Kevin May & David McElroy (authors) of the Depeche Mode biography “Halo”
The soon-to-be-published book ‘Halo’ about the record-breaking DEPECHE MODE album ‘Violator’ and about the era associated with it was written by two contemporary journalists who had discovered the music of Martin Gore & Co. around the same time as me. ‘Violator’ was the first DEPECHE MODE studio album for me, too, and as a “new-mod(e)ish” fan I was already waiting very eagerly for it. I got to know the band at the end of the ‘Music For The Masses’ era, I was completely enchanted and fascinated by the live album ‘101’, the back catalogue of my new idols was studied within a short time and I was already ready, even hungry for something new from them. And then came the pre-release singles ‘Personal Jesus’ and ‘Enjoy The Silence’ and I - a “Little 15” - was suddenly in the middle of the action. At the time, of course, I was not aware that these times would later go down in music history and that I was an eye and ear witness to the birth of a legendary album.
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: This album is still an etalon and is considered essential in the band discography. For this very reason, my interest was immediately piqued when I read the first news about the making of this book. In less than a month this exciting read will be released and I got in touch with the authors so you can learn a bit more about this project. If you dedicate an entire book to a particular DEPECHE MODE album, is it evident that ‘Violator’ is still at the top of your list? Why did you choose this particular album for an in-depth study?
David: ‘Violator’ was the first DEPECHE MODE album I bought and I consider it not only to be their best work, but the best album that has ever been released. The music is perfect, the songs too and the leap forward the band made from ‘Music For The Masses’ to ‘Violator’ is remarkable. The album still sounds fresh today which is incredibly impressive for something that is now over thirty years old.
Kevin: For me, ‘Violator’ signals the moment in the band’s history when the rulebook was thrown out of the window. The musical prowess of Alan Wilder, coupled with the production and mixing skills of Flood and Francois Kevorkian respectively, allowed some of Martin Gore’s best songs to date to evolve into areas that were unknown to the band previously. That’s the musical side of the equation. ‘Violator’ was also the era when Anton Corbijn’s visual influence truly came to the fore in wonderfully creative ways.
RoD: When did you start the basic research for this book? What was the actual basic idea behind it?
David: Kevin asked me to join him on the project in 2019 after he’d taken part in the “Global Spirit Tour” project on my blog “Almost Predictable Almost”. Once he told me his plan (see Kevin’s answer) I immediately agreed to take part. It was a real honour to be asked.
Kevin: I started work on ‘Halo’ quite a few years ago (pre-COVID, pre-bad things in life intervening quite often!), primarily because I felt that for such a landmark album there should be a thorough look at what it meant for the band to create such a masterpiece, how it came together, who was involved behind the scenes and what it was like taking it on the road.
RoD: The book contains many interesting interviews and recollections with and from people who played any role in the making of ‘Violator’: in the studio, in the clips, during promotion, during the tour... Was it easy to reach these contributors? Did they like being interviewed? And what was the reaction of the (then) band members to your book?
Kevin: The band has never worked with a biographer, so we knew - and was later told officially - that sadly there would be no involvement from Dave, Martin and Andy in the project. Alan is also very removed from the world of DEPECHE MODE these days. Undeterred, we knew that there were many people who were involved in various aspects of the ‘Violator’ era, so we tried to talk to as many as possible! Those we interviewed were very happy to recollect their experiences of that period (although some had fairly hazy memories when it came to the exact instruments or technology that was used!), which was terrific for us as we wanted to get as many angles to the story as possible. I particularly enjoyed meeting with engineer Steve Lyon at his studio in West London and Bruce Kirkland in Los Angeles.
RoD: I remember talking to NITZER EBB - the support band for DEPECHE MODE on their US tour - and they once told me how funny it was for them to watch the band during soundcheck and eat hot dogs. In your case, which ‘Violator’ story was the funniest or the most shocking?
David: Billie Ray Martin of ELECTRIBE 101 was someone who told us a lot of interesting stories. Given the way the DEPECHE fans behaved towards the support acts, the stories weren’t necessarily funny - they were certainly more shocking!
Kevin: Tour manager Andy Franks told us about how confident the Los Angeles Police Dept were with regards to crowd control ahead of the event at Wherehouse Records. After the infamous event unfolded, Andy said the same officer was “a broken man”. I thought that was a pretty funny anecdote.
RoD: An absolute, long-awaited Holy Grail from DEPECHE MODE fans would still be to have a full live video recording of the “World Violation Tour” in their collection. So far, only the teaser live recordings exist which Daniel “Brat” Barassi had published on the band’s website. Was there any demand on your part for the full release of this video recording?
David: Unlike Kevin, I wasn’t lucky enough to see the band on the “World Violation Tour” so I would have loved them to release something. I still would.
Kevin: I have, it appears, a fairly controversial perspective on this. There was no massive desire to produce another concert film after the amazing success of ‘101’, so any major effort to record on video was never really considered. The Dodger Stadium footage is okay but it’s not at the level of any of the previous live shows that have been put on film (‘Live In Hamburg’ or ‘101’), so that’s all there is. 30+ years on, I’m kind of glad that it hasn’t been released in full, as basic as it is. The “World Violation Tour” has gained almost a mythical status now, because YOU HAD TO BE THERE, plus given what came after with the amazing ‘Devotional’ film, it would look fairly ordinary visually compared to that and what came before (‘101’).
RoD: It is unfortunate that we recently lost one of our founding members, Andy Fletcher, forever. Will there be a dedication to him in your book? How did you deal with this tragedy?
David: Kevin explains the circumstances surrounding the book and Andy’s passing below. We wanted to be very careful about how we dealt with events as the last thing we wanted to do was intrude in any way on the grief being felt by his family and those close to DEPECHE MODE. We have dedicated the book to Andy. We all miss him and I think all DEPECHE MODE fans are still coming to terms with what happened. We felt dedicating the book to him was the least we could do.
Kevin: Andy’s sad passing was a shock to everyone and we pass on our condolences to Grainne, Megan and Joe. It was a week of highs and lows, with us handing the book to our editor on a lovely Tuesday night in May, then the awful news about Andy emerged just 48 hours later. Like every fan, it took us a while to get our heads around what had happened, then we had to consider how it might impact on ‘Halo’. We delayed the release by a few weeks, as our original date was just a week or so after Andy’s funeral, which we thought was far too close.
RoD: Back to the topic of ‘Violator’... Which song is your favourite on this album and why?
David: ‘Enjoy The Silence’. The song changed my life as it properly introduced DEPECHE MODE to me. Without hearing that song, I wouldn’t have had all the experiences I’ve had in my life since then including co-authoring ‘Halo’ and of course talking to you just now!
Kevin: ‘Halo’… Obviously. It has everything that DEPECHE MODE were doing new and right at the time - soaring strings, a wicked bassline, thoughtful but curious lyrics, a great vocal from Dave and was eventually a brilliant live track. I am also glad it wasn’t a single, as some wanted at the time and many fans still think it should’ve been. I like the purity of it being a standout, monumental album track.
RoD: Were you able to see the band live on the “World Violation Tour”? If so, where and what was your experience about the concert? (There was even a kind of fan petition in Hungary at that time to bring DEPECHE MODE to Budapest for a concert, but unfortunately without success. So, I had to wait until 1993 to finally see them live.)
David: Sadly not. Like you, I had to wait until 1993.
Kevin: I saw DEPECHE MODE for the very first time on that tour. It was at London’s Wembley Arena on November 19 and I was totally blown away, so much so that I persuaded a work colleague to come along a few days later and we bought tickets from a tout outside. I couldn’t believe how brilliantly electronic music could be performed live and the energy they gave and got back from the crowd.
RoD: Some practical information before the book is published. Where can it be ordered? Will it only be available in online bookshops?
David and Kevin: Readers can visit HaloTheViolatorBook.com for a detailed list of where the book can be ordered online, both in paperback or digital. We are aware of a few offline retail outlets that are selling it, which we’ll also include in the list online.
RoD: Mat Smith, a press person and book editor of ‘Halo’ has already put down his personal words of recommendation on Facebook. And who do you definitely recommend to read your book?
Kevin: Fans, obviously, but I think anyone who is curious as to how bands evolve over time and seize opportunities when they have the chance, will find it interesting. It might sound a little corny (or, indeed, far-fetched), but we’d love Dave, Martin and Alan to give it a read if only to illustrate to them that we gave this masterpiece of a record the analysis and perspective it deserved and they should, 30+ years on, be proud that it’s left such a mark on people.