic history -- a little bit of "Personal Jesus" pokes through "Soothe My Soul."

"I keep going back to that Gary Glitter beat!" Gore said.

Depeche Mode is currently rehearsing in Los Angeles for its upcoming world tour. The European stadium leg kicks off May 7 through July 29, with North America starting August 22 in Detroit and ending October 8 in Phoenix.

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