Depeche Mode Frontman Dave Gahan Gets Spiritual
When Depeche Mode chose Soulsavers, the English electronica production team of Rich Machin and Ian Glover, to open for them on their 2009 European tour, they didn’t know it would be just the beginning of their musical collaboration.
But, as mutual fans, with front man Dave Gahan enjoying Soulsavers’ work with singer Mark Lanegan and Machin’s love of the seminal albums ‘Violator’ and ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’, it was only a matter of time.
Following in their tradition of joining forces with high-profile guest vocalists, Soulsavers turned their attention to Gahan for their latest album, ‘The Light the Dead Can See’.
CNN recently spoke to Gahan about what inspired the soaring new songs, what fans can expect from the new Depeche Mode LP being recorded now and how ‘Ziggy Stardust’ changed his life.
CNN: How did working on this album compare to recording a Depeche Mode or solo record for you? It seems like a big enough task to have one great idea, never mind be able to parcel them out to different projects like you do.
Dave Gahan: It’s interesting that you said that about the one good idea. With ‘Presence of God’, for instance, it’s one phrase or one sentence and the way I sing that. The notes that I choose to sing will sometimes do it. If I get that one line, I’m like, yes! That leads me somewhere else. That’s when things start getting really exciting.
The stuff with Rich was a different process for me. I never sat down and said, OK, I’m writing songs now for this or for that. I wasn’t choosing this subject or that subject. It seemed to work with the music and I didn’t want to edit that. I didn’t want to bend it into a different direction. It was really a pure process, and I think you hear that.
‘I Can’t Stay’ was one of the first things I worked on. When I sent it back to Rich, he was blown away by what I’d done over the guitar chords he’d given to me and it started the process between us. These songs really kind of wrote themselves. I can’t describe it in any better way. I just had to get out of the way, really.
CNN: Speaking of blessed, you explore spirituality on this album, especially on ‘Presence of God’, and have said that may make people uncomfortable. Sure, it’s more direct than what Depeche Mode usually does, but was it really such a major departure?
Gahan: Not at all. I think that’s because Martin [Gore] and I shake from the same hip as well. In the past, especially in the ‘Violator’ and ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’ period, I felt like Martin was writing songs about me or for me. He wasn’t really; I was younger then. But we had those same doubts, and quite often seemed to experience the same weird, dark sense of humor. ‘Presence of God’ is really that understanding that sometimes when you step out of your own shoes and just open your ears and listen to what’s going on around you, you get answers to the questions you were asking. The title ‘The Light the Dead See’ works so well because sometimes when you’re still and not trying to steer things in a certain way is really when the magic can happen. It’s when I’m trying to figure that out for myself that I get into all kinds of trouble.
CNN: It’s a delicate balance to explore these subjects in your lyrics and not alienate the audience by coming across as tortured or preachy. How did you manage to pull it off?
Gahan: I’m glad you heard that. There was no torture at all. It really came easy, this stuff. For me, that doubt and that faith are so close. It’s impossible to deny that happening around you when you really kind of let go of trying to control things. But it’s not hokey in any way. I’m not trying to tell you what to do. It’s purely my experience of feeling like I really belong, and then moments of really what the f–k am I doing? We all have that. I tried to keep that as open as possible without directing. I don’t want to direct you. I want you to listen and conjure up your own thoughts.
CNN: The album is beautiful — both melancholy and uplifting at the same time. How did you go about hitting those emotional nerves?
Gahan: I think some of that stuff comes from the way I used my voice. I go to a very visual place when I’m singing. It’s very cinematic and I get this feeling of space. I love when music does that. I listened to David Bowie a lot when I was a teenager. The place that he seemed to be singing from is the place that I wanted to go to. I didn’t know if that place really existed, but I believed it did. I tried to capture that same magic again on this record. It’s a place you go to when you listen, where you just feel a sense of belonging. Or, not feeling a sense of belonging and that being OK.
CNN: Is there any one Bowie line, image or album that was able to transport you more than others?
Gahan: There’s many records that have been pivotal for me. If I were to name one, it would be ‘Ziggy Stardust’. It changed my life. The same thing happened when punk rock came along and I heard the Clash for the first time. I was 16 or 17 years old. It made me feel like I belonged to something. Music has always done that and continues to do that for me. Lately, a record that I bought that I’m really listening to a lot is the new Spiritualized album, ‘Sweet Heart Sweet Light’.
There’s a sense of humor to me in the combination of his words and his musical styles. It just spoke to me and brought a smile to my face. Some may listen to that record and not get the same feeling, but it’s really uplifting and a beautiful record.
CNN: You are currently recording your 13th Depeche Mode album. Can you give us a hint about what we can expect?
Gahan: Martin’s been particularly prolific, and myself as well. I was doing the Soulsavers thing and writing demos for Depeche Mode with a friend. Martin got on a writing streak. He’s got some really great songs. We usually start a record with six or seven songs; we currently have about 20.
In the studio, we’re trying to not over-fuss things. We’re trying to not over-produce the sound. If something’s working, we’re just recording it. We’re trying to get the element of performance into the record more. We’ve already been talking to Anton Corbijn about some ideas we have about where we want to take the record visually and he usually has a pretty great angle.
The songs have a bluesy influence. Obviously, it’s not a blues record, but there’s definitely some of those influences there. And it has a kind of soulful feel as well. It’s still early so it’s difficult to tell at this stage. We’ve been making records for a long time together, but there’s always an element of surprise when it comes to the way a Depeche Mode record is really going to sound — even for ourselves.