Exclusive interview with Alan Wilder for depechemodeforum.pl related to the release of SubHuman album
Hello Alan, we should start with questions related to your solo career and Recoil, that is known as your main project.
At first we would like to ask you about your newest album „SubHuman”. Providing for your other solo records, how do you judge it? Don’t you think that this album is some kind of going away from the past musical vibes?
„SubHuman” still supplies many of the typical Recoil trademarks in that it is quite dark with strong atmosphere – so there are definite links to former albums. I think this LP is possibly less experimental and contains more obvious melodies. It is also true that it veers off in a blues direction but this is not unlike a lot of music I have produced in the past, not only on „Liquid” and „Unsound Methods” but also on „Bloodline” and even at times, with Depeche Mode.
You were promoting your album by visiting a few European cities like Berlin, Prague or Moscow. Your fans do really appreciate „SubHuman”. Do you think that such kind of promotion is effective? Have you ever planned to play few concerts?
I accept that unless I play live I am unlikely to attract a great number of new converts to Recoil simply by doing a few interviews etc. However, Recoil has a lot of support, especially in former communist countries and I felt that my presence could only help in nurturing that support. I also think that it is an artist’s responsibility to give something back to those people and I was constantly being told that the fans would appreciate me just making a personal appearance. And they did! There were no plans to play live though.
In 1992 „Bloodline” came to light. Did you think then about a proposal of putting any song from it on „Songs Of Faith And Devotion” (which was put out few months later)? Don’t you think that SOFAD would have been then more electronic and closer to the „dark climates” of Depeche Mode?
Not really. Most of the „Bloodline” songs were co-written with others. I don’t really think they would have suited Depeche Mode anyway.
Who inspired you to write the song „Want”? Was it a woman?
I only wrote the music for „Want”. The lyrics were written by Nicole Blackman so you’d have to ask her about the inspiration. The music came together gradually and, for a long time I wasn’t sure about the track, but PK and Hep kept encouraging me to use it. I really gave it to Nicole as an after-thought and she came up with all the words. In fact, I think it was something that was already in existence as a poem.
Recoil’s music is very original and electric. Do you think that this is the feature which makes some of your songs a great material for a film soundtrack? Have you ever planned to create music for films?
I’ve often said I would like to write a film score and I do think it is something I’d be suited to, but nothing has been offered to me so far that I’m really interested in. I also have a concern about the way the film business works and I’m not sure how adaptable I would be. Being a perfectionist, I don’t work quickly and I’ve done one or two things before for TV where I encountered producers who expected me to knock something off in a week. Worse than that, I’m not sure I could handle some heavy-handed, film executive slashing my music to bits because they need to make edits here or changes there. I’ve heard this happens to other artists and it fills me with dread.
Recoil is a production which is mainly electronic, dark and far from mainstream music and MTV charts. Was it simply natural or intentional to compose such music? Do you think that this is some kind of showing your personal originality?
I just try to let my creativity flow naturally. I do consciously attempt to make music that nobody else is making though – basically something that I personally want to hear – and that does include the unconventional. After all, the typical pop structure can be very predictable and dull.
Samples are your basic tools while composing music. You can create great songs by using only quite simple sounds. Can you work on just one sample for few days and nights? Are you an extreme perfectionist in the area of sounds?
I am a perfectionist and I seem to be getting worse the older I get. That doesn’t mean I can’t finish something or even recognise when an idea isn’t going to work – I just don’t like to put my name to sloppy or lazy work. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing properly.
In the song „Sermon” we can hear some fragments of the radio show in which someone is talking about pope in Polish. Do you know exactly what this person is talking about or was it just unintentional to put such sample? This this also the question about any other samples which are in foreign languages.
I had no idea what the person was saying, and still don’t. I just recorded it from the radio – it was a chance event. I liked the sound but It wasn’t meant to be an integral part of the track, just atmosphere.
Are there any situations while composing when you create final version of song which is absolutely different from a demo version?
I don’t think this has ever happened with Recoil but it was definitely true of some Mode stuff. For example, „Enjoy The Silence” started out as a simple ballad for voice and organ – and this is how Martin thought it should stay. I felt that it would work better as a more up-tempo track and proposed the version you all know. It took some persuasion but he eventually came around and agreed.
As a composer you must also be an listener of music. What bands/artists do you listen to? Are their inspiring while composing new Recoil songs?
I listen to all kinds of music, from all eras. There are too many to mention here. Most recent purchases include the new Radiohead, Robert Wyatt, Burial, Lisa Gerrard, Sigur Ros and K.D. Lang. This is just a very small example though.
It is 30 June 1985, Depeche Mode is playing the last concert of Some Great Reward Tour. It is also the first concert in communist Poland. Do you remember this event? What were your feelings about what you saw behind the Iron Curtain? Did you have any expectations about your Eastern fans?
I don’t remember much to be honest but I know that Warsaw felt very grim and the hotel left a lot to be desired. I recall there being a strange 70’s-style cabaret band in the bar and they only sold bad whisky. The concert is a blur but I’m sure the audience was enthusiastic. They always are in Eastern Europe.
It was characteristic for Depeche Mode tours that there were played different versions of songs than put on the albums, f.e. different beginning in Master And Servant (Masses tour) or famous performance of Everything Counts (101). Was it played live and off-hand or prepared earlier?
We never „jammed” live. It would have been very difficult to do since we always used tapes for certain parts. I used to spend a great deal of time preparing new backing tracks for new live versions.
How do you remember the last show that you gave in Pasadena in 1988? Did it sank into your memory in a special way?
It was a seminal moment for DM in many ways but I can’t say i enjoyed the show that much. Mainly because we had some technical problems and the on-stage sound was very bad. It is only with hindsight that I can see how much it meant to so many people and what effect it had on our career.
Do You like to reminisce with nostalgia to the past times or are you just concentrated on your future without looking back to the past? Do you critisise in your mind the present writings and music of Depeche Mode – f.e. you think that they could do something in a different way?
I can be nostalgic sometimes and listen to past Depeche Mode, but not very often. I’ve heard all the albums since I left but I make a point of not commenting publicly on them.
Are you aware of the fact that your music helped many people to start their own music career? Don’t you think that you are perceived as a teacher from whom many people can learn how to create his/her own piece of music?
This is a very flattering comment that I get quite often from fans. If I have been instrumental in inspiring others towards music then I’m very happy about that.
The last question. What do you plan after „SubHuman”? Are you working or just relaxing after doing a great job? Do you have any new conceptions what will appear on your next albums?
I have recently returned to the studio but I’m not sure what the album concept will be. At the moment I’m trying to get my head around the newly-updated software that the boffins at Apple’s „Logic” have decided to rearrange. It can be quite frustrating to have to go through a learning-curve every time I start a new project but this is just a small one. :-)
Polish fans want to say thank you for finding time and answering their questions. Thank you for your past and future music which means much for us.
You are very welcome. And thanks to everyone in Poland for your support – it does not go unnoticed. Alan Wilder for Devotees – Depeche Mode Forum.
Read also polish translation of this interview with Alan Wilder for members of Devotees board.