A Visit with Vince Clarke of Depeche Mode and Erasure

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Vince Clarke Depeche Mode Erasure
Photos by Robbie Kanner

Robbie called me the night before to ask me if I was up for a trip to the mid-coast to talk to and interview a British artist. He’s a keyboard player, he’s famous, and we need to leave at 7:00am, not exactly my usual hours of operation. Of course I agreed, the experience sounded promising. After caffeinizing, we headed out toward Damariscotta, listening to music and talking about how we should conduct ourselves during the interview.

We searched for about an hour for an address that didn’t seem to exist before I finally ran into the Post Office (see: small shack with an old lady in it) and asked her if she knew where it was. Surely he must get mail. Thankfully she recognized it and told us how to get there (“Take a left after the Kut‘n’Curl but before the hill goes up”). After winding down a series of dirt roads, we came upon the address we were searching for. Driving down the driveway, we immediately knew we had reached out destination. Clearly this was the home of a British rock star.

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Nestled back up in the woods overlooking a breathtaking cove was the home of Vince Clarke, founding member of Depeche Mode and Erasure. To the left of his understated, but beautiful house was a cabin structure. We walked toward the man wearing a puffy black jacket as he waved to us. He invited us in to his cozy, sunny studio space. We scrubbed our boots on the doormat, and before we could get our jackets off we were stopped dead in our tracks. Vince has the most comprehensive, flawless and impressive collection of modern and vintage synthesizers I have EVER seen. Robbie and I were speechless. We both stood for a minute, jaws agape, before we both snapped to attention. I started fumbling through questions, and Robbie started feverishly snapping photos.

Vince has had a profound effect on the world of pop music, most currently the world of EDM (electronic dance music) in which he still has an active role. What I found most refreshing was that he not only told us stories of programming the first sequencers and his absolute love for the analog synthesizer, but in the same breath he talked about his love for modern recording techniques. In short, his studio is equipped with the best of both worlds. MOOGS! PROPHETS! SEQUENCERS! VOCODERS! I was in heaven! He also has a Mac G5 with Logic recording software; within the recording software he programs and sequences “soft synths” until the song starts to come to fruition and take shape. Here’s the catch: His studio is loaded with a dozen or so little black boxes, MIDI converters, that convert the MIDI triggering signal produced by modern sequencers into a CV (controlled voltage) signal that the older synths can understand. He then routes the audio from the analog synths back into logic and can manipulate the sounds until he’s happy, at which point he will commit them to “tape.” This is really a profound way of creating music.

This is a man who came of age during the era of Kraftwerk and other futurist bands (who had to manipulate simple 16-step sequencers and play along with them live in order to recreate their sound) and who has successfully brought his sound from the early golden age of barely programmable equipment into the age of 24 bit digital recording… all the while maintaining his aesthetic.

So, why Maine? Why so far from home?

Vince used to take trips up here from New York in a “Winnie” and fell in love with the area; though he did note that he wished someone had told him about the winters. Despite making music that could very much be viewed as technological and urban (in a Blade Runner kind of way, not Slick Rick), Vince is at peace in nature. He has surrounded himself with beautiful Maine woodlands, coastlines and far away neighbors. He spends his days like any typical dad and husband except that when he goes to work, he leaves for weeks at a time and travels the world playing to a still growing and devout fan base.

After a few more photos, Robbie and I finished up the conversation and said our farewells. We both drove away from the experience with the same thoughts. a) Vince Clarke is a super talented, super nice guy, and b) How awesome is it that there is a bona fide British rock star making crazy-assed future music in the Maine woods? TAKE THAT BROOKLYN!!!

Vince Clarke & Spencer Albee

Vince Clarke & Spencer Albee

Vince Clarke & Spencer Albee

Vince Clarke & Spencer Albee

Vince Clarke Control Room

vintage synth vince clarke

minimoog synth vince clarke

vintage audio equipment vince clarke

Vince Clarke Depeche Mode Erasure

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