Soulsavers Pt. 2: Dave Gahan

"I'm not interested in making something that's just good..."
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Dave Gahan is reflecting on working with Rich Machin on 'The Light The Dead See', his collaboration with Soulsavers which was released earlier this year. "In all the years I've been recording and working and making music with other people," he enthuses in his distinctive Essex-via-New York accent, "you can count on one hand the times that you feel like you've hit that special moment, either on stage during a song, or sometimes in the studio, where you feel like you're right in the zone, and everything's coming together. Making this record turned into that for Rich and I."

Creating 'The Light The Dead See' was clearly a formative experience for both Gahan and Machin judging by their positive affirmations about making the record. For Gahan, who spent the first twenty years of being in Depeche Mode singing lyrics written for him by Martin Gore, and who only started putting together his own songs ten years ago, the process was a powerful one. "He just kept feeding me these pieces of music that inspired me and I still feel incredibly inspired by this record," he continues, explaining that it was as if the lyrics to more or less appear to him out of the ether. "I know that sounds weird, but it's almost like I had little to do with it. I felt all the time that I was being fed these ideas, and I don't know where from or what that's about. I just kept following what I was given. I didn't edit it too much. I sang what I felt I should sing. Rich pretty much left it alone, and I think that's what for me is magical about this record. It was quite spontaneous."

Throughout our interview, Gahan talks frequently about operating outside his comfort zone, but not necessarily because he lacked confidence in his own songwriting, something that he felt when he began writing songs. "I hear now, and I did during the writing as well, that I was pushing myself. I'm really sort of pushing myself to just be right in my life, wherever that happens to be in any particular moment, rather than projecting way into the future or going over the past." It's that sense of living in the moment, for the moment - but not in the nihilistic, self-destructive way that Gahan lived his life twenty years ago - that provides 'The Light The Dead See' with some of its most positive and optimistic moments. It's at this moment that Gahan offers an unexpected nervous laugh. "I've been listening to it a lot this week in particular in case I forget the words. It does happen quite a lot. I don't know if its getting that bit older, or maybe it was because of too many burnt out years."

I talk to Gahan just as he's about to drive from Santa Barbara, where Depeche Mode are holed up in the studio recording their new album with producer Ben Hillier, to Capital Studios in Los Angeles for an intimate showcase with Soulsavers. Machin reassembled the majority of musicians thst played on 'The Light The Dead See' for a set of half a dozen songs from the record in front of special guests, journalists and competition winners. "Capital has a history of The Beatles and the Beach Boys doing performances there," explains Gahan. "It's a cool place in Hollywood and we just figured it was a good opportunity and everything fell into place."

The idea of things just falling into place casually is one that characterised the entire recording experience of 'The Light The Dead See'. With most of the record made outside of traditional studios, with no real time pressure, no need for a plan and without record company deadlines. Partly this was because the idea of an album wasn't really a reality until Machin and Gahan had realised they had accumulated enough tracks to make a full-length record a possibility, but also, according to Gahan, neither of them was particularly sure they wanted to make music at all anymore. "We both came out from this place of asking if it's all worth it." With Machin exhausted from recording and touring The Light The Dead See's predecessor Broken, experiencing deafness and ongoing tinnitus and Gahan being diagnosed with a cancerous tumour, it's no real surprise that neither wanted a huge amount of pressure and expectation for their collaboration. Nevertheless, Gahan is emphatic that despite some pretty dark material across the record, recovering from his own illness wasn't a significant influence on his lyric writing. "I wasn't thinking about it too much. It was really coming from my heart, and I was trying to express myself, I guess, to myself," he laughs, sensing that that comes across as a bit cheesy. "What I'm finding from talking to people is that there's a lot of identification with the honesty and the simplicity of the words."

"I don't think too much about what other people think of what I'm doing anymore," Gahan continues, turning his focus from the relaxed process of realising 'The Light The Dead See' to the new Depeche Mode record. "The things I'm working on in particular with the band right now in the studio, there's a lot of other musicians involved, some people breathing down your neck and there's all the stuff that comes with that. That's the game. You learn to deal with that and get on with it anyway, but Soulsavers was just very different. It was like apples and oranges, just two very different ways of working."

"I love what I do with Depeche Mode", Gahan insists. "Honestly, to walk on stage in front of thousands of people - anybody that says that's a drag is a liar. It's fantastic, and I can't deny that, but it comes with a lot of stuff. Those moments on stage, those couple of hours when you're performing, that's the freedom, that's the joy. When you're up there you realise that what you are doing is something important and something special and it's a gift. But it comes with a lot of pressure."

I ask what Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher, Gahan's bandmates in Depeche Mode, thought of the Soulsavers record. "Martin, you know, he's not one to really jump up and down about a lot of things, visibly anyway," sighs Gahan. "Maybe he does inside. But he gave me props. Fletch was very complimentary. Ben Hillier, who we're working with on the new Depeche record, was really blown away by it. Very impressed. And look - people were quite surprised, myself included, in how this turned out together and what we managed to do together."

At the very end of the interview, I tell Dave that 'The Light The Dead See' found a real, genuine blues edge coming through in his vocal. "It's definitely in there in me," he laughs, almost sheepishly, at the compliment. "To be honest without music and without the music that I'm lucky enough to have made on this Soulsavers record, it just kind of stays inside, and that's no good for me. What's really good is to make the music, put it into something, and then be able to step back and go 'wow, that's putting your feelings and your soul into something'. I still strive to do that, it's still what I try to do in my band. I haven't lost that edge, I haven't lost that excitement of trying to make something that's great."

"I'm not interested in making something that's just good," he concludes.

Words by Mat Smith

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'The Light The Dead See' is out now.

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