Dave Gahan, lead vocalist for English synth-pop institution Depeche Mode, is now excited about all the right things. A few years ago, his drug addiction nearly killed him. It also threatened to destroy the band. But having cleaned up his act, Gahan relishes touring for the group's smash new album “Exciter” (Mute/Reprise Records), as well as perfecting his role as family man.
While working on Depeche Mode's previous studio album, 1997's “Ultra,” Gahan reached a crossroads. "I realized I had to do a lot of work with myself, to change myself and my attitude towards life," he says. "I thought that life had handed me a bad hand, which was complete bollocks, of course. I had to realize that was just the way I was looking at it.”
He credits his third wife, Jennifer, with helping to pull him through. "Once you go into that abyss, it's very difficult to drag yourself out again. I wouldn't recommend it. I was ready to make a change. I wasn't just on the bottom. I was digging down through the ground, going even lower. But people close to me gave me strength.”
Gahan suffered terribly while making “Ultra,” but he thoroughly enjoyed participating in the shaping of the moodily mesmerizing “Exciter.” "Night and day, literally," he says. "It was a real struggle for me with ‘Ultra.’ I wasn't healthy at all. To be honest, at some points during that album, it was very hard for me to stand up, let alone sing. But halfway through, things kind of turned around for me a little bit. There seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel.”
His perspective on Depeche Mode has changed substantially. "During ‘Ultra,’ I thought we were coming to a place -- or I was anyway -- where it was coming to a halt. It was just so difficult. But it wasn't like that at all with ‘Exciter.’ Everybody was very positive and really working very hard. I really set myself a challenge with this album. I really wanted to put myself out there more than I ever have and reveal myself a little more with my voice."
He credits new producer Mark Bell, Bjork's collaborator, with enabling him to accomplish that. "He'd be working on a song and he'd ask me to do some vocals," Gahan says. "That went on from day to day, rather than me just singing at the end, when all the music was finished, which has been the case in the past, which is not always the best way to do things. A lot of these songs, the vocals kind of set the atmosphere for how the song would be built.”
Gahan pushed himself to try new things vocally. "I didn't want to just rely on the old Dave Gahan vocal cords," he says. "With songs like ‘Dead of Night,’ I had fun just kind of playing out all my alter egos. These songs were very intimate, songs like ‘When the Body Speaks,’ ‘Goodnight Lovers,’ ‘Shine’ and ‘Dream On’ [the hit single] for that matter. I felt like it was coming from a different place inside, rather than looking so much outside. Martin's songs are very visual, and I just kind of disappear into the songs.”
Martin is Martin Gore, Depeche Mode's primary songwriter. "I don't sit down with Martin to discuss his lyrics. They're pretty self-explanatory and deal with Martin's usual obsessions, all about love usually -- the addiction, the compulsion, the in and out of it, the struggle, all the different sides. It's not like, ‘I love you; You love me.' As we all know, that's not the way it goes. I like that honesty in Martin's lyrics. They come from his heart.
"I identify with the way the flow of the words are. Then I just take it and make it my own, really. I don't ask Martin what it's about.”
Though 1998's greatest hits album proved to be a big seller, Gahan wondered whether the public would return in 2001 for new Depeche Mode songs.
"That's in the back of your mind, especially at the beginning and then towards the end. But once we got into it, it was just fun doing it, probably the most creative sort of thing we've done for a while, trying to work in a different way, work with different people. That challenged us," he said.
Gahan, who says he will release a solo album next year, need not have worried. “Exciter” appears poised to become one of the band's most popular albums. The band originally formed in 1980 and gradually drew legions of fans globally, thanks to the hits “Just Can't Get Enough” and “Enjoy the Silence.” They titillated the Goth crowd with “Black Celebration” and “Master and Servant.”
Perhaps the key to the band's longevity is the fact that they have been able to change, while always retaining Depeche Mode's distinctive essence. Gahan says, "Inherently, Martin's songs have a style, and my voice has a quality to it that you recognize. People seem to identify with those two things. And that is really what Depeche Mode is."
Electronic-oriented pop, which Depeche Mode pioneered, has soared in acceptance in the past few years.
"Ironic, isn't it? There was a time maybe 15 years ago where we were like the Black Plague or something,” Gahan says. “We’d come over here to the States and it'd be like, `Oh, my God, what are you guys doing? You're destroying music.’”
Depeche Mode continues to record and tour. Their latest release is 2014’s video/audio “Depeche Mode Live in Berlin.” For more about the singer, visit www.davegahan.com and www.depechemode.com.