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Soulsavers’ Dave Gahan: ‘I’ve Played This Record More Than Anything I’ve Ever Worked On’

Soulsavers' Dave Gahan and Rich Machin

Since 2000, English duo Soulsavers have kept eclectic-minded music fans on their toes, merging electronica with more analog-friendly genres like country and rock. Along the way Rich Machin and Ian Glover have called on the vocal talent of eager guest stars like Mark Lanegan, Jason Pierce, and Will Oldham, all of whom have sung on the band’s albums. That combination of searching spirit and star-power continues on the group’s fourth full-length, the blues and gospel-tinged The Light the Dead See, which finds Soulsavers joined by Depeche Mode lead singer Dave Gahan, who provided the record’s lyrics and vocals. SPIN recently sat down with Gahan and Machin in Manhattan to talk about the new album, making music without an agenda and the unexpected benefits of recording in separate locations.

Soulsavers toured in support of Depeche Mode in 2009. Is this when you started talking about collaborating with one another?
Gahan: Quite often when you’re on tours with other bands, you sit around start talking about doing things together and stuff like that. On drunken nights, whatever. Nothing ever comes of it. This time it did. There was no rush.
Machin: I think doing it that way suited both of us. I was kind of in a place where I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to make another record. But instantly, what Dave was giving back to me connected. A couple songs into what we were doing, it became my main focus.

Do you think this looseness helped? Did it free you guys to explore areas you wouldn’t normally?
Gahan: Sometimes when you plan to do things, you put yourself in a position of having to meet certain expectations. We didn’t do that. Things started to take shape and I started to realize that a lot of what was coming out was about what I’d been through, getting sick again. I hate to say it, but as you get older, your priorities change. The joys of making music now is way more apparent than what it was, when my band was at their height of selling records and touring the world. It was great but I don’t know if I was that in touch with what was going on musically.

You guys are already trading musical ideas again. Why do you think you’re ready to jump back in so quickly?
Machin: That’s a really unusual situation. Normally when I’ve just finished a record, I’m done for awhile. I’d not been in that place before, where I was like, let’s just keep going. The more that we were doing stuff, the better everything was getting.
Gahan: Together we’ve made a great record. We might not make another record together that’s a great record. Who knows? But I can look back on this now, I’ve played this record more than anything else I’ve ever worked on. I don’t know why that is exactly. I think it’s because I’m surprised.

What do you mean?
Gahan: I think working with Rich was outside of my comfort zone. It’s easy for me to say, “No, I don’t want to do this. This is who I am, this is what I do, this is how I sing, these are the kind of songs I write.” I can’t stay there anymore. That’s a really good thing.

The album is stylistic a departure for both of you. Why do you think that is?
Machin: I think at this point, it was a natural progression from the other records. I’ve learnt my craft, and I was able on this record, to do a lot of stuff I’d wanted to do in the past but I wasn’t able to do.
Gahan: I could almost repeat exactly what Rich said. For me as a writer, I’m just beginning to feel a sense of freedom. Up until this point, my technique was limited as well. This music enabled me to write instinctively.

You guys recorded the album in completely different locations. What was the process like?
Machin: I would send a very basic demo, all done on a laptop. Just to give it a structure.
Gahan: Whatever Rich sent me, a word or something came into my head. I write as if I’m setting the scene. Then I would send it back to Rich and wait until he got back in touch and said, ‘Okay, I get what you’re doing, I gotta like change some stuff, I gotta do this and do that.’ And that sort of happened each time we did a piece.
Machin: I actually really like doing it this way. It’s as though I’m listening to somebody else’s record.
Gahan: I’m not sure if we’d been in the same room together, if we would’ve been able to show some of that vulnerability. There was no pressure.

Where do you go from here?
Gahan: I think whatever comes next will be like that [earlier process]. I think if we take the same sort of approach, it will just play itself out. Like it’s supposed to.
Machin: I can’t fault the results.