Interview: Dave Gahan on new covers album with Soulsavers, "Imposter"

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Dave Gahan on new album with Soulsavers, "Imposter" (MPR)

Jill Riley talks to Dave Gahan about his latest collaborative covers album with Soulsavers, "Imposter". Gahan discusses sequencing deliberation, his longtime musical partnership with Soulsavers, and how they approached the recording process.

Interview Transcript

Edited for clarity and length.

JILL RILEY: I'm Jill Riley from The Current, very happy to have a special guest. We're on zoom, but also on the radio as well. Dave Gahan, and Soulsavers--you just talked about "Imposter," this new record of covers. Dave, I have to say when I saw that you had worked again with Soulsavers I had this kind of warmness in my heart because I love their production style. I love that. It's just such a classic soulful gospel tinge that they add to what they do. And they did this song with Mark Lanigan in the mid-aughts called "Revival," and when I hear it, to this day--

DAVE GAHAN: One of my favorite songs.

I love it, I get this feeling--I'm not a super religious person, but I'd say I can feel the spiritual moments through music, I think. And it's just one that just gets me every time I hear it. And maybe it's like when it came out and what stage in my life I was at when I heard it. So I know that this isn't the first time that you've worked with Soulsavers for making records. So could you talk a little bit about the background--I wouldn't say they're exactly a household name. But to people who are fans of electronica, they might be, but could you give us a little background on how you met Soulsavers and when you started working with them?

Yeah, sure. Well everything you just said as well about "Revival" for instance and what that does for you, it's informative, you know, it's like music and song, voices--for me, the voice of a singer or in a particular setting/atmosphere can inform me more about the way I feel about things than--I don't know, I guess you could say religion and stuff--yeah, music...it moves the spirit, you know? It can. It can move this feeling you have inside of yourself that we all know we kind of have, and can be a little bit scary, and we try and block it out as much as possible with whatever we choose to use. But Soulsavers, I was listening to that record, "It's Not How Far You Fall, It's The Way You Land". I was playing it like often and at that particular time I was in the studio. I think I was mixing or making a solo record, I don't know what record I was making. But anyway, I was having a conversation on the phone with Martyn LeNoble who plays bass with Soulsavers, used to play bass in Porno for Pyros. We were on the phone, we started talking, and I was about to go on the road. It was definitely a Depeche [Mode] record because we were going on the road. He just happened to be working--tracking something for Rich Machin from Soulsavers, who at that particular time it was Rich Machin and Ian Glover, Soulsavers, and it's a production team really. Then Rich facilitated, has this pool of musicians that he uses to get to that kind of sound that you know as Soulsavers. So he just happened to be in the background kind of thing, and I said, "You know we're looking for, at the moment, we've got a big list of acts to open for us on this next leg on the tour." Like three months in Europe or something, and he just kind of yelled out to rich on the phone, "Why don't you go? Why don't you take Soulsavers? Take us on the road." And I was like, "Would you really want to do that?" And I said, "Cause that would be cool. Let me talk to Martyn, we usually decide between us who's going to come on the road with us." And we usually pick a band or an artist that can do certain legs or whatever. It's tough to do the whole thing for everybody, and he was like "Yeah, we'll do it." So I talked to Martyn, and Martyn was like, "Sure, yeah." They came out on the road with us for three months, Lanegan singing, and we got talking in the hallways, as you do before shows/after shows and talked about doing something together, Rich and I got talking. And you know, you do that often with bands when you're on the road, especially if you're back in some hotel room or whatever, getting up to no good. It's like, "Yeah, we should do something together!"

Nothing usually comes out of it.

But this time it did! Shortly after we finished the tour, months and month later, Rich called me and we talked about doing something together. We started exchanging ideas, he'd send me a piece of music that was maybe some chords and a Wurlitzer or an organ or something, and maybe a little guitar part line. I started to immediately, like you said with "Revival" for instance, I'd start to...I don't know, hear these words bouncing around in my head and phrases. I remember when "Presence of God" came that was on the Dead Sea, and it just sort of came as a big chunk to this guitar line that Rich sent me. And I just felt something really moving in me that hadn't before. Yeah, we ended up making a record, and now this is the third of the trilogy.

Yeah, and with this new one, I'm talking with Dave Gahan, new record with Soulsavers called "Imposter," and it's a record of cover songs, you've got about a dozen songs here. Last night, I just spent a bunch of time with this record. And what I loved is that it sent me kind of down this rabbit hole, because I found myself wanting to look at, "Okay, who else has covered these songs?"Or I want to go back and listen to the original and then maybe listen to the cover again. So it was really fun to kind of sit down and dig into this thing because you've got a bunch of songs--some familiar, some, I would say are definitely deeper cuts, some that I had heard for the first time with your cover. So then I wanted to go explore the original. So how did this list of songs come together?

Well, it came from actually a much larger list. It really was when we first started talking about doing this, the idea was to find songs, artist--voices, for me, more importantly, that had somehow over the years carried me, been with me, stayed with me. And helped me to navigate my way through certain things, informing me along the way of maybe the way I'm feeling. It was chosen very carefully in the end, and what became important and very what I became aware of--during this kind of pre-production of this record where I spent a good few months singing these songs to myself over a PA system in my studio here, becoming really familiar with them and getting to the point where I was no longer hearing the originals that I had stuck in my psyche. I started to feel like they were coming somewhere from deeper in myself. And then that's how I showed up to the studio, I was ready and Richard already as well, had been doing his work with a couple of the guys from the band. Pre-production stuff, we were finding keys, tempo, feel, like kind of loosely. So once we got to the studio, we wanted to track all these songs live, we didn't want to spend more than a day on a song. And all be in the studio at the same time doing it as a live band. And that's what we've managed to pull off. The sequencing started to form for me quite early on. After we've recorded maybe seven songs, I knew that it was going to be key to how we listen to this record.

That's interesting about the sequencing because when it's a record of songs that you've written with a band, and you kind of know the story that you want to tell--it's almost like you're telling the story through a mixtape or something here. Was that kind of the approach of telling a story that you wanted to tell with these songs?

Yeah, definitely. And I didn't know that when we first started doing it--that I was trying to...Oh! I wasn't trying--it just so happened. I started to live vicariously through these songs, and I was like, "Oh, wow. Okay. Sort of turning into a bit of a little story here." That's what it felt like. It felt very cinematic in a way, and the way that it sort of plays out. Starting at "The Dark End of the Street," and then ending with "Always On My Mind" was like sort of key anchors. Ending the first first side of what I call the album, with "Metal Heart" was key, and I wanted to start the second side of the album with "Shut Me Down" once we'd recorded that. Then they started to fall in place. So it was after Lanegan's "Strange Religion," and "Lilac Wine," Nina Simone is the version that was was deeply in my spirit, if you like--going to "I Held My Baby Last Night," which felt like the right moment, you know? It just felt like that's what you needed, and that's what--if I was on a stage performing right now, this would be the natural progression, like feel of where you'd need to have this song kind of rocking a little bit. So yeah, the album started playing out like it was a live set. Or mixtape, you're right. And hopefully, that's what we're going to get to do. We're starting rehearsals in a few weeks in London, and we're going to try and do some performances that will just be a showcase, basically, of this album, which I'll reproduced what we did in the studio on a stage. Some people would say, "Well, that's tough, you're only going to do the new album," and if we do some encores we'll put together something nice, but yes, we want to perform the album in its entirety. And I think that you'll get the right song at the right time if you're a real music lover. You'll get what you need in that moment, if you were sitting there listening, I think you couldn't help join in.

Well, we're talking about the new record "Imposter," it's a record of cover songs from Dave Gahan and Soulsavers. Can you--just real quick before we wrap up, that word imposter, when it comes to a covers album there's kind of a cleverness there where it's like, okay, well this isn't the voice that you're used to hearing but it's a new interpretation. It's a new way of hearing the song and the lyrics or the feeling. A song can have a different feeling, things can change with a song just by what version you're hearing, but is there another meaning maybe to "Imposter," is that part of the story arc do you think?

I think it became that, yeah. In the beginning, when I said we should call this "Imposter," and Rich liked it, and then it developed more. Imposter's the character, you know, let's perform Imposter on stage--let's make it about this record. The whole show is based around this this character, right? Originally that was kind of the idea. I guess as well, like, the Johnny Cash records, the American recordings he did with Rick Rubin out at Shangri La actually. The way he performed those songs was very much like they were his own. I'm sure he'd never heard of Depeche Mode or Nine Inch Nails. Rick brought these songs to him, and he just kind of--he became those songs. His version of "Her," like blew me away.

Right.

I'm not diminishing anything that Trent and Nine Inch Nails did with that originally, but really, he took it to another place. And I kind of set that as the standard of like, if I was going to do this record, and we were going to do this, I'd have to become these songs. And the weird irony about this is I felt more comfortable singing these songs than I think I ever have singing my own, Martin's--definitely over the years, but in the first 10 years of Depeche Mode, I felt entirely uncomfortable stepping into Martin's shoes as a writer and trying to reproduce what he was writing, because I think I was trying to just--in early days, hopefully please him as a writer, and that I was doing the song correctly. Then at some point, I think 10 years in, I started to realize I need more. I need more--I need to be out singing this because it's coming somewhere from me. So I've got to somehow find a place, and then Martin started writing as well, in a way that seemed like strangely, for me, as well--certainly some records. I know he wasn't, maybe once in a while. But you spend enough time with people in relationships, like, I don't know, you just--I definitely have this chemistry now with Rich and Soulsavers, the guys and girls in the band. I felt really held there. So when I sang these songs finally down each day, it didn't feel like I was an imposter, actually, so I thought it made the title even more kind of like, I don't know--tongue in cheek a bit, you know?

Yeah, I think it's really fascinating that if we're able to take on a character it's almost like we can find more comfort in just being ourselves. And singing the songs that you love, singing the songs we love. It's just really awesome. I feel like I can relate to you and just having this love for music, and so many different kinds of songs that just makes sense when, when your voice is on them--that's the thing that ties them together. Dave Gahan and Soulsavers--the new record is called "Imposter," due out on November 12. Again, I really enjoyed just kind of going through all of the songs, and able to spend time appreciating those songs. I'm so glad you brought up Johnny Cash because I did think of that when I was listening to the record. I was thinking, "I wonder what Dave thinks of Johnny Cash, his version of 'Personal Jesus'," because there is such a big difference between the Depeche Mode version and then Johnny Cash--this man who had seen it all. A religious man, a man that was very much moving on in age, closer to death. And I think we understood, and to sing it with that kind of wisdom was--it took the song and it took it to this different level, just like with "Hurt". And so I thought, "Gosh, I wonder what he thought of that version." It sounds like that felt inspiring to you.

It truly was, and also that's one of the reasons why I wanted to do "Not Dark Yet" as well. Some of the other songs too, but there was a sense in me at the time, just having finished another huge Depeche Mode World Tour as well where I felt that I needed to recharge my batteries, and music often does that for me. Writing it and performing it and exchanging ideas with someone or having that relationship where you're not sure why this is happening, but you're desperately trying to communicate with another human being and that being very difficult for me personally at times to really express the way I feel. But through music, I've always found that this is the key for me and it's taken me years and years to get there so there there was a sense of like--I was trying to sing through a sense of having quite a large body of work myself and some experience there. I've been to hell and back a couple of times, so I felt that it was very fitting--the suit fit, you know? Then finding in PJ Harvey, and Cat Power, and Lanegan, and Roland S. Howard--which I would call more contemporary artists. Even though they've some of them have been around for a long time too. But um there's a similarity that I hear in the tone, in the voices for me, that just speaks to me, and I love that. I love when that happens. When you feel connection, you're feeling someone's--their true spirit or something is coming through, for me. And of course that's different for everybody but with different singers and songs and records and movies--that's a big one for me, but I just was very moved by this whole process actually, this time round, and felt very--a little frustrated when we couldn't release it in the spring of 2020, when it was supposed to be first released. But here we are, and there's something about having to wait that long as well, which has also given it another kind of, I don't know, layer of--importance isn't the wrong the right word, but something feels--something special.

Yeah, but the timing just feels right. Dave Gahan and Soulsavers--the new record is "Imposter". It's coming out November 12. Later than it was supposed to, but perhaps right on time. It's kind of one of those things where we let go of the things we can't control, and then things tend to have a way of working out, which I know that can sound simplistic at times, but I really do believe it. I'm so glad that you recorded a cat power song. It was cool to find out that you were a fan of hers, and you have something in common! You've both recorded the song "The Dark End of the Street".

I did not know that either.

Yeah, she did a version of that song. It was cool to find that musical connective tissue. That is just one of those things that you don't plan for. But it's great. Your version of "Metal Heart," I think your voice sounds great on it, and we've been playing it here at The Current. I know that we've spent a lot of time talking, really thank you for taking the time to tell us about this record, to spend a little time with The Current audience. Again, November 12, the new record, appreciate your time, Dave.

Thank you very much. It was so nice talking to you. Thank you.

External Link


Dave Gahan - official site

Credits

Host - Jill Riley
Guest - Dave Gahan
Producers - Jesse Wiza, Christy Taylor
Technical Director - Eric Romani

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