'Dead Man Walking', New Musical Express, 8th January, 1997
'Synths and Sensibilities', New Musical Express, 25th January, 1997
First of a lengthy two-part interview with Depeche Mode, a few months prior to the release of the 'Ultra' LP. Part One focusses mainly on Dave Gahan's heroin addiction and subsequent recovery. A good companion piece to the Q article 'They Just Couldn't Get Enough' from March 1997 (see 1995-1998: Part One ).
DEAD MAN TALKING
by Keith Cameron
Dave Gahan, the singer with '80s pop phenomenon Depeche Mode, has died. Not for long, granted, but for two minutes last May 'super' Dave was no more, speedballed into a darker place. Not that anyone was surprised, what with the numerous other ODs, suicide attempts, years of drug abuse...In the first of a two-part special, Keith Cameron listens to one of rock's most frightening tales. Dispatch mode: Stefan de Batselier.
IN AN upstairs lounge at Abbey Road Studios, a man perched on the edge of a large black sofa stares at the video images on the television screen. The picture, shot from above, shows a man writhing on a bed, in the throes of some sort of fit. The colours are garish, unreal.
The man on the sofa begins to circle his head and shift his upper torso back and forth in time to the soundtrack - ominous electro beats attempting to staunch an insistent flow of synthetic noise. A man's voice spits out above it all, his corroded diction echoing the man on the bed's distressed movement.
"This twisted tortured mess, this bed of sinfulness is longing for some rest and feeling numb..."
The man on the sofa lights a cigarette, places it between his nail-varnished fingertips and resumes his sedentary grooving. The images on the screen unfold, jumpy and impressionistic, like edits from a nightmare.
"A vicious appetite visits me each night and won't be satisfied, won't be denied..."
The man on the screen is mouthing the words on the soundtrack. The man on the sofa is nodding, in apparent empathy. The man on the screen and the man on the soundtrack and the man on the sofa are all David Gahan, 34 years of age, father of Jack, ex-husband of Joanne and Theresa, singer with Depeche Mode and still a living, breathing, fully paid-up member of the human race.
The video for "Barrel Of A Gun", the new Depeche Mode single, ends.
Have you seen Trainspotting, Dave?
"A couple of times, when I've been using and when I've been sober." Dave Gahan laughs heartily and takes a mouthful of Abbey Road's best quality cappuccino. "I saw it recently and I actually found it really funny, sober. And yeah, I got pretty excited with all the using scenes! I thought it was a great movie.
"It all becomes too real, with Renton disappearing into the carpet and the Mother Superior dragging him outside. I've had that done to me and I've done it to other people. That's junkie living. When people die around you, you just boot 'em out. Your feelings are so f---ed up. When I saw it the first time round, I immediately went out and got high afterwards. I went with my friend and manager Jonathan, trying to stay clean, and went out and did the opposite. This time, I saw it in a different light. It's a fantasy. It doesn't last."
A quarter of a mile from Abbey Road, band members Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore are eating lunch downstairs in the restaurant Fletcher co-owns with his wife. Over the past hour or so, they have been discussing just how Depeche Mode, together with producer Tim Simenon, succeeded in making their new album during a period in which their singer variously OD'd, attempted to commit suicide, had a heart attack, got arrested and finally took decisive action to kick the heroin addiction which had ruled his life and informed the band's existence for the best part of five years.
"It's all been done in London, basically," Andy says, briskly. "Started September '95, then we had a six-week period in New York last spring, then Tim went to LA after that...after Dave's...thingy," his voice hastens, "to record Dave's vocals for three or four weeks, then we came back home and finished here."
Martin Gore starts shaking with laughter. "That's the best I've heard it described!" he cackles. "Dave's thingy - hahahaha!"
Dave's thingy has been the great unmentionable for Depeche Mode. Tacitly acknowledged, it was publicly denied until events took such a traumatic turn that even the considerable resources of damage limitation available to a colossally successful rock band became redundant.
Even then, it took Gahan's near-fatal overdose from a heroin and cocaine 'speedball' last summer for reality to finally bite. His admission to Los Angeles' Cedars Sinai Medical Centre the year before, where he was treated for "lacerations to the wrist consistent with being slashed with a razor blade", was not, according to official Depeche Mode statements, a suicide attempt, rather, Gahan had "accidentally cut his wrists during a party at his home". A faintly creepy photograph appeared of Gahan displaying his ostensibly scar-free wrists.
Today, however, Dave is not in the mood for dissembling. As recording work concludes downstairs in the studio vacated when Oasis fled London's tabloid glare for the countryside, he loads up on nothing stronger than coffee and Marlboro Medium, and proceeds to reveal in unflinching detail the depths to which he sank. It is the week before Christmas, and he has been clean now for six-and-a-half months.
"It helps me to be able to talk about it and not to try and pretend that none of it happened. Because that's dangerous for me. I don't want to come across like any kind of preacher for being clean. Those people really piss me off, and to be honest what they're doing is replacing their drug addiction with another addiction. I want to keep this mine. The only thing there is to share is to offer hope to people out there that they could also turn it around and get clean, it's just a matter of wanting to do it."
For Dave Gahan, it's that simple: up until six-and-a-half months ago, he didn't want to do it enough to actually do it. His story is littered with failed attempts at rehabilitation, and increasingly desperate cries for help to a dwindling circle of friends in LA. Amanda de Cadenet is one of the people he credits with helping him make that climactic step towards sobriety, just after his release from custody on a charge of possession of controlled substances.
Gahan had returned to the Sunset Marquis Hotel, his favoured venue for responsibility-free drug binges. Despite the fact his heart had actually stopped beating for two minutes as a consequence of his latest overdose, he still couldn't see an alternative. Arguing with his manager about this latest mishap, Dave blamed a "dodgy dealer downtown", insisting that had his regular Beverly Hills supplier been available, nothing untoward would have happened.
"I came out of jail and I got straight back into it," he says. "I remember Amanda came round to visit me at the Marquis, and her face said it all. She could see I was f---ed up again, and tears were welling up in her eyes. When she left it was like she was saying goodbye. So I checked out of there and got myself home, and I remember I was sitting on the couch and I'd shot up dope again, and it wasn't working. It wasn't taking away the way I was feeling any more, and it hadn't been for a long while. It had become really f---ing obvious."
Desperate, Gahan spoke on the phone to his girlfriend in New York, a reformed heroin user herself. Desperate too, she told him she wasn't able to be around a junkie.
"I just couldn't do this to people any more. I didn't want my son to grow up and wonder why his dad died or killed himself. So I picked up the phone. For the first time in the couple of years that I'd been in and out of detox, I picked up the phone and said, 'I need help, I wanna get clean. What do I do?'"
NOTWITHSTANDING THE fact that the alternative wasn't doing wonders for his complexion, Dave Gahan looks good on sobriety. He carries his taut frame with some measure of confidence and his eyes are sharp, piercing blue-green dots. There is ready patter and a disarming undercurrent of mordant wit. On noticing that his press officer's hand is damaged after a nasty kitchen incident involving boiling hot gravy, he ponders which painkillers she could use. "Anything you want to know about American prescription tranquilisers, man, ask me. I've done the lot."
But of course, it was his close personal acquaintance with prescribed tranquilisers that constituted the core of Dave's thingy. His arms bear the healed scars of intravenous drug use. What began as recreational dabbling on the '90-'91 'Violator' tour rapidly escalated after he left his first wife Joanne to live in Los Angeles with Theresa Conway, a publicist who had worked with Depeche Mode in the US and whom he married in 1992. By the time the band reconvened in Spain that year to start recording the 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion' LP, physically and mentally Gahan was a changed man. Moreover, he was a charged man - piqued by the Mode's lingering image as a fey synth-pop group whose aspirations to gravitas were too lightweight to be taken seriously, he decided to embark upon a mission to become the ultimate embodiment of rock 'n' roll.
"I actually consciously thought, 'There's no f---ing rock stars out there any more. There's nobody willing to go the whole way to do this. So what's needed? What's missing here? What am I missing? It's one thing singing the songs, but does anybody really mean it?' So I created a monster. And I made the mistake of thinking that meaning it meant you had to take yourself to the very depths of hell. So I dragged my body through the mud, to show that I could do it."
Unsurprisingly, once Depeche Mode embarked upon the massive 14-month 'Devotional' tour, Gahan's Dionysian conceit found its natural habitat. Catered to by an army of personal helpers, drug doctors and all-purpose smokescreen attendants, Dave Gahan forced his increasingly unwilling body to accede to his ego's demands.
"It wasn't really apparent to me at the time, but I had become a complete cliche of myself. I remember in Chile, when I got the news that Kurt had blown his head off, my first reaction was that I was angry. I was pissed off. I felt like he'd stolen my idea, like he'd beat me to it. That's how f---ed up I was. I really was that gone."
The tour finally wound up midway through 1994. Dave Gahan's excuse to act like God day after day had gone, but not his heroin addiction. By Christmas of that year, he had decided to go into rehab. Checking himself into a clinic in Arizona, he stayed there for six weeks and sobered up. On leaving, he met up with his wife. Over lunch he informed her of his intentions to stay clean.
"That's when it really dawned on me - 'I'm talking about the rest of my life here.' So of course, it wasn't long after that that I started using again, but in secret. Gradually, she got sick and tired of picking me up off the floor, and she decided to split."
The break-up of his second marriage appears pivotal to Gahan's subsequently rapid journey to rock bottom. Each attempt to get clean would result in a progressively more intense relapse back onto heroin. Alone, either at home or at the Sunset Marquis, he vented his unhappiness upon himself.
"Trust issues have been going on all my life, so when Theresa left I was then given the excuse to go out and get even more f---ed up. I was hellbent on going the whole hog. My wife had left me, friends were disappearing and so I was left surrounded by a bunch of junkies. And I knew exactly what was going on - y'know, I had the money, I had the drugs and that's why they were around. I knew it, and that fuelled my anger even more."
Still he went to clinics, yet still he always checked out and then checked in again at the Marquis.
"I didn't know whether I wanted to get clean. It was becoming very apparent that the party was gonna be over pretty soon. I was either gonna die or I was gonna get sober."
In August 1995, Gahan attempted the latter before opting for the former. Returning from a detox unit, he discovered that his house had been burgled. Everything was gone: TVs, recording studio, two Harley Davidsons, even cutlery. On leaving, the robbers had reset the alarm code. Seeing as the only people who knew the code were himself, a few close friends and a couple of workmen, Gahan assumed it was an inside job, that his 'friends' had extracted revenge on him for trying to clean up.
"It all seemed very sinister, like this f---ed up LA movie that I was actually in. And I thought, 'I'm not really supposed to f---ing be here. And perhaps if I'm not around everyone else could get on with their lives.'"
He went to the Sunset Marquis and phoned his mother to tell her he'd just come out of rehab again. His mother, however, said she had just been told he'd never been to rehab in his life. The fact that his mother didn't even believe him was the final excuse Gahan needed to make his most dramatic artistic statement thus far. He shot up, went into the bathroom and slashed his wrists, "knowing that somebody would come by in the end". Which they did. His bloody arms wrapped in towels, Gahan was on the verge of unconsciousness by the time a friend dropped by and dialled the emergency services. He was brought round by the searing pain of his wrists being stitched; there wasn't time for an anaesthetic.
"The paramedic said to me, 'You silly sod, not you again!' The same team of paramedics in West Hollywood came and picked me up quite a few times. They were starting to call me 'The Cat'! Like, 'You're running out, Dave, you're running out...' Anyway, I woke up the next morning in a psychiatric ward, strapped up, the full padded cell. First of all, I thought I might be dead, then this psychiatrist came in and informed me that it was a felony to take your own life in California - so I was busted for trying to kill myself! Hahaha! I'm glad I can laugh about it now."
The Cat talked himself out of the straitjacket and went back to his old tricks, first at the Sunset Marquis, then a rented pad in Santa Monica, from where he "got into some serious using" - yes, the mind does boggle - and hid from the world behind increasingly black mental drapes.
"Things went from worse to worse. There were loads of other occasions of overdoses, waking up outside dealers' places downtown, on the lawn with no clothes on, robbed. But there were always people to pick me up. I'd go to these meetings and be f---ing high as a kite among all these sober people. And you can't imagine a worse place to be when you're loaded! I used to go to the bathroom and shoot up then come back and raise my hand and say, 'I got 30 seconds clean!' I was taking the piss, really, but I was doing it to myself."
In the midst of all this, work on the next Depeche Mode album was under way in London. In the spring of last year, they all met in New York, a halfway house location - "to give Dave a boost," as Fletch remembers it. The intention was to spend six weeks there, during which Dave would record his vocals. After six weeks, only one usable vocal was completed.
"I was going through the motions," he admits.
By this point, Gahan was shooting up heroin and cocaine, because neither was working individually any more. But for that matter, neither worked together either, much to his annoyance.
He returned from New York with a plan: "To go f---ing mental. The definition of insanity is repeating the same action but expecting a different result. I'd been told this so many times, but I was like, there's nothing wrong with me, I can handle it, I can kick it...I couldn't! I was definitely on a death wish. I wanted to know what it was all about, if I had the chance to go somewhere else and get away from myself. Which, of course, was all a fantasy. That was the first time it hit home what a junkie I was.
"I went through a phase for a little while, if I couldn't get dope I'd be virtually shooting water. Just squeezing out the cotton, getting whatever was left, just for tying off and banging off. I was definitely into the ritual side of things. In fact, now I think about it, the naughty boy excitement stuff of going and getting it, when the drugs weren't working any more, that was the big thing. Scoring without having me head blown off - that was it."
David Gahan duly went f---ing mental, then managed to stay off drugs for two weeks. Yet his downward spiral led him back to the Sunset Marquis where, early in the morning of May 28, 1996, he OD'd once more. His partially cleansed system was unable to withstand the dosage and underwent cardiac arrest. A friend dialled an ambulance. He was turning blue. His heart stopped for a couple of minutes. Dave Gahan was officially dead for a short while last year.
"They gave me the full Pulp Fiction treatment and got a beat on the way to the hospital. The first thing I remember hearing was a paramedic in the background saying, 'I think we lost him...'"
So, er, what's it like to die?
"All I remember about it was it was really black and really scary, and I remember feeling that it was wrong. This was something really not supposed to be happening. I was thinking I could control this, I could pick the date when Dave was gonna die. That's how f---ed up my ego is. So I woke up and I was handcuffed to a cop and he was reading me my rights."
Dave Gahan spent two nights in LA County jail. He might yet get the chance to reacquaint himself with that establishment. Currently he is on parole, awaiting trial and sentencing in February. He is required to take two urine tests a week, and will be for the next two years. If he stays clean, then the chances are the charges will be dropped. Were The Cat to fancy his chances once more, however, and give a positive urine test, he would face two years in prison. When he says it's a "sobering" thought, one is indeed inclined to defer to his formidable experience on the subject.
"In California, they'll work with junkies. You're breaking the law, but I mean, I was in a cell with f---ing murderers, people who'd blown people's heads off. I was a menace to myself, sure, but not society!"
GAHAN HAS been clean ever since that day he picked up the phone and asked for help. He saw through the recovery programme at Exodus, the detox unit that both Kurt Cobain and Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon walked away from. The first five days were the worst, he says, strapped down, watched 24 hours, having seizures every hour so hard was the withdrawal. Then the meetings, just like the ones he'd attended before while whacked off his gourd.
"For the first time I was listening. That was the difference. An addict thinks the world ends at them, and that you're completely alone in this world. And you find there's a lot of people from different walks of life that are exactly the same as you. When I went to Exodus I was making the admission that this shit had destroyed my life. It had taken away my soul and left me f---ing empty. It was fantastic for a couple of years. I'd be lying if I didn't say I thought I was f---ing God! I felt brilliant - nothing mattered, man, I was high! And then it stopped. It stopped overnight, and then I was always chasing that first high.
"So that's the choice. The minute I muck up again, I'm gone. And I can't deny that my life's better now. Although it don't feel good saying it! But just this weekend I got the opportunity to spend time with my son. It was great, we went to see 101 Dalmatians! One thing I notice about him now, which I didn't notice when I was using, is the way he looks at me. He looks at me with a lot of love and affection, and I never noticed that so much before as I did this weekend. I could look him right in the eyes, it wasn't like he'd be looking at me and I'd be feeling ashamed. It was almost like he was the adult and I was the child for a long time."
When he laughs, you can still hear the boy inside Dave Gahan, the cherubic teenage sprite singing those early Depeche tunes, whose memory he wanted so desperately to erase from history, as if the increasingly mighty Mode canon through the late '80s had not already done so. Such insecurity invariably begins at a young age, and is merely exacerbated by adulthood's erosion of innocence. Gahan never really knew his father, and was clearly ill-equipped to deal with the guilt that he had hurt his own son just as he himself was hurt. He began taking drugs at a young age.
"I first took heroin when I was probably 17, when I was living in a squat in King's Cross. But I didn't like it, 'cos speed was the thing at that time. I realise now I've had a very addictive nature when it comes to getting off my head and escaping from myself. 'Cos that's what it's all about, really. I used to steal barbiturates from my mother - she suffers from epilepsy - so these little downers were where it all started. No fault of my mother's. Then it progressed to different things. Alcohol's been there throughout. I would definitely define myself as an alcohol addict, for sure. I can't do one or the other. If I drink I'll get dope, I'll get high. If I have one drink, I'll want a bottle of vodka. My problem was more. I wanna do what I'm doing to myself until I'm gone.
"And I picked up heroin again when I went to live in Los Angeles. Wherever I was I'd be thinking about it. And that's when you've got a problem. I'd wake up and I'd think about it. A big problem I had, I was a junkie with money. An endless supply of it! And all I really wanted was my dope. I wasn't interested in cars or aeroplanes, all the other trappings of the 'rock star'. I weren't capable! I wouldn't dare get on my Harley, 'cos I was living up in the canyons...That's the insanity of it, I was more worried about killing myself in a car accident, but I was quite happy to shoot dope in my arms. And over the last few years I was using daily."
How difficult is it for you, right now, to stay clean?
"It's a lot easier than trying to get high, I know that. Trying to maintain it and kid yourself and fool everyone else. That becomes overwhelming because you're not having any fun anyway. I can't remember the last time I took any drugs and I could say I had a great time. It was probably during the 'Violator' tour, when E was the thing, and you'd pop an E after every show. I wasn't a social drug taker after that, it was an isolated thing. In my house in LA I had my own room, the blue room it was called, it was a blue closet and I'd shut myself in a closet.
"I remember reading Kurt saying the same thing, he had a closet under the stairs. That was plenty enough room. I'd be in there with my candle and my spoon, and that was it. Often Theresa would come knocking at the door, we'd have house guests and..." He runs a hand through his neatly clipped hair and gives a palpable shudder, his first real outward manifestation of emotion in nearly an hour. Heaven knows what it's like deep down inside there.
"It all sounds like, 'How the f--- did you get yourself into that shit?', but if you play with the devil you're gonna get burnt. And I believe heroin is the devil, because it takes your soul away. I think if there is a God there he chooses to leave you and let you get on with it, and that's what it feels like. You're this walking shell. I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror."
Can you be around people who drink or do drugs? What if I were to chop out a line right here?
"I'd have to leave. Because I'd want some. And I'd only want to test it, know what I mean? Mart and Fletch, they drink, Mart drinks a lot, and they drink around me, and sometimes that's a bit difficult - not because I want to get drunk, but just 'cos I don't feel part of it. That gets me into trouble. But then I get my arse to a meeting and I find that helps, to be able to sit somewhere for an hour and a half among people where I don't have to say anything. I don't have to act like anyone. Sometimes it's hard, yeah. About a month ago I went through a period where I was constantly thinking, 'What the f--- is this all about? I weren't that bad!' I was really kidding myself that I could have another go at it, go out and do a bit more research!"
The Cat came back...
"Yeah, it's there on the left shoulder all the time. I'm aware of it now. I have too much to live for. I was lucky I had people round me, I was able to be put in the right sort of places and looked after. But there's still times when you're sitting on you're own, like anybody, and you get depressed. What I've learned from this experience is that I know I'm not gonna find anything there. If God gave out drugs and alcohol, I've had my fair share! Instead of a lifetime I used it all up too quick. Which is a bit of a drag sometimes, but man, I don't wanna die today. Six months ago I was ready to throw in the towel."
AS WE arrived at Abbey Road, there was the regulation clutch of tourists ogling the wall of Beatles graffiti. When Dave Gahan emerged from the taxi, a succession of jaws dropped. They weren't necessarily certain who it was, but that didn't matter. Here was a Rock Star, in the flesh, himself. Cool. Attractive. Alive.
That's the tragedy of Dave Gahan: he didn't really need to try that hard in the first place. And from the look on his face as he watches himself once again on video, you suspect Dave Gahan realises as much.
"I do a lot of praying," he says. "I don't pray for forgiveness, but what I do is I get on my knees and I thank God for keeping me sober another day. I pray to the ceiling in the hope that somebody's listening. But you know what? I feel a lot better in doing it. It makes me feel better to believe in something. I don't wanna go back there, I've got too much to lose now. And I don't mean the band, I mean myself.
"There's little bits of David that come back every day, and he ain't such a bad guy. I sit and I watch Harry Enfield and I laugh my arse off. Or I cry at some soppy movie - I didn't do that shit for a long while! I didn't have those normal feelings! I would sit and watch the f---ing weather channel for 12 hours of the day. It didn't matter, man, I was completely gouching out and days would go by, and years went by. But there's something happens every day, no matter how minute, that gives me the feeling I've got so much to live for.
"I wanna see my son grow up. When we were going back down in the car to take him home yesterday morning I said, 'Who is your favourite band anyway?' And he turned round and he said 'Huh! You, of course!' Really cute! I was really hoping he wasn't going to say something like the Spice Girls! No disrespect to the Spice Girls, but..."
...But not all nine-year-old boys think they're ace. Indeed, one particular nine-year-old boy still loves his dad's group above all others. How great does that feel? Dave Gahan doesn't even attempt to work this one out. Instead, he smiles broadly and reaches for his umpteenth Marlboro Medium of the day: time to chill for a moment before joining the others downstairs.
But then he pauses. The silver cigarette case snaps shut. Nah. Best not for a bit, eh? Cats have only nine lives, after all.
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photos by Stefan de Batselier reproduced without permission.
Second of a two-part interview with Depeche Mode. Martin and Fletch's own difficulties on the Devotional Tour get more of a look in here. Other topics include: Alan's departure from the ranks and the new LP, 'Ultra'. It is illuminating that Dave doesn't pull any punches when discussing his bandmates support (or lack thereof) while he was attempting to kick heroin - evidently there are still lingering resentments, as well as feelings of bitterness, between the band members. So this article does not always make for comfortable reading. But it is extremely revealing.
SYNTH AND SENSIBILITIES
by Keith Cameron
Last week Dave Gahan flabbered your collective 'gast with his terrible tale of all-round narcotic foolishness. In the second part of our Depeche Mode exclusive fellow Modesters, Martin Gore and Andy 'Fletch' Fletcher, tell Keith Cameron how they coped with the drug-soaked tours and breakdowns (their own this time) to come back with the new album, 'Ultra'.
Ultra vivid seen: Stefan de Batselier.
SO YOU think your band is big? Sorry, Noel. On the reception wall at Abbey Road Studios hangs the ultimate in ego-quashers: a presentation disc dedicated to the trifling matter of The Beatles and their record sales. Total units shifted - one billion, and counting. Really, most awfully, terribly sorry, Noel.
But when Oasis left the most famous recording studio in London NW8 last autumn, Depeche Mode moved in. Now that's a bit more like it. By any reasonable parameters, Depeche Mode are big. They'll tell you themselves.
"We've probably sold more LPs than any other modern British band," says Andy Fletcher.
"Easily, I would have thought."
How many's that, then?
"Ooh, dunno, can't count. We haven't done that George Michael thing and added them all up."
Martin Gore frowns. "It's probably along the lines of 30 million albums."
"Probably more than that," advises Fletch.
"More than that?"
"Yeah, I reckon it's between 50 and 60 million albums," says Fletch, his powers of mental arithmetic evidently revived.
"But to put things in perspective," cautions Martin, "it's nowhere near a billion."
True, they're still a long way behind The Beatles, but Depeche Mode have made an undeniably decent fist of being The Rolling Stones. The last time Mode took to the road was the cue for bacchanalian indulgence on a titanic scale.
Spread over 14 months, embracing 125 shows on five continents, the 'Devotional' tour came supplied with its own definitions of 'big'. Depeche Mode played to big crowds in big stadiums, made big amounts of noise and money...and held big parties every night. So big and hungry was the Mode battalion on the 'Devotional' tour that a full-time dealer was employed to ensure that the supply of drugs never ran out. For more than a year, Depeche Mode, erstwhile synth-pop jessies from Basildon, lived it as large as rock myth dictates - and nearly killed themselves in the process.
David Gahan, of course, came closest to the fact of his own mortality. Unable to tame his road-enraged heroin addiction, the Mode singer wound up flatlining in a Los Angeles ambulance last summer, the near-death scenario which impelled his ongoing rehabilitation and led, ultimately, to the completion at Abbey Road of the new Depeche album.
Gahan didn't know when to stop, but the others had their moments too. Roll call at the end of the 'Devotional' marathon saw Depeche Mode comprising one junkie, one nervous breakdown, one physical and emotional wreck, and one ex-member. Alan Wilder's departure apparently bode ill for the state of group harmony. But at least he'd managed to stay out of hospital. Martin Gore was twice stricken with seizures caused by "overdoing it", while Andy Fletcher was absent for the final American leg, unable to withstand the mental stress and anxiety any longer.
Lunching at Fletcher's own Maida Vale bar-restaurant, Martin Gore betrays the slightly shell-shocked air of a man who has witnessed amazing and terrible deeds, all instigated at his behest.
"We lost the plot. We overplayed it with that last tour. But it's really difficult for us, at our level, to just decide to do a few key dates around the world. The minimum we would have to tour is nine months. Maybe we should have stuck to that, that's what we did with 'Violator', which was 90 concerts. Which, even so, is too much and heavy and gruelling. But with the last project we decided to do a 14-month tour, and I think those extra 30 to 40 gigs were the straw that broke the camel's back. Heh-heh-heh!"
"The intensity of the partying had gone to a new stage," adds Fletch. "It had just been steadily getting worse and worse and worse and worse, until on that tour in particular it was just one huge party. Every night. Martin says he only went to bed early one time on the whole tour."
Martin Gore laughs again. It's a strange laugh, like someone attempting a tremulous, basso profondo impression of Basil Brush. "Heh-heh-heh!" When he really gets going, it mutates slightly and he sounds like he's about to choke on his chips. "A-heurgh! A-heurgh! A-heurgh-heurgh-heurgh!"
How early is early?
Martin: "About 12. You don't get offstage usually 'til 10.30, 11, so to get to bed by 12 you've really achieved something there."
Fletch: "The whole story just sounds so rock 'n' roll. But, I suppose, it is. That's the way it was."
If Andy Fletcher sounds a little amazed hearing himself make this observation, it's hardly surprising. Built for a career in accountancy as opposed to feasting on the flesh of freshly sacrificed virgins, his primary role in Depeche Mode is to oversee the conception, execution and successful resolution of each 'project', as both he and Gore are wont to term official Mode activity. This even extends to refusing to allow Martin five minutes to finish his beer before we depart for the photo-shoot. "Come on," he flusters, "we do have a bit of a schedule on today."
But, as Martin himself protests, Depeche Mode "are not as depraved as people would like to make out". Dave Gahan might look like rock 'n' roll incarnate now, but 'twas not ever thus. Nay. The inspiration for his Satan-sponsored makeover came from a book. Indeed, a book about The Rolling Stones.
"Yeah," Gahan nods, a little sheepishly, in his Abbey Road interview lair. "Philip Norman (author of The Stones biography). Keef, man! Keef was for real! And I look at him now, and I love him."
As Gahan is all too aware, Keef survived as long as he has via the good services of professional 'doctors', who toured with the Stones throughout their drug heyday. Had Dave not been similarly catered for on the 'Devotional' tour, he might not have seen that project through, let alone begin and eventually conclude this new one.
"We had a fully-paid psychiatrist on the road as well!" laughs Gahan. "Pretty funny. I never went to see him, I didn't have any problems, hahaha! Not psychological, anyway! I even took it so far as to be desperate to get Primal Scream to come on the road with us. They were perfect, absolutely perfect! I loved that last album, everything about them was what I wanted us to be! That was my fantasy. We had a lot of fun, actually, a lot of good times. They'd always be in my dressing room!"
It must have been carnage.
"It was brilliant! There'd be a knock at the door before the show and it's Innes, or Throb, or Bobby, (adopts pretty respectable Glaswegian accent) 'Have ye got a wee sniff, Mr G? I cannae make it tonight, I've been on the Jack all day, I just need a wee sniff, Mr G'. Hahaha! Really funny. And of course, I'd supply them with what they needed. Bobby saw right through my little game, and I felt I saw right through him. He gives off this great image of being this wasted f---up, but he's a real smart, clever guy. Bobby balanced it really well, he knew where to stop. I didn't realise that nobody actually did play the game that hard. And the Scream proved that."
FOR MARTIN and Fletch, the impact of Dave's lifestyle choice appears cushioned by the distance, physical and spiritual, that has graphically developed between the three Essex boys ever since Gahan moved to Los Angeles in 1991. Neither of them has ever done heroin, and therefore both freely admit to not truly comprehending what happened to their friend.
"I've only actually thought Dave was dead twice," says Martin, "which is not bad going. If you get a phonecall and it's your manager or somebody saying, 'I need to speak to you about Dave, something really bad's happened', the first thought you have is 'Oh my God, this time it's the big one'. And that's only happened twice. And it's really bad, but that's par for the course as Dave goes."
"He should have been dead," states Fletch. "He should have been dead, honestly. I don't know how his body actually kept up with it."
Martin: "What's that phrase? Institutions, jail, death? And Dave says, 'I've been there and done them all'. And he's still walking. He's still singing. So it's a miracle, praise the Lord. Heh-heh-heh-heh!"
Your record label must be especially grateful.
Fletch: "They must have had a few heart attacks in the last couple of years."
Depeche Mode is seriously big business. Mute Records depend substantially on Mode record sales to fund their other, less commercially potent artists. It would, then, be an unsurprising, if unpalatable, fact of life if there were those amidst the Depeche organisation who viewed Gahan's narcotic traumas as a financial inconvenience, rather than a purely personal tragedy.
Gahan himself admits to feelings of resentment about what he perceives as his colleagues' self-interest.
"Six months ago, I was really pissed off about it, because all that really seemed important to Mart and Fletch was if I was dead there'd be no Depeche Mode any more. I didn't get any support at all, verbally, from Fletch or Mart at any point. In fact, I've maybe heard from Mart once or twice in nearly three years. To be fair, I don't think they knew how bad it really was. They only saw me sporadically, and I tried to get it together enough to fool them.
"But I still am a bit resentful, especially of Mart. He rang me just before I went into Exodus (the detox unit where Gahan finally cleaned up) and he was angry with me. I came off the phone in tears, because I realised, 'F---, they don't really give a shit about me, it's the fact that there might not be any Depeche Mode any more'. Really selfish.
"I was the most selfish one of all, by far, and I claim that, but it would have been nice if there had been some support from my so-called friends. Fletch used to tell me a lot of his friends were like, 'Why don't you just boot him out?' Hahaha! Which is a pretty funny concept, coming from Fletch!
One thing all three members of Depeche Mode agree on is that the difficult gestation of the current project would have been most likely rendered intolerable were Alan Wilder still present. Remembered by Martin Gore as a "misanthropist", the man who replaced Vince Clarke in 1982 as the band's resident techno-boffin - though not, of course, it's songwriter, that function shifting to Gore - had clearly become an irritant to others. Fletch jokes that his departure was inevitable "because he didn't come from Essex".
"When Alan left the band he was insistent on making a big press statement," says Martin. "One of his main points was that he felt the workload over the years had been unfairly distributed. And if that was the case it was because he decided that was how it should be, because he was a control freak. If the work was unfairly distributed it was because he made it that way."
You're presumably no longer in contact?
Fletch: "We were never in contact with him anyway when he was in the band. And he only lived in Cricklewood! It's almost like he never existed."
Martin: "I don't think we should ever get into a slanging match with Alan, because he was an integral part of the band who had a lot of input and a lot to say in what the band was doing."
"He would slag us off, though," reasons Fletch.
"I think that Alan was far less forgiving," Martin continues. "I have to admit that after hearing on the radio that Dave had OD'd and been arrested, I was thinking, 'This is pointless, it's time to call it a day. I just can't see this project ever coming to a close'. But I'm really pleased now that we gave him that one last chance. And I think it really was that one last chance, because he'd let us down so many times in the past. He pulled himself through and the last six months have actually been enjoyable and easy-going."
Fletch: "We got more press over Dave's suicide and overdose than at any time in our whole career. We got a double page in the Sunday Times magazine! Now, if we tried to get into the Sunday Times magazine for our music there'd be no way on this earth..."
Fletch: "But Dave OD's and he gets the whole thing!"
Martin: "One thing we should always remember is that Dave and drugs is a small facet of this band. It's a big part of Dave's life but, of course, it makes headline news and it's always over-focused upon. But there are so many other interesting facets to this band..."
Fletch: "Not much!"
Martin: "Heh-heh-heh! Obviously we know that people are going to be interested in the Dave-drugs angle, but hopefully they'll also be interested in the fact that we've finished an album."
Fletch: "When you're recording albums there's always some problem. Dave's been a huge problem this year, but it could have been that we'd had no songs, for instance, and Martin had completely dried up."
Martin: "I could have gone off the rails."
Fletch: "You have!"
Martin: "Yeah, sorry, that was a joke. Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh! A-heurgh-heurgh-heurgh- heurgh...!"
THERE ARE many remarkable aspects to the new Depeche Mode album, just one of which is the fact that it was made at all. Wilder's function was assumed by Tim Simenon and his production team - programmer, keyboardist and engineer. In their initial meeting, Gore told Simenon that he was interested in giving the album a hip-hop-based sonic template, a subconscious nod back to such late-'80s US groups as 3rd Bass, whose reverence for the Mode's pioneering electro tapestries led them to sample 'Never Let Me Down Again'.
There were no other preconditions, and 15 months after work was started, and in spite of the obvious difficulties - "Yeah, nearly losing a singer," smiles Simenon. "That's never happened to me before" - it stands triumphant, a resounding testimony to the ongoing resonance of Gore's brooding treatises on Life (The Meaning Thereof) and Gahan's heightened abilities as an interpretive singer. Simenon describes the prevailing vibe as, "psychedelic/B-boy/porno", whatever the f--- that means". They're calling it 'Ultra'.
"The title really fits in with our new line-up," says Martin. "We lost a member along the way and now it's the new, improved, slimmed-down version. A-heurgh, a-heurghhh! I think it's a great, positive title."
Many of 'Ultra''s songs, including new single 'Barrel Of A Gun', deal with destiny. Gore's current fascination with genetics - "The only magazine I subscribe to is New Scientist" - has helped ground his conviction that our lives are, to a large extent, determined from birth.
"'Barrel Of A Gun''s about understanding what you're about and realising that you don't necessarily fit into somebody else's scheme of things. You can have slight diversions from your path, but I think there is something that is written for us, that is meant to be. I'm not being totally fatalistic. I think that we do have a say in things, but I don't think that say is very strong."
What storms of psychic interference rage at the core of Depeche Mode! It's not hard to imagine what thoughts must have flown through the head of Dave Gahan as he sang 'Ultra''s brooding ominous songs little more than two months after only the skill of a Californian paramedic prevented his long-standing drug addiction from claiming his life.
Can he hear Martin talking to him?
"I do. He says he's not. I think he's subconsciously looking at himself. I think Martin is at a stage where he's realising a lot about himself and I hope he can turn around, be able to control his own problems, whatever they may be. I'm not passing judgment on Martin, but I think he has a bit of an alcohol problem, and I think he knows it. I would hate to see him lose everything like I did before I realised. So I think Martin is writing these songs and he can't help but think about what's been going on with me and then maybe look at himself in the mirror. That's the way it works.
"Depeche Mode is Martin's songs and my voice. The music is very much head music and then I bring the heartbeat. I love to sing the songs. I shall miss it when it's not there any more."
There are no plans for this brilliant, intense, incongruously f---ed-up little band to tour for the foreseeable future. Depeche Mode are big enough already.
Reprinted WITHOUT PERMISSION for non-profit use only. Photo by Stefan de Batselier reproduced without permission.