CREEM April 1993 issue cover
I FEEL YOU - released February 15, 1993
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by Martin Townsend
Vox, February, 1993
When Depeche Mode began, Dave Gahan was a boy. Today he's left his youth, his first wife, his son, but not rock 'n' roll. Life for the rest of the band has been a little calmer ...
HALF a mile from the studio in Barnes, South London, where Depeche Mode are recording their tenth studio album - a short walk across the ragged common - stands the tree where Marc Bolan met his death, two weeks before his 30th birthday.
Quite how Pop's glamorous elf would have struggled with the problems of being a famous thirty-something are for the angels to tell, but, for the four members of the Mode, that third decade has been a period of reflection, transition and depression.
"Over the past few years, I went from being a lad to being a man," Dave Gahan will say, a good hour into the interview. But, by that time, the other things he has said will drain that phrase of all sense of cliche. In those two years, he explains, his marriage broke up - amid, it seems, more than the usual amount of heartache - and he did exactly what his own father had done to him: walked out on a five-year-old son. Earlier this year, he was re-married.
"Suddenly I've been able to breathe and really take control," he says. "It's been a long, painful process which I'm still healing from, but suddenly I have a lot more perspective on what I want from life."
Much of Gahan's turmoil, during this period, finds expression in the Depeche Mode album we are here to discuss: Songs Of Faith And Devotion. Seldom has he sung with more strength and conviction - particularly on the opening 'Condemnation' - and rarely have Martin L Gore's lyrics seemed so peculiarly apt to his situation. But in the main, the album has a positive, uplifting air. Gore, the thoughtful Alan Wilder, and pragmatic Andy Fletcher, seem to have coped with their early 30s (and with the band's gradual shift into the global super-league) much better than their front-man. Their confidence is reflected in the use, for the very first time, of outside musicians, Gospel singers and even a full-blown orchestra.
Still, it's Gahan - now sporting shoulder-length hair and a goatee beard - who best expresses the intent.
"We're trying to lift people to a higher level, to take them somewhere where they can find something spiritual, or whatever you want to call it," he explains. "Everything's in such a sorry state at the moment."
The band started work on the new album in March, 1992, after taking a full year off. They insist in being interviewed separately, so it's hard to get a consensus view, but it seems that it took much longer for the group to 'gel' after their return.
"It's been a difficult album at times, there's no doubt about it," says Wilder. "The fact that we took a break away from each other, that people went and did things with their own personal lives - had children and moved to different parts of the world - has given us all a different perspective on what the group was and is, and what it means to us all. Coming back together has taken a long time to get used to. It's probably only now, in the last two or three months, that the unity of the group has solidified again. I think, for a long period this year, there were a lot of disparities between the different members of the group."
The "disparities" are not elaborated on, but it's not difficult to surmise what they might be. Gahan was obviously unhappy and unsettled, "living out of a suitcase" between Los Angeles and London. Wilder had recorded a solo album, under the project name Recoil, during his year off, so he'd barely had a break from studio work. Fletcher and Gore had discovered the joys both of fatherhood and, in the case of 'Fletch', restaurant management: he's now a silent partner in an establishment in St John's Wood, North London. Clearly, they were being pulled in all directions.
"At one point I was actually thinking of doing another solo record," says Martin Gore, "but then, when I had a daughter, it was like something else that was just more enjoyable than going back into the studio. I'd rather have a daughter and get into Sega Mega-Drive and Super Nintendo. I ended up wasting months on Sonic The Hedgehog!"
DEPECHE Mode's dilemma is thus the same as any of the bands who broke through in the early '80s: how do you combine a career with family life? For Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, the answer was to split up and become easy fodder for Hello! magazine. For Madness - six out of seven of whom have two children or more - a reformation has meant regular group meetings to dove-tail their touring activities with school open-days. But Depeche Mode are different. Whilst recognising that the rock'n'roll lifestyle can wreck relationships, they are planning their longest tour ever in support of the new album - an astonishing eighteen months.
"I'd like a life outside rock,' says Gahan, "but, at the same time, I'm in it right up to my fucking neck, and I'm going to remain in it. My wife would back me 100 percent, even if it meant us spending a lot of time apart. What we have is much stronger than that."
Wilder is equally adamant.
"My wife and I have been together a long time and it's become so normal," he says. "It doesn't seem weird to her when I go away.
"I mean - there is no ideal situation is there? She'll come out to certain places of her choice - Paris, perhaps. She doesn't bother with Cleveland!"
Depeche Mode's determination to thrust ahead into the '90s, whatever the risk to domestic bliss, is not arrogant (they all believe their family lives will stand the pace) but it has something of the nature of revenge about it.
England has not been kind to them. Critics still snigger about the lacy lingerie and dresses Martin Gore wore back in the early '80s. Their music is dismissed as 'cold', because it was, but only for an album or two. Radio One only plays their records, Fletch reckons, because it feels it has to. They are a hugely successful export to every other country in the world - much bigger than, say, Queen ever were - but they remain unloved and uncelebrated at home. One solution, it seems, is to build on their American success, which began in 1985 with the Top Ten success of 'People Are People' ['People Are People' reached #4 in the UK charts but only managed to reach the Top 40 in the US - BB] , but they won't do it by climbing into bed with MTV - "all of a sudden it's like they've grabbed you", shudders Fletch - or by advertising Pepsi. They're even split on the idea of playing stadiums any more, with only Gahan, it seems, particularly keen on the idea.
No, they'll release their LP, play their 18 months of dates and see what happens.
"We won't blindly rush into anything," says Wilder. "Perhaps, sometimes, that's been to our detriment, perhaps we needed to be a bit bolder and we could have hit this point a couple of years ago. But in the end, caution's a good thing."
If Depeche Mode's approach to success has been cautious, the records and tours they have produced have not been. On single alone, they have trounced the idea of a merciful God ('Blasphemous Rumours'), glorified in sado-masochism ('Master And Servant') and explored obsessional love ('Stripped', 'Personal Jesus'). Their songs can brood, but they can also tick along beautifully from moment to moment, and they never lack compassion. Martin L Gore is a master of changing emotions and the shifting view-point.
"I think I've always written nice songs," says Gore in his careful Cockney way. "Even when I've been accused of being depressing, I think the songs have always shown the light at the end of the tunnel. 'Master And Servant' is the one that people will pick out, because they think it's just about S&M. If you analyse it, it's not.
"The pop song is such a harmless format. If we were just screaming over noises and we were called 'avant-garde', we probably wouldn't get away with some of the things that we do..."
Is S&M actually important in Gore's life, then, or is he just playing provocative games?
"No, I've always tried to write from a personal point of view. I don't see any of the things I write about as being pervy, you know? I actually really like the imagery of S&M, and the clubs and things like that, but I wasn't just glorifying it."
There doesn't seem to be much of that sort of thing on the new album.
"Oh, I think it's probably there if you look for it," he laughs. "We had someone down the other day who's writing a biography for us, and it was really funny because he was talking about this pervert thing as well. We played him four or five tracks and when it got to 'One Caress' and it started off, 'Well I'm down on my knees again', he went, 'Oh good!'." Gore gives another one of his sudden, exploding laughs.
WITH his Thunderbird-puppet features peering out from under a ski-hat, slightly hunched shoulders and the ubiquitous leather trousers, Gore cuts a flamboyant figure in the pub, just across from the studio, where we talk. He's good company, holding his cigarette, oddly, between thumb and forefinger and drawing on it deeply like a sinning schoolboy as he ponders the questions. Some strange conspiracy between his teeth and his tongue means that he doesn't pronounce the ends of a lot of words and the beginnings of ones that start with 'th' or 'sh'. It's like a ventriloquist trick.
With dozens of fine songs to his name, Martin L Gore should have been publicly lauded, alongside more ordinary songwriting talents like Mick Hucknall and George Michael, for a decade or more - but it's not something that concerns him.
"We've been invited to the Ivor Novello Awards, we just never go," he says. "I mean...awards ceremonies. Who wants to go anyway? I don't want to belittle them, but how important are they? It's embarrassing having a gold disc on your wall. It's like saying, 'Look how important I am'."
It does frustrate him, though, that British critics still label his music cold and doom-laden, and invariably mention his past penchant for wearing women's clothes onstage.
"It was such a small phase," he says, "and so insignificant. It was totally blown out of proportion."
Do you regret doing it then?
"Well, I probably will in about four years, when my daughter can look back and see pictures. Try explaining that!"
As befits its positive, uplifting message, the new album is chock-full of religious references. At some points, Gore has Gahan sounding like a crazed whisky priest, announcing, 'Friends, if you've lost your way...' in the middle of the extraordinary 'Get Right With Me', and declaring 'I have to believe sin can make me a better man' on 'One Caress'.
"I've always had a fascination with religion," explains Gore. "I've never actually been a devout Christian or followed any religion particularly, but I've always liked the idea of belief...
"For the title of the album, we wanted to get something with religious overtones but also a hint of ambiguity. Songs Of Faith And Devotion sounds very devout, but at the same time, faith in what? Devotion to what?"
In Gore's case, the answer to both questions might be 'sex'. For all its biblical overtones, the new album is still suffused with sexual desire. In fact, 'In Your Room' may be the most sensual piece they've ever recorded.
"I think, probably, 70 percent of our songs are about, or touch on, sex,' says Gore. "Personally, I find it an important thing, I find it amazing when I talk to people and they consider it a secondary thing in life. For me, it isn't something that's very secondary."
ASK Gore to elaborate on the meanings of particular songs and he'll shake his head, citing the example of Chuck Berry, who confessed he'd only written 'Sweet Sixteen' because his publisher had told him that was the age of most of his listeners, so why not target them?
"For me, that lost it," Gore laughs. "I can't listen to that song any more."
Pressed on his preferred songwriters, however, he'll cite Leonard Cohen - "that won't surprise the people who think I'm a doom merchant" - and Kurt Weill, "especially when he wrote with Bertolt Brecht."
Gore writes exclusively in minor keys - 'Get Right With Me' is his first ever to feature a Major one - never tries to write hit singles ("The moment you do that, you've lost it"), and, although their boss at Mute Records, Daniel Miller, will drop by during recordings and offer advice, neither Gore nor the others are bullied by record company interference.
"The last time that happened at all, I think, was in 1986 when our American record company (Sire) made us flip 'Stripped', which we'd spent three weeks perfecting - for the B-side, 'But Not Tonight', which was a throwaway thing we did in a day, because there was some naff film, called Modern Girls, that wanted to use it. It bombed, they lost our respect and that was it."
Much of the band's irritation over that decision must have stemmed from the fact that 1986 was the year when almost everything else was going right for them Stateside. They were not US stars, by any respect, but Los Angeles' now-famous K-ROQ radio station, and various others in New York, had championed their case to the point where tickets for Depeche Mode concerts in those cities could sell-out in a few hours.
THE outdoor shows that summer were elegantly-designed, beautifully-lit in purples and reds and very, very loud. Gahan's assertion that Bono came along to the band's 'Violator' tour, three years later, and "nicked a lot of our fucking ideas" is said with an affectionate laugh, but it may not be too far from the truth. In his white Levi's, white vest and short, spiky hair, closer to the style of Marc Almond than Axl Rose - Gahan himself, from 1986 onwards, was already stirring plenty of camp and irony into the concept of the crotch-wiggling rock front-man, even if he lacked the head-hugging 'fly' sunglasses...
"What you've got to be careful about," he says, "is that there's a fine line between 'Come and look at me, I'm God' and 'Come and look at me, I'll entertain you and make you feel like going home and fucking your girlfriend'. I definitely fall into the latter category."
JUST as Gahan could be tempted to lose his head onstage, so his offstage life began to fall apart during the mid-to-late '80s. Perched on a stool, in the half-light of the studio, clearly nervous - the laughs, when they come, arriving just a little too suddenly and loudly - Gahan nevertheless seems keen to air his problems, publicly. He's being brave. Depeche Mode have rarely discussed their personal lives in interview, but this time around, he gives the impression that he thinks it may help.
"Over the years, I think I was a pretty shitty person," he says. "I didn't like what I saw and what I was creating very much in my own life. This is very personal, but it's also very relevant, I think, to the way I've wanted to push myself with this album.
"I'd been with my ex-wife, Joanne, for a long while, and we used to be really great friends, and that had deteriorated - mostly on my part. Ninety percent of that was my doing, definitely. But I now know that it had to end, as much heartache as that brought on for everybody concerned, because I had to regain perspective on what I'd really wanted to do, and be able to put all my heart and soul into making music, which is what I really love to do. It's easy to lose your perspective on things."
A lot of people might say you made the selfish choice - choosing a career over the health of your marriage...
"Well, I wouldn't want it to be seen like that. There was a lot more to it than that choice. There's a big difference between what you believe is love and what hits you as actually being love."
Gahan was married for the second time - to an American, involved in the music business - earlier this year. "That was an easy decision to make. It was black and white, the difference." But, though he claims to be happier than ever, he's tormented by the idea that he walked out on his wife and five-year-old son and is obviously far from recovered from the trauma. It is much this pain, rather than the positive feelings engendered by his new relationship, which feeds his extraordinary performances on the new album.
"It's really difficult for me to talk about this because I still haven't got over the fact, really, that I'm now a part-time dad, you know? And that, no matter how hard I want to think I can influence my son's life, there's very little I can do.
"My dad left myself and my sister when we were very young, in a very vulnerable position, and I've done the same thing with my son. But at the same time I haven't," he says, "because I'm determined to make it work. I'm determined, much as he might hate it, to force myself on him. I'm going to see him next week, actually. I'm going down to his school next Friday to meet all his teachers and that kind of stuff. And Joanne's really good about all that - she understands the importance of me seeing him and Jack being able to see me. She's been really good about it.
"What I hope," he says, "what I really hope, is for her to meet somebody and fall in love and realise that, probably, we weren't in love at all. That would be the best thing for me, because it would remove a lot of the guilt that I now feel..."
If that last comment sounds selfish, well, perhaps it is. But, rightly or wrongly - and perhaps most strongly because there's still so much certainty elsewhere in his life - Gahan has moved his work with Depeche Mode into the centre of things. It's important to him that it's based on honesty.
"For me, at the moment," he says, "'average' is no good, 'okay' is no good, or 'we'll get away with it'. I want brilliance out of life, I want the best: passion, sex, love. I want to feel moved by things."
For the moment, at least, it sounds like the cry of a numbed man.
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photos by Anton Corbijn. Reproduced without permission.
SONGS OF FAITH AND DEVOTION (LP) - released March 22, 1993
That'll Be The Deity
DAVE GAHAN: "I dunno whether or not to go on stage and say ‘Hello, Pasadena’ or ‘Hello Pasadena Rosebowl’ or just ‘Hello Rosebowl’."
RECORD COMPANY TYPE: "Well, why not just go on and say, ‘Hello Pasadena Rosebowl, we’re Depeche Mode and we’re happy to be playing here tonight’?"
DAVE GAHAN: "’Cos I’m not f---ing Shakespeare, that’s why."
Extract from the Depeche Mode film 101
"Something like that anyway. The point is that Depeche Mode have always managed to avoid the wanking pretension of certain rock acts, while at the same time making music more thoughtful and powerful than that of their pop peers.
Like New Order only more sort of Essex, Depeche Mode over the years have made the most unpretentious arty avant garde type music ever. And hey! It’s album number nine and they’ve done it again.
‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’ follows the Mode tradition of having an excessively portentous title, a vague linking theme between the songs and a sleeve that will look majorly dated in a year or so’s time. It’s got some guitars on it, a string quartet and some excellent scraping synth weird noises, it’s bloody loud and Dave Gahan, judging by Anton Corbijn’s somewhat Anton Corbijnesque liner photos, has lost about nine stone and grown a beard.
This last is relevant. Style fans will therefore note that Depeche Mode – nearly out-Depeche Moded by U2 on the Corbijn/Berlin/monochrome/Eno-styled ‘Achtung Baby’ – have returned with an album which out-‘Achtung Baby’s ‘Achtung Baby’. ‘Songs Of Faith…’ is Depeche Mode in all-out moody Euro art stadium rock, um, mode, and it leaves all competitors spitting ineptitude at the starting gate.
It kicks off with the single, ‘I Feel You’, in a burst of industrial static, a song which takes INXS’s arena bluster and turns it into a dark and mean glitter stomp. After this, matters charge on, ringing some familiar Mode changes, and taking on some odd stuff along the way. There are uilleann pipes on ‘Judas’ (mind you, there are uilleann pipes on bloody everything these days). There are hints of 1970s dub on ‘Rush’. And there’s gospel singing on ‘Get Right With Me’. In fact, God gets into a lot of things on ‘Songs Of Faith…’
If this album has a theme – and let’s hope it doesn’t, this isn’t 19 sodding 68 – it’s linked to our old mate, Christianity. Soulful choirs back Gahan from time to time, faith and mercy and higher love get mentioned a lot, as does Judas and Doubting Thomas and heaven. But fear not, brave atheists of rock – for despite the initial suspicion that this album is Cliff Richard gone industrial, further listening suggest that the real subject of these songs seems to be our other old mates, sex and love and fidelity. Thank, um, God for that.
‘Songs Of Faith…’ is a more obviously emotional and mature album than other Depeche Mode records – which is not to say that the other ones aren’t, they’re just less blatantly so – and while on occasions I’d prefer the wide-eyed pop cynicism of ‘Black Celebration’ or the dreamy weird rock of ‘Violator’, this is an album that every sane person should own. The synth pop band who are also the stadium rock group you can love, the Essex boys who make the best European strange-o music going, the band who wrote ‘Personal Jesus’ as a comment on the absurdity of faith and then did this album, Depeche Mode are much too interesting to avoid now that they are grown up. I await album number ten with major interest, which is hardly ever the case with most bands past the decade mark.
But hey! Comparisons are odorous (as Dave Gahan wouldn’t say). ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’ is a very fine record indeed." (8)
New Musical Express, 20th March, 1993
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
"This astonishingly powerful album is Depeche Mode’s tenth, and kills any residual notions of them being a "synth-pop" act stone dead. If its forerunner, 'Violator', suggested growth, 'Songs Of…' is a firebreathing heavyweight.
In a period of shrivelled imagination, the Mode’s range has expanded to spellbinding dimensions. Lyrics exploring persecution, desire and guilt are matched with music that broods, threatens and aspires. The group offer variations on soul and gospel music in 'Condemnation' and 'Get Right With Me'. But the Mode can rock too. Track one, 'I Feel You', serves notice of intent with its insistent pulsing riff, but it pales beside 'In Your Room', a saga of vampiric emotional obsession mounted on a steam-hammer groove which will bring the house down when they play it live (which they will when they tour in May). Why beat about the bush? This is a masterpiece."
The Guardian, 12th March, 1993
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
"Their last album, Violator, was a quantum leap over Depeche Mode's previous output, as if the live double-compilation, 101, had purged their past. Buoyed by Martin Gore's most mature and melodic batch of songs yet, it was their most successful release.
Gore has settled upon a thoughtful and dignified European equivalent of the cross-fertilisation of sexual and religious imagery beloved by Madonna and, especially, Prince. The album drips with the wine and wafer of religious conceit in the service of rumpy-pumpy, from references to absolution and repentance in Walking In My Shoes to the complex Catholic intermingling of sex, guilt and redemption in One Caress, where the narrator understands that, contrary to imagery associating sex with sin, he and his lover are 'truly blessed' in their transgression. "I have to believe that sin/Can make a better man," sings David Gahan [Martin sings lead on this track - BB] to an austere string arrangement, and despite operating in the Brit-crooner territory of Tony Hadley, he's convincing in his sincerity. There's an edge of insecurity to his voice - as if he's always seeking assurance - which renders it so emotional.
The Mode lack the abandonment of gospel - the only use of gospel flavours is in the choir which leads Get Right With Me to its climax, and the unusual, unsuccessful vocal style Gahan tries on Condemnation. In its absence they apply measured, ecstatic grace to In Your Room and, particularly, the concluding Higher Love. The latter actually sounds like the way God might move: a floating processional, proceeding with implacable dignity and, of course, a sense of mystery. It's to Alan Wilder's credit that he's managed to locate the appropriate holy ambience to match Gore's new-found religiosity: there's a palpable presence to the album's resonant tones, like entering a cathedral.
By avoiding the disco sex-song option, the Mode reveal how much room for musical manoeuvre is afforded by the sex/sin format. I Feel You, opens the album with a screech and surge of industrial power, and a lyric about "the dawning of our love" in which the last two syllable sound like 'Allah': it's huge and pervasive, like the monolith in 2001.
Judas uses a more rootsy, Celtic-flavoured texture in which to couch its ascetic theology of romance. It's some measure of the distance the group have come that the old Mode martial electronic style is used only on Rush, where it matches the synthetic determination of the song. For the rest, this constitutes a resolute continuation of the mature experimental pop principles of Violator, with a few candles carried as torches." ****
Q, April, 1993
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
Note: the LP was incorrectly titled Songs Of Faith And Destruction
"Since heavy is in, the little blips and beeps and computery squiggles of sound that often carried Depeche’s techno-pop in the past will no longer do. But only on the lusty single "I Feel You", with its feedback blizzards and edgy blues-guitar riff, does the band find a way to be convincingly heavy.
The rest of "Songs Of Faith And Devotion" is merely ponderous. It would be hard to find singing more stilted, lugubrious and overacted than David Gahan’s performance here. Then again, songwriter Martin Gore hands him scenarios so overheated in their fairy-tale dark romanticism that Gahan is merely following the script.
Watch out especially for those songs of Faith: When Depeche draws upon a gospel influence for the stridently whining "Condemnation" and the enigmatically dogmatic "Get Right With Me", it hammers out the swing and sway and siphons off the inward pang of feeling that a love of gospel might instill in a song.
Sometimes the band undergirds its weighty constructs with beats vaguely suggestive of hip-hop; "Rush" strives for industrial force, but it sounds as if Depeche Mode is driving one-inch nails. You’d think a band so incapable of the light or subtle touch would at least muster the daring to go to more interesting sonic extremes when its trying to be heavy." *1/2
L.A. Times, 21st March, 1993
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The Black Hole
"Jesus, what a dreadful title. Not just rotten for its piety and its fearful hints that, yes, this time they might just have made that album of acoustic ballads...but a real stinker in the other sense, the logical-career-progression sense.
You only have to look at the evidence and the precedents. In 1990 the towering 'Violator' completed Depeche Mode's transformation from geeky frock-clad pipe-bangers into techno-global pornocrats. During the obligatory two-year gestative lay-off afterwards, David Gahan did what big rock stars do and left his wife and kids. The ground, you could easily think, is thereby laid for the ninth Depeche Mode LP to be their 'Hello, I Must Be Going' - a saleable load of grindingly adult songs about being divorced and miserable.
You couldn't be more wrong. The songs of faith and devotion are also songs of lust and corruption and greed, smeared all over with the most viscous, poisonous sound textures Depeche Mode have yet created. Where 'Violator's' clinical, cynical re-gening of house dynamics was calculated to maximise the clamminess of its songs, here the keynotes are curdled sweetness and the same raging noise that opens 'I Feel You'. It's not Ministry but it's the nearest they've got yet. Not heavy metal but heavy plastic.
And they are songs. Just as 'Violator' cleared away the swarf and rust from half a decade's worth of metallurgical Depecherie, so 'Songs Of Faith' negates its predecessor's digital cleanliness with luminous orchestra, oily guitar, even some Indian bagpipe type thing...
There's no 'Enjoy The Silence' here but there are at least three 'Personal Jesus'es, not just the same bastardised blues twang but the same naked solipsism - Depeche Mode's only indispensable article of faith, here magnified until it consumes everything. The best track, the intensified, pulsating downward spiral of 'Walking In My Shoes', says it all. "You stumble in my footsteps," sings Gahan, "Keep the same appointments I kept", and you realise that Martin Gore's love songs are all one way traffic, all take and no give, all black holes.
This is because 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion' is a self record: self-shaped and self-designed. It won't let anybody in. The faith is so exclusive it's hardly faith at all, more like self-obsession, and the devotion is self-directed too.
'Condemnation' is its low point, with Gahan in the dock for some unspecified crime of the heart and the Mode doing an acceptable deep South spiritual thing, all clanking chains and heartfelt groaning. But the lyrics are one long petulent self-justification: "I'll suffer with pride...If you see purity as immaturity/Well it's no surprise/It's the kindness you substitute for blindness/Please open your eyes."
Songs like that would make the record hard to take if it wasn't built like it is, if not for the tainted sumptuousness of 'Higher Love', and 'I Feel You''s easy brutality.
Cruel people think the new-look tattooed David Gahan looks like Al Jourgensen played by Mr Bean, but 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion', as rich and rank as a pop record can be, will shut them up." 4/5
Select, April 1993
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only.
"I never wanted to destroy Depeche Mode"
by Jennifer Nine
Melody Maker, 3rd April, 1993
… BUT he almost did. DEPECHE MODE started life in early 1981 as frilly shirted synthi-popper New Romantics (their electro-beat actually inspired the burgeoning House scenes of Detroit and Chicago). Later that year Vince Clarke left the group to form Yazoo, Assembly and, finally, Erasure. At which point the Mode toughened up. In 1983 they discovered Teutonic metal-bashing and band songwriter Martin Gore moved to Berlin. Throughout the mid-Eighties DM just got harder and harder (many of today’s industrial-rockers such as Nine Inch Nails and Ministry cite them as an influence). They also got bigger and bigger. By 1990 and the ‘Violator’ LP, Depeche were a colossal stadium draw in the States. Couldn’t be better, right? Well… The last three years have actually been quite difficult for the Basildon boys wonder. In this exclusive interview, vocalist DAVE GAHAN talks openly to JENNIFER NINE about doubt, despair, even divorce – all the pain that was exorcised on new album ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’ – as well as his struggle to make the Mode embrace the future.
"JESUS CHRIST!" A businesswoman, briefcase in hand, flies into the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel.
"I was trying to get in the door at the same time as a bunch of fans and some… rock star!" she says, flustered, to her waiting colleague. "I didn’t even recognise him," she adds, peevishly.
Neither would you, readers. Nor indeed would his bandmates. A slight young man in goatee and leathers, shoulder-length hair and biker vest, strides over to the lift amid a knot of minders and paparazzi. Ladies and grungemeisters, Dave Gahan! Jesus Christ!
Upstairs on the umpteenth floor in the interview suite, you’d call it the same old show. The Depeche Mode singer grabs a quick sarnie as he meets you with a smile. Roger, the artist-relations man who’s strong-armed him through doorways and sobbing girls for a dozen years, smiles a Buddha-like smile and sets his stopwatch.
ACTUALLY, it’s not the same any more, and the goatee’s beside the point. Dave Gahan takes a deep breath, and for 27 minutes in gloriously uncorrupted Essex-speak, punctuated with "at the end of the day" and "to be honest", every 30 seconds, he tells me why.
"Moving away, it opens your mind," he starts, settling into a squashy hotel chair for this half-hour session with a journalist/therapist. "I needed to get out. I felt trapped by everything that was around me. The last go round was great, we had a lot of success and ‘Violator’ was huge round the world – and I should have been on top of the world, and I wasn’t.
"I had everything I could possibly want, but I was really lost," he says, his voice suddenly going quiet. "I didn’t feel like I even knew myself any more. And I felt like shit, cos I constantly cheated on my wife, and went back home and lied, and my soul needed cleansing badly. I had to figure out why."
PHEW. Gahan Confesses All shock! Whither the cuddly boy-next-door electro-popper of yore? Read on.
In the wake of the mega-normous ‘Violator’ album and the subsequent Tour of Everywhere, the decision to make 1991 the band’s first-ever year off was long overdue. And, for three members of Depeche Mode, it was more or less what you’d expect: home, wife/girlfriend, kids, more songwriting for Martin Gore, a Recoil album and some Nitzer Ebb production work for the workaholic Alan Wilder.
But it was pain, divorce and "go west, young man" for the Mode singer. Where he ended up – in case you haven’t figured it out from his looks – was Los Angeles.
"I just packed a case and split," he tells me. "Went off and rented a place in Los Angeles. During the ‘Violator’ tour, I split from my wife. My year was really spent doing a lot of soul-searching and trying to find out what had gone wrong in my life, and thinking, to be quite honest, about whether I wanted to come back and do the whole thing – records, tours, fame, Depeche Mode - again.
BEFORE I can dispense kind words about it being tough at the top and enquire about silver linings to clouds and stuff, Gahan’s polished off his Cappuccino and started talking about his new American Wife.
I’m halfway into sarky thoughts about successful men dumping their long-suffering partners for exotic foreign babes when this shy beam of a smile melts my right-on severity. F*** it, the guy looks happy for the first time since he started this little narrative – who am I to point fingers?
Pretty soon, I’m doing everything but asking to see the snaps. Where was the wedding? His eyes light up like Glitter Gulch. Appropriately enough.
"In Las Vegas!" he exclaims. "Fantastic!"
What, with Elvis?
"Yeah!" he barrels on, shamelessly. "At the Graceland Chapel, and my name’s up on the wall now next to Jon Bon Jovi’s, in big lights outside!" he adds, cracking up at the wonder of it all. "Of course, everything was plastic, you know, false," he adds, anticipating my line of questioning. "They wouldn’t even light the candles in the chapel cos they were just there for show. We were a little upset! And they had a fake Elvis who we thought was just going to sing one song, but ended up doing about a half-hour set. In the end, I had to say, Will someone get him the f*** out of here? I want to get married! And so Theresa’s mum, Diane, sort of politely said, ‘Um, excuse me, Mr Elvis, do you think you could stop now, cos I think they want to get married.’ And so he says," – Gahan does a passable imitation of an imitation of The King – "‘We-ell, I’ve just got one more song, darlin’.’ And he leans over to me and asks, ‘Have I offended you in some way?’ And I say, ‘No, just carry on with it, mate, get it done and get out!’"
MAYBE you never really understand a country until you marry into it.
It’s certainly true that you can tour it, even as often as the huge-in-America Mode, without absorbing much more than excess ultraviolet rays and piss-poor beer.
For Gahan (who, in calling himself a rock fan, conjures up visions of Maker colleagues shouting, "There’s always been a grunge element to our music…" and falling about laughing), living in America brought him into contact with the music he loves. Listening to "Songs Of Faith And Devotion", I’m not surprised to read in a Toronto paper this week that Dave’s current favourite records are by Neil Young and Alice In Chains.
"My wife works in the music business," explains Gahan. "And at the beginning of the year off, she was out working on the Lollapalooza tour, the first one with Jane’s Addiction. I went out on the tour kind of as a fan, just hanging out. It was different just walking around in the crowd, really not bothered by the fans at all."
This was no doubt a novel experience, I figure, remembering the millions of kids in leather jackets umpteen floors below.
"I noticed the audience was the same as the one we have," he goes on, "or the Cure or lots of other bands, for that matter.
"Americans really see it all as just new, alternative music," he exclaims, and I wonder how many times he’s despaired at being called a "Techno-popper" by the UK press. "And Jane’s were just the most incredible thing I’d seen in a long while. Sometimes they were really shit, and sometimes they were just so mountainous and fantastic.
"I spent the year trying to find the sort of music I wanted to be involved with," Gahan continues. "There was so much really good new music coming out of the States at the time, much more so than where it usually comes from – Europe or London. I felt that what was happening back home, all that Techno stuff, was really boring."
WHICH brings us to The Return To The Fold. Depeche Mode headed into the studio in early 1992 to record "Songs", but for Gahan the trip back was from a different place, and I don’t just mean geographically.
"I came back," he says, "really inspired by a lot of other bands like Jane’s. Not so much for what they were doing musically, but for the passion that they had. The danger really appealed to me. I’d felt quite safe in the last few years, and maybe I wasn’t trying as hard as I should’ve. So I think when I came back into the studio in January in Madrid, everyone was a little bit afraid of me somehow. I don’t know what they thought I’d been doing."
Growing your hair, surely? He waves away my quip.
"It wasn’t even that. I think I was giving off quite a vibe at the time. I was very aggressive about what I wanted and what I felt we should be doing, and how we should, once again, be a band full of spirit!" he concludes, excited.
This isn’t to say, of course, that the other three Modes were set on merely photocopying past glories. Despite being instantly recognisable, Depeche have somehow always managed to shift the goalposts around deftly enough to keep one step ahead of the rest.
"There was never anytime that any of us thought we were going to go and do the same things as before," Gahan says, fidgeting slightly in his seat. "We were conscious that we didn’t want to simply repeat what we’d done before."
THEN again, Gahan’s new-found energy sounds like it might have been a little daunting to everyone else. From the word go, he recalls, "I was pushing hard all the time, and I think everybody backed off from me a little but. I’m sure they were thinking the people I was getting involved with back in the States were living a little too close to the edge."
It wasn’t Basildon, I suggest.
"Right, it wasn’t Basildon, far from it! And I was the first of the band to break away."
Maybe they felt you’d become Americanised, I add, looking at the tattoos peeking out from under his vest.
"Oh yeah, I mean, my wife’s American, and you know, she’s really aggressive, and I’ve definitely picked up on that," he admits. "And most of the time she’s dead right about what she thinks. She’s said things to me over the last year that’ve completely changed my view about a lot of things I was doing, and she’s done nothing but encourage me. So I came back fully loaded with plenty of passionate ideas and things that I wanted to do to the sound of Depeche Mode, and everybody else was kind of like, ‘Well, actually, we’ve just been at home with the wife and kids for the last year, so calm down a bit there, Dave.’ Now I realise it, but, at the time, I just felt like it was me and them. And I had to keep pushing."
USUALLY, the intimate details of "musical differences" – that handy, catch-all, music biz cliché – don’t come out until after a band splits up. Usually, according to interviewees, everything is going just swimmingly.
However, in this unusual instance, the urge to confess all is gripping Dave Gahan tighter than a boa constrictor in love. So he ploughs on.
"There’s an interview in Details magazine this month where Fletch says, "I think Dave felt the only thing he had in his life was his music, and everything else had disappeared that was important to him.’ Which wasn’t true, because I’d fallen in love, and that was more important to me than anything else, to be quite honest.
"But then he says, ‘You know, I just steered clear of him.’ And that was literally what was happening, and it just made me more isolated. I’d just shut myself up in my room in Madrid – we’d hired a house and built a studio in there – and whenever things got a bit sticky I’d run off to my room, lock the door and start painting.
"And I ended up painting a really fantastic oil for Theresa," Gahan speed-recollects. "Which I’m really proud of, cos I hadn’t put brush to canvas for 10 years. I spent four weeks in the studio all day, after which I couldn’t sleep, so I’d be up all night painting. I found it incredibly therapeutic, cos it was my thing and I was like, well, f*** you lot, you can’t tell me how to do anything here.
"I remember when I’d finished, no one had really seen it except Anton [Corbijn, longtime Mode photographer and video director], and the rest of the band were really quite surprised. Martin, I remember, said to me…"
At this point, Gahan does a slow, puzzled voice.
"‘…Oh yeah, you know, I didn’t realise you could paint, I’ve never been able to do that myself.’ And I said, well, yeah, that’s what I used to do, Mart, that’s all I could do. I was in art college for three years, and the only thing I was even any good at was painting.
"Actually," he adds, confidently, "it’s something that, after this next tour, if I get a bit of time, I want to try and get a lot more involved in. I know it’s kind of a cliched thing for people in bands to do, but I got a lot of enjoyment out of it. And," he adds with a laugh, "I don’t care if it’s a cliché particularly. Most of the shit I do every day is a cliché, let’s face it!"
Dave clatters his teaspoon for emphasis, and Roger, the artist-relations man, makes a well-rehearsed, halfway-slide through the room.
LONELY, late-night painting sessions aside, however, he hadn’t been abandoned by his old mockers. While Gahan was revamping his life in LA, the silent and inimitable Gore was penning songs that, according to Dave, somehow managed to mirror his own personal tribulations and developments exactly.
"I have more rocky and bluesy influences than the others in the band. So when Martin started sending me bluesy demos for the new record, like ‘I Feel You’, and ‘Condemnation’, which was really gospelly, I thought, great! And the lyrics were completely appropriate to the way I was feeling. It was almost like Mart was writing the stuff for me."
If, lyrically, Gore’s songs succeeded in accommodating Dave’s changing ideas, the band’s long-time support network was equally instrumental in encouraging his new-found passion.
"Anton was completely with me," he says. "He’s done nothing but support me through a lot of traumatic times over the last couple of years. He was very positive that we should be moving into a different area, and felt that the songs we were writing were demanding different things from the band. That we shouldn’t just be sitting on our arses and waiting for somebody else to do it for us. That we should take control.
"Daniel Miller at Mute was the same. Several times when I’d hit London, mostly to see Jack, my son, I’d go out to dinner with him and he’d say, ‘Look, I know you’re going through a lot of stuff at the moment, but you’ve got to keep going and you’ve got to keep pushing.’ I think everyone knew I wasn’t trying to destroy the band, I was just trying to push us a bit harder."
ALSO for the first time ever, the band brought other musicians into the studio for "Songs". While the guest contributions might seem modest – a choir, some strings and the odd tambourine – it was, nonetheless, further proof of a shift in attitude.
Specifically, it’s the soul-drenched atmosphere of "Condemnation" that’s the real key to the changes Depeche Mode have been through. Its heartfelt, I-stand-accused dramatics would be a meaty delight to any torch singer; Gahan sings his heart out and calls it "by far my finest vocal performance."
"Some of the lines like, ‘I’m not asking for absolution/Forgiveness for the things I do’ – there are a lot of words in there that were entirely apt to the way I was feeling. And I really felt, for the first time, the words flowing through me as if I had written them."
Hmmm, not bad for a performance done in a garage.
"It was under the studio in Madrid, a low-ceilinged place, very concrete and metal and echoey and cold, and it had a great sound and a great ambience," says Gahan.
Not surprisingly, his star turn didn’t go unnoticed.
Remembers Gahan, "When I came out, everybody in the control room went all quiet and turned around, and suddenly Flood said, ‘That was f***ing great!’ And Alan and everybody said, ‘That’s probably the best vocal you ever did’ – and I thought, yeah, it was. It was completely breaking me up inside, and, at the same time, it was really optimistic and uplifting.
"I think you hear it all over the record, you know," he confides. "The album’s got much more emotion and feeling than any other Depeche Mode record. We managed to marry the hard electronics, sampling – all that side of things – with acoustic instruments and a real band playing together; things coming from bodies rather than coming from machines."
So much so, in fact, that the next Depeche Mode tour will reflect a new, more "live" approach.
"I want there to be more performance from the band," decides Gahan. "I definitely won my battles, to be quite honest – cos when we began this record, I knew it would be good for us to get a drummer.
"We’ve done this for so long, I thought, why not add another element to our sound? So I kept pushing and pushing and, in the end, Alan (Wilder) got on the drumkit and said, ‘Well, I’ll f***ing do it, then!’"
I’M down to the two-minute warning, and Dave Gahan is still opening his heart.
"Making ‘Songs Of Faith And Devotion’ was really quite a healing process for me," he reveals, getting up to stretch his legs around the room.
It sounds like you like your job, I say, and he blurts out. "I do! I do now. I’ve only just really realised over the last couple of years how much I love my job.
"I think you’ve got to challenge yourself and challenge the people coming to see you," he leans forward with a sense of urgency. "It’d be incredibly boring if we just went out and presented the same kind of show and the same kind of visuals again. For us and our audience, I think. All I’ve been trying to do over the last couple of years is just push for the band to move on and get better at what we do. I never wanted to destroy the band."
Dave Gahan smiles, and adds, "This is still a Depeche Mode record, you know. Absolutely."
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photo by Anton Corbijn reproduced without permission.
WALKING IN MY SHOES - released April 26, 1991
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