The world knows Dave Gahan as the frontman for Depeche Mode, the British band that from 1980 onward rode every subculture wave and came out on top. Whether it was post-punk, or goth, or new wave, or new romantic, or industrial—it was always OK, if not highly encouraged, to listen to da Mode. The songs are gloriously catchy, the lyrics thoughtful and introspective. They’re dark yet accessible. Experimental. Awesome.
The wonderful dichotomy of Gahan is that he’s always carried the air of someone who’s broody and enigmatic—perhaps thanks to the likes of Robert Smith and Morrissey, who first emerged around the same time—and yet most interviews with Gahan reveal a warm, engaging, and witty guy. We’re with him on Zoom to discuss his new album with the Soulsavers, Imposter, and we were instructed not to bring up Depeche Mode. We didn’t have to—once the conversation was in full flow, he went there by himself. Every answer he gave was considered and sharp. Frankly, we were buzzing afterward.
“What [Depeche Mode] set out to do as a band was, we were trying to recreate something in a way from that punk ethic, born out of post-punk—whether it was the Birthday Party, Depeche Mode, the Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen,” Gahan says. “Certain bands came up from that. The Pistols, the Damned, Siouxsie and the Banshees enabled us as creative people to explore these new places with music. It was still about songwriting and getting up on a stage and singing, and producing the sounds in whatever way you could.”
Imposter is a covers album, but it’s unlike most other covers albums. This is no patchwork quilt of random ideas and influences, thrown together. The songs have been written by all manner of different artists from different eras and genres, yet they blend as if composed by Gahan.
“That’s the objective,” he says. “The songs were carefully chosen and sequenced to be able to hear it as a group of songs that could sound like they were from one artist, even though some of those songs are iconically famous: ‘Smile’ and ‘Always on my Mind.’ Rich [Machin] from Soulsavers and myself, we set about making lists of many songs and artists and we started that list at the beginning of 2019, with this idea.”
The album was recorded in November 2018 at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La studio, in Malibu. Rubin, out of town for a month, gave Gahan and the team free rein for that time.
“The idea was to produce a record that would sound like something that we needed to hear,” Gahan says. “It kinda worked out, in a weird way. After that, we mixed the album in London in January, and then we basically went into this new world that we are now living in today. After making this record, it felt a bit like, is it ever gonna really come out? Maybe this is the best-kept secret. Maybe it’s the last thing I’m ever going to do, and wow, thank god I got to do it.”
Thankfully, that’s not the case. The album finally has seen the light of day, nearly two years after it was finished. And it is a fantastic piece of work. The opening track is James Carr’s “The Dark End of the Street”; the lead-off single is Cat Power’s “Metal Heart.” Elsewhere are Mark Lanegan’s “Strange Religion,” Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid,” PJ Harvey’s “The Desperate Kingdom of Love,” and Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet.” Naturally, there are a ton of songs that didn’t make it onto the record.
“There were a few things that we recorded that actually worked out really well, but they just didn’t fit in the sequencing and there wasn’t any way for it to work like that,” Gahan says. “Rich and I were very conscious of the fact that we wanted this to be an album that was in its traditional form. An album on vinyl, that you would open up that gatefold sleeve and have your sleeve notes, lyrics, and information about how and where the record was made. All that stuff that we grew up doing and I still do, actually. So there was only enough room for a certain landscape and this is what we ended up with. The list was long. I think my list was maybe 40 songs or something. It was never going to be that, but there was a Damned song, a Bowie song, a Roxy Music, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.”
He’ll have to save those for the deluxe edition or a future box set. Of the songs that he did record, he’s received some stellar feedback.
“We got feedback from PJ Harvey,” Gahan says. “Even from the camps of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, we got the thumbs-up. And personally from Mark Lanegan, as well. The night that we tracked ‘Strange Religion,’ we sent off a version to Mark to see if he felt we were in the right ballpark, and he got back pretty quickly and was very moved by the song and the performance. He said it was like hearing the song for the first time. Coming from Mark, that was very nice.”
The artist says that he and the Soulsavers picked Shangri-La because, first of all, they were looking for a place where all 10 people involved could play together in a live setting.
“Rich popped him off an email asking about the availability of Shangri-La,” says Gahan. “The opportunity came up, and I’d also been watching this documentary on things that had been made at Shangri-La, and I was intrigued. I wanted to see the place. It was everything that you imagined it to be. I went deep. It was a place in myself that was very revealing, and also informative. Through these songs, this is right where I’m at and supposed to be. That doesn’t often happen in life. It’s like lightning in a bottle—we captured something. I hear it in the record, I really do.”
Gahan commuted to Malibu from New York, where he’s been living since 1997 after seven years in Los Angeles.
“It’s been weird in these last couple of years,” he says. “New York became this weird sort of ghost town, to be honest. It was brutal for a few months there, a couple of years ago. To see New York like that, and the rug pulled out from under what it is and has been for me, which is this place with so much energy but at the same time you can just disappear into. The disappearing part became too much in the last few years. The city seemed to disappear, and all its inhabitants. We stayed there, myself and my wife and my kids. We hunkered down and stayed in the city for that first few months. But I dunno, I still find it a place that I have a hard time leaving. Fortunately, it’s become a place that I can call home.”
With the Cat Power single out, “The Dark End of the Street” is next. After that, there should be some showcase shows from this project, before Gahan returns to his “day job.” But let’s be honest—the guy can do whatever he wants. ❖
Dave Gahan & the Soulsavers’ Imposter is out now.
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