Interview with Steve Lyon

In June 2013 I had the chance to chat with Steve Lyon.
He started his career as engineer and producer in the late 1980's, working under Rolling Stones/ The Who producer Glyn Johns. Lyon got involved with Depeche Mode as an engineer on Violator, worked on Death's Door and Songs of Faith and Devotion (SOFAD) and was co-producer of SOFAD Live and Devotional (DVD). He was also involved when Alan co-produced Nitzer Ebb's album Ebbhead in 1991, and on the Recoil records Bloodline (1992) and Unsound Methods (1997).
Later, Steve Lyon worked as producer for various bands, for example Ampliflier, The Cure, Reamonn, Reinvented, Paradise Lost or Neo. He was involved in producing artists including Dave Stewart, Suzanne Vega and Paul McCartney.
Since 2007 he has been producing and managing the band Suzerain.

Note: The following interview parts don't follow a strict question-answer format, but were taken from a larger context. The questions referred to special context in the biography. You should read the chapter referred to in order to see the context. I'm mainly interested in the team-work. The band members said they were a very organised team. Martin wrote the songs, and then left it to Alan to work out the music and the sounds, and he himself sometimes said what he liked or didn't like. It is said that Fletch was at the organisational front, and a kind of spokesman for Martin. But no one ever said anything about the role Dave played in this team.

Steve Lyon: "I came in to the production of Violator when there was one song finished and the rest of the songs were kind of half way through but had no vocals. I didn't see Dave really much involved in the creation of the sounds or the directions of the songs. He would come in and sing and did a fantastic job but wasn't really involved in the creativity of the material. He was very positive on his part and very supportive in what we were doing. I think the team work really worked. There weren't many conflicts. Because they had developed a style and a sound and they knew it had functioned previously on different albums like Black Celebration and Music for the Masses. They had proven that the team worked and there weren't any reasons to change it. In other scenarios I worked in this wasn't the case. Other bands operate very differently and that's why Depeche functioned so very well in the studio. There were never any doors closed. It was quite the opposite. The more you could bring in ... you know, I could turn to Alan and Flood saying 'What about this? What about this sound?' ... the more excited the whole crew became."
(See in context -> 1987)
"Sometimes Martin would come in saying, 'I don't like this' and 'I don't really like that', and then we would work on things to get a different version but he would trust a lot in the three of us, Alan, Flood and myself. And Fletch as well, y'know. Fletch would come in, say his thing but leave it to us because he knew something good would come out."
(See in context -> 2000) Alan once spoke about the two different sides of the band - the conservative and the adventurous sides. I think he meant Martin and Fletch to be the conservative side, and Dave and himself to be the adventurous side. And when it became difficult during the recording of SOFAD, it came to my mind that Dave's role might have been more important than anyone would have expected. That he was important for the team-spirit and bringing in some balance into the group itself, y'know.

Steve Lyon: "Well, a band is a balance. And when the balance becomes difficult ... unfortunately the band fell apart ... but, yeah, Dave and Alan were the more adventurous in the material. I can remember sitting in Spain and chatting with Dave about the Red Hot Chili Peppers in which Alan also was very much into, the stuff coming from Seattle, American rock bands, hearing Nirvana on MTV the first time, Perry Farrell's band Jane's Addiction. Their album came out when we were recording SOFAD. Dave was a big fan and I sat down and listened to together with Dave, and that was something Martin and Fletch never listened to. Flood also was influenced by many things. It was a pretty impressive team I have to say. My job was to make the sounds more adventurous and creating a platform for Alan and Flood to work on. I think it was a very creative time. Fletch can be a very negative person about what can happen next and I think he was worried a bit about the change from Violator to SOFAD, Alan, Flood and myself were not and nor was Dave. I think Martin was kind of middle ground ... but we all knew there's was something good in what we were doing. Later they were very much surprised by the success of SOFAD considering what had been spoken about during the making of the album. Like 'Is it too far away from Violator?' But if you ask any Depeche fan about his favourite albums he will probably say Violator and SOFAD. When I started working with them I was completely unaware of the back catalogue. I knew some old singles and old songs but I really didn't know them at all. And I remember we took a break at the recording in London and I got a delivery from Mute with the whole back catalogue of Depeche stuff and I sat down at the weekend and I was completely blown away. I was like, 'Wow, why I never knew this?' And I remember I was talking to Alan and Flood about it, and for them this was a good thing. On a creative side this is a good thing because you are not afraid to propose ideas or change sounds and do things. When you are aware of the band's history and their success you can get scared and on a creative side that can be bad. You can always get backwards. The step forward is the most difficult thing."
(See in context -> 1991)

Steve Lyon

(with friendly permission of © Steve Lyon) What I'm trying to do with this biography is to expel some of the myths about all the pain and suffering. Most biographies and articles are about the dark sides, drugs, drugs and drugs ...

Steve Lyon: "Well, certainly towards the end of the time I was working with them or during the time in Spain and then a little bit in Germany it was quite obvious that Dave was having a bad time. He had a lot of support from everyone, from the band, certainly from me, certainly from Flood, from Daniel Miller. Everyone could realise that he was having a difficult time. But it didn't really stop the creative work. When I look back at this time, Violator, Violation-Tour, pre-production of SOFAD ... I wouldn't say it was a dark, difficult period. Completely opposite, I had a great time. They are really nice guys, they are brilliant to hang out with. I can remember walking around the Reeperbahn in Germany, with the band and the whole crew, having a great time! We weren't worried about fans or anything, just having a good time. Going back to the hotel, where we stayed there in Hamburg, sitting around the piano, playing, singing, fans coming in, watching ... it was a very happy, creative period. Unfortunately Dave had a difficult time but it hadn't an influence on what we were doing."
(See in Context -> 1992) I think that there really were two different sides. When you read the statements of the band members carefully, you see that they had their problems, but also had fun. But ... I'm also trying to understand why their working relationships didn't work so well anymore. I think maybe Alan and Martin simply developed in different directions in their musical approach.

Steve Lyon: "Their musical tastes were quite different. And I think that this blend of what they were doing made it work to be honest. I remember being in the studio in Spain and I went to see Martin in his room and he was listening to soul music, gospel, Elvis, 80's electronic music, he had a very wide taste. And the same was with Alan. When you listen to Recoil stuff ... the track we did with Moby, [Curse], when you listen to Moby's solo records they are almost identical to what he did with Alan. I don't think they had really a different musical approach. It wasn't too much of a problem."
(See in context -> 1992)
"I don't know really why Alan decided to leave the band. I knew before it became a common knowledge. I don't know if he told anyone else but I knew that he was going to leave. I really think it's really unfortunate because the working relationships and the success that they had were good. When we were working together it was incredible. It's a real shame that he left. Sometimes things have to break and then go together again. So let's wait and see. They had been together in the band for a long time. And he took a very, very lead role in the band and it's a shame that they are not working together again."
(See in context -> 1995) You also worked together with Alan on Nitzer Ebb's album Ebbhead. He was the producer, wasn't he?

Steve Lyon: "He was the co-producer together with Flood. Then Flood left because he went on working with U2 and then I finished it with Alan." Was the way of working with Alan on other projects different in comparison with working on Depeche Mode projects?

Steve Lyon: "Not really. It was a very similar method actually. There were a couple of songs that were born at this time, at Nitzer Ebb, he had a very strong opinion about but it was not his band. He took a step back. He wouldn't necessary do this with Depeche. But it was quite similar to work with Depeche. In the course of time Alan certainly had developed some kind of style like everyone does." I'm a huge fan of Paradise Lost's album Host, their so-called Depeche Mode album. I never saw it that way, although many people say it sounds like Depeche. I always saw it as an attempt to record Goth Metal with strings and synthesizers. But then I noticed recently for the first time that you produced it. Did you carry over some of Alan's style into your own work?

Steve Lyon: "Oh very much. The thing with Paradise Lost is ... That wasn't the first time they asked me. They asked me about four or three times to work with them and I always said 'no'. Then I spoke to Greg and Nick from Paradise Lost and they said to me that they wanted to make a very different kind of album. And I said: 'Okay, and what kind of album do you want to make?' And they said: 'We don't want to make a heavy rock album, we want to make something completely different.' And I said: 'Okay, let's see how we get on. Let's get together.' And at this time ... I just finished working with The Cure I think, y'know, I finished Depeche, then working with The Cure and then with Paradise Lost. I heard people talking about this album but at the end of the day it's their record. This is what they wanted and this is what they got. It was a very different kind of record for them. It was quite successful. They were successful before this album and after me but it was a different success they had with this album. If you had listened to the demos to this album the final result wasn't so different. So, that's the album they wanted to make. A band always knows what they want. A producer is the person in the middle to bring in an external voice. I think it's quite a compliment." [That some people say the album sounds like Depeche Mode.] "I heard people saying it a few times, but it just shows you what they wanted. I think the Nitzer Ebb album is a bit like a Depeche Mode album as well but maybe this is why they wanted Alan and Flood to produce it."

Later, when I showed the interview to him to make sure that all the quotes were correct and in the right context, and he was reading the part where Alan is talking about preparing the backing tapes for Devotional when the system crashed, Steve Lyon said: "Alan and I had finished our time at Olympic [in London] but still had an enormous amount of work to do, Alan also wanted to play some live drums, so we went to his house. I remember on our last Olympic Studio evening we said, 'ok Pub!' But I said, 'Wait, I'm going to record from the Roland samplers onto 32 Mitsubishi as a back up.' So, I set it up, hit record and we went for a beer. Thankfully that saved us as the system crashed a week later and we would have lost everything, 2 months of work."
(See in context -> 1993)

To the top