Electrogarden Network Interview

Taken from Electrogarden Network
By: Electrogarden editorial team

Reaching unprecedented success while molding sound and honing the production for Depeche Mode, spanning over a decade in the 80's and into the 90's, Alan Wilder reached a personal pinnacle and left the group to explore musical frontiers that were otherwise unreachable in the DM format. While many fans and industry types questioned Alan's decision to move on from the stadium-filling venues that DM had reached, the path for Alan was clear and Recoil was officially born in the aftermath. Alan, finally able to manipulate the music with total freedom and working within established relationships at Mute Records is expressing what had perhaps been suppressed during the DM years. It is relatively easy to see that Recoil releases require a far greater breadth of creativity, imposing on and challenging the astute listener to appreciate the layered intricacies of the music, unbound from predictable structures. Recoil is not a band in standard form, it is a project of expression without preset terms, enrolling various contributors, incorporating a myriad of styles and instrumentation, and approaching, in many ways, a cinematic feel. In modern times, Alan and Recoil have their own following, separate from the popularity that DM brought to the table for many years, yet many DM fans still yearn for Alan's "touch" to return there, even if for a single effort. Alan was kind enough to relay some this in his own words in an interview with Electrogarden.

EN: When did you first start thinking about Recoil? Was there something about being in Depeche Mode that left you unfulfilled musically, and if so what was it?
AW: I can't remember the exact date but it was around the mid-eighties. And it was really an accident. The first recording was never intended to be released - it was just me experimenting with a sampler by chopping up large chunks of existing Mode material (+ other stuff) and seeing if there was a way I could reconstruct it within a completely different context. It was only when I played it to Dan Miller and the idea of cutting a 12" transpired that I recognised I had the beginnings of a solo project.

EN: What were the circumstances that led to your decision to finally leave Depeche Mode? Was there any one event that finally made that happen? Can you describe how the rest of the band found out and give us some insight into Martin's, Dave's, and Andy's immediate reaction to the news? (Sort of a soap opera perspective)
AW: The reasons were complicated - an amalgamation of factors which had been building and meant that I wasn't enjoying life very much. I decided that I wouldn't make another record while stuck in a Madrid villa during the recording of 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion' (living with the other band members helped bash the nails into the coffin) but I wanted to complete the proposed 'Devotional' tour first, partly because I enjoyed being on the road and partly because I didn't have to spend all my time in close proximity with the others. When the tour was completed, I checked myself to see if I still felt the same - and I did - so I announced my departure by calling a meeting at the Mode office. I hadn't been able to speak with Dave (who was living in LA) despite having left several 'phone messages. I informed the other two of my decision and then faxed Dave (which seemed my only option) to which I got mixed reactions. None from Dave, a handshake and a shrug from Martin and aggressive indignation from Fletch.

EN: I've read somewhere that you do not consider yourself a songwriter, but rather someone that structures music and sounds, performing the orchestration of the pieces, sort of orthogonal to the whole natural songwriting process. Can you elaborate on where you see your strengths and weaknesses in that domain?
AW: Well that's pretty much it. For me it's exciting to have a vocal melody, a great voice and a set of lyrics to work with. From there, I think I can build a piece of music which can illustrate what the song's all about by, firstly, creating an atmosphere. Once that feels right, the rest of the process is structural, rather like finishing a complicated jigsaw, and I gradually fit all the elements together and refine the sound.

EN: In your own words, exactly how is Recoil a project versus a band?
AW: In many ways it is completely opposite to working within a band. There is no democracy, no pandering to ideas which I don't recognise or agree with, no compromises - although when I do bring in a singer or lyricist, I give them a virtually free rein (in that they can method act but I will edit the result). Sometimes, being alone can cause difficulties when trying to motivate yourself and the lack of support or feedback can be daunting. However, I enjoy the process of experimentation and the idea that I can just take as long as I feel like to complete a piece.

EN: Do you feel that this choice has been an impediment to Recoil's popularity since people often associate more frequently with stable band lineups?
AW: The main aspect that outsiders have a problem with is the lack of a permanent vocalist. This worries radio producers apparently - because it's too much for their small brains to absorb.

EN: What about Recoil live? How would you transpose the multiple collaborators in the studio to a live performance? Would you bring everyone to the show or is there a separate approach?
AW: I wouldn't even try it.

EN: What is the collaboration process like with Alan Wilder? Are the collaborators controlled in the studio? How much freedom is there for the collaborators own ideas to make into a Recoil release?
AW: As I touched on, collaborators are chosen carefully but then given space to do their thing, otherwise it would be pointless bringing in people with differing talents. So, as long as I have some kind of basis for a piece of music, with an atmosphere which I'm happy with, then I farm it out to whoever I feel is appropriate (sometimes more than one person). From there, we discuss and then record after which, I prefer that they leave me to reconstruct their raw material within my constantly updating piece and the whole thing is finally wrestled into shape.

EN: What do you think about some of the Electronic Pop music being made today? Bands like Mesh and De/Vision are the new leaders of this movement that started in the mid 90's - sort of like Depeche Mode was in the mid to late 80's. There are also plenty of far lesser known releases on labels like A Different Drum in the US - Do you think that we are in an upswing for the Synthpop movement?
AW: There seems to be a lot of electronic/industrial music around but, to be honest, I don't listen to much of it. I couldn't tell you who's who these days. I tend to listen to odd music, either for nostalgic reasons or because the I'm drawn towards unusual styles. I'm not actually all that interested in electronic - funnily enough, most of it leaves me cold.

EN: What does you gear look like these days? How do you prefer to record, reels or digital?
AW: I use ProTools with Logic for most of it, with two 21" monitors. Everything runs live for total flexibility and I'm always in a mix situation, balancing as I go. Sounds go through a Neve console and I have a selection of outboard valve gear to warm up the digital. See website for full gear list.

EN: Are you involved heavily in the actual engineering of the audio or do you mainly stay with the pre-production aspect of things?
AW: As it's one continuous process, I don't divide the two. I do most of the sampling and structural work in the computer alone but I do like to bring in an engineer towards the end of a project. With the last LP, Paul Kendall helped a lot with effects and so on. It's also good to get a different view on the mix at a later stage.

EN: What do you think about software-based synthesis and digital filter processing and some of the newer technologies like the evolving ProTools platform with plug-ins that are removing the need for traditional outboard gear? Do you think that paradigm is the future of recording?
AW: I still like to have some outboard gear around, particularly compressors, tape delay etc. although the digital domain is getting more and more impressive.

EN: How has working with Mute been as far as Recoil goes? Are there any artistic disputes or are you free to create as you choose?
AW: I've generally had a good relationship with Daniel Miller (who controls Mute) in that he has always respected my opinion and desires for the project - something that I imagine would have been difficult to get away with at many other companies. Mute do seem to give their artists space to develop naturally although they can also be too laid back. Perhaps a little pressure wouldn't be such a bad thing. Unfortunately, I don't think they have a clue how to market my music - so they just wait until I give them something and then go through their usual 'reactive' marketing approach. This can be frustrating and I must admit I'm finding it increasingly difficult to get enthused about making more records which will receive little support and will be perceived as 'difficult'.

EN: Is there an artistic path that you have in mind for Recoil? What can we expect stylistically in the future releases?
AW: Not sure yet.

EN: Have you ever considered releasing something in a Pop format?
AW: Not specifically, although I do think that some Recoil tracks are quite commercial, such as 'Jezebel' for example.

EN: Is there any chance of your working with Depeche Mode again?
AW: Little chance - they wouldn't ask me and I'd be unlikely to accept;-)

EN: How is your current relationship with Dave, Martin, and Andy?
AW: With Dave and Martin it is friendly enough although we only see each other occasionally. I don't really know about Fletch because I haven't seen or spoken with him for about 5 years.

EN: Thank you again, Alan: from all of us at the Electrogarden Network.
AW: You're welcome. Let us know when you have something on line so that we can link to it with a news item.

© 1999-2012 Recoil.CZ