In the Mode for Love
Time Out, 04/2001
by Omer Ali
Twenty-one years after their first hit, three years on from their ´farewell´ tour, Depeche Mode are back. And having spent a decade as a rock god and recorvering addict, singer Dave Gahan is ready for a bit of affection...
“You lose your mind, completely, and then you lose your soul”, pronounces Dave Gahan on the price he paid for two years of recording and touring with Depeche Mode in the mid 90´s. After a weighted pause, he adds, with a hollow, self-deprecating laugh: “And I continued to do that for a few years after that too.”
Gahan´s sincerity is remarkable considering that his openness in the past about his rehabilitation from drink and drug addictions was thrown back at him by some sections of the music press. Added to this is a candour about his role in the business of selling the band: “day in, day out talking about Depeche Mode fucking drives me crazy” – but Gahan recognises his responsibilities. There is new material and a tour to promote – something not even he could have expected after a greatest hits tour three years ago appeared to mark the band´s finale after 18 eventful years together.
Depeche Mode was formed in 1980 by a group of Basildon school friends including Vince Clarke, who left the group after one album (going on to form Yazoo, then Erasure). Martin Gore took over as the songwriter and Alan Wilder joined to provide their distinctive synth sound.
Gahan´s scratchy vocals and increasingly rock-star personality certainly contributed to their stadium – and all important US – success, marked first by the appositely (through ironically) titled “Music for the Masses” (1987), and then “Violator” (1990), probably the best electro-pop album ever. The Devotional Tour of 1993 was dubbed “The Most Debauched Rock ´n Roll Tour Ever” by Q. Gore suffered stress induced seizures, Andy Fletcher had a nervous breakdown and Gahan became a heroin addict.
The ensuing silence was broken only by news of Gahan´s suicide attempt in 1995 and, almost a year later, a near-fatal overdose. A subsequent album, “Ultra” - without Alan Wilder, who had left the band for his solo project Recoil – was followed by 1998´s Singles Tour and two accompanying greatest hits compilations. Now they´re back with a single, “Dream On”, later this month; their tenth studio album “Exciter” in May; and a five-month tour that reaches Britain in October.
You´d be hard-pushed to find anyone whose life reads like the string of Depeche Mode´s early releases – all bright and electronically shiny – and you wouldn´t wish the thunderous scrapings of their industrial period to evoke the soundtrack to the life of your worst enemy. But, curiously, as Depeche Mode pulled into the 90´s with “Violator”, Gore´s broodingly sensual electronica started to draw spooky parallels with singer Gahan´s own life...
“Policy of Truth” The third single from the album “Violator” in 1990. Brooding and brutal in its portrayal of personal honesty and fidelity, Gahan could have been singing to the mirror.
“I put myself in a position to speak very openly about all the stuff that I was going through and it becomes the next person´s story and some of it was sad – I realised it was fucking out of control.”
“It came across as sensationalism and it was anything but sensational. What I was trying to get across was how pathetic my life had become and how I let that happen.”
“At least that was an honest depiction of what was going on. I find a lot of this stuff today that´s going on in pop music way more destructive. All these manufactured bands – it´s just such bollocks, there´s no honesty in it all.”
“I was talking about it way too much and I was really lost – it came across like I was the first and the only junkie in the world that had been through it – but I lived like that. I went through it and I came out the other side. There´s not many people that actually come out the other side and I´m eternally grateful for that.”
“Clean” The song that closes “Violator” on a supposedly optimistic note. However, the snarl with which Gahan claims to be “the cleanest I´ve been” betrays a world wearied cynicism and perhaps a belief than clean is only a lighter shade of dirt.
“I take great comfort today in knowing that I´m one of millions of people desperately sadly looking for something in their lives to make them feel good about themselves. I get so much courage from people that are less fortunate than me and aren´t in such a privilegeg position to be able to turn their life around.”
“The way I felt was so new to me, being clean and stuff, that´s all I wanted to talk about because I wanted everybody else to feel that and there was a different way. It was just my story and a very predictable one, but mine.”
“Songs of Faith and Devotion” The next album released in March of ´93 echoed themes of redemption, forgiveness and, well, a little more sin, throughout. As Gahan sang, on the album´s second single, “before you come to any conclusions, try walking in my shoes”.
“It´s still one of my favourite albums of ours. It felt like we were trying desperately to challenge ourselves and break out of everything we had done on ´Violator´, which was very controlled, very polished, very clean – a perfect pop album. We wanted to blow all that stuff away. It could have been a little harder, it was what it was.”
“It worked really well live. There´s a lot been said about that tour. I loved a lot of it – it felt like we were really trying as a band. I felt much more comfortable there, like when I first went to see a band like The Clash. I´ve never seen a band like it – maybe Jane´s Addiction were the only band that come close to that sort of energy, where each member was like a powerhouse, though not necessarily getting on at all. And I felt like that with the ´Songs of Faith and Devotion´ tour. It was a battle to push yourself out front, added to the enormity of the stage set and everything. It was about as big as it gets. I like a challenge.”
“Rush” One of the rockiest tracks on “Songs of Faith and Devotion”. The band again find it hard to keep a passionate love song from sounding more like obsessive sickness.
“I´m not like a lot of other people, in that I don´t have a drink because I like to have a drink: I drink because I want to get drunk. Some people can take it or leave it but I don´t want to come down from that. But today I don´t feel like that: I don´t feel insecure and I´m totally okay being me.”
“Ultra” Depeche Mode´s “And Then There Were Three” manages to be both slick and dirty. But by 1997, the sensuality in their music had pretty much evaporated – the single “It´s No Good”, for example, lacking the compulsiveness of previous work.
“I felt a big part of what we were doing was missing – a leader, musically, and for me Alan was that. The others would say he was too controlling, but he just worked his arse off because he really believed in it and the idea of pushing himself musically, which you can hear on his own records. I find that really inspiring. I miss him.”
The Singles Tour This 1998 outing looked to all intents and purposes like a wrapping up of unfinished business; the kind of thing artists do when they´re tidying up the loose ends of their record contract. Still, 22 years on from the band´s inception and 18 years after Gahan had joined to complete the picture, the Mode faithful were still filling out stadia across the world.
“Before we went on that tour I thought maybe this is going to be the last thing that we do together. I was ready to move on and felt totally okay with that.”
“During the tour I realised how much I loved performing. It was overwhelming every night how much support I felt from the fans. When I walked on stage I felt that everybody in that gig was fucking beaming at me, ´Here he is, he´s back.´ That was an amazing feeling.”
“Exciter” The new album, which is due out next month, has handed the band a new lease of life. It combines elements of their decades-long career (with perhaps less of the industrial beating and more of the electro soul about it), but they have still managed to create something fresh for the Depeche devotee.
“What you´re hearing right now from Depeche Mode is Martin and me, and that´s the core of what we do anyway. Mark Bell [producer, who´s worked with Björk] was invaluable. He wanted to bring out what he´d liked about Depeche Mode; the songs and the melody and my voice, and make everything else more atmospheric around that.”
“Musically we´re growing quite gracefully instead of forcing some idea or being dictated to by what´s going on. I hear that in U2 and PJ Harvey; certain things [like] that inspire me, like the new Nick Cave album, which blows me away. I think he´s fucking brilliant.”
“There´s been three very clear phases of Depeche Mode and I think this is the beginning of a new one. ´Exciter´ is a collection of songs that are very different, a bit like ´Black Celebration´. A little bit naive in a way, like we´re just starting again somehow.”
“I Feel Loved” One of the band´s happiest songs since the breezy days of “Just Can´t Get Enough”. Bristling beats punctuate Gahan´s breathy mantra, “I Feel Loved”. This renewed energy buzzes through the new single, “Dream On”, too.
“I make life hard for myself. I´m in a band, and that´s a compromise, and I bring something to Depeche Mode that I think is important and I express myself through somebody else´s songs, which has been normal for years for me. (I need to do more of my own stuff in the future, but that´s okay.)”
“I feel so proud of my son, Jack, and when I go home [to New York] my stepson throws his arms around me and my little baby daughter gives me that little look – that´s what it´s all about. It sounds soppy but I really feel loved. I´m working on myself; I´m still very distrusting and stuff but I get these massive moments when it´s just like absolute bliss.”
“I´m living my life and it´s beyond my wildest dreams. If people said to me five years ago if you stick with this it will all come back and more, I´d be like [puts on self-pitying voice] yeah, mate, you don´t know how hard it´s been. I´m very lucky to still be doing this. I´ve got plenty more of it. I´m just getting started.”