You Owe Me: Dave Gahan Interviewed

Angels, ghosts and Soulsavers...

Whisper it, but Dave Gahan is in the middle of something of a purple patch. Depeche Mode’s lauded, internationally successful ‘Delta Machine’ full length has been bookended by two collaborations with Soulsavers, the latest of which, ‘Angels & Ghosts’, arrived only a few days ago.

“I guess this is the third record in just a few years, which is probably a bit of a record in itself for me!” laughs Dave Gahan. “I hadn't really thought about that – it's interesting that you brought that up.”

It seems that the communication between Dave Gahan and Soulsavers’ producer Rich Machin is almost continual – the pair are constantly swapping ideas, exchanging fresh stems and working on new tracks. “We never really stopped writing,” he explains. “It slowed down quite a bit because I started recording 'Delta Machine'. But at the same time I was still playing around with a few ideas from Rich. A couple that ended up becoming something.”

The opening track on the new record was also one of the first to be completed. ‘Shine’ is an inspiring, near gospel return, one that was seemingly prompted by a particularly memorable Depeche Mode show, playing to thousands of fans at a stadium in Berlin. “It was just one of those gigs that you're walking on air,” he reminisces.

“Everything was great. I can't really explain it but every once in a while you have these gigs that you just kind of look around at each other and you're like: are you all feeling this? Some amazing feeling that you're being carried, and that I could sing anything I wanted to, I could do anything with me voice. I got back to the hotel after that show and this melody was in my head and this word, shine. The words really came from this feeling that I got from the audience there in Berlin that night.”

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However that isn’t to suggest that the material for this new project flowed effortlessly between the pair. The Depeche Mode singer admits that he found some aspects difficult, with the exhausting strain of the ‘Delta Machine’ tour leaving him emotionally and creatively spent.

“I took about a month after that to just kind of stare at the walls. As you do, after long tours!” he laughs. “You just feel completely useless – like, I have no purpose in my life. What am I doing? After about a month of moping around, the wife was like, y'know, you need to get out of bed and do something! I'd pretty much exhausted every film that I hadn't seen. It was one of those things, y'know – even the kids were like, Dad what are you doing?”

“Rich had continued to send me things, so I started to play around with these things. And then very quickly, I felt so inspired by what he was sending me, and all these melodies and words started to pour out of me. Which were, I think, reflecting on what I had been doing up until that point. Stuff I'd been through personally in my life, as well, which I wasn't expecting. I got a little sick towards the 'Sounds Of The Universe' tour and I think repercussions of that, and going through that and then completing the tour still dealing with that during the tour and everything. I'm still dealing with it now, but it's different. So there was a lot of that stuff, and also what's going on in the world around me, I think started to sneak its way into these songs.”

Suddenly freed from creative inertia, the singer was able to really get his teeth into the sessions. It’s something he’s still getting used to – working within the constraints of Depeche Mode for decades, Dave Gahan admits that he couldn’t previously have imagined stepping outwith the confines of the group.

“I'm still pinching meself – to get to do this outside of my band, with somebody different,” he explains. “To find somebody else, and feel like you're striking gold with somebody. I've been pretty lucky with stuff like that. Also, I'm very open to try these things – but I wasn't always. If you'd asked me ten years ago, or fifteen years ago to go sit in a room with somebody, see if you can come up with something, I would have been terrified.”

“I owe a lot of that to Rich as well. He’s someone that you can work with who, for some reason, he and I musically are on the same page. We listen to the same kind of music. Recently for instance, he was like, oh you've got to check out this Algiers record. And I fell in love with that album, immediately! It's like we both kind of get it. And that's unusual to hit it off like that with someone musically. It doesn't always work. You talk about ideas. You think, oh this'll be a great collaboration and it's just not. But for some reason Rich and I really hit it off.”

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I've always been that kind of person – I'll see it through to the end.

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New record ‘Angels & Ghosts’ was conceived right from the off as an album in the traditional sense. For Dave Gahan, this is simply the way he absorbs and makes music – it’s what he’s always done, and and it’s how he appreciates and experiences new sounds. “It has always been the way that I've made albums with Depeche. We always think of it like that. It's only in the last few years where you've had this pressure to sort of like, from record companies saying: oh you've got to come up with some extra tracks, we've got the deluxe version! Which, to be honest, I think is a bit bullshit. I like this idea that there's an album that's got however many songs – nine, ten, eleven – to me, it should have two sides. I know a lot of young people would say – what the fuck's he talking about?! But I still listen to music like that. I still have my record player and I still play albums like that.”

“I listen to music digitally, too, but if I really like something then I'll buy it on vinyl,” he continues. “I still come from that school of putting on an album. You've got to listen to it as a complete body of work and, for me, this album, when we arranged the songs we were, once again, very much in agreement of the arrangement. We were in total agreement about that, right from the off. Once we'd finished those songs it was just the way it felt. I like that. I'm the same with movies, anything that I'm doing, I kind of have to complete it. I have to start at the beginning, get to the end. Even if it's shit. I've always been that kind of person – I'll see it through to the end.”

There’s an endearing honesty to each of Dave Gahan’s answers – clad in his unmistakable Essex brogue, the singer seems eager to simply get to the heart of the matter. It’s there in his songwriting, too – ‘Angels & Ghosts’ hinges on a unique duality, between two sides of vinyl, two songwriters and two aspects of himself. ‘You Owe Me’ is a coruscating highlight, a point where the singer takes aim both at himself and the world around him.

“It's hard to describe songs sometimes. Even to myself,” he admits. “I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about, usually, until later on. Even now, when I'm rehearsing the songs and I'm running through 'em and I'm warming up my voice, I'm like – oh, you've got to get your shit together!”

“Now, 'You Owe Me' I think is a little bit of a dig at everything. It might even be, subconsciously, a bit of a dig at the world, I don't know. Looking at yourself in the mirror, catching that reflection. Not being entirely happy with what you see staring back at you. This song is definitely me getting a little bit testy with everything and everyone around me. And really, sort of standing up and saying: fuck you. You owe me. And it's actually very positive in that way, too. You've got to stand up and do something if you want something to change.”

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Credit: Steve Gullick

'Angels & Ghosts' is out now. Dave Gahan and Soulsavers will play a sold out show at London venue Shepherd's Bush Empire tonight (October 26th).

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