Dave Gahan: In Full Work Mode

Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, front, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher.
Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, front, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher. (By Anton Corbijn)
By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 9, 2005

On this very morning a week ago, Dave Gahan slept in.

"Which is unusual for me," the Brit-born, now New York-based singer for Depeche Mode reported from Toronto.

"But we just did three shows running consecutively -- Chicago, Detroit and, last night, Toronto -- and I certainly feel that nowadays!"

Gahan's not complaining, mind you. At 43, he is simply no longer living up to stereotypes about how rock musicians should act on the road. Of course, how Depeche Mode, and Gahan in particular, used to act on the road is the stuff of legend. A couple of years ago, Britain's Q Magazine named the band's 1993 Devotional tour "The Most Debauched Rock and Roll Tour Ever."

That was the same year the heroin-addicted Gahan suffered a heart attack onstage in New Orleans. Two years later, he survived a suicide attempt (he slashed his wrists while talking to his mother on the phone from Los Angeles). In 1996, Gahan's heart stopped beating after a heroin and cocaine binge at Hollywood's Sunset Marquis: It was several minutes before he was revived by paramedics. That's when Gahan pursued rehab and therapy.

Then, two years ago, Gahan found a voice. True, he had been Depeche Mode's singer and frontman for 25 years, but the words tumbling out of his mouth were written by Martin Gore, who took over sole songwriting duties in 1981 when co-founder Vince Clarke left to form Yazoo and, later, Erasure. Gore and Clarke had co-written the group's bubbly first hit, "Just Can't Get Enough," but alone, Gore's vision was decidedly darker, tapping into the existential ache of youth.

As Depeche Mode became the sultans of synth-pop, Gahan grew increasingly frustrated over his limited role. In fact, he almost quit 2001's "Exciter" album. What saved him, and likely Depeche Mode, was "Paper Monsters," the singer's 2003 solo album, the first featuring songs he had written reflecting his experiences and feelings, including "Dirty Sticky Floors," a rough-edged meditation on the push and pull of drug addiction.

"Sometimes just taking that action is all that's needed," Gahan says of his late-blooming creative partnership with Knox Chandler, who played with the Psychedelic Furs. "I was just excited to have found somebody that I was compatible with, not that I had been really searching for that before."

Gahan does note that for years he has been "fortunate enough to be singing wonderful songs that Martin had written, and a lot of those songs had struck something inside me."

"I've always said, and I've always felt, that there's a connection between Martin and I that's beyond anything that we think about ourselves individually. There's something that he does that I'm connected to, and there's something that I do that he needs me to do to make his ideas work. I don't know what that is, but we have something together. But I guess that wasn't working for me so much anymore."

That "Paper Monsters" was well received critically and commercially gave Gahan some courage, and bargaining power, when he met with Gore and keyboardist Andy Fletcher to start work on the next Depeche Mode album, "Playing the Angel." Working together, Gahan says with a slight chuckle, meant "Martin embracing the idea of me submitting some songs, though maybe less than I wanted." What he wanted was to write half the album; he ended up contributing three tracks out of 12.

Even that, Gahan concedes, allowed for a sense of liberation.

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