MTV – Interview 1997

Interview by John Norris


Itīs been almost four years since the long-running English synth-pop band Depeche Mode released a new album. While part of the reason for that delay has been singer Dave Gahanīs well-documented struggle with drug addiction, Gahan sayīs heīs straight now.


MTV Newsī John Norris spoke at length with Gahan last week at Brownīs Nightclub in London to get the full story.


JN: How are you feeling, and are you sick of answering that question?


DG: “No itīs a nice question, and my answer is that I feel so much better about myself, you know. It changes every day really. From day to day. But Iīm certainly feeling much better than I was eight months ago.”


JN: Whatīs a day like for you now? I mean is it much of a concern? Are you going to meetings regularly?


DG: “Yeah, itīs something I have to do. If I want to stay sober then itīs something that Iīm gonna have to work at. Just as, in the same way that when I was actively using daily, I had to work at that.


The ingredients to stay sober are a lot simpler. Being an addict at times, I can make it a lot more complicated if I want to. I mean having an addictive nature is something that I think youīre born with you know. And I just find that now I feel very new again. Everythingīs very new. Itīs learning how to live life on lifeīs terms again.


Without a crutch, you know thatīs something to kinda always be in the back of your mind thatīs your little helper kind of thing. And you know, I think itīs something that in time will become a lot more comfortable. Itīs just that itīs so new that itīs something that I have to work at every day.


I have to stay in touch with sober friends and people I got clean with or people that are there to help me. You know I have a sponsor and I go to meetings and stuff like that. Itīs good for me to be around, cause I donīt think that, uh, itīs very difficult to, if youīre not an addict, um, trying to explain that to someone else is a very difficult thing. If youīre in a room with a bunch of other people who have the same kind of problem, itīs just a comfort in itself. I find that just sitting in a meeting for an hour and a half I can just sit there and listen to other people, and quite often somebody else whoīs sharing in that meeting about the way they feel or about being an addict or about what theyīve been going through in the day will help me you know. Everybody kind of helps each other, thatīs how it works really.?”


JN: Itīs my understanding anyway from people whoīve been clean for a long time that it does get easier to maintain sobriety. As far as you know, people whoīve been clean for longer periods of time, is that the case for them?


DG: “From what Iīve learned so far, itīs a day to day thing. Of course in the early stages, youīre more susceptible to relapsing. But as time goes on, for me personally I canīt deny the fact that 75 percent of the time now my life is a lot better. Iīm a lot happier in my own skin. But at the same time if you slack off, if you choose to kind of get a bit complacent and kind of fall back into kind of old habits, and I mean like withdrawing from people, isolating and choosing to hang out on my own and not making the effort to pick up the phone and talk to people about how I feel and go and meet people for coffee and get myself to meetings.


If I donīt do the legwork, Iīm not gonna stay sober long. It might not be that I pick up, but Iīm talking about a sickness in the head. Of just being lick, stuck. Thatīs a horrible feeling for anybody and I think a lot of people go through that just with being depressed and being in this kind of low-grade depression where everything and anything that comes your way seems like such a big effort. And thatīs when you end up starting at the Weather Channel for 12 hours a day, and I donīt want to go back to that.”


JN: Is talking about it now something youīd rather not be doing or is it good? I mean obviously itīs gonna happen...


D: “You know thereīs been so much, so many things happened in the public with regard to other bands and stuff and people like the Pumpkins and Kurt Cobain and...”


JN: The guy from Sublime (Brad Nowell)...


D: “...and Sublime. In fact that was the same night as me I believe, you know that that guy didnīt make it. And I think... I kind of feel like in a way that just by my actions itīs more important for people to hear the album and see me active and doing things again so that people know itīs not all doom and gloom. There is another side, there is a choice, you do have a choice. You donīt have to keep going down that road, you know. You know someone said to me once, a friend of mine, Jon, who I got clean with, he turned around and said to me, īYour bottomīs only as deep as you want to keep digging.ī And he said, īDave, youīve been hitting the concrete for a long while you know.ī Itīs true, itīs a matter of being willing to try and make the change, and youīve gotta be willing, youīve gotta if itīs something that like I said youīve got to work at.”


JN: It sounds like there were a lot of times when you were paying lip service to wanting to get clean, but the desire wasnīt really there.


D: “Yeah. Well Iīve been in and out for quite a while, quite a few years. And you know, the drugs stopped working a long time ago. And being the type of person I was, and being the addict, Iīve been described as being a hopeless, hope-to-die junkie, and you know thatīs the variety that often doesnīt make it because... itīs fear, you know. The fear of like accepting the fact that you no longer have any power over what youīre doing to yourself, and that it isnīt in fact working. In fact I think that done me a favor, you know... that the drugs stopped working, you know. Heroin stopped working a long time ago. But youīre always chasing that first high you know and that goes away very quick. And then youīve got to deal with just the constant depression and finding ways and means to get and use.”


JN: You talked about not wanting to fall into old habits and sort of withdrawing from people. Were you always sort of a isolationist kind of person?


D: “Thatīs something that I have created for myself. You know, I chose to pull myself away from people and places, all due to trust and this guy only wants to be my friend because Iīm in Depeche Mode or whatever. And use that as an excuse, and that I found, when I started using heroin, I didnīt need anybody for a while. Iīd be lying if I didnīt say for a while it made me feel great. You know, but like anything if you over-use it, the novelty is gonna wear off and the feeling is gonna wear off. So I feel like now I have a chance in my life to practice and to learn how to... be part of the human race, you know... be part of life. And try and live life on lifeīs terms, which scares me, you know. Things that happen all the time have always really disturbed me about life and about people and trust and about putting your trust into people and love and marriage and then being... you know, I almost got to the stage where I was picking and choosing people around me that I could just, boost the effect basically. That would make me feel like, yeah, you know this is the way it is man, so you know... but that was my choice. Nobody made me the way I was you know, I did. It wasnīt because of the way I was brought up or, you know...”


JN: Mom, or...


D: “No, all that stuff, I really donīt believe that. You know you have a choice every day of whether to get up and lead your life, or to hide... you know, the sad thing is a lot of people choose to hide.”


JN: One thing I wanted to ask you about the “NME” piece and then weīll move on but, maybe it was the way that he wrote it, or the way it was structured, but there were things in there that sort of made it seem that, at times, you were sort of just flippant about the whole thing. I guess itīs important to be able to have some sense of humour about what you went through, but I didnīt get much anguish out of either, and Iīm sure that was there as well...


D: “Thank god. Thatīs because Iīd been sober for a while. And could look at it in a different light. When youīre right in it, itīs impossible, and I think you have to see the kind of, insanity of it. I think that was because at the time in those particular times that Iīm talking about, I wasnīt serious enough about trying to get clean. It was, īI īll clean up for a bit, and then Iīll be well enough to be able to go out and do it again.ī And it, time after time, it got worse and worse. And you know itīs true what they say, you go back. If you get clean for a while and you go back, nine times out of ten youīll pick up exactly where you left off. And for me, I have to consider the fact that that possibly means death, you know. And thatīs not an option now in my life...


I have too much to lose. I have a wonderful son that I donīt want to grow up with that in his life. I think if I canīt stay clean for myself, I have to remember the people around me... I have a girlfriend who I love very much and care about very much whoīs been in credibly supportive to me, and Iīve been very selfish over the last eight months with her as well, but I need to change that. I need to change a lot of things about me, and itīs not gonna happen overnight. But if I do just take it one day at a time, and I hate to use all the cliches and stuff in the programm, but they work you know, thatīs why theyīre there. Iīd rather be throwing out cliches than be the dead cliche (laughs).”


JN: There was the thing in the interview about the whole Kurt Cobain thing, and your envy, or fascination. Is it going too far to say you had a conscious kind of death wish or is it just that there was something appealing about that monster?


D: “Yeah. For sure. I think it was all fear-based. All of it. Fear of losing what I felt was really important to me. Dissolving in to something that other people uh, didnīt enjoy to be around anymore. It created this ideal that what I was was what people wanted therefore I was trying to please everybody else and completely forgot about David. And when I tried to find David, it was too late.


I think there was a number of times when in different ways I attempted suicide you know. But I think that they were more cries for help really, now that I think about it, because Iīd always make sure there was enough people around me so that someone was gonna come pick me up from the floor at some point and Iīd be picked up from the Sunset Marquis and rushed off to hospital again.


I feel lucky. I feel very fortunate and grateful and lucky that Iīve had that in my life. Thereīs a lot of addicts out there who are in meetings, who donīt have that. You know, they donīt have people around them that will pick them up every time that they fall down. You know, I think I would have been dead long ago if I didnīt have people around that wanted to keep, for whatever reason, they wanted to keep David alive. You know, it was lucky they were there and for whatever reason they were trying to keep this body moving. Whether it was to make another record or whatever, I donīt really care about that anymore. There was a time when I kind of resented that and I used that as, like, īWell they only want me to get clean so I can make another recordī. Yeah exactly, Iīd use any fucking excuse if I broke my shoelace in the morning Iīd go and get high, you know? Iīd be, īFucking itīs Sunday.ī I hate Sundays, you know.”


JN: Wow. Well, let me ask you about the time you were in New York, and your feelings about the band... at the time were you eager to get back to a new record or were the drugs so much a part of your life that it was just, whatever...


D: “Um, it was I was in and out, sometimes I was very kind of enthusiastic about it, usually when I was coming down and miserable, you know but um, if Iīm gonna be honest it was... I dunno, I kind of like... it helped me in a way because I realised what I didnīt want to do, was just before Iīd even give it the chance, just die... or something and I was gonna end up dead without even giving it the chance, and um... actually working at it and doing this record especially in the last eight months or so, itīs really helped me a lot, therapeutically, you know Martinīs lyrics and stuff um, the songs being fundamentally about destiny, you know itīs kind of spooky.”


JN: He said that he doesnīt deliberately wrote for you, but if you can bring something to it... so much the better.


D: “Like Martin once said to me, like one night. I think in fact it was in Chile... were the Kurt Cobain thing happened, not where it happened, but same night, and we were in my room. It was very late and weīd been drinking a lot. Whether he was drunk, I donīt know if he can even remember it, but it stuck in my mind anyway. He said to me that he feels like he gets his songs like... gets something from God and he thought that he was losing it because he was drinking and stuff. For some reason he thought that he had to channel that work through me, and I was his voice kind of thing, which I thought was the most beautiful thing he had ever said to me. I mean we were both in kind of the īI love youī mode but it really stuck in my mind like maybe I really am supposed to deliver some kind of message you know.


For whatever... whether people get something out of it or not maybe itīs supposed to do something for me, you know? And in some little way I held onto that you know, I think about it a lot and um... so thatīs what really drove me as well, to want to complete this record and now Iīm so glad... I feel really proud of what weīve done, you know?”


JN: And your feelings about the music on this record, vis-a-vis what you wanted to do, or at least everything thatīs been written about how you wanted to sort of push in another direction for “Songs of Faith and Devotion”...


D: “You know I think I was once again trying to change the destiny of Depeche Mode myself, all on my own and I was like this is what we should be doing... and you know Depeche Mode is a collective group of people and ideas, and I think I was just trying basically to boost my own ego, for whatever reason I donīt really know, īcause itīs kind of a bit of a blur. I donīt feel like I need to do that anymore.


You know, I concentrated on just trying to put my feeling and my heart into singing the songs. And I feel like Depeche Mode is, you know, if it was a movie Martin would be the writer and the director, and Iīm the actor, and itīs my job to kind of get it across, you know. Get the emotion across. Itīs head music and Iīm the heart or something, and thatīs not putting Martin down, his songwriting, itīs the way... Mart, obviously, I mean thatīs the way he expresses himself. He finds it very hard to talk about what he does, but I think over the years, and what I now accept I think itīs a good thing, is that Depeche Mode is very much Martinīs songs and my voice. Thatīs what you hear when you listen to a Depeche Mode record and the two wouldnīt really be Depeche Mode without the other.”


JN: You come across as a really sociable person who likes to talk and interact and itīs interesting...


D: “Iīm a good actor.” (laughs)


JN: Seriously, you donīt feel that way? You donīt enjoy the company of other people?


D: “You know what? I do, I do. But itīs hard, I donīt know why. But I feel very self conscious and um... when I actually do, itīs a lot easier to do once Iīm doing it. Like this morning, I was sitting on the couch and my stomach was turning over and Iīve been in this band for seventeen years and I been doing this stuff for a long time, and I still get...”


JN: But thatīs īcause you knew what they were gonna want to talk about...


D: “Yeah, I donīt know. You know, itīs not even that itīs just um, Iīm not that comfortable anymore with sitting and kind of, like, trying to justify what I am and my actions and stuff but I do feel responsible to a certain extent for my actions possibly leading to other people thinking itīs a good thing, or thatīs the way to go, because of what Iīve been through in the last few years, I would hate for anybody to think that it was cool or like it was a good thing to do or that was the way that an artist should be cause thatīs utter bullshit.


I mean, I did think at one time that I had to be in a place of complete pain to sing, a song like īCondemnation.ī I felt like I couldnīt have done, I thought that performance was down to the fact that I could just about stand up and had to take everything in my body to get it out and without even like, that was... a song like īWalking in my shoesī or whatever. It was my head. It was more like doing it with my head instead of doing it with my heart and just letting it flow, you know? What I would really, really love is just to be at peace with myself, just to be comfortable within my own skin, and thatīs gonna take some time, I think.”