Martin Gore makes note of his "old school" tendencies on a recent phone call. He appreciates that music-making technology has become so portable and accessible that people can create with minimal equipment. However, that's not his style.
"I find it very inspirational to be surrounded by equipment," says the Depeche Mode member and solo artist. He works out of his home studio in Santa Barbara, following a fairly regular schedule of noon until 6 or 7 in the evening, and is often looking for new pieces to add to his gear collection. "I have been called a musical instrument hoarder," he says with a chuckle.
Like many a gear aficionado, Gore made the pilgrimage to Orange County musical equipment super-show NAMM last January. Gore stopped by the Moog booth to see pal Christoffer Berg, who worked with Depeche Mode on their 2013 release Delta Machine, and checked the latest in modular synthesizers known as Euroracks. "I'm really into the Eurorack scene," says Gore. "It's just blossoming and flourishing. There is so much stuff coming out all the time."
Unlike thousands of others who gather at Anaheim Convention Center to check out the latest in everything from guitars to DJ equipment, Gore's appearance didn't go unnoticed. It wasn't long before the fan-shot selfies and surreptitiously taken photos of the synth-pop icon popped up on social media networks. There were enough of them to make Modies a little envious that they didn't get a badge for the industry event.
Sure, Gore is a synth star the world over, but he and his Depeche Mode mates hold a special place in Los Angeles, despite the fact that this isn't their hometown. "I think that we were very fortunate to get such huge support in the L.A. area at the beginning of our career and it still continues to this day," he says. "We still get a lot of support and we're still on the radio a lot." And it's not just radio jams that folks love in L.A. Even the B-sides will get crowds dancing, and singing, on the dance floors of clubs across the city.
Gore appreciates that his primary band has been an influence for cross-genre musicians. But, where Depeche Mode has managed to carve out its own space at the intersection of rock and electronic music, his recent solo effort, out April 28 through Mute, distinctly falls into the latter category. Released under his initials, MG, and titled the same, the album is instrumental and evocative of sci-fi themes.
Gore says that, after listening to a handful of tracks, he could hear where the album was heading. "I kind of drifted off into a picture-side of hearing for me, of space and spaceships flying through space, and I thought this really has a sci-fi feel," he says.
MG started with a couple of instrumentals that were temporarily abandoned during the course of making Delta Machine. That's a fairly uncommon turn of events in Gore's writing process. "I'm not one of the most prolific songwriters in the world," he admits.
However, now that Gore and vocalist Dave Gahan share writing duties for Depeche Mode, they end up with a lot of material. In this case, there was simply too much to squeeze onto a deluxe edition. A friend suggested that Gore release an album of instrumentals. After returning from tour, he headed into his home studio to see if that idea worked. It did.
"It's a different discipline," says Gore of working without the usual lyrics and vocal melodies, "but some of the tracks do have a bit of a chord structure, where I do see them in terms of a verse and a chorus."
Of course, Gore has a lot of experience with instrumental tracks. "I really, at some point, will have to add up how many instrumentals I've written since 1981 and I think it will be quite a lot," he says. "I think I will be quite surprised." Plenty of those have landed on Depeche Mode releases, but it's not quite the same thing as knocking out enough to fill a full-length album. "I think this was something very different because it was much more specific — the fact that I was trying to make a whole album, 16 tracks, and trying to make it cohesive and try to make it a piece of art."
Gore says he was going for an "atmospheric" album and that's apparent throughout MG. While a track like "Brink" could work well inside the club, it's the sort of collection that you want to hear at home in one sitting.
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"I still see albums as a piece of art, really," Gore explains. "I'm not from the one-track digital download generation."