Stereo MCs

The Stereo MCs are back after a few years in the wilderness with a new label, a new record Paradise, and new positive outlook. Speaking with Nick Hallam from the band was an interesting experience. Listening to someone who has experienced the worst of what the fickle music industry has to offer, but someone who’s still positive about the band’s musical future, gives even jaded music reporter like myself some hope that beyond marketing, money and managers, music is still the most important thing.

Even though the core group of people who form the Stereo MCs – Rob Birch, the indomitable front man of the group, writer and instrumentalist Nick Hallam, and singer Stephanie Mckay – have been on the road and in each others face on tour busses for quite a long time, there is still a great deal of love for each other. “If we’re not making music, we go to Rob’s house and listen and play records, play some table football, that kind of thing,” says Hallam.

Hallam claims there is quite a lot of optimism now about all aspects of the group. “We toured Deep Down and Dirty for about a year or two after the release,” he says of the last few years. “It was a bit of a weird time really. Because Deep Down and Dirty didn’t sell as well as Connected, the record company started becoming a bit negative, and we felt we had to get away from them.”

Things then changed quite dramatically in the Stereo MCs camp. “We fired our manager and we carried on doing quite a lot of live shows for a number of years and then got back into the writing process. In the meantime we were sorting out our legal troubles as our manager took us to the lawyers. And after that all got sorted out, we got out of our deal with Island Records, which we thought of as a corporate record company and we didn’t feel anything for them. Then we got a new manager, who is really positive and helped us start our own label, and we started to get our confidence back.”

Not surprisingly, the legal and contractual problems left a bad taste in the group’s mouth. “There was so much negativity around us at that stage that we kind of lost the plot a little bit, we thought it was all a bit pointless, we didn’t feel as though we were part of something anymore. Island were acting like a bank and we just felt de-motivated by the whole thing,” he laments. “But now we feel it’s a new start – we’ve got the new label, we’re doing it kind of low key really, but we’re establishing a firm base for ourselves again to build something. We’ve done some live shows around the UK and Europe and it’s been real nice, it’s feeling good, as good as when we first started even,” he enthuses. “It’s refreshing.”

“After Connected we had a few bad years where we shouldn’t have been in the studio. We needed to get some fresh juice really. We did the DJ Kicks thing for K7! and it kick started us into making records again. When we did Deep Down and Dirty we felt really good about it, because we had broken through a hurdle for ourselves in terms of actually making a record, so we were a bit disappointed at how the record label treated us like a fucking donkey, you know what I mean?” he laughs.

“But now I think we have control over what we are doing, we’ve got our shit back and we’re feeling more inspired than we have done for about 10 years. Once we cleared the decks of all the bullshit, got rid of people who had grudges against us because we hadn’t made them rich,” he chuckles. “Now we got a new team who have an open minded, positive approach to us and what we were doing, and it has became about making a good record and having fun doing it.”

Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode is one of the stalwarts of the alternative music scene. They’ve been making music which is both moving and emotional for 25 years, have been through various line ups, and have endured all the hardships and highlights that a quarter of a century in the music industry could throw at them. “We feel really privileged to have worked for 25 years,” says Martin Gore, the lead songwriter of the band since Vince Clarke left in the early 80s. “It’s kind of nice being around for so long, it means parents can introduce their kids to us,” he laughs gently.

Alternative is not a word they take to lightly however, as selling over 50 million records is hardly “alternative”. But they do have a distinctive style, a style that puts them almost in a genre of their own making. The floaty vocals, the dark, electro synths and emotionally charged lyrics have kept them in a mystical place aurally, the province of Goths and other alternative subcultures, although they’ve appeared on Top of the Pops numerous times, and charting in the Top 10 with 13 album release. “We don’t really make music for any one group of people,” Gore states, “this album is aimed at anyone, our old diehard fans and new fans alike.”

Depeche Mode has never felt the need to branch out. “We leave that for our remixers,” he chuckles. They synth lines and dream-world vocals lend themselves to electronic remixes especially, and they’ve been remixed by nearly every big name in the electronic music scene since the 80s, including Flood, DJ Shadow, Kruder + Dorfmeister, Speedy J and Portishead. They even offered their tunes Dream On and I Feel Love from Exciter up for fans on the AcidPlanet website, although Martin isn’t too keen on doing that again, although he wouldn’t go into further details.

But this is almost like mutual obligation, considering that Depeche Mode pioneered synth and sample based electronic music, influencing everyone from Portishead to Derrick May. I was surprised to hear that they had asked Ben Hillier, who has produced the acclaimed Doves release Some Cities, and Blur’s classic Think Tank, to produce their latest album. “Ben Hillier isn’t known for working on electronic bands, so we were surprised and excited when he turned up with all this vintage synth gear,” Gore says. “We used both old and new technologies on this album, a bit of re-wire on a Mac G-5, along with the old synths.”

However, despite claims that Hillier hadn’t listened to the back catalogue he was supplied, he did add a little something to the band. Although the band went into the studio with an open mind, they were surprised with Hillier’s ‘down to business’ attitude. “We’ve always thought we worked quickly with other producers, but Ben worked with us really fast,” Gore exclaims, “it was probably the quickest recording session we’ve ever done, and it was great,” he adds with the touch of a smile.

The new album is also a little more upbeat, but that’s a little like saying a slug is faster than a snail. “Melancholically upbeat” laughs Gore, agreeing with me. In the press release it claims that Dave Gahan, the main vocalist said: “It’s better being in Depeche Mode now than it has been for 15 years!” “It’s probably because he’s feeling good about himself and his health,’ Gore says, a veiled reference to Gahan’s drug troubles in the 90s. “He also wrote a few tracks on the album (I Want It All, Suffer Well and Nothing’s Impossible), and I guess that makes him feel more attached to the creative process this time around, which is a great thing for the band as a whole. I feel excited to have a new album and keen to get on the road for our world tour in 2006.”