VCMG, the new project by synthpop pioneers Vince Clarke and Martin Gore, marks the first time the two musicians have worked together since they were both members of Depeche Mode in the early Eighties. In the time since, Gore carried on with Depeche Mode, while Clarke went on to success as one half of Yazoo and Erasure. Ssss, the duo's debut, is a bold, instrumental techno record that is clearly informed by recent trends in electronic music yet consistent with their respective bodies of work. Rolling Stone caught up with Martin Gore to discuss how he reconnected with Clarke after three decades apart, and what's coming up next for Depeche Mode.
How did you get back together with Vince Clarke? It had been about three decades since you recorded Speak & Spell.
It really was a bit of a shock when I found an email from Vince one day, because we're not in the habit of sending emails to each other. I mean, I don't think I've ever received an email from Vince. But I got one, and it just said very simply, "I'm thinking of making a techno album. Are you interested in collaborating? There are no deadlines or pressures. What do you think?" And that was basically the email. And it came at a really good time, because I was on a downtime from Depeche. We'd finished a tour and we didn't have any imminent plans. So, I thought it sounded like it could be fun. I've been into techno music for a while now. It seemed like a good thing to try out.
What was your relationship with Vince like in the time since being in Depeche Mode together?
Um, it hasn't been good or bad, really. It's been more non-existent. [Laughs] We obviously have seen each other very, very occasionally since he left the band in 1981. But really, I can count the number of times on two hands – it's probably less than ten – the number of times that we've met each other in those 30 years.
What was it like reconnecting as musicians?
It was good. You know, I really appreciated all the things that Vince was doing on the tracks. And I think musically, what he was coming up with was very, very creative. Because we haven't worked together, or even really known each other very well, for the last 30 years, I think that the way we chose to do the album was perfect, because we did the whole thing via email and file-sharing. We just got on with our own thing in our own studios and then sent files backwards and forwards. We didn't actually get to talk at all, even on the phone, until we'd almost finished the whole project. And then we had a conference call with Daniel from Mute and my manager and Vince's manager. And we had to discuss things, like, "What are we going to call ourselves?" "We got any ideas for an album title or artwork?" Things like that.
Were you on the same page in terms of techno influences going into this project?
We really didn't talk about it too much. As Vince had come up with the idea, he started off by sending me a couple of tracks, and they had the germs of an idea there. And I listened to it, and if there was something I didn't like, I would take it out and add stuff onto that and get it up to the point where I thought it was going in a good direction. Then I'd send it back to Vince and he would do the same, maybe take some things out, add a few extra things, send it back to me. And that went on until we got to about version four and five, where we were both happy and felt like they were ready to be mixed. And nobody was pressured, and there was no real conflict in the making of the album. It was all very easy-going.
Was it a deliberate decision to have there be no vocals on the record?
Yes. I think it would've been completely wrong because, you know, I don't think we were going to sit down and write a whole album with lyrics. And then to have, like, a couple of tracks on there with words or whatever, I think it would've just diluted and confused the whole thing.
Was it refreshing for you both, since you both work with singers in your main bands?
Yeah, but I think it goes against the ethos of techno music, really. I think the thing that I like about techno music is it's kind of almost caveman-like, a Neanderthal drive. And the fact that, you know, it's funny. Whenever there is a vocal in techno, it's usually a vocal that's slightly comical. I think we just wanted to avoid all that.
What else have you been working on recently? Is there a new Depeche Mode album in the works?
We finished this project last May or something. Since then I've been working on writing songs for Depeche. And we are about to embark on a whole new project. We're starting in the studio at the end of March, hoping to have an album finished by the end of the year, and then probably getting to the whole touring process in 2013.
I think it's too early, really, to talk about [the record], because everybody is quite happy with the actual sound of the demos, which is quite reassuring and a bit of a novelty. We feel like we've got a head start on this album before we even got to the studio. It probably won't be out until spring next year.
Listen to 'Single Blip (Matthew Jonson Remix)'