The release of a new studio album is business as usual for Depeche Mode, which has, like clockwork, issued a new full-length and embarked on a coinciding tour every four years since 1993. Yet their 13th studio set, "Delta Machine," due Mar. 26 on its new label home Columbia Records, was created under unusual circumstances for the veteran alt-rock group. After years of well-documented infighting, the members, including frontman Dave Gahan and chief songwriter Martin Gore, were downright giddy working with each other.
Speaking to Billboard while sitting in a New York caf, Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan admits that his health struggles during the band's last tour supporting 2009's "Sounds of the Universe," which included a severe bout of gastroenteritis and the removal of a malignant tumor from his bladder, helped him appreciate working with Gore and multi-instrumentalist Andy Fletcher more than ever before. "I didn't really take in that I had felt pretty sick and managed to get through that," says Gahan, whose band grossed more than $72 million from 59 shows from the Tour of the Universe trek, according to Billboard Boxscore. "So when the tour was over, I spent a little time reflecting on that."
Before Depeche Mode releases "Delta Machine" later this month and kicks off a 34-date European stadium tour on May 7 in Tel Aviv, Gahan spoke with Billboard about promoting an album in 2013, his ambitious touring plans and why the new album marks the end of a trilogy.
Billboard: Your last tour, the "Tour of the Universe," was incredibly ambitious and highly successful. When you're getting this new stage show together, is it daunting to have to follow that up?
Gahan: You know, I don't really feel like that anymore. There was definitely a time in my life where I was like, "You've got to be bigger, faster, stronger, better." Over the years, this being our 13th studio album working on this record somehow felt like a new thing. Martin and I were really on the same page what we were doing writing-wise, and we just really came together, so it was a really enjoyable experience to do. As far as the tour goes, on the last tour there were lots of ups and downs personally. Physically, I had some problems -- I got sick for a bit and I got through that. Then I had some other problems with my voice, which I think all has to do with the fact that I was struggling to try and get my body back together after being diagnosed with cancer, unfortunately, at the beginning of that tour. Every time we took a break, I went back to the hospital for some more treatment, so it was a bit of an uphill battle. But the tour itself and the shows themselves were absolutely extraordinary. Talk about a mixture that lifts your spirits!
This tour, we've got some ambitious plans. We're starting out pretty large in Europe, going to some big stadiums for a bunch of shows, and then we come back to the States and go into more reasonable sized venues, lots of arenas, and that brings us close to Christmas. We're already now planning another European leg and then definitely South America and possibly Asia. Then I think we're planning to come back to America, and some more festivals in Europe in the summer of 2014.
How long ago were you and Martin conceptualizing the songs for "Delta Machine"?
At the end of the last tour, we just kind of go our separate ways. We give each other a big hug and go, really; We never really make any plans after that. It was shortly after that, a few months after, Martin caught me up in an email, and I told him I was writing and I was doing a Soulsavers thing. And Martin ended up going doing the [VCMG] thing with Vince Clarke, so it worked well, and I think that of inspired him, too. I would say toward the end of the year after the "Sounds of the Universe" tour, it took about a year or 9 months. I started writing in my studio in New York, gathering with my friend Kurt Uenala, who actually co-wrote all the songs on Delta Machine with me. I was going in, singing, and working out stuff with the the Soulsavers and he came up with ideas and we started writing stuff on the side, Depeche stuff.
The first single, "Heaven," is a curveball. Why did you want a song with a slower tempo to lead off the album?
To be honest, we were all gung-ho on the track "Angel," which is a little more aggressive and a little more typical of what you'd expect from a first record. Then we tracked stuff ahead of it, and I personally feel like ["Heaven"] is one of the best songs Martin's written in many, many years, for many reasons. It's just one of those songs that makes me want to continue making music, long story short. As soon as I heard it, I was excited to sing it. When I actually got into singing it and we started recording it, I felt like it was a piece of work that set a standard for the record.
During the first couple of sessions, at least I felt pressure from some other people to what should be the first single. Like I said, at first we thought Angel really, but I thought, "I just think this is the best song." It was agreed upon that it was the best song, and that was really the reason. We weren't really thinking it won't get played on the radio; it won't be this or that. It represented a shift in where we are, who we are as people -- I don't know, just a change. It's just pretty much a straight-ahead sort of blues-y, gospel-y track and I think that's where the comparisons are drawn to "Songs of Faith and Devotion" and certainly "Violator."
Depeche Mode has been releasing music consistently for 30 years, but even since "Sounds of the Universe" was released in 2009, social media and the way an album is promoted has drastically changed. How aware are you of these types of shifts?
I'm very aware of it. I think Martin is very aware of it too. Martin is very into technology, and he's amazed by the Internet and the fact that the world is really at your fingertips. He definitely had embraced that -- I, not so much. I'm a little skeptical. I don't spend a lot of time on my computer and stuff I don't really buy into it. I don't buy into the fact we have to be contained by it in terms of what we do artistically. Sadly, I think one bad side of it is [the loss of] a lot of that mystery, and some of that specialness. When I was growing up in the early 70s and really getting into music, waiting outside the record store for that 45, waiting for a single from The Dead, The Clash, David Bowie, or T-Rex or something to be there. There was something about that that was so special. Waiting for the album, waiting for the artwork to maybe find out what the band looked like -- that, these days, sadly is gone, because we find out everything we want to know about a person in a second.
It was good on this record to kind of have Flood back on board and have Flood mixing the record -- that technology was good there, because Martin and I would get on Skype with him and he'd be in London mixing while we were in New York still recording. That's the only way we'd communicated with him! We did not spend any time in the studio with him. I think this record as well is the end of a trilogy of records that we're doing with Ben Hillier. He produced the last three records, including this one [and 2005's "Playing The Angel" and 2009's "Sounds of the Universe"], and this one, for me, got to where we were trying to go with the first one. "Sounds of the Universe" was certainly more landscape-y, more filmic, and I think this was more of a combination of the two elements there. It's very driven, it's very out front, and it still has some of those kinds of dreamy qualities to it as well.
It sounds like the recording of this album was an incredibly enjoyable experience.
Look, we went through a lot together on the last tour, and probably the one before that and the one before that. When you're together with people for more than 30 years, there are bound to be ups and downs, things that bother you and things that you celebrate together. This one feels kind of like that. Martin's in a really great place; really in great shape, great health; excited about this record. He and I, we're both in that place where we're in awe of life at the moment, and what it is and what it still offers us. We never know if we're going to do another record together -- we don't really talk about it. We're planning a big tour that is going to go on towards the end of the summer of 2014. When I actually think about that now, it sounds daunting, but I want to enjoy it. You never know if there is going to be another one