The New Cue #23 June 1: Lost In Music Special featuring Daniel Miller, Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Moby

June 1, 2021

Good morning! We’ve got an interview with Mute Records supremo Daniel Miller to get your working week started so we shan’t keep you. If you’re wondering why you didn’t receive The New Cue on Friday, it’s because Friday’s edition was for subscribers only. Our wonderful subs get two extra editions a month, just for them, with more subs only goodies in the pipeline. You should’ve seen what they were saying about you! But you can’t. Because you don’t subscribe. You could though, if you click this button right here…

See you Friday!

Ted, Niall and Chris

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Lost In Music: Daniel Miller

How music lovers became music lifers

Daniel Miller has been a pioneering force in music for over four decades. Miller founded the record label Mute in 1978 as a means of releasing the single he’d made as The Normal. Soon after, people started sending music to the address on the back, assuming that Mute was a fully-fledged record company. He started living up to the misapprehension, releasing Fad Gadget’s debut single a year later and gathering a roster of similarly-minded, forward-thinking visionaries. As the 80s progressed, Mute morphed from being a label based out of Miller’s London flat to the home of mega-selling international stars, Miller acting as label boss, producer and kindred spirit to artists including Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Erasure, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds and more. In 2021, the label’s roster includes New Order, Liars, Can, Josh T Pearson, Goldfrapp among others. It’s one of the most influential record labels of all time.

Miller recently put out his own debut album. Electronic Music Improvisations Volume 1 was released under the artist handle of Sunroof and is a collection of synth experiments with fellow producer Gareth Jones. The pair first met when working on Depeche Mode’s 1983 album Construction Time Again, only taking 38 years to make a record together. From his home in Berlin, Miller spoke to Niall over Zoom about the new album and looked back over a career as a game-changing label boss. Here’s a bigger-than-I-meant-to-be playlist I made to listen whilst you read: 

Hi, Daniel. How are you?
Well, good question. I think I'm fine. I had my first vaccine this morning. I’m in Berlin - things have been a bit slower here, but it was done very well and very efficiently and in a very friendly way. So I'm feeling a bit funny, but nothing bad. Just a disclaimer in case anything I say might be totally incoherent.

I’ll blame the vaccine if that happens. Congratulations on Electronic Music Improvisations Volume 1. It has to be the longest gestation for a debut album ever. 
Well, funny enough you should say that. Not that I'm a fan in the slightest but I heard an interview with Nancy Wilson. I’m absolutely not a fan of Heart, it’s not my kind of thing, but it’s her first solo album and taken 40 years, which kind of beats me, I think.

When you and Gareth were working on remixes together over the years, had you ever discussed making a full album?
No. We've done the remixes and we've done lots of modular jams over the years as well but not with any end product in mind, just purely for fun. By chance, we did a little jam together by 2019 and we really enjoyed it. So this was the first time we decided to actually plan some sessions in a particular way to do some stuff and finish it and then we thought, 'Well, if it's any good, maybe we'll do something with it, put it on SoundCloud'. But we ended up doing a record... the record company were keen to sign it.

Haha! Going right back, what were your first impressions of Gareth when you met him?
Well, to give you a bit of context of how we met, Depeche Mode and I were looking for a studio. We'd worked in a great studio called Blackwing for two albums. Yazoo had also recorded there, and personally I'd been in that studio non-stop for a few years and we kind of agreed, let's get a change of scenery. We found the Garden, which was John Foxx's studio in Shoreditch, which was a very different Shoreditch then. It was very different to any other studio that I'd seen. It was light, it didn't have brown Hessian on the walls, it had a pretty big control room for that time, a nice small live room, the whole thing just felt good. But we needed an engineer. So we asked John Foxx and he recommended Gareth because Gareth had worked with him on Metamatic, John Foxx’s album. And so we met Gareth and thought he was a bit of a hippy, which he was, but immediately we talked about some of the ideas that we had, different approaches that we wanted to use. He was very into that idea. His nature is experimentative. We started working together and it gelled immediately. And he turned us all into vegetarians. The studios in those days… if you were in the studio for a few weeks, you just ate shit basically. Gareth suggest we go vegetarian for the period of being in the studio, be healthy. Not everybody did it. But Martin Gore, Alan Wilder and me did it. Fletch definitely didn't do it and Dave Gahan didn't do it. But we did. And then I'll stayed vegetarian for 25 years after that. 

What comes to mind when you think back to making that Depeche record?
The thing about that album, Construction Time Again, was that it was when sampling had starting. We went crazy with sampling on that record, but not sampling records, sampling found sounds or sampling weird instruments. It's hard to imagine now, but there wasn't any sampling in those days. That was the first sampling and it was very exciting to play around with found sounds, turn something that you wouldn't think of into music. That was a very exciting part of that process.

What was your first job in music? 
When I released my first record, T.V.O.D/Warm Leatherette, that was my first job in music. I didn't know anything about the music business at all. I was a huge music fan but I'd never have thought of that as a job because at that point, I had no plans to start a label. I just wanted to put a single out. It was about a year after I put the single out and I started getting demo tapes and things like that because I had my address on the sleeve so people thought I was a record company, which I wasn't, I was just some bloke with a single. It didn’t feel comfortable to me, it felt like I was judging other people's art. But in 1979 at some point, a mutual friend said, 'there's this bloke I'm sharing a flat with, you might quite like his music'. And, and he played this stuff and I did, I really liked it. I could immediately relate to Frank Tovey, Fad Gadget's sensibility, his lyrics, the way he was making music, so we met up, we got on really well and I said, 'do you fancy putting a single out?' and he said, 'Yeah, okay'. That was it, no lawyers, no managers, no contracts, a profit-share deal. 

What's been your best job in music?
My best job is the job I do. To run a label, where I can choose what records I want to put out. I mean, what could be better than that? I love working with artists. I love working with artists who are very open minded, who want to develop, who want to experiment, whatever the genre, who are very focused on a clear vision, and have long term goals as well. I like working with artists over a long period of time and watching them grow, sometimes giving them a bit of guidance here and there. That's the best job. I feel very, very lucky.

Have you had to shape shift with the times?
Yeah. I mean, the core values - if you want to call it that, that's a very corporate expression isn't it? - haven't changed, but Mute changed in the sense that we grew ridiculously fast at the beginning. We did my single and then Fad Gadget, then DAF, but it was less than two years after I put out my first single that I first saw Depeche play. And that pretty quickly became very successful. I mean, really quickly, then Vince left and did Yazoo. That became hugely successful. So I went from not knowing anything about the music industry and working on my own, not having an office or anything, just pottering around, to having two internationally successful artists in just over two years. A lot of people who worked for Mute were freelance people who I got to meet over the years who really knew what they were doing. I used their music business experience but through my filter, so it didn't distort what I wanted to do, but it gave me the possibility to do things I wouldn't have otherwise been able to do.

What's been the hardest lesson you've learned?
In the beginning, when we started to be successful, the attitude of the major labels towards the independents caused some problems. In those days, if you had a Top 10 hit and you were on Top Of The Pops, you'd be selling 60,000 singles a day and you had to get those pressed. And the people who had the biggest pressing plant were the majors, and they wouldn't press our records. When people like us and Factory and Rough Trade Records started having chart success, they thought ‘we're losing control now, all these indies can do it and they're doing it in a much better way’. So we couldn't get our records pressed there and we had to go to much smaller plants to get the records pressed. I'm not naturally competitive but the hardest lesson I learned was that there are a lot of people in the music business who are extremely competitive and will sometimes do things that could be problematic.

Was there a point at which you realised the majors had started taking Mute seriously?
I think when Depeche started having really big success in America, people started to wake up. I remember going to Warner Brothers for a meeting , because Warner Brothers were doing marketing and stuff like that for [Depeche Mode’s US label] Sire. Depeche had just sold out three nights at The Forum in LA, about 10 or 12,000 seats each night. And we went to the head of Warner Brothers at the time and he was kind of, ‘Okay, these limey indie kids, we'll have a chat.’ We told him we’d sold out three nights at The Forum and he just in shock and then he started calling all his marketing people into this meeting. It was really funny. You can do really well in the UK, in Europe, but when you get America, that's when people start to take you seriously.

What do you think is the most underrated part of your career? 
There have been a lot of projects that I think have underperformed or been undervalued. There was this band called Renegade Soundwave and they were so inventive and so ahead of their time. And it was such a big influence on the next generation, people like The Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim and so forth. They never got the recognition that they deserve. There's so many so many great records we put out that didn't get the attention. Obviously, every record we put out is done with a lot of love and a lot of attention and care. However, when it goes out into the real world, it's a very different world out there. That's one of the things I learned, just because you like it, just because we think it's great at Mute, doesn't mean that other people can connect with it. 

Are there any artists you wish you’d worked with? 
There's a couple. The one record that I'm really pissed off about that I didn't do, which would have made quite a big difference to us, was the soundtrack to The Piano, which is still huge. Michael Nyman, the composer, was really insistent, 'you've gotta do this Danny, this is perfect for you'. I felt like I'd done these soundtrack albums and you don't get help from the film company, I was more focused on working with the artists that we had. It was stupid. Of course, there are a few artists that we pursued and we didn't manage to sign, like Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We really pursued that and lost out. But then there's been a lot, especially on the catalogue side of things, that I would never imagined that I could have a chance to work with that we did get to work with, like Can. For me, they are probably one of the most important ones in my life, in terms of influence, and we've been working with their catalogue for the last 30 years, which is incredible. 

When you look back over the history of Mute, what are your favourite memories?
Personally, when I physically got my first 7-inch single in my hand. I just wanted that feeling of having a record, a bit of my music on vinyl. There's a lot of really high points. On the Depeche side of things, playing their first stadium gig in America. Everybody in the business over there thought was a ridiculous idea and it sold out in, like, a minute, 80,000 people at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Los Angeles.

Wow. The recording of that, 101, is my favourite live album.  
Yeah. It was just… there were riots when the band were doing a signing in a record shop there, 1000 people camping for two nights outside and the police were involved, police helicopters everywhere.

Depeche mania!
It was a big one because it was 1988, only a few years after we started really. But there's been other things too, like working with Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds for over 30 years, watching that grow, or when Moby made Animal Rights, a pure punk rock record, and everybody had written off his career and then he came back with Play. When he did his first tour around Play, he was playing the Scala, and it was kind of semi full. The album started getting some airplay and, about a month later, he came back to play the Scala after a month on tour. And I've never had more guestlist requests than for that gig. Every celeb was there, wanting to be part of it, lots of other musicians. Nobody was interested three weeks before! The album got a full page zero out of 10 review in the Melody Maker. There are lots of great moments like that. It's not just about huge sales, the exciting thing is when you see artists really progressing.

Sunroof’s Electronic Music Improvisations Volume 1, is out on the Parallel Series of Mute:


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