Dave Gahan covers Cat Power and tells us about his “liberating” new album and the future of Depeche Mode

by Ricardo Johnson

Dave Gahan Soulsavers have shared their rendition of Cat Power’s ‘Metal Heart’ from their upcoming covers album ‘Imposter’. Check it out below, along with our interview with the Depeche Mode frontman.

Announced earlier this week, ‘Imposter’ is the latest effort from Gahan and his longtime musician collaborator Rich Machin under the guise of Soulsavers as they deliver unique takes on songs by the likes of Neil Young, PJ Harvey, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and many more.

Gahan explained that the 12 selected tracks feel like they carry “a sense of wisdom and longevity that is just there in the song and very apparent in the voice”.

“There’s been some life lived,” Gahan told NME. “I don’t think I could have done this 20 years ago. A lot of songwriters will tell you this, but sometimes when you hear a certain song at a certain time of your life it just strikes a chord, and you feel like you know everything about the song, the person who wrote it, the idea and story behind it. This particular group of songs were from a much larger list, but they were songs and artists that Rich and I felt had changed the shape of our lives.

“It didn’t start out like this. I guess I figured it out about 10 years into my career, but I realised that the way I sang a song – even if it was someone else’s or [Depeche Mode bandmate] Martin Gore’s in the early days – I had to find my own place in it; my own idea, my own character.”

He continued: “It’s the voices that somehow make me feel like I belong to something. What I had to do was make myself believe and you believe that it was all coming from me.”

‘Imposter’ was recorded and produced by Gahan and Machin in November 2019 at Rick Rubin’s “beautiful” Shangri-La studios in Malibu, California. The setting inspired a “magical” sense of freedom for the assembled band and also allowed them to work in the same spirit as the legendary Rubin-produced Johnny Cash covers record ‘American IV: The Man Comes Around’.

“Johnny Cash’s album was one where I wasn’t listening to the originals at all,” said Gahan. “His version of [Nine Inch Nails’] ‘Hurt’, for instance, just blew me away and it still does. I’ve heard stories from people who worked on the record that he had absolutely no clue who the original artist was whatsoever!

“These were songs that were given to him by Rick, and Rick then assembled these musicians around him that were going to bring out the best of Johnny at that time. Rich [Machin] has this ability to do that with me. He put me in a setting with the right group of musicians and I felt entirely comfortable and supported. I felt held, so I could do what the fuck I wanted.”

Part of the experience of “doing what the fuck he wanted” involved putting as much distance as possible between the original songs and the versions they were recording.

“We’ve made a few records together with Soulsavers now and we’ve formed a chemistry,” said Gahan. “When we got in the room, that chemistry was apparent. I’ve got to tell you – it was easy making this record. I’ve felt more comfortable singing these songs than I’ve felt singing a lot of Martin’s songs and my own. There’s a certain struggle with that. You’re always conscious of trying to please someone, especially if you’re working with whoever wrote it – like with Martin.

“You’ve got to let go of that and find this place that feels authentic.”

As for feeling like he’d separated his voice from the original artists, Gahan said that “some came quicker than others” during recording. “‘Strange Religion’, ‘Dark End Of The Street’ and ‘Lilac Wine’ – those three first songs and the way that they play off each other definitely clicked pretty quickly for me,” Gahan admitted. “I couldn’t even tell you how the original versions go because I felt like I wasn’t referencing them in my head or trying to mimic them in any way.

“Some of them took a little longer, and that’s probably because of the overpowering presence of those particular singers. Neil Young or Elvis, for instance – it took a little longer to get rid of them! I mean that with the utmost respect.”

Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan live in 2019 (Picture: Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)

The last time Gahan spoke to NME – for the release of his Humanist collaboration ‘Shock Collar’ – he told us how he felt so “drained” from the Depeche Mode tour for their 2017 album ‘Spirit’ that he might never make music again. However, since making ‘Imposter’ and ‘Shock Collar’, Gahan said that the experiences of collaboration and having been deprived of performance due to the COVID crisis had rekindled his love of music.

“Funnily enough, since lockdown I’ve been playing more guitar than ever,” he told NME. “I’d plug in my little guitar, put on ‘Exile On Main Street’ and I’d play for hours. There would be a certain point in the day where maybe my wife would be doing something and I’d look at her and go, ‘I’m in the band! Look!’. And she’d just look at me and go, ‘Yes, you’re in the Stones, well done. Sounds good!’

“I found a lot of freedom in that; just noodling around while not knowing what the fuck I was doing. Suddenly I found this new thing for myself that was quite liberating. That got me into just playing around and starting to throw down little ideas on my iPhone. That was a good thing.”

He continued: “After the last Depeche Mode tour I just said, ‘I’m done, man’. I’ve said that to myself many, many times, and other people, too. Making ‘Imposter’ really opened up something in myself. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m still enjoying this. I can do something with my voice that makes me feel connected to something’.”

Anton Corbijn talks to NME about Depeche Mode and new film 'Spirits In The Forest' Depeche Mode (Picture: Anton Corbijn)

Telling NME that he “takes nothing for granted”, Gahan admitted that he’s now “definitely got to that point where if I don’t have fun doing it then I’m not going to do it any more,” but that he “certainly wouldn’t rule out” Depeche Mode getting back in the studio sooner rather than later.

“There’s a tonne of stuff that we’ve done with Depeche Mode that I’m really proud of,” he said. “I think that’s come with time and age. Martin put out a record last year which I really liked. I actually bought a copy because it wouldn’t feel right otherwise. I know he’s been pottering away in his studio as well, so I guess at some point next year we’ll get together. Hopefully at least to just have a chat about what we both feel like we could move forward with.”

While an imminent Depeche Mode tour seems unlikely during the current COVID climate due to its “military operation” in scale, Gahan did confirm that fans can expect to see some Soulsavers shows soon.

“Performance is a huge part of me,” he concluded. “I hope that there are going to be some pretty unique performances of this record, certainly in London. We’re planning a few things at the moment and it looks like we might be able to do that bubble thing for six weeks and do some special stuff there.

“I want to do performances where it’s like ‘An Evening With Imposter’. I hope we can pull it off because I really think it will be something special.”

Depeche Mode On Anton Corbijn

Depeche Mode discuss legendary rock photographer Anton Corbijn.

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Dave Gahan Soulsavers will release ‘Imposter’ on November 12 via Columbia.

Depeche Mode, meanwhile, recently announced that they’ll be releasing a digitally restored and high-definition edition of their legendary 1989 concert film and documentary, Depeche Mode 101 , on December 3.