REINVENTING DEPECHE MODE
A Norwegian Interview with Dave Gahan
LONDON. Depeche Mode have enough fans and enough hits to be able to make more than a
decent amount of money on touring. In today's lucrative concert market, and with global
record sales constantly decreasing, it must be tempting for a band like Depeche Mode (one
year shy of their 30th anniversary) to live off of old accomplishments. Or, to put it in a
different way: Why expose their aging, but loyal fan base - who definitely know what they
want from their band - to new albums that hardly anyone expects anything from? Why make
albums that could end up becoming parentheses in what is already a canonized discography?
"Sounds of the Universe," which will be released on the 20th of April, with the
band already giving us an idea of what to expect through the first single,
"Wrong", definitely contains the DNA of a vintage Depeche Mode. But it also
sounds like a band that is not very interested in making any compromises with their fans.
- We never, never, never try to do the same things twice, Dave Gahan, the lead singer of
the band since 1980, says.
One can just imagine what booking agents and the band's record company are thinking about
the upcoming anniversary. But they'll have a hard time convincing Dave Gahan of the value
- Looking back on what we've already done would be a nail in the coffin for a band like
us. You have to challenge yourself based on what you have learned and achieved. All the
time. You have to find your own inspiration, and you have to find inspiring people to work
with. You have to manipulate, process and develop the music so that it's perceived as
interesting, energetic and fresh. It's the only way to do it.
Dave Gahan is his usual, well dressed, slim self. His clothes and physical appearance make
the furrows in his face less noticeable, but this man has lead a life that's been out of
the ordinary. His hair is dyed black down to the roots. He'll soon be 47. And he is
responsible for a small revolution in his own band. A much needed revolution, according to
- When we were recording "Exciter" (2001), I was wondering why Martin wasn't
just making a solo album. My influence on the album was close to nothing. I did my best
when it came to the vocals, but to me that wasn't enough, Gahan explains. He has written
three songs on "Sounds of the Universe", just like he did on their previous
album, "Playing the Angel."
- To me, "Exciter" was the end of the old Depeche Mode. I remember being fairly
certain that it would be our last album. We weren't experimenting as much as we should. It
was like we were just standing there watching our fire burn out. To me it was a very
discomforting experience. And at that point in my life, I couldn't indulge in the luxury
it would have been to drink this feeling away, or replace the void it had created inside
with something else.
What Gahan is referring to, is his long battle with heroin. In the rock'n'roll book of
legends, a chapter has been devoted to the time in 1996 when he was declared clinically
dead for a few minutes after an overdose. He cleaned himself up afterwards, and his
recovery was successful enough that 1997's "Ultra" didn't end up as a Martin
Gore solo album.
"Exciter" was then released in 2001, sounding like Depeche Mode had thrown
themselves into the hands of producer Mark Bell. He gave the band a chopped-up,
minimalistic musical expression that Gahan now considers forced and somewhat alien.
- In my ears it's a Mark Bell album more than the result of a team effort. After
"Exciter," I had no choice but to go solo. It was the only way to make creating
music interesting and exciting again. And "Exciter" also made it clear that our
old way of working wasn't sufficient anymore.
- What do you mean by that?
- Throughout the history of the band, our music has been about Martin's songs, thoughts
and ideas. And my job has been to interpret all this with my own voice. But
"Exciter" and the tour that followed made me think that this way of doing things
just wasn't working anymore.
Gahan released the solo album "Paper Monsters" in 2003, followed by 2007's
- The "Paper Monsters" tour helped me identify some of the things that were
missing in Depeche Mode during the "Exciter" era. It was great to feel that I
was developing as a stage artist again, recreating a feeling and atmosphere that I was
used to having in Depeche Mode. Feeling the support of everyone around me. I guess that
was what I was missing. Contributing and being heard. It had to be my turn now, to
participate in painting the big canvas that Depeche Mode is. I was thinking: "Martin,
I am opening this door now, and you're coming inside with me. Or else this band is
Gahan tells the story of how songwriter Martin Gore needed time to adjust to the idea of
sharing the song writing credits in the band, to think of Gahan's contributions as useful,
rather than threats against a rigid division of roles. But has it done anything for the
band, is it a good thing that Gore doesn't write all the songs anymore?
- It has taken some time for the both of us, but it feels more natural now. We don't write
together, but on this album there are songs where Martin has put in a tremendous amount of
effort to come up with ideas to improve and enhance them.
In the build-up to the release of "Sounds of the Universe," their record company
has mentioned R.E.M., U2 and Metallica as examples of what league of bands Depeche Mode
are part of. And even though that is correct, it is also something that can be interpreted
in a negative way. R.E.M. haven't made a particularly good or interesting album in at
least a decade, U2's releases during the last ten years are at best subjects of debate -
their new album, "No Line On The Horizon" has been given five star reviews in
international music magazines, but in other, trendsetting media, it's been stated that the
band has lost the magic touch. And Metallica have retained some credibility after their
last release, "Death Magnetic," but have hardly achieved anything beyond that.
It is probably not the album your average Metallica fan wanted or needed.
- It's a problem when the expectations become too high, either in the minds of the fans or
journalists. They are always basing their opinions on previous accomplishments; either
older albums or the previous one. It's a very limiting way of seeing things. As a band you
always want to make a good album. But sometimes an album ends up being a stepping-stone
for the next one. You don't know that while you're making it, but you realize it later on.
And "Playing The Angel" was that kind of release for us - I can tell you that
now. "Sounds of the Universe" feels like a better album.
- How so?
- Making that album was a positive experience from the very start. We went to work and
began experimenting again. It was challenging, but refreshing. You look for an atmosphere,
a song that can start the process and show us where to go with the album. But then you get
stuck later on, and you start exploring previously discarded ideas, you continue working,
find new directions to take the songs in, and then you get stuck again. We wanted to make
a great new Depeche Mode album, and it feels like we have.
- And a pure nostalgia tour is of course not considered an option then?
- When we create the setlist for a new tour, we always pick songs that we want to play
from our new album. And then we tend to agree on what older songs we want to play. And
then we pick out some lesser known songs that we rarely play, as a present for our loyal
fans. We owe them that much.