A Conversation with Alan Wilder (Recoil/ex-Depeche Mode) by Jason Beaulieu
Recoil, Alan Wilder’s musical project, will be performing at Club Soda on October 28th with Architect and Conjure One. Alan Wilder was a member of Depeche Mode from 1982 to 1995. He started Recoil in ‘86 as “an antidote to working within a pop format.” Once he left DM, he was able to concentrate on Recoil, releasing Unsound Methods in 98, Liquid in 2000 and subHuman in 2007. The “Selected” compilation and series of successful live dates last spring saw Wilder return to the stage after a 16-year absence. Alan and Recoil teammate Paul Kendall are back with a second series of concerts this fall in the U.S., Canada and a few South American dates. I spoke to Mr. Wilder in Seattle by phone about his return to live performances, the Montreal scene and a little album called Violator...
JB: Saturday Oct.16th was the first show (in Dallas) on this new leg of the tour. How did it go?
AW: It went really well but it was weird for us because we were so jet-lagged. It was a late show, so by the time we got on stage, it was seven in the morning for us! Plus, we had some last minute film editing to do. So we had 3-4 laptops open, desperately trying to finish off what we had prepared, because we have three new films on this leg of the tour. So, it was slightly chaotic, but in terms of how the show went, the crowd was great and everything actually worked out fine!
JB: You had a successful first leg of shows back in the spring, how did it feel to be back on the road after a 16-year “break” from touring?
AW: For the first show on the first leg of the tour, I was completely petrified! I didn’t know what to do with myself and I was very self-conscious. But having done that first leg of the tour, I can relax, enjoy it and I feel more prepared. I’ve also given myself more things to do on this leg of the tour. We’ve added more elements to the performance and changed a few things around. There are a lot of new bits to work with.
JB: Without giving anything away, can you talk about these new additions?
AW: The basic set-up hasn’t changed. Paul and I still use the giant screen and our laptops and keyboards, but the musical content has changed. I’ve made it a bit more snappy and thrown in some elements that I think the crowd will want to hear. The advantage of the first European tour is that it gave us the chance to see what works and what doesn’t. I think we have a more dynamic set-up and we’ve added three new films to go with the music.
JB: What was the initial spark that made want to go back on the road?
AW: When we were talking about promoting the “Selected” compilation, we wanted to do something different and more challenging. At the very beginning, there wasn’t even mention of a tour. But as we decided to release the album in different formats, the “art installation” style of the shows was the way to go. The whole thing just evolved, there was no master plan.
JB: You wrote an interesting editorial about the state of the music business about two years ago. Has anything changed since then?
AW: I think record companies have woken up and realised that releasing different audio formats of an album is a good idea. It’s like selling a car: You can offer a model with all the added extras or you can go with a basic model. People can choose what they want. Offering all the formats at the right price is viable, you know. It feels good from an artistic point of view because the artist is able to indulge his every whim and the consumer gets what he wants...so everyone “should” be happy (laughs).
(Recoil has released a series of free remixes of “Want” in the mp3, Wave, M4A lossess and FLAC formats.)
JB: Knowing that you have the technological means to take Recoil on the road, will you keep that in mind when you start working on the next album?
AW: I don’t think it will affect the “writing of.” To me performing and writing are two different things, but you obviously have that in the back of your mind. It’s always been a problem knowing how to present (Recoil) live and it’s only recently that I came to the conclusion that there is really only ONE way of presenting the music live, which is what I’m doing now. Therefore I have no idea how I could present another show without repeating myself. A live band is the more traditional, rock and roll thing to do, but I’m not interested in that so I really don’t know what to do next. Can you tell me? (laughs)
JB: Erm, no not really! But I guess the software you use (Ableton Live) allows you to change your performance every night.
AW: Our show doesn’t change every night, but there are effects that we can play around with to a certain point. We don’t change things around too much because we have to follow the visual aspect of the show, which is as important. But that’s the way I like to do things: everything is prepared and precise. It’s not that spontaneous. Architect (on tour with Recoil), on the other hand, tends to make it up on the spot. Like the other night in Dallas, the pre-show dj played something that affected Architect’s set-list so he went back stage on his laptop and changed things around. Later on, the pre-show dj played another song that affected the set list and he said “Fuck it! I have to change my set up again!” So he went back to is computer and changed it again! I’m very impressed by how he can change his performance “on the fly.” I’m not that clever...
JB: You haven’t been to Canada for a while...
AW: It’s true, I haven’t been to Canada since my last tour with Depeche Mode (in 1994). How is the music scene like these days?
JB: Well, have you heard of a little band called Arcade Fire?
AW: Oh yeah...
JB: Montreal has a nice electro scene.
AW: Talking to promoters in Canada, I was told that it’s very difficult to stir up interest for bands (like Recoil). Vancouver, for example, is not one of our stops. I was told not to bother because no one goes out in Vancouver anymore! Which is a bit worrying isn’t it?
JB: I don’t think it’s the case in Montreal because we have a very healthy electro/house scene. Events like the Electronik Piknic showcases dj’s from all around the world. Electro is big over here and I think Recoil fits in that!
AW: Hopefully those people will come along to the show!
JB: Can I ask you a Depeche Mode Question?
JB: This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Violator. What are your impressions of that album nowadays?
AW: I think it was a very solid, well-produced album of its time. It stands the test of time in terms of content. It’s not my favourite Mode album, but I can understand why it was so successful. It was the right album at the right time. It really kicked the band forward in the US. Personal Jesus was released six months before Violator came out. Its success simmered over six months and became such a huge club hit that by the time Violator came out, everybody was ready for the album. It culminated in a lot of mainstream radio play and a successful tour. The Warehouse event in L.A. also got us a lot of free publicity on the news because of the so-called riot. It wasn’t a riot, but the news called it that way, so we gained a lot of notoriety in very few weeks. Enjoy the Silence, which is our biggest hit, is also on that album, so it does stand the test of time. It’s my second favourite album after Song of Faith and Devotion.
JB: Would you ever consider working with Flood again? (Flood produced Violator and SOFAD)
AW: Yeah, I’d always like to work with Flood, but I don’t know on what. He’s a very talented producer. I’m surprised he hasn’t done much these days. I’ve bumped in to him a couple of times but he seems to have gone into the wilderness a bit. He produced that Sigur Ros album ("With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly") which I wasn’t so crazy about though...
JB: Sigur Ros is popular over here. Montreal seems to have a preference for European bands I guess.
AW: Yes, Canada in general has always been a bit more European anyway and Montreal even more so.
JB: Absolutely! Is there an after-party planned for the Montreal show?
AW: Not at the moment, but I always hang around after a gig and sign a few things, meet fans, so there’s always something going around.
JB: Thank you Mr. Wilder and we’ll see you on the 28th!
AW: Thanks! Cheers!
Recoil, with Architect and Conjure One “ @ Club Soda Oct 28.
Click here for free Recoil remixes:
To read Alan’s editorial on the state of the music business: