"We seem to be really clicking right now…."

As the press rolls through for the Soulsavers project, we get more and more of these little glances into whats going on with Depeche in the studio. In a new interview with The Stool Pigeon, Dave again gives us a little snap shot of the current DM world. “I’m working in the studio with my band at the moment, and a lot of the stuff Martin’s written, it’s actually speaking to me” says Dave Gahan. Aside from discussing Soulsavers, he says that he is really enthusiastic about DM and how he, again, feels like he could be a muse for Martin. Read the full interview after the jump!


Rich Machlin and Dave Gahan on their unflinchingly personal new record

Words Ben Graham



“IT’S way more liberating than any drugs I ever took, put it that way. Or almost all of them!”


Dave Gahan is talking about the power of music; or more precisely, the disconnection involved in the writing process, specifically on the new album he’s recorded with Soulsavers, The Light The Dead See. As featured vocalist throughout, Gahan contributed vocal melodies and lyrics to the album, but even he’s not sure exactly where they came from.


“In some ways I don’t feel that I can take full credit for it,” he admits. “Somehow there was something going on that was guiding my pen, if you like! And I know that when you write stuff like that it sounds a bit weird, and we all get a bit weird around stuff that’s outside of our own control. I’m certainly a big advocate of trying to control everything, but life becomes really miserable when you do, actually. No matter what that is.”


“Some of the times when you’re writing, you don’t really know why you’re writing these things. I’m not really the kind of writer that sits down and, you know, writes down a little story about an event that just happened to me, like I got in a fight with the wife or something. I don’t write like that, I kind of write from a very… out-of-this-world place, or something. When I was a kid one of my biggest influences was David Bowie, and now I realise that was because I felt that he really wasn’t of this earth. He was writing and making music that seemed to speak to me, and I identified with it, like a lot of other misfits that used to show up at the concerts. Same with the whole punk thing. So for me the Soulsavers record is very cinematic, and when I listen to it now, it actually tells me something. I identify with the person. Of course, it’s me, and the words that I wrote; but sometimes when you’re writing those words, it’s like I’m not writing them for a purpose, and I don’t see that purpose until after it’s finished. You’ve just got to follow what comes through you somehow. That’s the only way that I can explain it.”


The Depeche Mode frontman hooked up with Soulsavers when they were the opening act on the band’s massive Tour Of The Universe in 2009-2010. “It was one of those things where once we started talking I kind of knew something was going to happen,” Gahan says. “I didn’t know what exactly, or whether it was going to work, but it wasn’t one of those conversations where you’re like, ‘yeah, yeah’, and nothing ever happens; I actually thought, well this is going to happen, we’re really going to do something together.”


Formed around the turn of the century by Stoke record shop employees Rich Machin and Ian Glover, Soulsavers utilised the emerging possibilities of home recording technology to create music inspired by film soundtrack composers like Ennio Morricone and Angelo Badalamenti, as well as classic rock, blues and gospel sounds. Over the course of three albums the pair moved from electronic soundscapes to more organic textures, and built up an enviable cast of collaborators, most notably Mark Lanegan, who was featured vocalist on 2007’s It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land and 2009’s Broken. But Soulsavers’ fourth album is their most collaborative yet, with Machin and Gahan sending ideas back and forth over the course of 18 months, recording as they went.


“I would take a sketch or doodle and leave it with Dave, and see what that got going in him,” says Machin. “Then he would write some words, and his own vocal melody, and throw it back to me, and that would usually be the point where I’d go, okay, how would this weave around that? We had the luxury of time when we were making this record, and listening back to it I can hear the freedom and the relaxed atmosphere that it had. We went into studios and did things when they needed to be done, but most of the other stuff was done at peoples’ homes, either here, or Dave did a lot of stuff at his home… And it’s a really great way of working. It’s not something we intended on doing. It’s not something if you explained it to me in advance I would ever believe could work. But I’m so glad we did do it that way. And I can really feel the benefits that had when I listen back now.”


“What I loved about the things Rich sent me [was that] they were very simple, they were very direct and they were very uncluttered,” Gahan says. “It was just a guitar line or something that had a really interesting atmosphere around it, plugged into an amp with some fucked-up sound… It just immediately created a visual space, and that’s where I like to work. I felt really freed up to do things with my voice that I maybe wouldn’t have taken the risk with before.”


“Dave’s contribution was equal to mine,” Machin insists. “I didn’t give him any guidance as to what I was looking for; I would just give him something without any nudge at all and he would come back with something as though I’d told him what I wanted. And there was never a point at which, during that whole year-and-a-half, either one of us turned around and said ‘You know what, I’m not really into what you’ve done there’, or ‘I don’t get this’. And chemistry like that on a record like this is very rare, and I think when it happens you’ve just got to go with it.”


Gahan agrees. “Rich was constantly very supportive; I don’t know if it was because he identified with what I was writing and somehow it was speaking to him, but he was always just like, ‘Wow, just continue, I’m going to send you another piece of something that I’m working on, and while you’re doing that I’m going to start working out what you’ve just done and building some stuff around it, because I know where you’re going. He was always on the same page as me. We didn’t ever struggle where it was like, ‘I’m not sure what you’re getting at here’. There was never that conversation, which is unusual.”


Unlike many albums that are assembled by a producer with a guest vocalist, The Light The Dead See feels like a remarkably coherent body of work. Lyrically in particular, the album’s themes remain consistent and even seem to develop from one song to the next.


“I think that you probably hope for that,” Gahan says. “In fact, the order of the songs as you hear them is not that far from the way they were written. It wasn’t till about six songs in that I listened back to what I’d done, and I would listen to [the songs] in order, and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s making sense. It’s making sense to me.’”


It also seems like a very personal, introspective record, almost unforgivingly so.  As well as giving some of the best vocal performances of his career, Gahan really seems to be baring his soul here, wrestling with issues of faith and mortality, depression and personal futility. I asked the singer if this was an accurate reflection of the state of mind he was in when writing, and also whether there was a point at which he  stepped back and thought, ‘I’ve exposed myself a bit too much here, I’ve given away more than I intended to’.


“I did feel like that a little bit,” he admits. “Before I started working on the Soulsavers stuff I’d just finished a big Depeche Mode tour, and it was another one of those periods where I was feeling a little bit like, you know… and I always go through this, after a tour you’re kind of exhausted and feel like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore. It’s been great, but I’m not sure if I can do it anymore and all this kind of stuff’. [You wonder if] you really even enjoy making music anymore. All those kind of crazy questions pop into your head. But Rich sent me a couple of pieces of music to work on, and somehow it was the answer.”



When it became apparent how personal and open Gahan’s lyrics were, Rich Machin also began to feel an enormous sense of responsibility to present them in the right way.


“When you really started to look at what he was putting down, there was a pressure of, ‘This is so good, I’ve got to do right by him by making this as good as it can be’,” Machin says. “He’s really raised the bar with what he’s done here, and he’s really put himself out there, like really bare, and that is such a mad thing to do. I certainly couldn’t comprehend it at all, doing what he did. He’s really putting this out there, and it is so good that I can’t be the one that fucks this up.”


The Light The Dead See feels like the kind of album that somebody might listen to if they were going through some difficult times; not to wallow, but to help them pull through. Because although it’s very dark, it’s all about rising above and surviving. There’s a sense of needing to change and grow in order to avoid stasis or death, symbolic or otherwise.


“I think that’s very accurate,” Gahan agrees. “And I’m glad you said that, because for me that is what I get from listening to the record. And it sort of surprises me, to be honest. So therefore I know it’s something that I’m feeling, and like you said… it could have come off really hokey, put it that way. When you get really real about what it is you’re thinking and feeling and questioning, other people don’t necessarily want to hear that. Especially with music, a lot of people [just think] ‘Ah, I don’t want to hear that, it’s kind of depressing’ or whatever. For me that’s not the case. I’ve always listened to music that has made me want to question things, and question my place here, and stuff like that, ever since I was a kid. I’ve always asked questions.”


I think a lot of people feel that way, but for some reason there seems to be less of that kind of music around. “I think there is, I think you’re right. I’m dying to hear something that just moves me. You know, I’m listening to the new Spiritualized album a lot at the moment, which I really like. I’m listening to it and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know what you’re getting at’. And I’m laughing at stuff that I think to some people would be like, ‘That’s really depressing’. I just identify with it, and I love the way that he’s put some stuff there against this backdrop of music that in a way is very uplifting or jolly or sort of a bit ragtime in places, you know. And that comes with experience. I really respect that, and I respect that he’s wearing his feelings on his sleeve. Because you’re right, not a lot of people do it, they make up some bullshit, you know. If I’m listening to Johnny Cash, I believe the guy. If I’m listening to Nick Cave, whether he’s fabricating an idea or not, I believe him. And the same happened to me with all those years with Bowie. I believed him. So I’m always trying to do that with my voice, even if I haven’t written the song.”


Gahan also feels that the experience of making the Soulsavers record has re-energised him for recording Depeche Mode’s new album, the process of which is already underway.


“I’m working in the studio with my band at the moment, and a lot of the stuff Martin’s written, it’s actually speaking to me,” he says, referring of course to Martin Gore, Depeche Mode’s chief songwriter. “I feel like, once again — it hasn’t happened for many years, he’s written some great songs, but there was a time around Violator, Songs Of Faith And Devotion, where I felt like — I even said to Mart, ‘Are you writing these songs about me!? Or using me as your muse’ or something? I mean it wasn’t that obvious, and I was a lot younger then, but now there’s songs that he’s written for this particular project that we’re working on right now, there’s a few of them where I’m right in there. We seem to be really clicking right now, which is great. And it could just be that I’m in a place where I can hear something. I feel like I’m singing better as well. Like I’m singing in a different way with a lot of these songs that I’m working on now, and a lot of that came from the Soulsavers record.”


Gahan and Machin are still writing together whenever they can find the time, sending ideas and recordings back and forth, meaning that a second Soulsavers album with Dave Gahan is more than likely.


“We’ve a couple of songs there on something else,” Machin says. “We just enjoy writing together, and I’m sure it’ll end up being for another record. I think we’ve both acknowledged it’s a given that we will do another record together at some point in time. When things work the way they did, you don’t just walk away from them. It may be something that was just a time and place; we may get certain songs three-quarters of the way and then be like, ‘You know what, it’s nowhere near as good as we did before, let’s just leave it’. But I don’t think that’ll be the case. The ideas we’re kicking around at the moment I think are better than anything we’ve done. And it’s because we’re really getting to know each other quite well. I certainly know him considerably better than when we started it. That was years ago now really, that’s the thing. I certainly feel a lot more in tune with him.”


“What it’s doing for me is it’s making me way more enthusiastic about going back to my band and coming into the studio full of excitement about making music,” Gahan says. “I don’t feel like I’m stuck in my day job, if you know what I mean! And believe me, I have the best day job in the world, but it’s amazing that we’re still making music together and still talking about going on these enormous tours together after 30 years.”


And what about the possibility of Gahan and Soulsavers playing live together?


“I’m sure we’ll try and do something,” Machin says. “That’s one of my things about trying to do a second record; this record is great, I’m really happy with it, but it’s 45 minutes long; doing a show, the money that you have to charge people… if we’ve got two records to pull from then I’d feel a lot more comfortable about being able to charge people. We’ll be able to play for an hour-and-a-half then, I’ll feel a little bit more like we can give [people] something that’s worth coming out to see.  So if we can find the time and diaries line up, then there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do something.”


“Honestly, I feel like I’m blessed to be able to do this, and I’m having a good time doing it at the moment,” Gahan says. “I’m so proud of this record, and I’m glad that you’re feeling it too, because it is going to be one of those records I think that is going to be a slow burn. It’s going to be from people talking to each other; you’re not gonna suddenly hear a song on Radio One or in a club or something like that. It’s an album that I wanted to make, in an old-school sense, and I think we managed to do that.”