Archiwa tagu: james ford

Interview with Charles Duff (MATRIXXMAN) – keyboard programmer for Depeche Mode’s new album – „Spirit”

„Sure thing” Charles said to us, when we poke him once upon time via Twitter asking for the interview. And this is it! Karolleks doing the inteview with Matrixxman brings us behind the curtain of the Spirit – 14th depeche MODE album, which is out today.

Before Spirit

Karolleks: I just want to add that we thank you a lot for your kind will to do that interview with us. It is really highly appreciated!

Matrixxman: It’s my pleasure Karol. Glad I can be of service to you 🙂

Karolleks: How did you end up working with Depeche? Is it something you always wanted to do or just got an offer and went along with it?

Matrixxman: I am still not quite certain how this all came about. I suppose there were a number of candidates for this particular position and for whatever reason Martin seemed to like my stuff. Truth be told, the offer came at a time when my own techno career started to really pick up so it was hilarious timing-wise. I had also just moved to Berlin and was in the midst of heavy touring in Europe and then the phone call from Martin came. For a brief moment I was worried about having to cancel DJ gigs (as in, would there be repercussions? Might I piss some people off? Etc.) but I rather quickly came to my senses and realized it was worth it no matter what the cost to my own career was. It turned out to be one of the most crazy adventures of my life thus far.

Karolleks: Did you know Depeche well before? Any particular album/song that is your favorite?

Matrixxman: I hadn’t thought I would ever have the chance to work with a band like them, to be honest. The whole thing kind of blindsided me. I was certainly a fan before this all happened. My favourite album would undoubtedly be Violator. My favourite song would be a tie between Behind the Wheel and Shake the Disease. I find myself coming back to that album more frequently than I’d like to admit 😉

About Spirit

Karolleks: How much do the demos differ from the final versions?

Matrixxman: Contrary to what I heard of some of the previous producers, James had a special reverence for the vibe of the original demos and worked hard to keep that core energy intact. Some of the tunes took sharp turns but more or less, I’d say many of them were already so strong as demos they didn’t need a ton of work. Gore has his finger on the pulse, so to speak. Virtually all of the beats and sounds he came up with entirely on his own were cool as hell. Far cooler than what most of my peers.

Karolleks: Was there any particular song that the band struggled with and that took much more time for them to get it finished?

Matrixxman: Hmm. Cover Me required some quality time. Maybe there were some others but this one stands out in my mind. This particular track Dave wrote initially. He was adamant that we should all try to get busy and „fuck it up” as the kids would say. At first I had a tough time coming up with compelling things for this tune but Dave did a great job of urging us to get weird and creative. James did some really cool tweaking of the voicing of the chords which helped push it in a darker direction. I came up with a sort of Pink Floyd-ish arpeggiated synth pattern that I hummed to Martin and we set about making that. Kurt worked his synth magic as well. Next thing you know, all of the contributions really brought the track to life. It took on this eerie, cinematic quality that wasn’t previously present.

Karolleks: Were there any more songs that never made it to the album/deluxe version ? If so, how many of them?

Matrixxman: Yes. There were a few indeed. Can’t recall how many exactly but there were a couple at least.

Karolleks: Were they finished songs ? Or just eliminated at the very beginning (at demo stage)? Did you start working with them, but they never got finished ? Do you have any idea if the band is planning to release them separately (as b-sides or some extras)?

Matrixxman: There were a few demos that were gorgeous but didn’t make the cut for some reason. I think the basis for the album had already been roughly fleshed out so new candidates weren’t being brought to the table any longer. We never even got a chance to start on them. I legitimately have no clue what their plans are for those remaining tunes but if I had to say, they might never see the light of day.

Karolleks: What was the biggest obstacle while programming the keyboards and during the production of Spirit overall?

Matrixxman: Well, for starters I had never used modular synths AT ALL before this album. Lol. And then my ass walks into the studio and I’m confronted with wall to wall modular synths. I remember thinking to myself „Holy shit. What on earth am I going to do?” It worked out though. I am quite comfortable with your traditional synth keyboards; I know my synthesis architecture and sound design reasonably well so ultimately it didn’t prove to be too problematic. A little bit of messing around before the studio sessions started helped out immensely. But damn if I wasn’t mortified at first.

Karolleks: Did you have any contribution to working with vocals? Among the reviews around the world, people noticed that Dave’s vocals are mostly filtered (meaning it’s not a clear pure vocal, there’s always some effect added). And while in Scum it just seems to be intentional for the way it sounds, what was the reason to do that for other songs ? Did Dave have any difficulty with tuning his voice, or it was just an idea how the vocals should be done on this record? Whose idea was it? It seems like it’s one of the things that reviews are not to happy about on this album.

Matrixxman: I didn’t personally work with the vocals at all during the album but in reference to Scum, I’m pretty sure Martin’s original demo had heavily distorted vocals on it. So that would explain why Dave’s vocals had the same treatment on that particular tune. Dave gave exceptional vocal deliveries in the studio. His takes were damn near flawless from my perspective so I can only assume that any effects on the vocals were Dave and Martin’s choice or perhaps informed by James.

Karolleks: Spirit seems to be a lot more different if it comes to length of the songs on this record. Namely, this album is significantly shorter in total than it’s precedents, although the number of songs stays the same. Was it the original idea of the band or did James Ford have an influence on it ? 

Matrixxman:  That’s a good question. I believe James kind of reached a point where he felt the album was more or less done and it seemed intuitively like the right move for him. Not sure how much communication took place between him and the band.

Karolleks: Was there any particular order on which of the songs were you guys working ? Did you work a little on each songs all the time, or did you just got one song finished and moved to another?

Matrixxman: We were working on one song at a time mostly. I can’t recall how the order was dictated. Occasionally we would go back to another older song but it was a fairly linear process in which we were focusing on one song usually.

Karolleks: Whose idea the coda of Cover Me was? Did Dave’s demo include that or did you come up with this in the studio? It’s a very interesting and I must say – amazing piece of music.

Matrixxman: The coda was either James’ or Dave’s doing but creatively speaking, it was an amalgamation of everyone’s talent then and there. I’m happy that the arpeggio thing I contributed helped tie it together. Kurt came up some epic synth stuff as well.

Karolleks: Was there any idea of yours that the band didn’t want to go along with and you thought of it as a big mistake?

Matrixxman: I wanted to do some super 80s style drums on one tune or another, and it got shot down ultimately. I get it though; they lived through the 80s so they’ve already been there and done that. I was just following my impulses  to do something very retro at that moment. But it’s cool. I respect their opinion.

Karolleks: When you guys were working in the studio, there were rumors around the world that Peter Gordeno and Christian Eigner have contributed into your work in the studio. Is that true ? If yes, which songs did they work on with the band ? It is known that they worked on Dave’s demos for this album.

Matrixxman: I have no clue actually. They could have been involved but I’m not sure.

Karolleks: What is your personal favorite on this album?

Matrixxman: Eternal. It’s so dark and chilling. It makes me want to cry.

Karolleks: To what extent did Andy Fletcher contribute to the creative part of the album ? How would you describe his contribution to the band in the studio?

Matrixxman: He would suggest we try a different key or perhaps speed up or slow down a song. He would make this suggestion frequently. He did have a good perspective with regard to the overall „vibes” of the tunes and would know when something needed more work or if it was good as is. Andy was also the only one who would hang out with us in the evenings so we enjoyed many a night with him after the long studio sessions. At times of frustration he actually provided a great boost in morale for the team I think.

Karolleks: Was there anything significantly different/special that you noticed when working with Depeche comparing to other bands and artists?

Matrixxman: Yeah, they’re simply brilliant geniuses. It was an exceptionally fun yet creatively challenging experience. Most of my other studio sessions I’ve done previously kind of pale in comparison, which is understandable.

Karolleks: What do you think of Depeche Mode live? (the sound, show, performance in total). Have you ever been to a Depeche Modeconcert before and are you going to any of Depeche shows during the upcoming Global Spirit tour ? Did you see them rehearsing ?

Matrixxman: Never seen them live! I would love to catch them one day. I may have seen them briefly rehearsing one night 😉

KarolleksHow do you like Spirit overall ? What in your opinion are the pros and cons of this album ?

Matrixxman: I am very proud of it. It’s cons would only be that I would have liked to have more songs on the album but that was not my decision.

After Spirit

Karolleks: And lastly, what are your plans for the future? Any new projects? Is there any chance for you to be supporting DM on the upcoming tour? Would you be willing to work with Depeche again?

Matrixxman: I have left the world of DM to return back to my dark techno lair. Just released a couple 12″ EPs and there is a bunch more on the way. I will not be touring with DM but if you happen to reside in Europe I’ll be playing some cool festivals this summer like Dekmantel, and of course, Berghain now and again.

For the time being I am just releasing my own music at the moment but who knows what the future has in store. It would be an honour to work with DM again (and perhaps even in the capacity of a producer) should the opportunity present itself 🙂