AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVE GAHAN
by Daniel Barassi
February 20th, 2003
QUESTION: You've been in Depeche Mode for over two decades now. How long have you had the urge to write songs, and what kept you from coming out with a solo record until now?
DG: I definitely wasn't ready. I've written things over the years, but I've never completed anything. I'm always writing down words, especially when I am on tour. I guess the first time I really plucked up enough courage to play something to Martin was a song, which is actually going to be a b-side, called "Closer". I played him, during the Ultra sessions, a rough demo I made, which was basically me tapping my foot, and singing. I played it to Martin, and I could tell he liked it. For a moment there I felt like it was going to be on Ultra. I was very excited. That lasted about three days. Then, there was this big band discussion about tracks. We had only recorded a few songs with Tim Simenon, and then we had this discussion, and everybody came to the conclusion that the song didn't fit with the theme that the album was heading in. At the time, I was quite hurt by that, and it knocked me back a few years, to be honest. I just really felt like it was something for me to do. I started writing seriously after The Singles Tour, with a friend of mine in New York, Knox Chandler. A guy, who ended up being my drummer, Victor Indrizzio, suggested I get in touch with Knox. A couple of weeks after that, I bumped into Knox, and it just sort of blurted out of my mouth. I was like "I've got a couple of song ideas, and I've got some time. Are you interested in maybe collaborating or something, and throwing some ideas around?" He said "Yeah, come over". I went over there, and by the end of the day, we had a song in shape. That went on for the next couple of months. We'd get together a couple of times a week. After about a month, we realized that we had six or seven songs, and we saw that we were going somewhere with it. It had a feel to it. It's very different to Depeche Mode. It's difficult for me to describe. Obviously, it's my voice, but being my songs, it just vibrates in a different way, for want of a better word. Once I got into writing, it became quite natural, and a lot of fun. We just had a lot of fun writing together.
The way I felt after The Singles Tour was that I need to do more. I've always felt like a bit of an imposter, or maybe better to say interpreter, of Martin's emotions. I think I've done a pretty good job of that, but I really had a need inside of me to be doing this. It's been building up for quite a few years. I played some stuff to Daniel [Miller], and he was interested. He said "Write more", so we did. Then, [Depeche] started making Exciter, so I kind of put it on the back burner, but always with the view that when we finished the whole Exciter project, I was definitely going to get into it. It wasn't as easy as I thought it as going to be, to get the whole thing moving, get some musicians together, and find a studio that I could afford. It's not a Depeche Mode project, so they weren't throwing money at me, let's put it that way. But, after a while, Daniel got really excited about it, and there were a few songs that he really got into. He helped me get into a really nice studio, Electric Lady.
When the songs were demo'ed, I talked to Daniel, and we started to throw around ideas on who should produce [it]. Initially, I really wanted Flood to work on it. It seemed like a natural thing to do. I talked to Flood, and he was really busy, and he didn't really want to take on a big project, but he kind of got involved a bit, steering me in a good direction. Lots of people's names were thrown around [for producing the album], Daniel and I both thought that I needed to work with somebody that was going to bring the songs out of me more, push me more. In Daniel's words, "it would be very easy to put all these slick musicians around [me], and make this slick sounding record." That's not what i wanted to do. It's not the kind of school that I come from.
I've been listening a lot to Sigor Ros. I found their music really inspiring during all of the writing of Paper Monsters. I just said "Let's get in touch with Ken Thomas, and see what he is doing." I kind of got a list of stuff that he had worked on. I saw there was anything from assisting with David Bowie and Queen [back when Ken worked at Trident Studios in London], and then later producing and engineering Public Image and obviously Sigor Ros. [Ken and I] met up in New York, and immediately when I met him, I knew he was right [for the project]. He's a gentle soul. He knows what he likes, and he's not flustered by anything. He listened to the demos, and he said that the songs made him feel good, and that was good enough for me. That's what i wanted to do with this record. I wanted to make a record that made people feel good. Together, I think we achieved that.
QUESTION: Martin worked on his project in his own home studio. You worked at Electric Lady, and now you are here (Machine Head, Los Angeles). Did a home studio vibe ever appeal to you, or does being in a real studio inspire you more?
DG: I like to go out to work. Electric Lady is literally like 20 blocks from where I live, so it was nice to walk to work every day. We pretty much recorded the whole album in about ten weeks. We did a six-week session, and a four-week session. Then, we mixed the album in London for four weeks. But, there was a lot of pre-production work before that. I just haven't got the room anyway. I live in a little apartment in New York City, so I haven't got the spread that Mart's got, to be able to build a studio. And, Knox's studio, where we did the pre-production, was literally about a tenth of the size of this room now [which was about fifteen by twenty feet]. Put it this way - if he was playing Cello in there, I'd have to be standing up in the corner. I couldn't be sitting down as well. It's just a little back room in his flat in the East Village.
QUESTION: What was the atmosphere like in the studio?
DG: What was really cool about it was that we just had a lot of fun. We'd sit around, we'd drink coffee, we'd talk. Then we'd get to work. [Knox would] start playing something, and it would inspire me. I had a bunch of lyrics that I had been writing for the past couple of years. Some of the stuff I used, and some of it just came about as we were working together. It really was a collaboration. I really enjoyed that. It's not the way Depeche works. It would be really nice, in the future, if [Depeche] could open that up more.
QUESTION: Were there any songs that just came to you, quicker than you expected?
DG: The only song that really I would say [came to me in] 10 minutes, walking down the street, was "A Little Piece". That was one of the only songs where the melody, the words, and everything came to me [immediately]. It was like I was some kind of antenna. I was walking down the street, and I just started singing this song. And, "A Little Piece" means a little piece, not peace, but it could be taken like that, I guess.
QUESTION: Was any of it hard to do?
DG: None of it was hard to do. It really wasn't. It was a lot of fun. We had moments in the studio, where we got lost, but I took a note out of Martin's book - When in doubt, weird it up a bit, and you usually find a direction for something. That kind of worked as well.
QUESTION: How did you record in the studio?
DG: I worked with Victor, who played some drums. We had a pianist, a quintet, strings, and a couple of different drummers. A lot of the stuff was performed. Knox would play a lot of stuff, like guitars bass guitars and cello. He's got this set up, where it's like a spacelab, with all of these effects. Nothing's ever normal with Knox. It's about building an atmosphere. That's the only similarity, really, between this album and what Depeche do as well, is building an atmosphere. The atmospheres were built more from playing live and working together. Even, myself. I played harmonica on a couple of tracks. One time I was plunking around on a Rhodes, in Electric Lady, and Ken walked in. On the song "Hold On", I was playing some notes, and he said "What's that you're playing." I said that it was idea for underneath the chorus in "Hold On". He said "I like that. Let's record it." I was like "uhh...should we get someone to come play it?", and he said "well...you're playing it." It was one of the most nerve-racking moments for me. I was literally shaking, but once I got into it, it was cool. I mean, we're talking about four notes.
I get a lot of ideas and melodies. Sometimes it's very frustrating, 'cause I can't actually pick up an instrument, and get my ideas across. Knox really helped me with that, because he is a great interpreter of my ideas. It was fun to play some as well. A lot of it was played, and then we'd develop the stuff in Pro Tools. With Depeche, you start from the ground up, programming. Then sometimes we throw some live stuff on there. This was the other way around. For me, it makes the whole thing somehow more human of an album. It's what I bring to Martin's songs, especially the last few albums. I really wanted to elaborate on that. I wanted it to be a more "feel" thing. You're never locked into anything. Things would change all the time, if you got a new idea. It wasn't too fussed. After all, it's not brain surgery. It's supposed to be fun.
QUESTION: You kind of touched on the instruments you played on the album. In the Exciter b roll footage that Anton shot, you are seen playing an electric guitar.
DG: I can do some stuff with a guitar, and Knox is encouraging me a lot to do things, but not to the point to where I know what I am doing. Sometimes I like plugging in a guitar, and just having fun with it. None of that stuff was used. It was just for Anton's pictures, really. I was playing around with the guitar, and I had this gadget where I could play the Telecaster in my headphones, along with what was going on in the studio. A lot of that kind of stuff is what we did during "Paper Monsters". I wanted to bring more depth and layers to the project. I write from a very visual place. I want to take you somewhere. I've always done that with Depeche, when I've been singing. My interpretations of the songs are what I visually feel about it.
QUESTION: Even if it's a bit different from what Martin wanted.
DG: Oh yeah. I'm sure.
QUESTION: In your "behind the scenes" studio video, I saw that you had some toy keyboards in the studio as well.
DG: We used a lot of toy piano stuff, and glockenspiels. Ken likes a lot of that stuff, and I do too. Stuff that's really simple, but it's got some harmonics and vibrations to it.
QUESTION: It's almost as like, while you are bringing your own feel to the song, that you are also trying to bring the old Depeche philosophy of sampling everything around you.
DG: Yeah, there was a lot of that. I did want to do that. That was a lot of fun. I enjoyed those years with Depeche, when we would go around looking for new sounds. I wanted to keep it fresh and naive sounding as well. I didn't want to get too clever. If things are too complicated, if there are too many notes going on in the song, to me, I don't see the point. I'd rather keep something minimal. The strings were like that as well. There was a great quintet that came in. After they played to the arrangements that we had done, we said, "do what you feel." We let them loose, and some of that was used on "Black And Blue Again".
QUESTION: To go to a different direction for a second. There is tape trading, where fans tape your shows, and then trade them amongst friends. Then, there is outright bootlegging, where live shows sell for high prices on eBay. How do you feel about this?
DG: There's a big difference, and there's a big difference with internet bootlegging as well. It really is a problem. It's all well and good thinking I can download this and that, but it's a real problem. Ultimately, it's a real problem for the artists. I think it's important that the fans are aware of that.
There's always been bootlegging, but it's gotten so extreme now. One person buys a record, and everyone else downloads it. I think there's got to be some changes. It's kind of scary, but what are you going to do, other than encourage people to go get your record. The bottom line, in the end, is you're putting everyone out of business. Records labels, musicians, bands, artists, record stores, employees, distributors. It goes on and on. It would be a dreadful world without music.
QUESTION: That was one thing with Exciter. It was released in April. It was floating around on the net months before. The fans try to fight the urge, but there's always the temptation that there is new Depeche material available.
DG: I think that most Depeche fans would buy the record anyway. But there's a lot of people who [download music], and don't even realize that it's illegal.
QUESTION: Do you feel that internet leaking of music has taken away from the charm that used to be associated with buying a record, in a store, the day it was released?
DG: Yeah, I think so. Definitely. I think it waters that excitement down. I don't even know how to download a song anyway.
QUESTION: I'll teach you.
QUESTION: We touched upon New York earlier. How has living in New York affected your music? Not necessarily 9/11, per se, but the vibe of the city. How do you feel it has contributed to your music?
DG: I think New York, period, is a very inspirational place for me. I found it the most stimulating place from anywhere that I've lived. I really like the atmosphere, and the fact that I can hang out in the East Village, and there are a lot of musicians and stuff all around. There's a lot of great music coming out of New York. I find it very inspiring. There's a lot of visual stuff within these songs that has inspired me, just walking around the streets. "Hidden Houses", for instance, the whole lyric to that was inspired by my son Jimmy walking around the Meat District. When you walk around there, there are all these doors everywhere, but you don't really know where they go. I like that idea of what we get up to behind closed doors, and the secret lives we live in our heads. I'm definitely one of those people. A lot of New York, I find the atmosphere inspiring.
QUESTION: You have a wife, and children. Do they bring anything to your music?
DG: Oh yeah, definitely. They're all really supportive. They've been with me all the way. "Black And Blue Again" is just like coming away from a big fight with my wife, and that whole thing of being in a relationship, and hating it that you love this person.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate on that?
DG: Being with somebody can be really painful. Being in a relationship, and trying to make it work, or trying to be yourself sometimes can be really hard. Growing with your partner is something I don't find easy. Sometimes it's really great, and sometimes it's really bad. Jen and I have had an up and down turbulent relationship, but that's good. We're both growing. We're growing together. We talk about it, and sometimes we really fight about it. "Black And Blue Again" came from me scribbling most of those words down on the way over to Knox's one day, after this big fight.
Then there are beautiful songs, like "Stay", completely opposite to that, and "I Need You". The lyric says "You'll always need me more than I need you", then the hook goes "I Need You". The words are pretty cutting. It's all about relationships. It's all about life. It's all about my experience in life, what I have experienced so far. And I don't think I could have written these songs ten years ago. No way. I needed to live as much as I have so far, and the way I have, to get these songs. They're all come from my experience of life so far, and hopefully I'll be able to do it again. They're honest, and it's the way I feel about things. My struggle with things. My struggle with life. I think it's a beautiful, wonderful thing, and sometimes I don't even want to get out of bed in the morning. If I do get out of bed, it's a struggle all day. Most of the time now, I am really excited about working, my family and making music, more than I've ever been, actually. I guess I'm a slow learner, but that's alright.
QUESTION: I told Martin at his video shoot, that it seemed, at least in "Mode time", kind of shocking. Here's the Exciter Tour, and now here's two solo records!
DG: Yeah, I know. It is rather quick. When we finished the Exciter Tour, there was talk of doing some festivals the following Summer. Martin was really against doing it, and I really wanted to do it, for lots of reasons. I just made a decision right there and then that I was going to knuckle down, and make [Paper Monsters].
QUESTION: Is there anyone that you wanted to work with but didn't? And, that leads to the usual "net" question of "Is Alan gong to work on your album"?
DG: Yeah, I mentioned once that I'd like Alan to play piano on one of my songs. That would have been nice, but I didn't have the luxury of being able to say "I'm doing some recording here, some recording there, we'll do a bit in Santa Barbara, a bit in New York, a bit in London". I had to knuckle down and get to work. And you know what? I really enjoyed that. Sometimes it was a pain in the ass, but most of the time it was good working to the fact that we only had so much time, and only had so much money that we could spend. It was a budget, and it was nowhere near the budget a Depeche Mode record would have. Once the team kind of locked in, it really made a difference. I think I've been involved with making the best record I have since Violator. I don't mean that in an arrogant way at all. I believe Violator was our most cutting edge album. It was an album where we were changing, trying new things, working with new people. It was a very exciting time, and I think that's what I felt like making this record, too.
QUESTION: I have to say, you surprised me when you say "Violator". Talking to you, I would have expected your answer to be "Songs Of Faith...".
DG: I still really like Songs Of Faith And Devotion. There are parts of that kind of Dave that are in [Paper Monsters] that I like, and there are parts of Violator that I like. There are a lot of bluesy overtones to what I do. Some chamber music as well. Like I said, it's visual, and I think Violator is very visual. I think Ultra and Exciter were good albums as well, but I still think if there were two albums you could describe Depeche Mode by, it would be Violator and Songs Of Faith And Devotion.
QUESTION: This isn't your first solo project. "A Song For Europe".
DG: Oh yeah, that's right. Yeah, I did that. Actually, that kind of taught me a lot. I've always had this fear, hence the title "Paper Monsters", this fear of working of other people, different people, not good enough to do that, frightened to be judged. It's crap. Life's too short to not doing the things you really feel passionate about. The title came from that idea as well. I create all these monsters for myself. These fear based things. They're not real. They're really thin, and I can easily rip them down. I've learned that it's much better for me to work through that stuff, then stay hidden behind it, because If I stay hidden behind long enough, I really lose myself. I disappear. I can function like that - that's the scary part. I'm at a point in my life where I can't get away with that anymore. I can't pretend I'm hiding for long. After a few days, I need to break out. I need people around me, as well, that help to bring that stuff out, and that's what was good with everyone I worked with as well. They were constantly encouraging me. Daniel [Miller], Jonathan [Kessler], my wife, Ken [Thomas] and Knox believed in the songs. That was really nice, to believe that someone felt that I could do something more than sing someone else's songs.
QUESTION: You have Jonathan, your wife, the people around you in the studio. At any time did you second guess them, or start feeling a little nervous, wondering if they were being genuine with their opinions of your work?
DG: Yeah, oh yeah. All the time. That's the Paper Monsters stuff. It's much easier for me to live in the negative, more than it is to live in the positive. If someone's telling me that they like something, I'm like "uh huh...what don't you like about it?" Or, it's like I don't wholeheartedly believe that yet. I'm getting there. I'm getting much better with that. It's much easier for me to play the victim, and it's so old. It's bullshit. It's not real. I don't want to be working with people anymore that aren't there to help encourage me to bring out the best in me. I don't want to waste my time. I realized that during the making of this record. I have ideas, and I want to express the ideas. If you've got ideas, I want to have some input on those ideas. And, maybe I don't like quite exactly the way you are doing them, and you might not like my ideas. I like that, where you can throw things around, and not be so precious about it. It's really pretty grandiose to think that you're the only person with great ideas. I think sometimes when making Depeche stuff, it feels like that a little bit. I struggle with actually voicing "Hey Mart, I hear that you want me to sing the song like that, and that's how you wrote it, and I respect that, but give me a break here. Let me interpret it as I hear it. As I feel it." Sometimes, because of that, there's too much "It's gotta be like this", and in the end, you're going to cut yourself short.
QUESTION: That actually segues into the touring aspect...
DG: That's always been my strength. I think that's really something that I've brought to Depeche Mode. A huge part of Depeche Mode is our live performance. That whole thing with the fans and everything. I know I've been a big part of that, and I know Martin respects me for that. But, I think it would be great in the future, if we could pull that strength together. Martin has an incredible amount of talent, and I'm starting to see that I have some talent there too, in writing and ideas. There's no point for me going in the studio with people, having ideas and expressing them, and those ideas don't get worked on.
QUESTION: When you go on tour, I'm assuming you'll throw a Depeche Mode song or two into the set.
DG: Oh yeah...
QUESTION: Now, based on what you are saying, if you do a Depeche song, would you possibly pick one that maybe you thought might have gone if a different direction than it originally went? For example, Enjoy The Silence from the KROQ Acoustic Xmas is a radically different version of the song.
DG: Well that was fun. That was another little moment that I realized that we could be a bit more open in what we do. It's going to be a small set. I'm releasing an album, and I'm doing a tour to promote my album. I'm not making an album to promote the tour. It's like the old way. I've got to go out there, and work hard for people to hear my songs. That's kind of fun. I'm definitely doing [a few DM songs]. I figure three or four tops. It would be crazy for me not to. I've sung these songs for twenty years.
QUESTION: So you're not pulling a McCartney, basically going "I was in the Beatles, but that's behind me now" during the early part of his solo career?
DG: No. There's so much stuff there, and I've been singing these songs, and performing them, for years. It would be crazy for me to do that. It would be very self-indulgent to just play my own songs.
QUESTION: On the tour, are you bringing your team from the studio?
DG: Some of them. Knox will be playing guitar and cello. Victor Indrizzio will be playing drums. Martine LeNoble is playing bass. We haven't yet got a keyboard player, but we have some people in mind, and a backing singer as well.
QUESTION: On the DVD for "One Night In Paris", you perform "Condemnation", and it is a genuine, full live performance. Will there be that sort of performance with your band, and the possibility of performing different songs in different shows?
DG: Oh yeah, I want it to be open. We're not relying totally on backing tapes. It's not locked into stuff. If everything [electronic] was to break down, we'd still be playing. The songs would go ahead. We're all good enough to do that.
QUESTION: That's been one thing about a Depeche show. You know that it's performed, but usually it is the same set, aside from Martin's acoustic numbers, or if DM do multiple nights, there might be a change.
DG: Well, once we lock into it, it should be pretty much the same. I'm planning to do all the songs on the album, plus three or four Depeche songs.
QUESTION: How do you prepare your voice for a tour?
DG: I have a time of day that I throw in a few tapes that I made with [my vocal coach]. It's just like, for me, going to the gym, then I do the vocal exercises, and then start my day. It's the little bit of work that I do to make me feel that I'm doing something good for myself.
QUESTION: When you do your vocal exercises at home, do you have your daughter walking around, asking what you are doing?
DG: My daughter joins in quite a lot, doing the movements and everything.
QUESTION: The concept I brought up earlier about different interpretations of your material live, bring me to this question. Have you ever considered, instead of hiring a remixer to remix either your work, or for Depeche, to do a mix yourself? Bringing in people that you know and trust that would help you convey your ideas to do your own mix of a song.
DG: Now I know I could do that kind of stuff. I guess I had to make this record to realize that I had a lot more confidence than I actually thought I had. I have good ears. I know what I like. I know what I don't like, more importantly. I could see myself doing that kind of stuff, but I'm really into the creative process of writing at the moment.
QUESTION: How do you react, sometimes, to some of the Depeche remixes, especially in recent years? It's obviously Martin's song, but it's your actual voice that is usually being altered.
DG: I don't mind so much. I used to. The remix thing, you have to expect that to happen. I think what's important is that you have a body of work, an album, where that is your interpretation, that's how we wanted it to sound. Then, everyone else can have fun with it. Knock yourself out.
QUESTION: With your current solo project, are you thinking "let's throw out some remixes from the dance crowd."
DG: Oh yeah. The first single that will be pulled, there's already ideas being thrown around for people to do remixes.
QUESTION: Well, the last question I have is the same question I had for Martin, which is what do you feel I haven't touched on, but you'd like to say to the fans about your project?
DG: That it's really good, and you should definitely go out and buy it. (laughs). I guess I want to really say is that this is like... I've had a great opportunity here to really show myself, and let you see a side of me that I guess I've had hidden away for a long time, and I hope you enjoy it, 'cause I really enjoyed making it.