Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode: ‘Regret is a weird word. I don’t look back on my life like that’

The Depeche Mode frontman answers your questions, on his new covers album, taking early dance lessons from Mick Jagger and the right way to load a dishwasher

Did you accomplish everything you set out to on [forthcoming album] Impostor? MrBeelzebub

I was really burned out after the last Depeche Mode tour, then Rich [Machin, long-time musical partner in Soulsavers] and I started talking about songs and artists who had influenced us. Before we knew it, we were making a Soulsavers record with me as frontman that paid homage to those songs, but was almost a new piece of work. I realised that the choices were songs that put me where I am, suggested where I have been and where I might be. They are songs [such as Dan Penn/James Carr’s Dark End of the Street or Bob Dylan’s Not Dark Yet] that reflect on lives lived. I would not have known how to sing these songs when I was 18.

Did you avoid David Bowie or Roxy Music songs as you have covered them previously?


As a teenager I didn’t realise that Bowie’s Pin-Ups and Bryan Ferry’s These Foolish Things were covers albums. They sounded like their albums! Bowie was on the original longlist for Imposter, but I wanted to mix Elvis [Always On My Mind], Neil Young [A Man Needs a Maid] and so on with more contemporary artists. Mark Lanegan’s Strange Religion came up immediately. We’ve done Cat Power’s Metal Heart, and PJ Harvey’s usually intimate The Desperate Kingdom Of Love with a 10-piece band. Rowland S Howard [Shut Me Down] was a unique guitar player in the Birthday Party but his songwriting, melody and lyrical content have been overlooked and I wanted to pay homage to the post-punk, DIY thing which was so important to us when we started. Punk taught us that if we had an idea, there were ways to get it done.

Watch a video of a track from Imposter, Cat Power’s Metal Heart.

I’ve been singing Martin [Gore]’s songs [in Depeche Mode] for 40 years, so I’ve already been doing my homework [laughs]. Over the years – not right from the beginning – that has become a thing where I hear the song, I hear Martin’s words, his melodies and then I’ll work with the song before I go back the next day with a suggested key change or tempo or arrangement or whatever. That’s what we do when we’re in the studio together. It’s the same thing: how do I make this my own? Martin and I have had that kind of relationship for years where there’s a synergy between us, so we’re able to get out of the way and just work on what is best for the song.

Like everyone you have had ups and downs. Is there anything you regret? SisterOfNight

Regret is a weird word. I don’t look back on my life like that any more, or use excuses for choices I made [Gahan was technically dead for two minutes following a heroin overdose in 1996]. Good or bad, they have consequences, but I’m leading a pretty blessed life here [in New York]. I just enjoy what I’m doing as much as I can.

Which performers helped inspire your stage craft? Phrippy450

From an early age, Mick Jagger. When I was a kid I danced around a lot and mimicked people on Top of the Pops. Bowie was a big influence, but when I was 14 I was infatuated by Dave Vanian from the Damned, his whole stage persona. As a teenager I saw all the glam stuff on Top of the Pops and then took from people like James Brown, Prince and Elvis. When I first started performing, I was paralysed with terror. I’d hang on to the microphone and my knuckles would still be clenched afterwards. Then I found that if I moved around, I didn’t feel so nervous. I kept moving and gradually, within all the stuff I was nicking, I found something of my own.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read? JimboSpain

I really liked Philip Norman’s biographies of the Beatles [Shout!] and especially the Stones [The Stones]. I’m currently reading Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas again and laughing a lot more, cos I know that stuff [laughs]. When you think you’re on a mission and it’s nuts. That first line – “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold” – sets it up.

Depeche Mode on Top of the Pops, 1981, from left: Andrew Fletcher, Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Vince Clarke.
Depeche Mode on Top of the Pops, 1981, from left: Andrew Fletcher, Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Vince Clarke. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images

What are your current favourite albums that are inspiring you to make music? Mstapachuau

I’ve been playing the Stones’ Exile on Main Street a lot, this shambolic but beautiful thing. I’ve been playing along to it – badly, probably – but I love that feeling of [laughs] “I’m in the Stones!” I’ve just got the new album by Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth from Savages. It’s a step out of the norm for them, which drew me to it.

When were you last in Basildon? Are you aware of that weird roundabout that doesn’t really go anywhere on the A127? Comfortably_Dumb

[Laughs] I kinda know which one this is about, but I don’t really remember. Nowadays, because I’m living in the States, when I go back to England I sometimes drive on the wrong side of the road, especially at roundabouts! On the last tour I took my son and daughter to my old road, Bonnygate, and pointed to the little council semi where I grew up. I had to explain it was two houses, attached together. It was good for them to see where I came from.

What has been the best teacher for you in life: pain or love? Jaciara

They are both very, very close in line for me. I’m not going to say any more because I’d get myself in trouble [laughs].

If you could record a song with anyone, living or dead – singer, musician or producer – who would it be? Plastique303

I think Daniel Lanois’s ethereal sound might bring something really interesting to Martin’s hardcore electronics. [Brian] Eno’s name came up once, but then he started working with Coldplay so we couldn’t do that even if it was a possibility. We always try to take a risk. We did some great records with Flood. I’d like to work with him again.

How much have the events of the last two years affected you and will we hear it in future songs? Terry_S

It affected all of us. If I’m not working, I spend a lot of time isolated but I’ve grown more comfortable with that and now see it as a friend. I have had a spurt of inspiration. So … we’ll see.

On tour with Depeche Mode in Canada, 2009.
On tour with Depeche Mode in Canada, 2009. Photograph: Ron Bull/Toronto Star/Getty Images

I think it was Bobby Gillespie who once said in an interview that you would chastise your band members for putting cutlery into the dishwasher the wrong way up. Is this true and have you got other domestic-based chunks of wisdom? PaddyPilgrim

[Laughs] I do have a pet hate with people putting stuff in the dishwasher, and will turn things around if somebody has loaded it incorrectly. With our current machine you lay the cutlery in line on a rack, which makes it even more obsessional. My tip is never use an oven self-cleaning facility more than twice because any more than that and it will overheat and destroy the oven, as I found out recently.

What was the best concert that you have attended by another band? GavinTheLegend

Sigur Rós, Beacon Theatre, New York, around 2002. The sound, the beauty and the sheer power of the music was incredible. I was so overwhelmed with feelings that it brought me to tears.

If you hadn’t been a musician, what would you like to have spent your life doing? wenders14

I could have been some kind of thief. When I was 16, it wasn’t looking good. I was easily led, but I also liked painting. Aged 17, I went to the same art college as Alison Moyet and a couple of guys from Talk Talk. Out of that scene came the chance to participate in music, which gave me a sense of purpose. It felt like the weirdos were my kind of people. I still hang out with weirdos!

• Imposter by Dave Gahan & Soulsavers is released on 12 November, on Columbia Records


As told to Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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