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Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan on ‘Memento Mori’ and life after Andy Fletcher

Dave Gahan on the genesis of the band's best album in years.

By Alma Rota

Depeche Mode press shot, 2023
'Memento Mori' is the band's 15th studio album. (Photo: Anton Corbijn)

Over more than forty years of their career, Depeche Mode had to overcome many accidents and tragedies. They always have and came back ever stronger each time. In July 2022, Dave Gahan and Martin Gore returned to the studio to deliver cathartic album Memento Mori, their own way to mourn the loss of founding member and keyboardist, Andy Fletcher. Here, Gahan tells the story of that album to Rolling Stone France.

What does the title of the album Memento Mori mean for you?

Martin suggested this title when we were first recording together. We had already demoed maybe a dozen songs and heard about six of Martin’s songs and I had my owns. He told me that this expression directly translated to ‘Remember that you must die’ , and I felt it was the perfect title for this album.

What was your input into the album?

 I wrote Wagging tongue. Initially the ideas came from me, then Martin contributed a lot onit so we co-wrote the song together. Christian [Eigner] and Peter [Gordeno] have contributed to Before we drown. I’d love to say I’d written My Cosmos is mine but it was one of Martin’s songs. It’s probably my favorite piece of the record at the moment. It sets up the record perfectly and Speak to me, which was mine, closes it perfectly. I felt that I should give also credit to Christian because he really helped me to bring the song where it needed to be at the time. I had the guitar part and there was one chord that I was missing underneath the melody. I called him on FaceTime and I sang it to him.He got on his organ and figured out something. Then, when we were in the studio, James and also Marta elevated the song again to another place. The lyrics and vocal melody stayed pretty much the same although there were some lyrical changes. Those are the three songs that really came from me in the first place. But I have to say that I love to collaborate!

Last time we spoke forImposter, you weren’t sure you wanted to start anything new with Depeche Mode. What was the trigger for convincing you to work on the new album?

The song, Speak to me, was the trigger. I was on a vacation with my wife and we’ve been talking about what it meant to go into a Depeche Mode record. It’s not only making record but also going on tour. It’s at least three years of touring and planning. It’s a big thing and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, especially after all the lockdowns because I became very comfortable in the life I was living with my family and friends at home. It is something good for me so I wasn’t sure I’d really want to take the risk to leave all that again. I had talked to Martin and Jonathan our manager early towards the end of March last year about making another album. The song kind of came about when I was in a place well I was trying to figure out if I wanted to make a record or not with Depeche Mode. I actually had mixed feelings about it so I kind of threw it out to the Universe :  « Am I supposed to do this? » And I have to be honest here… it sounds strange but this song came to me like a clear answer to my question. It’s one of those songs I’ve already heard in my head. I could hear the melody and some of the words. I remember running back to my hotel room looking for my phone so I could record quickly into a voice memo. I had a feeling for the whole song and that doesn’t happen very often to me but when it does, it’s a very strong message, coming outside of me. You just have  to be there with your antenna ready to receive it. It felt very spiritual in that way, because it came from somewhere else, out of space or something. I remember saying to Jennifer : « I think I got the answer ! I am doing this and I want to record this song with Depeche Mode, with Martin ! ».

Memento Mori is a reflection on Life and Death. Do you think hitting sixty affected you?

I’m very blessed with the amazing life I have now. It’s beyond what I could ever imagine at the age of 18 or 19 years old. I’ve been very lucky and very fortunate. Yeah, I feel like turning 60 is a big thing. In my mind, I’m still 25 years old trying to figure things out quite often but you know there’s a part of me which feels very comfortable with who I am right now, what I do, who I spend time with… All these things are very important to me. I don’t think that would have been the case when I was 25 days old. These are big changes and of course your body, as much as I am working pretty hard at the moment to make sure that I’m ready to go back on tour, tells me something else ! It tells me : « Wait ! what do you mean? I cant do that ! » I love these things I can surprise myself about. I try to defy gravity loss ! (Laughs)

Is there a song you particularly connected to when you first listened to it?

Ghosts again. When I first heard the demo, it made me feel happy. I felt the joy from it.

The song evolved a bit and obviously I sang it. So it is different now from what Martin first presenter to me but not that much. The song was there. It’s one of those songs where you could do all of these fantasy ideas or whatever but the song is this song. The melody has this sort of tongue in cheek Gothic darkness but at the same time it brings joy and playfulness and almost humor. It’s what life is about !

How did you approach this new album as the vocal performer?

I created this way of working for myself, whether I’ve been working with Rich Machin from the Soulsavers or with Depeche Mode now : I spend a lot of time with the songs, the demos, the original idea. I developed this kind of place where I want to be to create a visual atmosphere for myself to live in when I try to embody the songs. Over the years, it has become a part I feel very empowered with. I enjoy it. I know what I want to do, how I want to sound like. Finding my own voice has taken years and years of trials, errors and disappointments.. like ‘« Oh, I could have done better ». It has been a gradual process.I think it’s a good thing that I can still find in that place somewhere I’m able to go and feel very comfortable, very honest and real… even if the subject matter sometimes has got a morbid feel to it. You know even in a song for instance like Ghosts again to me it’s a perfect example of this melancholic sadness but there’s this feeling of joy. That is a place where I like to be in because Life is full of melancholy and sadness and disappointment but there is joy there too ! And you have to seek it and find it and sometimes in music, in a song, in a melody in someone’s voice…  I can hear it, I can feel it !

Are you anxious to go on tour again?

Some days, I feel very excited about it and some days I just want to crawl under a rock and hide! (laughs). But most days, I tend to feel I’m ready to do it… well, I’m almost ready to do this…(laughs). I’ve been putting together the sequences of the songs we are going to do and integrate the new ones before we start rehearsing in January with Martin, Peter and Christian.

How did you feel about being inducted to the Rock nroll Hall of Fame with Depeche Mode?

It was sort of ironic wasn’t it? (laughs). We were like a bit of a thorn in their side. But no longer ignored ! It’s kind of nice to be part of this Club. The way it happened was all very surreal : the way with Charlize Theron introducing us (she’s a big fan of the band and came on the Spirit Tour) and me, Martin and Fletch doing it on Zoom. It was so fun ! That will always be a strong memory for me because the three of us together were laughing at our old jokes and making fun of each other. This I will really miss with Fletch not being there. All the crazy things that happen when you are on the road, the experiences you have together, all the the things you go through together, the times when you feel you don’t like each other anymore ! The number of times we sat down together and just laugh so hard at stupid things… this is what I will miss the most about Fletch.

How would you say the absence of Fletcher has affected you and your way of collaborating with Martin?

That has been challenging ! The last thing in the world Martin and I expected to hear was Jonathan our manager ringing us and telling us that Fletcher had died. It still feels surreal. We obviously went to his funeral with his family and friends. It was a heartbreaking day but it still feels strange him not being here. In the studio that didn’t change a lot of what we were doing musically because Martin and I and whoever we collaborate with (this time being James and Martha ) are kind of what Depeche Mode is about. Fletch unfortunately didn’t get to hear anything, not even the demos that we had ready to play to him. It forced Martin and I to communicate and get to know each other in a different way. Fletch had played a huge part in What Depeche Mode has been up until now. It was his presence, just him being there, being part of something. I don’t know if he kept us together but he was part of what we’ve built together over the last 40 years and him not being there is odd. It felt strange in the studio, when we will start rehearsing together, it will feel strange and when we will go on stage it will feel strange too. It’s all new experiences being part of Depeche Mode now. But the music and the band.. .and what is D. M., Dave & Martin (laughs)…There is so much there that will always live on even when Martin and myself will be gone too, because that is the power of Music !