It's a chilly October morning in New York, and Dave Gahan is feeling impish. "I hope you play basketball," the singer, 53, says sharply to a towering waiter at Gemma, a bustling hotel restaurant on the East Village's infamous Bowery. The would-be giant affirms that he has shot a few hoops over the years, and the singer just laughs and orders regular coffee.
"There's something about the city where I feel very at home," the singer says, cheerfully. "It's not as grimy as it used to be, but I like this particular area. This place, it's shiny and bright, and then it's dark and seedy outside. You have a fancy hotel like this, and then there's a methadone clinic down the road. You can see those two worlds. That always has appealed to me."
Gahan is dressed in head-to-toe black and adorned with sunglasses that he won't take off. But despite his clothing, and the fact he is best known for singing unassuming pop hits like "Enjoy the Silence" and "Never Let Me Down Again" with Depeche Mode, he has a surprisingly big personality. He's in particularly good spirits today, though, because Angels & Ghosts – a dusky, cinematic-sounding new collaborative album he made with Soulsavers, the British production duo composed of Rich Machin and Ian Glover – will finally come out on October 23rd.
An extension of 2012's The Light the Dead See, the new record finds Gahan crooning over smart, shadowy arrangements of guitar, organ and orchestral strings. Dramatic tracks like the brittle "Don't Cry" and dreamy "One Thing" allow him to push his voice in new ways, while the single "All of This and Nothing" finds him declaring himself "the sun that rises while you're sleeping" over a bed of spacy, shimmering post-rock. A cursory listen to the way he sings on the record shows he's enjoying a respite from the occasionally icy synthesizers of his main gig.
With Soulsavers, Gahan crafted an ornate sound that will require a 10-piece band, consisting of members of Spiritualized and Porno for Pyros, among others, to play the songs when they begin performing live this month. But for now, Gahan is content scooting into a corner booth, sipping the coffee that the ballplayer gave him, and discussing why Soulsavers is important to the future of Depeche Mode.
You've lived in New York for around 20 years now. Why did you settle here?
It's the first place I've been to, including where I grew up, where I felt like I belonged. I always felt a misfit as a kid. It's always been difficult for me to stick around people for a long time. So to be here for 20 years, and have some friends in one place for that amount of time as well, that's something. A lot of my stories and characters I create come out of New York.
Do you like the darker side of the city?
You're always tempted by the seedier side of things here in New York City. But I like to stay on the outside looking in, instead of diving into that stuff again. I spent a lot of time there, and I had to dig my way out of it, so I'm not in any hurry to get in. But I do like to observe.
You and Soulsavers recorded Angels & Ghosts all over the world. What did you record here?
I throw down lots of ideas in my little studio here with my mate, and I send it back to Rich. For instance, he liked some of the backing vocals I recorded for "Don't Cry," and we got a gospel choir together at Electric Lady. We just went in there early in the morning and stayed until the wee hours of the next day, and we pushed them to do everything. We recorded in a pretty old-school way where you've got one chance to get it. There was no luxury of, "Let's see how you feel tomorrow." It's like, "No, we're pushing you, but we've got to get this tonight." I liked that.
Is it different with Depeche Mode?
Yeah. With Depeche, you have this abundance of time, and I always argue that I think it's too much. We used to do four-week sessions, and you might work on only three or four songs, so I shortened the sessions, because it pushes everybody to get it down. If you have too much time, you start to faff around with things too much. If you put Martin [Gore] in a room with all these analog synths, he'll just be playing around with that stuff forever.
That's what his solo record this year was like.
Yeah, exactly. Martin has a studio in his house, and he goes to work. That's what he loves to do. His album was an extension of the stuff that we rejected or ended up not recording. We had, like, 20, 25 demos between us of the songs we had ready to record for [2013's] Delta Machine, so there was all of these other bits and pieces.
What do you get out of Soulsavers that you don't get out of Depeche Mode?
I get a lot out of it. I like working in different ways and developing ideas with somebody that's willing to take some risks. I bring these experiences back to Depeche Mode; I certainly did on Delta Machine. The stuff I'm writing now, I think, is going to end up on a future Depeche record – it just feels like that – and I wouldn't have been able to do it if I didn't do this Soulsavers record.
It sounds like Depeche Mode are in a good place right now.
I still feel like we haven't finished. Martin and I are on the same page on this. If we felt like we didn't have another record, we just wouldn't do it. I saw him a few weeks ago and talked about the band and he was very interested in what the Soulsavers were doing, and he's coming to the show in L.A., because he wants to know where my head's at. I want to know with him, too.
Does a new Depeche Mode record seem likely?
We talked about getting together towards the end of the year to talk about what our plans will be. We'd like to do another record. So we'll talk about when that will be and sometime next year I wouldn't be surprised if we were back in the studio.
A decade ago, you told Rolling Stone that you didn't like the sound of your own voice. Do you feel differently now?
I'm way more confident. About 10 to 15 years ago, I started really finding my voice with exploring my own melodies and lyrical content on my own solo albums. With these Soulsavers records, I feel like I'm writing where I really am, which is after all these years kind of really gratifying.
You begin Angels & Ghosts with "Shine," which is very hopeful. Why are you feeling that way lately?
That's pretty on the optimistic side for me. I'd had this melody and this loose lyrical idea, which had come to me after a concert I did with Depeche in Berlin. We played in this huge stadium, beautiful summer night, a couple years ago. It was one of those nights where, on the stage, everything just felt great. I felt like I was singing like I had all the power I wanted. I had all the energy I needed. I'm looking around, and I knew that everybody was kind of in the same place. I always look at Christian [Eigner], my drummer – he and I are sort of a team on stage – I could tell that he was just feeling it, too. It was one of those nights. When I got back to the hotel that night, this melody was spinning around in my head. I threw it into my phone and when Rich sent me that guitar, I remembered this thing, and the two just came together very fast. "Shine" really set the record up, so we made it the first song.
"As far as trashy TV goes, the Republican debate was a lot of fun."
Lastly, on the ballad "One Thing," you sing about watching "those tasteless shows on our TV." What are your shows of choice?
[Laughs] When a song gets a bit dark, I like to throw something in that makes me chuckle. That's why I also sing, "There's always 'Life on Mars' out there for me," which is, of course, the Bowie song. No matter how I'm feeling, that's one of those songs that I can go to and suddenly the whole world looks really different to me, and I feel part of it. Music can do that for me. So, in the song, I'm kind of moping around and then it's like, "Fuck it. Let's just join in here, let's just watch the shit and get comatosed by it." That's my drug, TV. No matter what it is.
I watch a lot of things that I really like and then get very disappointed when they end, like Breaking Bad or The Daily Show when Jon Stewart left; that was one of my anchors. It feels like when I'm done with a record. As far as trashy TV, the Republican debate? [Laughs] That was a lot of fun. I sat down and watched that, I was transfixed like, "It does not get better than this." So, um, Kardashians, Republican debate.
Someone should make some combo out of those two shows.
It's the same bullshit we're being fed and you just get drawn into it.