Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Interview with Recoil (and ex-Depeche Mode) mastermind Alan Wilder

A version of my Recoil interview originally appeared in the North County Times and can be viewed at the link below: Photo courtesy of Mute Records. 

Upcoming concerts include Friday at the El Rey Theatre in LA, Saturday at Anthology in San Diego and Sunday at the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana. For more info, go to

Technological advances have multiple benefits. One became the catalyst for Recoil’s long-awaited transition from studio to concert entity.

The electronic music project had never presented in a live context because sonic architect Alan Wilder always felt it needed to be accompanied by films.

“Up until recently, that would’ve been too expensive. [Everything] has changed these days with cheap editing software and high quality small cameras,” said the former Depeche Mode member, during a recent phone interview at home in England.

Then there was the matter of Recoil’s various singers, spread out across the world. “The music is put together in such an unusual way, I couldn’t imagine a band playing it.” 

Last week, Recoil launched its inaugural American tour, which heads to San Diego on Saturday - Wilder’s first area appearance since November 1993 with Depeche Mode.

“I want to stress that it’s not a live band. There’s not a bunch of musicians and vocalists coming along. What we do is an audio/visual presentation designed to work in the live arena. We obviously do some live performance on top of what’s prepared, but it’s very much a visual feast,” Wilder explained.

“It almost runs as a continuous piece and constantly changes. You never quite know what’s coming next. The idea is to get people moving. It’s quite lively in that respect. The music is stripped back and pumps quite hard. We want it to be loud and work on that level.”

Over the course of five Recoil albums since 1988, Wilder has worked with a diverse crop of vocalists: Nitzer Ebbs Douglas McCarthy, Diamanda Galas, Toni Halliday of Curve, spoken word artist/novelist Maggie Estep, Delta blues guitarist Joe Richardson and Moby, among them. All but the latter are represented on “Selected,” a new career retrospective assembled by Wilder and musical partner/Mute Records engineer Paul Kendall.

When Mute wanted to bring people up to speed and said Wilder could put anything on it, he found the process was like having “an open book…I really just applied simple logic and took important tracks I knew had to be there.

“It was like a sports team: you get the key players and build the rest around that. My main criteria was it should work as a whole listen. The really old stuff didn’t sit right, so most material is from the last three recordings.”

From Galas’ odd intonations set to a jazzy dance groove (“Strange Hours”) and McCarthy’s fierce vocals on a propulsive Sensational Alex Harvey Band cover (“Faith Healer”) to ethereal (“Allelujah”), gospel (“Red River Cargo”), luxurious trip-hop (“Drifting”) and harrowing tunes that would fit on an old David Lynch movie soundtrack, “Selected” is a solid primer for the uninitiated. The deluxe version features remixes.

“I’m not really in a position to farm out music to expensive remixers, so I choose people I think are enthusiastic and keen and have something a bit unusual to offer. Or we do them ourselves…it’s a mish mash of different people and mixes over the years.”

Wilder utilized the talents of The Black Ships, a new band containing two ex-members of The Verve and violinist Davide Rossi (Goldfrapp, Coldplay, Royksopp) on the eerie “Strange Hours ’10” remix.

He sent them “a very basic version of that song and said, ‘play along; give me anything.’ I didn’t even go in the room with them. They sent it to me…then I deciphered the best bits and put it together. That’s actually how I work a lot, which I really enjoy.”

Classically trained, Wilder joined Depeche Mode in 1982 following Vince Clarke’s departure. The keyboardist was integral to the creative process, playing assorted instruments, writing a few songs on “Construction Time Again” and “Some Great Reward” and later pushing the band into more experimental directions.

Wilder left the global music phenomenon in 1995 to devote more time to Recoil and start a family with his new wife. “Being in a group didn’t suit me anymore. I’d grown out of it. The idea of a democratic vote for every musical idea didn’t sit too well with me.”

Frequently dark and uncommercial, Recoil was the polar opposite to Depeche Mode. Wilder didn’t necessarily seek refuge from the spotlight, but admitted “I’m not into compromising what I do to cater to a particular market. I’m lucky enough to survive comfortably off what I do now and…I enjoy having the freedom of an open ended project that can go in any direction.”

Back in February, Wilder briefly reunited with Depeche Mode onstage for the first time in 15 years at a London charity performance. He played piano on “Somebody.”

“It was out of the blue. They only asked me a couple weeks before that. I don’t think Depeche Mode had ever been involved in any charity event, so it was quite unusual they were doing that in the first place. I thought, ‘that sounds like a great idea. [The Teenage Cancer Trust] is a good cause and a great chance to catch up. That’s exactly what it was.”

Wilder discovered a few things while watching Depeche Mode’s set as an outsider. 

“It was the first time ever and a real eye-opener, because you have a different perspective from the audience than you do from the stage. I had mixed feelings; some parts were better than others. There were certainly moments where I suddenly saw what the appeal was. I understood why this particular group manages to come across in a live setting. I realized Dave is very good at controlling the audience and having them in the grasp of his hand. It’s something I hadn’t quite understood until that moment.”

If Wilder had to choose which Depeche Mode album still stands the test of time, he’d opt for his final effort with the group, “Songs of Faith and Devotion.”

“It was more fluid sounding and complex” than [quadruple platinum predecessor] “Violator.” I didn’t enjoy making [‘Devotion’] too much, but there was a certain difficult chemistry, which actually helped. Isn’t that a rock ‘n’ roll cliché? Through that adversity, we actually got good results.

“We went to Madrid, hired a house and lived together - a terrible mistake. In 10 weeks, we got three songs recorded (“In Your Room,” “Walking in My Shoes,” “I Feel You”) and those were probably the three strongest Depeche Mode have ever done!”

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