Andrew Fletcher, the 'third man' in Depeche Mode, talks to Harry Guerin about their new, return-to-form album, 'Sounds of the Universe', and why now is a very good time to be in "the world's biggest cult band".

In 30 years there are bad times and good times.
We actually really enjoyed the making of 'Sounds of the Universe'. Sometimes through a bad period you can produce great material. This time, I think we managed to enjoy it and produce something that's pretty good.

Things came together with this album to give it a better edge.
Martin [Gore, guitarist] gave up drink three-and-a-half years ago, halfway through the last tour. When he started writing [this album] in 2007, he wasn't sure, y'know creatively, how that would affect him. But now he's suddenly become this prolific songwriter. The quality of the songs was very high. We actually went into the studio with 24 songs. That's really impressive, for us. And, y'know, Dave [Gahan, singer] is improving as a songwriter all the time as well.

When Martin gave up drink he developed a new interest, which was quite healthy.
An E-Bay addiction - buying vintage synthesisers, guitar pedals and drum machines. Every one or two days in the studio a package would arrive. We'd open it up, plug it in. A lot of these old synthesisers, the sound is a lot warmer and grittier, so when you mix that with more modern things like digital synthesisers, it creates quite a cool sound. I think the instrumentation on this album is a lot more layered, as are the vocals - we've used more harmonies here than we have on previous albums.

I think Dave Gahan feels he's got so much to offer now.
He wasted quite a few years. It's almost a rebirth. He looks fantastic and really works hard at everything he does. I am absolutely proud of him - this incredible change that has happened in his life. He has a wonderful family - the same as Martin and I.

I think that before he wrote songs for Depeche Mode and before he had his solo albums, Dave felt a bit unfulfilled. He was a great performer and a great frontman, but he was singing someone else's lyrics. And I think his solo albums and his contributions to Depeche Mode albums have really made him feel a lot more fulfilled.

You've got U2 as the biggest band in the world; we're the biggest cult band in the world.
I think a lot of fans think of us as their little secret. And what happens during a concert is that there are 10,000 people all thinking the same thing and they're all in one place. We like the fact that we've got these diehard fans: it really gives us the freedom to go in the studio and produce what we want to produce knowing that a certain amount of people are going to buy it no matter what.

There's a difference in meeting fans and meeting people on the street.
A lot of the people you meet in the street think that we were only around in 1981 and 1982 and we haven't been around since then. They think of 'Just Can't Get Enough' and when I tell them we're making a new record it's like, 'It's amazing that you guys are coming back again from the 1980s.'

I feel I'm a general man on the street.
I like football, reading books, going to the pub. We're very lucky: we lead very normal lives. We can go to pubs and go shopping. Yeah, we get recognised every now and then, but it's a great position to be in. We're not celebrities. Yes, we might be rock stars, but we're not celebrities.

It's fascinating to me how often Depeche Mode are namechecked by bands in other genres.
In the beginning of our career, when we were more of a pop band, we didn't get namechecked very much. During the 1980s it seemed to be that we were fighting a lonely battle for electronic music against a predominantly rock press. To come through all that... and we're still trying with this record to produce something that's relevant now as well. For instance, we want to make a better album than the Killers. We like the fact that they say nice things about us and Coldplay are saying nice things about us, but we want to make a better record and be a better live band.

The future looks quite rosy for Depeche Mode.
Creatively we seem to be reaching a new peak, perhaps. You'll probably read now on the tour that we've split up in Arkansas!

If I had to pick one moment to treasure from 30 years of Depeche Mode...
There are five or six actual moments. But one was when we released our first single ['Dreaming of Me'] on Mute Records and the first time it was actually played on the radio. Peter Powell played it on BBC Radio One. That was an amazing moment because up until then it really was a hobby being in a band and we had started the band from school. And at that moment it was such an amazing feeling. It was all that we had dreamt about from the age of 13.

'Sounds of the Universe' is released on 17 April.