Dave Gahan has been the frontman for Depeche Mode for almost as long as the band has been together. In all that time, he’s experienced the highs and lows often associated with being in the spotlight, much of which became fodder for tabloids. Years after leaving the darkness behind, Gahan finds himself embracing a new, different kind of darkness while working with Soulsavers, the gothic-tinged English production team of Rich Machin and Ian Glover. Gahan is taking this feeling of reinvigoration back into the studio with Depeche Mode as well, as he and bandmates Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher finish up their latest album, due in the spring of 2013.
Consequence of Sound had a chance to catch up with Gahan after a weekend in the studio. We talked about his work with Soulsavers on The Light the Dead See and what the future has in store regarding another collaboration. We also talked about the Mode, a topic on which Gahan gave us a few nuggets, including the rumors of Alan Wilder’s involvement. But try as we did to get all the dirt on the new Mode album, Mr. Gahan was reluctant to spoil any surprises.
So you were in the studio this weekend, right?
Yeah. I’m just finishing… we’re not finished yet, but getting close to finishing the recording of a new Depeche Mode album. And in a few weeks from now, when we should be finished, it goes off to London to be mixed by Flood. That’s what I’ve been doing.
Yeah, it’s been going really well. For the best part of this year, we’ve been bashing away at it. And we did a bunch of writing last year, towards the end of last year. It’s been pretty busy with all the Soulsavers stuff as well. I sort of promised myself after the last Depeche Mode tour that I was going to take a break [laughs], but I kind of got busier. It’s always that way.
Actually, it was a really pleasant surprise to begin the writing process with Rich [Machin]. It was just sort of magical, really. It wasn’t something either of us planned. We just kind of fell into it really. He sent me a couple of ideas that he had, sort of sketchy ideas that he had, and I just began with the ideas and writing down lyrics and stuff and coming up with melodies throughout most of last year. That’s kind of what I was doing. It wasn’t like I was sweating it in the studio or something. Literally, Rich would send me something new every few weeks, and if I felt like doing something, I did it. There was no pressure, really.
Was it an album over the Internet, or did you actually work together in the studio at all?
No. We weren’t in the studio ever. [Laughs.] Rich was. Well, maybe that had something to do with it as well. I didn’t feel any pressure from him at all. We certainly rarely had a discussion about what I was doing, and I never really had a discussion about what he was doing. He would send me these beautifully lo-fi ideas either on an organ or a guitar or something, and I just started writing. Once I had formulated in my head what I wanted to do, I would go into the studio here with my friend Kurt [Uenala], who I also write with here in New York. I wrote a bunch of stuff with him for the Depeche Mode record, but that’s another story for another time. We would throw down some vocals, and once I felt confident about what I was trying to do with the song, I would send it back to Rich, and then he would build the music around what I did.
Were the vocals a cappella?
No. He always gave me something to work with, formulated chords, but very simple, nothing too complicated, sometimes no rhythm at all. Basically, the rhythm was in what he was playing. It was in a guitar line; it was in a line on a Hammond. The way he did it… it had an atmosphere to it. I can’t really explain it. I think that’s what I picked up on. So, I would hear these melodies and these words, and I just started throwing them down. Rich got what I was doing, and he would go away and gather various musical friends that he had to build the tracks around what I was doing. It really was a collaborative thing, but, like I said, we were never in the same room together. The first time we got into a room together really was when we started doing a bit of promotion a couple of months ago. And, of course, we talked about doing something together when Soulsavers toured with Depeche Mode in Europe a couple years back. But, you know, quite often when you have those conversations, nothing happens. It was one of those backstage, hallway conversations.
I think it was myself, Mark Lanegan, and Rich, and maybe they were about to go onstage or something. I would often sit on the side of the stage and watch and listen to what they were doing. I’ll admit that I’ve been a fan of what Rich has been doing with Soulsavers for a while. And certainly, once they got Lanegan on board, I got more interested. It was one of those things… I just saw myself at some point in the future doing something. And paths crossed through a mutual friend of ours, Martyn Lenoble, who played bass with me on the Paper Monsters tour and [was] a friend of mine from back when I lived in L.A. He was playing some bass on Soulsavers’ album, Broken, in L.A., and I just happened to ring him up talking about something else. He said, “I’m in the studio here with Soulsavers,” and I was, “Really? I really like that band.” And then Rich shouted out in the background, “Well, take us fucking on tour then.” [Laughs.]
And I asked if he was serious about wanting to go on tour. I said, “Really? With my band? That’s not an easy opening act. Soulsavers are very cinematic. I’m not sure if it’s the right thing for the kind of gigs that my band is doing, but if he’s game for a laugh, then let’s do something.”
So, I talked to Martin [Gore], and Martin was, “Yeah, cool. Let’s figure out where would be good.” I think they stayed with us a couple of months in Europe. It was cool. They came out, and it was one of those things — be careful what you wish for. And then Rich sent me all these wonderful little gifts. It stretched me as a writer in a different sort of way. It enabled me to not have a plan, really. There was no pressure, like, “This is gonna be a record,” or a record company breathing down our necks saying it’s gotta be like this or like that, which could be a little crippling if you’re trying to just be free. Rich allowed that with me. He never really rang me up and said, “I don’t really know what you’re doing here. I’ve got no idea where you’re going with this.” It was always kind of like, “Wow. Thanks. I’ve got some work to do.” [Laughs.]
Yeah. It’s really special. I’ve got to say, I’m really looking forward to doing something again, and we actually have been doing a little bit of writing. Rich had a new son born recently, and around that time he had sent me a couple pieces of something new, and immediately I started writing again. There’s just something he does that I respond to. So, I should imagine in the future, hopefully, that there will be another record. I’m hoping around that time, once Depeche has finished what they’re doing… and that’s gonna be a while, to be honest, going on the road next year so, at least another year and a half from now. But I can see us certainly writing together during that time and finishing a record and hopefully actually be able to do some real shows after that.
I’ve noticed that you’ve done a few one-off shows. Was there any discussion around doing an actual tour with Soulsavers?
We talked about doing some shows. We did this small show in Los Angeles a couple of months ago in the Capitol studio building, which was great. Really small, 150 people. We filmed it and recorded it. Hopefully you’re going to see that popping up on some kind of TV show somewhere. That’s almost been finished editing. The music’s pretty much as it was. Rich left it alone. It’s pretty cool. We had a bunch of guys playing with us. Tony [Bevan] and Kevin [Bales] from Spiritualized, who played drums and guitar. And Sean playing keyboards. It was fantastic. And a guy I had never met before, this guy Aaron, played some extra guitar stuff. He was fantastic. And, of course, Rich. Hopefully you’ll be seeing it somewhere. I don’t know all what is happening. I’ve got no idea. But I’ve seen some footage, and it’s very cool.
The whole night was actually very cool. Completely nerve-racking. I think I actually say during the performance that I don’t think I’ve been this close to people for a long time. [Laughs.] Literally, I could feel them breathing on me; it was that close. I like a little bit of distance between myself and people, to be honest. In general, I’m not the most social of people. I’ve gotten used to playing on those sort of stages, but this was something else. I don’t think I’ve been that nervous… before this performance, Rich said I didn’t show it, but inside, I got to tell you, there were some butterflies going on, I must say.
I’m sure Capitol studios is a far cry from the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Yeah, it was. It wasn’t so far in distance, but it was definitely a different experience. I really enjoyed it. It was really thrilling. This is pretty amazing. And we pulled it off. We literally got together and did a day’s rehearsal in Hollywood the day before. I was out recording in Santa Barbara with my band, so I split for the weekend and did a little bit of moonlighting, which was fun. And the band was totally cool with that. Martin and Fletch [Andrew Fletcher] were like, “Go knock yourself out.” It was actually really something cool, because when I went back in the studio, I actually felt very invigorated.
Yeah, so that’s going to come out, and we are actually talking about maybe doing something towards the end of the year, or January, here in New York actually. If it comes off, it will be pretty cool. It might be like a Soulsavers night including Mark as well doing some songs. We kind of talked about it, and of course this record was such a great thing to do, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I really do think it’s a very special record. I don’t mean to come across as arrogant, but there’s something really special about it. It was much larger than any person involved in it.
One time my friend, he rang me up after playing a couple of tracks and [said], “This is the best writing you’ve ever done.” And I was like, “Cheers. Thanks a lot. That’s great.” And then he called me back about half an hour later, and he said, “Did you hear what I said? Did you take that in?”. [Laughs.] He’s known me for years, and it really meant a lot to me coming from somebody I admire so much as a musician and a friend. There’s definitely going to be another record at some point, and then I feel like with a couple of records under our belt, then we may be able to do some kind of proper tour, I should imagine.
With regards to the new Depeche album, last March you said you had a recording deadline set for November. It sounds like you are on track for your April release. But do you even have a title yet?
We do not. We had a couple of things up on the blackboard, as they say, and a bunch of titles of songs, but they always change. I’m not going to give anything away right now. But, yes, we definitely are on target in terms of wanting to get the album out next year. In fact, very shortly we’re going to make an announcement about that. By that time, hopefully if we’re all agreed, we’ll have a title to it. I’m excited about it. I’ve been having a lot of discussions with Anton Corbijn as well. He’s been taking a bunch of pictures of us. I think in about a month we’re going off together and doing a bunch of filming for what will become something for the show. And also I think Anton is going to do a video with us for a song as well, that we haven’t yet picked.
We’ve already recorded about 20 songs so far. I’d say about two-thirds of those are Martin’s tunes and about one-third mine. Once we get it all together, we’ll know what’s right for the record. Ben Hillier is producing. We have Flood mixing. We have a slightly different team. Chris Berg, who’s been fantastic on this record — you may have heard of him through Fever Ray — he’s come on board and done some great stuff, really inspiring stuff. I’d say it’s kind of more minimal-sounding. More to the point than the last record we put out in terms of… it feels more direct. We’re trying to be very careful about if there’s a strong melody there, then let’s hear it. Keep it as minimal as possible. Not too much fluff, not too much production in terms of… it’s difficult to say at this point. We’re just trying to not over-do the production. It’s one of those things that sounds easy to do, but it’s actually not. You can sort of start chasing your own tail. But, for the moment, it seems like we’re doing a good job at that.
You used the word minimal. Did Martin’s work with Vince on their album have any effect on the sound or production of this new Depeche Mode album?
I would say no in terms of the actual sound of it. We’re using a lot of modular synthesizers, that’s for sure. A lot more stuff live playing in the studio. Trying to not work so much on the grid. Everything’s lined up perfectly. We’re trying to stay away from that. Definitely got more feel to it in that way. I think it definitely inspired Martin. Definitely working out of the box, just as it had with me, I think it inspired him to come back in, invigorated about working. And that’s what it does for me as well. When we get back together, it’s like we’ve got new ideas to bring to the table.
He and I are sometimes on completely different spectrums, but that’s what’s exciting about Depeche Mode when we work in the studio together. Martin and I, of course, being the two instrumental. We’re the engine room of the band, if you like. There’s something that happens between us. And it’s still not easy. That’s what’s cool about it. We don’t sit back and rely on what we’ve done in the past. We’re always trying to challenge ourselves and challenge what we do and challenge the song. What can we do with this song? Anyway, that’s another interview, and hopefully we’ll do that another time.
What can you say to the rumors that Alan Wilder is working with you guys again?
I can say they are absolutely not true. I wish him all the best. It was great [having] him hanging out with us for a couple of days and playing with us at the Albert Hall. It was really a lot of fun and sort of a magical night. It was great. We raised a lot of money as well for a teenage cancer trust that Roger Daltrey puts together every year. That was really great, and to have Alan up there onstage and watching him… He was a real part of the puzzle and still remains on all that stuff that he worked on with us. Alan was really very, very instrumental in leading us in different directions.
I saw this comment made by Martin, regarding how in the early years of your band you were pretty much viewing America as a lost cause and that you weren’t going to be successful here. Then a year later , Some Great Reward blew up, and a few years after that you pretty much took over the world. It’s amazing what a difference a year can make.
Well, as they say, “Don’t leave before the miracle.” [Laughs.]