Depeche Mode’s new album is titled Memento Mori, Latin for “remember, you will die,” and it sounds like a dark set of songs from a band known for them. “It’s the perfect title for this record,” Dave Gahan tells Billboard after a Berlin press conference on Tuesday (Oct. 4) to announce the album and a tour that starts March 23 in Sacramento, Calif. “All the songs lean into that idea that life is fleeting and life is cruel, and it can also be joyous and celebratory, but it has to end.”
Gahan and bandmate Martin Gore came up with the title and most of the songs before the May death of Andy Fletcher, who co-founded the band with them and Vince Clarke in 1980.
His absence seems to haunt the group – which is now a duo made up of Gahan and Gore – which for the first time had to think about when it might end. The album name, Gahan says sadly, “seems even more relevant in some ways.”
For months during the pandemic, Gahan and Gore had been trading musical ideas by email. “Martin has a studio in Santa Barbara and he would send something to me and I would sing and send it back to him,” Gahan says, sitting in a chair in a backstage room at an old East Berlin theater, dressed in a black suit that makes him look at home there. “And I would send him ideas – usually just me singing a melody and some lyrics and he would fiddle with it and send it back to me.”
Gahan says they planned to start recording at Gore’s studio, with producers James Ford and Marta Salogni, until “I got the phone call.” Fletcher’s death of an aortic dissection came as a shock. “He’s been in my life for 40-odd years,” Gahan says.
“We had a conversation, me and Martin, and I said to Martin, ‘We have to move forward, don’t we?’ And he said yes, without missing a beat, but I could feel a sense of relief, like he was asking that question, too.”
It was the first time Gahan and Gore had truly faced the future of their band, which in 2020 was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “This is the first time the two of us broached that question: ‘Do we go on or do we end this now?’” Gahan says. “And we said, ‘Let’s at least make this record.’”
It will be followed by a tour, which will start March 23 with 10 dates in the U.S., then continue with 32 shows in Europe. (Depeche Mode is especially big in Eastern Europe, so the tour includes Zagreb, Croatia and Tallinn, Estonia as well as Rome and Berlin.)
The influential electronic outfit will not replace Fletcher. “It’s going to be hard when we go onstage and there’s an empty space where his setup used to be,” Gahan says. DM will continue to tour with multi-instrumentalist Peter Gordeno and drummer Christian Eigner, who have performed live with the band for decades. And after that? “I’ve seen plans for 2024,” Gahan says.
The album itself, which is due out in March, is “atmospheric – the sounds are really interesting,” Gahan says. Lyrically, it’s about how “everything has to end. We all try to avoid that as much as possible but it’s inevitable.”
Even Depeche Mode itself?
“When Martin and I asked ourselves that question for the first time in all those years – ‘Shall we continue?’ – we both decided to,” Gahan says. “It felt like we still have unfinished business.”