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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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