(2003) To hell and back

(But) "if God was handing out hedonism, partying, drugs and alcohol, I" ve had my quota,'' says the 41-year-old Depeche Mode singer, who plays concerts at the Wiltern Theatre on Monday and Tuesday supporting his new solo CD, "Paper Monsters." '

During the band's 1993-94 "Devotional" ' tour, Gahan was lost in a haze of drug abuse, which included habitual imbibings, ingestions and injections of alcohol, cocaine and heroin.

He then hit rock bottom with two near-fatal encounters in Los Angeles. In August 1995, two months after 13-year Depeche Mode veteran Alan Wilder left the band, Gahan attempted suicide. Nine months later, he overdosed on a speedball (a cocaine-heroin mix) and flatlined for two minutes.

Shortly thereafter, Gahan entered a detox program.

With the monkey off his back, Gahan says he's no longer a slave to binging.

"I have a certain amount of freedom from that obsession," ' says Gahan, calling from San Antonio, one of the stops on his solo tour. "A couple of years after I stopped using drugs and drinking, it was horrible. I" d go to dinner with a bunch of friends, and they'd be drinking. I'd be looking at that half-empty bottle of wine on the table and trying to figure out why nobody was finishing it. That would be my whole obsession.

"Fortunately, in the last five years or so, that went away," ' he says. "Now, it doesn" t bother me. There's stuff around me, but I know if I go there, all this good stuff that's happening in my life will go away faster than the time we finish this interview. I wouldn't even be on the phone talking to you. This would be important drinking and drugging time.''

Instead, Gahan has channeled those demons into "Paper Monsters." ' Marking his debut as a songwriter (he co-wrote the 10 tracks with multi-instrumentalist Knox Chandler), the disc is a canvas of reflection, redemption and rebirth set against a backdrop of Depeche Mode-sounding tones and textures, as well as twisted electronica and swampy blues-rock.

Gahan's dark, wasted side steals the spotlight on the glam racket of "Bottle Living" ' and the grinding of "Dirty Sticky Floors." '

He also uses ballads to confess the agonies and ecstasies of failed relationships and long-term love and the heartbreaking euphoria of fatherhood. His 4-year-old daughter, Stella Rose, is the subject of "Stay." ' He also has two sons, Jimmy, 11 and Jack, 15.

"When I" m singing about things that are hopeful in my life, I'm honestly singing about them. I have so much to be grateful for,'' says Gahan, who also admits he's not always a shiny, happy person.

"I can be pretty mean and nasty at the drop of a hat," ' he says. "I" m still working on a better balance with that stuff. I know I'm getting somewhere. It's like two steps forward, one step back.''

Gahan says the seeds for a lot of that anger were planted while growing up in Essex, England.

"My mom raised four kids on her own. She tried to do the best. My father left home when I was very young," ' Gahan says. "When I was like 11, I had two younger brothers; I had to take care of (stuff). It was kind of weird.

"It was that usual adolescent stuff. I thought it was all my mom" s fault. I was angry and resentful,'' he says. "I guess I" ve carried some of that through.''

Frustration led Gahan to record the solo disc. Since its 1981 debut, Depeche Mode has found mega-platinum success with a formula of sensual, synthesizer-based grooves layered with guitar chords and drum machine arrangements. Gahan, however, thought the band was resting on its laurels.

"When Alan Wilder left Depeche, a big chunk went with him, that was probably the part which I really liked," ' Gahan says. "Alan was very much the guy who would sit there trying new things, 'Let" s try some live drums on this. We don't want to use a live drummer. Well, you know what, I'll learn.' That was really important.

"During the making of 'Exciter," sometimes I felt a bit frustrated that there was a lack of experimentation. It was almost like, 'This is what we are. This is what we do. Why do you want to do something else, Dave?' It was like, OK. I want to work with some people again where I felt everyone was hungry to still push the boundaries, so maybe I'm going to have to explore this on my own.''

His suspicions were confirmed after he played demo versions of "Black and Blue Again" ' and "Dirty Sticky Floors" ' for Depeche Mode lyricist Martin Gore.

"He nodded his head like, 'Cool, pretty good," but there was no enthusiasm,'' Gahan says. "I was like, you know, I want to work with someone who" s a bit more enthusiastic.''

At the same time, Depeche Mode's future isn't clear.

"I know I" m definitely going to keep moving forward when it comes to writing songs, working with different people,'' Gahan says. "If Martin wants to come along with that and we want to call it Depeche Mode, that" s fine. I'm not asking him to have us sit down and collaborate, that's not something I know he's even interested in doing right now. Just be open to the idea that he could help me with ideas, and I could help him with ideas and we could come together and be very strong. That would be enough. But I'm not sure that's there.''

A spokesperson for Gore had no comment.

"I" m very proud of everything that's happened with Depeche,'' Gahan says. "I wouldn" t even be doing ('Paper Monsters') if it wasn't for Depeche.''

Phillip Zonkel can be reached at (562) 499-1258 or phillip.zonkel@presstelegram.com

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