Interview with DM on the iZINE magazine
Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher went looking for a personal Jesus
and only found the devil inside. In seeking salvation they teetered on the
lip of destruction, toppled into addiction. Depeche Mode, the band who took
it too close to the edge on their 14 month, 156-date, "Songs Of Faith
And Devotion" tour that spanned 1993/94. Depeche Mode, the band that
nearly cracked up for good.
How devastating that tour was, still is to them, comes in a single sentence
lead singer and rehabilitated alcoholic and drug addict Dave Gahan whispers
as they talk about touring and their decision not to take their new set
"Ultra" on the road: "Touring," he says, "it's
a really scary thought."
That Depeche Mode have a new album at all is a triumph for belief and fortitude
over sheer emotional exhaustion, sustained physical and mental abuse. In
many ways it is one of the more remarkable comebacks in the excess-littered
annals of popular music.
Gathered in a London studio a few weeks before the release of "Ultra",
Gahan, Andy Fletcher and songwriter Martin Gore - the core trio - seem glad
to talk, almost to release the tension of the silence that's enveloped the
spectre of Depeche Mode since Gahan's well-documented drug problems, long-time
member Alan Wilder's May '95 departure and the countless stories of intense
internal friction that surfaced during and after that twilight zone trek.
Somehow, 17 years down the track, and out of this commando course in rock'n'roll
survival, they've fashioned a telling, moving and beautifully-crafted album
that not only ignores the troubled past, but steers - to some degree - away
from Gore's religious obsession and remorseless search for redemption that
dominated "Songs" and much of their previous output.
Not that Gore isn't the serious soul-searcher. That will never change. Despite
a noticeable sound shift on "Ultra" that sees the Mode move into
an undulating road of sound that takes truckstops in a everything from rock
and big pop ballads to steel-guitar cut badlands Americana and fundamentally
vibey dance, they still embrace those spartan jazz grabs cut through drifted
wastelands that echo 'Songs'" more twisted, shattered atmospheres.
Depeche Mode may have scared themselves but they haven't run away. Only
this time they aren't digging so dark. As they talk there's an almost audible
mending going on. Whether it's ever completed only time will tell. They
have so much to come to terms with.
Time has already done some of the work but it is left unsaid that there
is much to still do. Still they talk freely about that tour and its after
"After being on top of each other for three years there was a thing
of being in the room with each other was a bit tense. We've never got to
actually fighting, yet," Fletcher says.
"We did manage to carry that off for 14 months," Gore continues.
"It was just that at some points separate limos were necessary."
Gahan interjects, "We didn't get to separate hotels, but I think it
was on the cards. It did get to separate floors though. We were separate
everything: separate security; separate rooms. The room we were together
in was onstage and we functioned together well on stage. We all had our
roles and knew what we were doing. That was the most comfortable place.
The thing you have to remember is that it's not just us. There are 100
people working with us and it's everybody: everybody's emotions all wrapped
up together and sometimes there's going to be conflict."
"I think we learned a lot from that though," Fletcher says. "I
think we took too much on and hopefully now we've learned our lessons."
Gahan laughs, dryly, as he remembers the excesses, "I think there
were four separate parties going on every night."
Gore carries on, "It started off as separate floors and then we realised
you could still be above or below somebody, so we had to be on separate
floors at like opposite ends so it ended up in a zig zag pattern.
"To be honest it was total relief to get home at the end of it. It
got especially bad with about two or three weeks to go but you felt I've
got (some quote missing), made it, this far, it would be really sad to die
at this stage."
As it was he nearly did: "I was actually going on holiday, in the same
plane as Alan Wilder - the one who left- and we were on our way from Dallas
to San Juan. It was a big American Airlines plane and it just started making
an horrific noise and tilting totally sideways and plummeting to the ground.
The stewardesses were trying to run around but it was difficult running
around at that angle [much laughter] telling everyone not to panic. And
they looked really panicked themselves. I remember that I thought we were
actually dead. It took the pilot about 10 minutes to make an announcement
that we had a pressurisation problem."
Gahan comments dryly that the odds had already increased considerably by
that stage that something airborne would happen, pointing out that if you
spend some part of nearly every day in a plane for 15 months then chances
are - you're looking down the "Barrel Of A Gun". At least, that's
one possible interpretation for the crunchy, barnstorming, rock - yes, rock,
and even the band who hate the word will now use it - single from "Ultra".
Another is Gore providing a not-so-oblique reference to Gahan's addictions.
It is neither, he says. "It is not that specific. It's more figuratively
speaking. It's about not having as much choice to make decisions as you'd
like. I really like think that we're all born with some genetic language
which means we can stray from, but only slightly, that path. There's also
your whole social background as well. We've got certain cages that we're
in. That's what the song's about. I didn't have many choices to be in the
position I am in, so it's not particularly about death." There's a
pause, and very quiet chuckle, "The rest of them are about death."
It's his little joke and part of the repairing and mending process. Just
as talking about the good time they had on tour is, about how they did what
they set out to do. (does this make sense?) It's almost like motivational
therapy and inevitably it swings the conversation back to the toll it took,
about why they couldn't stop what these days has become best known as the
Gahan answers simply, "You have a tendency to just remember the bad
times and bad moments. I think that often it's the way of life. Yet the
rewards we got from it were fantastic and we played a lot of shows to sellout
audiences in I don't know how many cities. I just think we didn't realise
how insane it was until we were actually right in the middle of it and couldn't
stop. We just couldn't stop."
Now they have and they're still considering what the hell it is they went
through. There had to be changes and one of them is "I don't think
we're considering touring at the moment with this album," Gore says,
"which is the first time we've ever contemplated not doing that."
"Touring, it's a really scary thought, yeah," Gahan says and goes
silent, then just as Fletcher starts to try and rationalise the situation,
he goes off, gets completely honest, takes another step in his own therapy
as he's done several times in recent interviews. "I think what I've
learnt is that if I haven't got my health I haven't got anything,"
Gahan says, an audible quaver in his voice.
"If I'm not able to get up in the morning and feel good about myself
then everything around me is chaos anyway. I got really tired of being tired
so it took a long while. It took a couple of years after the tour really
before, basically, I could stop using drugs and now I'm happy to say I've
been clean for nine months. It's in the past and I can't change the past
but I can be really careful about the future because no matter what goes
on in my life, no matter what I'm doing I know that at the end of the day
you've got to sit with yourself.
"I wasn't very proud of myself for a long time and all that stuff that
was happening to me, well, I wasn't able to see anything good anymore. It
clouds your vision if you become an addict and use drugs and alcohol to
function with and to cover-up, to mask yourself, and you're never going
to find out who you really are and what you really want.
"We stopped for a long time after the tour and I saw what I was and
I didn't like it. I had long enough to see it but it took a while before
I realised it."
It took a wrist-slashing suicide attempt and a couple of overdoses before
Gahan saw his light and his comeback - hard step by hard step as it continues
to be: he admits he has huge odds and temptations to beat - is paralleled
by that of the band. It's to Gore's credit he wrote these songs of "destiny"
rather than force Gahan or any of them to relive the nightmare in some public
Gahan, for his part, his voice ravaged by excess, went into vocal retraining
and to his surprise found such an improvement that he now admits to getting
real pride from listening to "Ultra" where, finally, he triumphs
as a singer. And Depeche Mode took a few chances. Noting that the first
demos had a loping, dancey, pop vibe, they enlisted lifelong fan, previous
remixer and Bomb The Bass' Tim Simenon as producer and the aid of some stellar
players: Jaki Liebziet, drummer with legendary German electronic pioneers
and experimentalists, Can; former Living Colour and Tack-head bassist Doug
Wimbish; pedal steel master B.J. Cole who plays magnificently on "The
Bottom Line", Gore's country opus on which he also sings.
Recorded over some 16 months in typical Mode fashion of six week stints
in the studio, then a couple of months for Gore to write before returning
to tape again, "Ultra" is a shimmering and poignant emotion that
stands as a genuine contrast to the gloom and misery that riddled the soul-scraping
and dark-corners-of-the-mind "Songs Of Faith and Devotion", a
padded cell of a record that delivered majestic symphonies with razorblade
Depeche Mode rode with the five horsemen of the apocalypse, found their
own cross and crucified themselves, and somewhere in it all embraced a spirituality
they can now bear. It has something to do with life and while "Ultra"
isn't all roses a flutter in a perfect pastel-coloured world, Martin Gore,
Andy Fletcher and Dave Gahan now acknowledge their own heartbeat.
Where they fit in after 17 years, they don't even know. They used to worry
about it; now they don't. Gore says quietly, "I think if you manage
to move yourself there is always going to be somebody out there who agrees
with you. We're all sort of fairly unique but there is always some sort
of basic emotions that reach most people."
Gahan picks up, "I think that when I sing nine songs I know inside
when it's right. If it moves me then I know it's going to effect somebody
else and it's nice to be able to sing a song with your feelings, from your
heart. When I sing I'm able to let so much more out than if I try and talk
Fletcher, as always the quiet one who listens best, concludes, "Things
have taken their toll but our situations have brought out the best in us.
People didn't expect us to come back at all, let alone like this. We're
better equipped than we were last time around."
Gahan coughs, "I'm happy to have my life back." Perhaps, they
all are, for in "Ultra" -no matter what happens next - Depeche
Mode have found dignity and hope.