Depeche Mode’s death-tinged Memento Mori isn’t about the passing of Andrew Fletcher, Martin Gore says.

The Depeche Mode songwriter talks about the loss of Fletcher, hit song “Ghosts Again” and how it felt to turn 60

By Nick Krewen

Special to the Star

If the Depeche Mode video for their current hit song “Ghosts Again” offers  you a sense of déjà vu, you’re not alone.

Directed by noted photographer and director Anton Corbijn,  the music video reflects the theme of the British electronic outfit’s 15th album Memento Mori, out March 24, and features charter members Martin Gore and David Gahan playing chess in a re-enactment of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman‘s 1957 cinematic classic The Seventh Seal, where Death plays a mortal in a contest to claim his soul.

 “We’ve been working with Anton Corbijn now since 1986 and he’s really the one who is responsible for all of our visual output,” said chief songwriter Martin Gore during an exclusive Zoom chat with the Star earlier this month.

“The video was his idea to use The Seventh Seal reference.  He did the video. He’s designed the stage set. He’s been filming the movies that will be playing behind us on the stage while we’re on tour.”

 Memento mori  – a symbolic or artistic image that reminds one of death’s inevitability –  may be an apt title for the band’s latest opus. 

 Aside from “Ghosts Again,” the theme of – and references to –  mortality are peppered throughout Memento Mori, in such songs as the solemn, synth-driven “My Cosmos Is Mine;” the slightly more animated “Wagging Tongue;” the darkly humourous “Don’t Say You Love Me” and something this writer described to Gore as a “lounge suicide song” called “Soul With Me” that ol’ Blue Eyes himself may have crooned had he been a goth at heart.

 “For me, that’s very interesting – it’s got so many weird influences,” Gore – whose band headlines Scotiabank Arena on April 7 and November 5 – chuckled.

 “I’ve been saying that it sounds a little bit like a weird Beach Boys song;; one where they got  (German composer) Kurt Weill to help them with some of the weirder chords. While that collaboration was together in the room, they were told, ‘Oh, that song has to be a gospel song.'” 

 Of course, one could immediately jump to the conclusion that Memento Mori was influenced by the sudden loss of Depeche Mode co-founder and keyboardist Andrew Fletcher last May due to an aortic dissection, but Gore insists that was hardly the case.

 “For me, the pandemic was obviously a big factor and I think that’s why some of the songs, at least, do deal with death,” Gore explained.  “Also, I did actually turn 60 during the pandemic – and that was a big wakeup call to me as well.”

 In what way?

 “Sixty doesn’t sound that old, but my stepdad actually died at 61, and my biological father died at 68,” he replied. “So, taking those things into account, 60 sounds pretty old.”

While Gore, 61, maintains that Fletcher’s death didn’t play into the overall theme or music on the album, he said that he and singer Gahan used the Memento Mori sessions as a distraction from the tragedy.

“Obviously, the atmosphere during the making of the album would have been a lot different,” he noted. “Andy was a larger than life character and very sociable and chatty.         

“We also managed to use the album as a way to distract us from Andy’s death. We decided to carry on with the schedule that we had, because focusing on music was better than us sitting at home and focusing on the fact that Andy had died. “

Gore says the band, acknowledged for such past stellar million-selling albums as Some Great Reward, Music For The Masses and Violator, wouldn’t miss the impact of Fletcher’s passing creatively as much as personally.

“It was quite well known that Andy wasn’t necessarily very musically involved.  I don’t think the end result of the musical part of the album would have changed that much, but obviously – we had so many firsts, now. 

 “We had to go into the studio and make an album without him.  We had to go and do a photo session without him for the first time. Now, we’ve just been on a promo trip without him. These are all emotional things – I mean, the biggest emotional thing will be going on stage without him. There will be that gaping hole there on the stage where he used to be.”

Gore says he’ll miss Fletcher’s cheerleader spirit.

 “It’s funny, because as me and Dave have often said, he was the band’s biggest fan and even though he wasn’t necessarily involved with the music, he was the one who loved being in the band the most.”

While the band’s doom and gloom approach to most of their material will surprise no one – they’ve sold over 100 million records after Depeche Mode left their fluffy “Just Can’t Get Enough” synth pop beginnings behind 43 years ago with the departure of original co-founder Vince Clarke (who went on to form Yaz, The Assembly and Erasure) – but Gore said there are a few more silver linings in their music these days.

“The album – it’s not all about death and it’s not all depressing,” insisted the man who wrote such incisive tunes as “Blasphemous Rumours,” “Personal Jesus,” and “Walk A Mile In My Shoes .”

“Even ‘Ghosts Again,’ I feel is uplifting.

“It’s interesting, because if you just look at the lyrics as a poem, it would probably sound quite depressing. But somehow, the two work together really well. 

“It almost sounds like we’ve managed to make a universal song, because it’s getting played (on radio) everywhere, but it’s also getting a lot of love from a lot of alternative people, too. It’s getting a lot of universal respect.

“And ‘Wagging Tongue,” – which I think will end up being the second single, is, again, very pop for us and about as commercial as we get – but not as commercial as compared to some people.”

The other big surprise about Memento Mori is Gore’s new songwriting partner: The Psychedelic FursRichard Butler.

Gore, who usually writes solo or occasionally teams up with Gahan for the band’s songs, teams up with Butler for four songs, including “Caroline’s Monkey,” in which the phrasing really reminds one of the Furs’ gravel-voiced singer.

“That’s something I’ve never done before – especially for Depeche Mode,” Gore admitted. “Richard reached out to me via text early on during the pandemic and said we should write some songs together. I said, ‘okay, let’s do it’ and we ended up writing six.

“I liked them so much that I called him and said, ‘how do you feel about me using them for Depeche? ‘ And he said, ‘I’m happy for you to use them.’ I was very pleased with that, so four (“Ghosts Again,” “Don’t Say You Love Me,” “Favourite Stranger” and “Caroline’s Monkey”) ended up on  the album.”

Gore says the experience may break him out of his usual songwriting solitude.

“I think I’m open more  to collaborating with people now,” he admitted. “I used to think that maybe I’d lose my way a bit by trying to work on collaborations, but it seems to work very well.”