The quiet, creative force of the New Wave greats was just 60 years old
So many successful bands have had an X-factor – someone who’s not the main songwriter or the singer, but there’s no way the band would be the same without them.
Andy Fletcher, who passed away Thursday at his home of undisclosed causes at 60, was exactly that for Depeche Mode.
“We are shocked and filled with overwhelming sadness with the untimely passing of our dear friend, family member, and bandmate Andy ‘Fletch’ Fletcher,” the band said in a statement. “Fletch had a true heart of gold and was always there when you needed support, a lively conversation, a good laugh, or a cold pint. Our hearts are with his family, and we ask that you keep them in your thoughts and respect their privacy in this difficult time.”
One of the group’s founding members, he was never the songwriter — a task taken up primarily by Vince Clarke on the debut album Speak & Spell and by Martin Gore on the 13 albums after.
And Depeche Mode had the right frontman in Dave Gahan, a pitch-perfect match for the many directions Gore’s (and later his) songs took.
Fletcher started out playing bass (electric and synth), then shifted focus primarily to keyboards.
Upon Clarke’s departure to form Yazoo on his way to forming Erasure a few years later, Alan Wilder replaced him. That lineup would go on to have 26 top 40 hits in the UK over the next 15 years, with “See You”, “Everything Counts”, “People Are People”, “Master and Servant”, “Enjoy The Silence”, “I Feel You”, “Condemnation” and “In Your Room” all cracking the Top 10.
VIDEO: Depeche Mode “People Are People”
Fletcher’s importance extended beyond what was happening onstage or in the studio. As much as the phrase “glue of the band” is a trope, people like him are a reason why the trope exists. He was the capable mediator when disagreements between Gore and Gahan cropped up.
Fletcher told Electronic Beats in 2013 that he wasn’t always thrilled to be overlooked as a contributor to the band, as he was never one to push himself up to the front. He said, “Sometimes it’s frustrating not to be taken seriously. After all, you could also say my job is the most important; without me there would be no band anymore. But it’s the same in big corporations—the people that do a good job in the background don’t get as much attention as the ones who’d get onto the microphone and announce the good quarterly figures.”
Longtime broadcaster and disc jockey Richard Blade told the BBC, “Martin Gore said to me one time that there would be no Depeche Mode without Andrew Fletcher, he was the one who would always get Dave and Martin and at the time Alan Wilder together and say, ‘get in the studio, let’s work on a new album, let’s get a tour together’.”
At Depeche Mode shows, it often looked as if the band were holding a Friday night costume party and nobody told the bespectacled Fletch, so he showed up straight from work, where he’d been looking over spreadsheets at a county clerk’s office.
Gahan was the sexy, magnetic and, for a period of time, actually dangerous lead singer, for whom the first part of “no shirt, no shoes, no service” could be a problem. Gore had the most ’80s of ’80s hair as he took the band’s sound in all manner of directions, infusing the band’s sound with more brooding intensity, going sexier, more spiritual and darker than they’d been with Clarke.
Wilder was in the role of the musically talented band member whose ideas were always going to fight a losing battle for space in the band’s power structure. That was one reason why he left in 1995, although the band’s general dysfunction was a bigger reason.
Fletcher was the smart, likable, yet not afraid of holding his ground member who worked to hold things together, even with all the drama.
VIDEO: Depeche Mode Songs of Faith and Devotion
Things hit bottom in the mid ’90s by the time of the tour from hell — in support of Songs of Faith and Devotion. Fletcher, in a 2017 interview with Hot Press, said, “I remember Primal Scream supported us and they were shocked at Dave’s behavior. Which is really saying something.”
With Wilder gone, the three remaining members were virtually only together onstage, traveling to shows in separate vehicles and having separate dressing rooms.
Gahan’s heroin addiction was ever-worsening, affecting his voice and his reliability. He needed cortisone shots just so he could go onstage. Gore had issues with alcohol, suffering stress-related seizures on a couple of occasions.
Even people who are rocks of the band are not impervious to problems, as Fletcher’s depression worsened. In his own words, he had a “massive breakdown” and bowed out of the final leg of shows to get better.
He did, as did the band, although it took Gahan nearly dying for it to happen. Indifferent to death at best, he took a speedball in May 1996 that stopped his heart for two minutes. The band put its foot down and got him into rehab. He remains sober 26 years later.
Fletcher wasn’t just a keyboardist and referee, he was also Depeche Mode’s businessman, taking the duties of Depeche Mode’s manager whenever the band didn’t have one. Having an interest in the business side, he was trusted to handle the non-musical aspects of the band so that the others didn’t have to.
Gahan himself once said of Fletcher, “Maybe we should set up a fax machine for him onstage.”
VIDEO: Depeche Mode performs “Everything Counts” in Depeche Mode 101
During D.A. Pennebaker’s 1989 tour doc Depeche Mode 101, Fletcher said, “My job is to keep everyone together, really. Martin’s the songwriter, Alan’s the good musician, Dave’s the vocalist, and I bum around.”
That’s underselling his contributions. Depeche Mode influenced acts in a lot of genres, built off their synth pop base. And you can’t have synth pop without the synths.
He was the man of many parts– bass here, accents there, then the sweeps, effects and other sounds. He could get creative, as he did on the 1993 “Walking in My Shoes” when he hit a pole repeatedly with a suitcase to get the percussion sound he wanted for the song. He wasn’t the singer or the writer, but he was taking that attention to detail.
Wilder had the flashier parts, but Fletcher had to nail his contributions with precision. Like an actor missing their mark, it would be awkwardly noticeable if Fletcher didn’t repeatedly hit his, but hit them he did.
Depeche Mode pulled off what few of their peers were able to in the ’80s. If you start off listening to something from Depeche Mode in the early ’80s on your streaming service of choice, there’s a good chance the algorithm will start suggesting other artists influenced by them, but also others working at the same time, people who would play clubs and smaller venues.
These were musicians and singers whose early ethic wasn’t bashed out with guitar, bass and drums, but synthesizers, still approached with the energy of punk. If you could DIY with a guitar you’re just learning to play, you could do the same with a keyboard, especially as technology grew.
Fletcher, talking to Rolling Stone in 1993, sounded prescient when he said, ““The beauty of using electronics is that music can now be made in your bedroom. You don’t need to get four people together in some warehouse to practice.”
Depeche Mode, however, built an audience in America without the continuous trips to the hit parade they enjoyed in their home country. It was the combination of their chemistry, the songs that mixed new romanticism, goth, danceability and more and their growing reputation as a terrific live band that did the trick.
They grew capable of playing arenas and stadiums, legendarily playing to over 65,000 people in 1988.
It reached the point where a 1990 in-store signing for the release of Violator at the Wherehouse Record Store in L.A. was shut down by cops in riot gear after a little over an hour.
With thousands of fans (over 15,000 had shown up) realizing they weren’t going to get inside to get the autographs they were seeking; things became too difficult to control.
As they did with the band members’ sometimes difficult to control personal lives, things did calm down for Depeche Mode. They continued to be successful artistically and touring-wise, but their status as, Fletcher put it, “The world’s most successful cult band” afforded them more anonymity as time went on.
Fletcher told Hot Press in 2017: “We’re not celebrities. We lead totally normal lives. We can go to the cinema, go the pubs. We very seldom get recognized by people, but when they do, they’re always very nice. People know the name Depeche Mode, but the average person on the street doesn’t know what a member of Depeche Mode looks like. It’s a great situation.”
The calmer state of affairs reflected in the band’s concerts as they moved into middle age. The shows were always the thing after, as Fletcher admitted, there were days where the aftershow was.
The remaining three kept their bonds even as they operated for years far away from each other physically — Fletcher remained in England while Gahan and Gore moved to New York and Santa Barbara, respectively.
Fletcher remained grateful that Depeche Mode had retained its audience and kept putting out quality material, saying in that 2017 interview, “We had an absolute dream career… at least, if you take out those years that were a bit messy. Like I said to you earlier, we lead normal lives, and we’re not celebrities. So, it’s a great situation. I’d like to think that now, really, is the best moment.”
Even 29 years after selling out the Rose Bowl, people may have left Depeche Mode alone away from the arenas, but they knew well who they were, the affable-as-ever Fletch included.
At the end of that 2017 interview, he was asked what his motto was. His reply: “Sure and steadfast.”
Whatever Gore and Gahan decide what to do about the state of the band will happen when they’ve had the time they need to grieve. No matter the decision, it will never be the same without Fletch, the underrated X-factor.
Never a fifth wheel, he was a man for whom his motto was also the most apt description for him.