- 11 Oct 17
The Depeche Mode singer, who months before had clinically died, was in confessional form when he encountered Mr. T in London...
I’ve always been a major fan of Depeche Mode so this 1997 cover story on Dave Gahan was a really memorable piece for me…though rather less so for him.
Rock stars aren’t what they used to be. Back in the days before social media documented their every move, some of them used to get seriously fucked up. Gahan was one such beast. The singer was just recently out of rehab at the time, and obviously still not fully recovered. I had to fly to London twice as our interview was cancelled at the very last moment, with no real explanation, the first time round.
It was worth the second trip. With some interviewees you really have to probe deeply to get them talking honestly, but, when we finally met up, he was in deep confessional mode. He whispered throughout most of the conversation. We spent about an hour together and he was extremely forthcoming about his addiction to hard drugs, his unhappy childhood, his suicide attempts, his messy divorce, and the fact that he had once literally died in an ambulance in L.A. after a weekend spent shooting up speedballs.
I asked him to talk me through his tattoos, and he took his shirt off and told me the stories behind the most important ones. It was a great interview and, given that I could empathise with at least some of his own struggles, I really felt that we’d bonded somehow, albeit briefly.
That was all in my head. We were staying in the same hotel. An hour or so after the interview, I bumped into Gahan and his manager in the elevator.
My friendly “Hey man, how’s it going?” was met with the blankest of stares. He quite literally had no idea who I was. His manager had to remind him, “This is Olaf from Hot Press. You were talking to him earlier…” I got a limp handshake and a disinterested, “Oh yeah, how you doing?” I wasn’t hugely offended, but I did wish that I hadn’t opened my mouth.
I’ve interviewed him since and, now sober for many years, he’s a totally different character. And I’m still a big fan.
Anyway, here's how it all went down...
The Needle And The Damage Undone
It's easy to trace the tracks of DAVE GAHAN's tears. Like the illustrated man, the marks on his body tell their own story. But not the whole story for this is a man who took heroin abuse to such a lethal extent that he was once clinically dead for two minutes. Now, after a long and painful battle, he s clean, sober and delighted that depeche mode have released the album that few ever expected them to make. Interview: Olaf Tyaransen.
Dave Gahan, probably the only rock star in the known universe to have died and lived to tell the tale, is showing me his tattoos. At my request, he rises from the couch in his London hotel room, pulls his sweater off, and proceeds to make an exhibition of himself, bringing me on a guided tour through the numerous works of skin art that decorate his arms and rather emaciated looking upper torso. They re my warpaint, man, he explains in a skewed accent that s now more L.A. than Essex. They all mark a time and a place.
As an enormously rich and internationally famous musician, the Depeche Mode singer has had all sorts of times in all sorts of places throughout the course of his career. In recent years, however, they ve mostly been all the wrong places, at all the wrong times. The journalist Tony Parsons once wrote that you make a mark on your body when you feel you can t make a mark on your life. Many of his tattooed readers justifiably took offence at the comment but, for all of the statement s deliberate attempt at shitstirring, it s still something that s undeniably true in Dave Gahan's case. Having spent the last few years fully immersed in his own personal version of hell, his skin is now more ink than pink, a canvas of cornucopian colours. If the tattoos are his warpaint, then the war they record was with himself. Turning slightly, he displays an elaborately drawn Celtic dagger on his left arm. "This one here I had done when I was using dope really heavily," he tells me. "I kind of meant it to mean I might as well be stabbing myself, kind of thing."
His arms don't really need a dagger tattooed on them to bring the word stabbing to mind. They already look as if Freddie Krueger's been giving them Chinese burns. From wrist to armpit, they are covered in faded road maps of slashes and spaghetti junctions of scars, lacerated legacies of almost eight years of heavy intravenous drug abuse. Fortune tellers can read your future from the lines on your palms but just about anybody could read Dave Gahan s past from the lines on his limbs. Throughout the interview that preceded this display, he had caught me staring in horrified fascination at them so many times that, in the end, I felt compelled to lie and declare the source of my ghoulish interest to be his tattoos rather than his scar tissue. Thus, this little impromptu session of show and tell.
"What does that stand for?" I ask, pointing at the letters TCTTMFG engraved in Indian ink beneath a caged love heart on his arm.
"Oh, that was done for my second wife," he smiles. "It means Theresa Conway To The Motherfucker Gahan cos I'm the fucker that married her."
Will you have it removed when your divorce is finalised?
"Nah, it's a good reminder not to repeat the same mistake," he laughs. "I wouldn't have any of them removed. Apparently, my father... I didn't know this at the time because he left when I was six months old was covered in tattoos as well, so I think it must be something that's in my genes."
Do you regret not having known him?
"Yeah", he nods sombrely. "He's dead now but I still think about him from time to time. I reckon I could have learnt a lot about myself from him."
Was he aware of what you were doing?
"Apparently, yeah. Somebody told me that he used to keep a scrapbook and stuff. He was pretty old though. And I never had any contact with him from a very young age."
Moving swiftly on from this obviously uncomfortable subject, he twirls around as if he's onstage, to reveal the piece de resistance. Ye Gods even Henry Rollins would be jealous!! His whole upper back is practically covered with a huge and intricately designed pair of wings, a permanent memento of the mammoth and ultimately nightmarish Devotional tour in 1993 that very nearly finished his band off for good.
"I had this one done in Los Angeles" he says. "It's something that used to be put on the gates of big houses to ward off evil spirits."
How long did it take to do?
"About 10 hours", he smiles proudly.
Further proof, if proof was needed, that if there's one thing in this world that Dave Gahan isn't afraid of, it's needles.
Rewind the tape an hour or so. Dave Gahan and I are being introduced. We shake hands and exchange pleasantries over a table littered with crushed cigarette packets and empty coffee cups, the debris of a long day spent meeting representatives of the world press to promote Mode's forthcoming album Ultra. He's looking considerably better than I had expected but dressed considerably worse. The black leathers that were once his second skin have gone and today he's wearing the kind of ludicrously mismatched ensemble that only a rock star or a golfer could hope to get away with; checkerboard sweater, pinstripe trousers, white shoes and a particularly obnoxious (and possibly radioactive) pair of lime green socks. Jean-Paul Gaultier eat your heart out!
Sartorial concerns aside however, he seems reasonably healthy and well. His complexion has the radiant waxy sheen that LA sunshine gives everyone from this side of the water. His bobbed black hair is greasy and, when he laughs, dual strands brush across his forehead like windscreen wipers. The satanic beard has been shaved off and there's now just a smidgen of goatee left on his otherwise unblemished chin. And despite the dark rings under his eyes, his gaze is alert and concentrated. All in all, if it wasn't for his scarred arms (which he makes no attempt to cover), you'd never guess that he'd been a serious junkie for the best part of a decade.
So Dave, how the hell are you?
"I'm all right", he sighs. "A little bit burnt. We've been doing loads of interviews, not just today but since before Christmas, so I'm getting a bit jaded. Still, it's nice that people are still interested."
You're hardly surprised that they are?
"Well, I don't know really," he muses. "It seems really different with this record somehow. I don't know why that is but I kinda felt really anxious about it recently. Just wanting the record to be out, I suppose. You know, just to be able to go 'here's the record, man. Like, just listen to it and if you like it then great. If you don't then go buy something else!' At the moment it's like we've been doing loads of interviews and TV stuff and everything before the single was even out, you know what I mean? And it's been really hard to do that without people having heard the record. Have you heard it?"
"Did you like it?"
I nod again.
"Good. I don't know about anyone else but it takes me a long while to really get into an album," he continues. "For instance, I really liked the Smashing Pumpkins' last album. And I bought it when it first came out and didn't really understand it, so I kinda put it down. And it was months and months later that I started hearing a few tracks off it and stuff. Now I really think it's a fine album."
Ultra, Depeche Mode's ninth studio effort and their first release in almost four years, is also a fine album. Just as well really, for more than any of their other records, this particular one proved horrendously difficult to make. How difficult? Well, recording initially began in London in the winter of 1995. Between those first sessions in the English capital and its eventual completion last December, band, entourage and equipment had to be moved several times first to New York in the spring of '96 where they managed to fully complete only one song (the spooky 'Sister Of Night' ) in a six week period. From there the production team moved on to Los Angeles, where they somehow managed to lay down some more vocals despite Gahan's frequent absences and work-unfriendly drug binges. Another change of scene was obviously called for but brief sessions in Madrid and Hamburg produced nothing they could use. And so it was back to L.A. once again, where work was scheduled around the singer's various hospital stays, rehab sessions and court appearances. Eventually, they came full circle and returned to London where the album was completed just four months ago.
As you've probably guessed, things were not at all well in the Depeche Mode camp during this period. In fact, things hadn't been well within the band for a long time. Residual strain from touring the previous album and various personal problems were affecting everybody in different ways. Songwriter Martin Gore was suffering from seizures consistent with total physical exhaustion, while keyboard player Andy Fletcher collapsed under the pressure and had a complete nervous breakdown. Not one to be outdone by his bandmates in the personal problem stakes, Gahan variously overdosed, began divorce proceedings for the second time, tried to kill himself, got arrested and, ultimately, died (only for a couple of minutes mind, but we'll get to that a little later) before finally giving rehab a stab and getting his act together. Whew! Talk about hard living. . .
Fortunately, as Ultra's title would suggest, it features the work of a cleaner and slimmed down version of a band whose fans and critics alike had feared were finished for good. Cleaner in that Gahan has finally kicked his smack addiction and has been straight for a full eight months now. And slimmed down in that Alan Wilder, the keyboardist who replaced Vince Clarke in 1982 as the band's main musical navigator, has now departed, leaving Mode to fend for themselves as a three piece.
"Yeah, Alan's gone," says Gahan. "I think he pretty much decided during the making of Songs Of Faith And Devotion that it was gonna be the last record he was gonna make with us. He found it very difficult to put in so much work and I think he felt that he wasn't getting the pat on the back, if you like, that he should have. It was his decision. But the tour took its toll on all of us, you know. We were on the road for the best part of a couple of years with that album and by the end of it we were all completely burnt. And Alan made his decision pretty soon after that so I think it was probably a long time coming. He was pretty unhappy in the band. I think he's doing pretty good now though. He's living with his girlfriend and he has a baby and stuff like that. I hope he's happy doing what he's doing, but I haven't actually spoken to him for a long time now."
Although Gahan seems somewhat complacent about the keyboardist's departure now, it was still a pretty serious loss to the band at the time. Alan Wilder was always the most musically ambitious and innovative member of Depeche Mode. In the past, while the rest of the band were getting high, experimenting with transvestism and having nervous breakdowns, he was the only one keeping busy with solo projects (releasing two albums under the name Recoil) and constantly exploring new musical avenues for the group. It was mostly under his supervision that Mode managed to make their timely transition from lightweight synth pop merchants to techno rock gods in the early 1990s, adding guitars and attitude to a fey formula that had become rather dated. And while Ultra's eleven tracks do manage to maintain the standard set by Violator (their Achtung Baby, for want of a better reference), the remaining band members almost certainly couldn't have done it on their own. Having decided not to replace Wilder in the line-up they instead went looking for a highly versatile producer who could at least temporarily take on his multiple roles within the band chiefly as main programmer, engineer and keyboardist. They chose Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass.
"There were loads of names being thrown at us but in the end we picked him because Martin and I really liked the Gavin Friday album that he did," Gahan explains. "Shag Tobacco's an absolutely brilliant album, we really loved the sounds he produced with that. And also Tim's a big Depeche Mode fan. He had remixed some of our stuff in the past so it was like a fan's perspective on what we were doing. That was what was really different about it. You know, instead of working with somebody who s just gonna follow your orders all the time, Tim came in with his own crew of musicians and stuff and really wanted to bring out the best in the songs and the best in what we do. Now I'm not saying that people like Flood or anyone like that didn't do that for us in the past they did! but working with Tim was just a different kind of thing."
How would you describe the finished product? What are Ultra s themes?
"Well it wasn't something that we set out to do at the beginning but it definitely has a kind of destiny theme running through it, he says, examining the chipped black varnish on his fingernails. I think that destiny is pretty much plotted out for you anyway and during your life you might fall off the track a couple of times but generally you come back on board if you can. You know, sometimes it's just nicer to stay within the moment, within the day. Like, yesterday's gone and who knows about fucking tomorrow, kind of thing. I think one of the most difficult things about life is trying to just enjoy the moment that you have. And that kinda runs through the album, lyrically and stuff."
Although Gahan is the voice of Depeche Mode, he isn't the lyricist. Since Vince Clarke's departure fifteen years ago, Martin Gore has written almost all of their songs. Most of his output has centred around themes of relationships, politics and religion, darkly ambivalent tracks that usually feature strong undertones of violent domination and sado-masochist imagery (in fact, he recently boasted that he has used the word knees more often than any other songwriter). Unsurprisingly, the lyrics on Ultra, although slightly less ambiguous than usual, still don't stray too far from those concerns. However, lines like "A vicious appetite visits me every night/ And won't be satisfied, won't be denied" from the album's opening track, Barrel Of A Gun, sound like they're about Gahan's heroin addiction. So does Gore write the songs from Gahan's perspective?
"No," the singer declares firmly."He doesn't really write songs for a third part of the band kinda thing. He writes the songs for himself but we've lived so closely together over the years that I think he finds it impossible not to take on the same sort of emotions and feelings. The stuff that we go through is pretty similar in lots of ways. I think as well that there's some sort of weird connection between myself and Martin that's become more apparent over the last three or four albums. He seems to write the way I'm feeling a lot of the time. It's kinda spooky really. Like that particular song is very much about a certain kind of lifestyle, choosing to go off the path, if you like. Trying to go through the prickly bushes for a while, you know. You're gonna come out hurt, if you're lucky enough to come out at all. And, in many ways, that could have been written about any of us really.
"But going back to Ultra, I think it's very much like a greatest hits of Depeche Mode in terms of all the different kinda styles and different things we've been through over the years. And I think that Tim Simenon brought a whole soulful element to us that we hadn't really had before. In particular, he really helped me to bring out the best in my voice. I worked with a vocal coach in Los Angeles for this album, which I'd never done before and it was great. I recorded some vocals there with just Tim and the vocal coach. It was something I was reluctant to do in the first place but I actually found that it was great to do. I really got to know the songs inside out before I went in to record them and that kind of boosted my confidence enormously."
Given the circumstances in which it was made, it's unsurprising that Gahan isn't overly concerned about Ultra's sales. He's just happy that they've managed to actually complete it.
"I don't have any expectations really," he shrugs. "Even at the very beginning of Depeche Mode I didn't have any expectations. We've pretty much gone from album to album like that and it's really just been a lot of luck involved in the fact that, if it was on a scale, we've gradually sold more and more records and played to more and more people. I think it's really nice that it's gone that way. But I didn't get into a band to be rich or famous. I got into a band because I looked at Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Joe Strummer and people like that and I thought I could fucking do that! You know, get to stand up on a stage and stamp my feet for a couple of hours and get applauded for it. I think we'd all like to do that in our lives and I feel really grateful that I have been able to do it. And I'm really happy that we recorded this particular album together. I think a lot of people might have written us off after the last tour and all the shit that's happened since. I think we should be proud of ourselves, you know. But at the same time I think that there's gonna come a point where I've gotta put it all down if I really wanna spiritually move on. You know, if I wanna find out more about myself."
Talking about quitting the music business isn't a new item on Gahan's conversational agenda. As far back as nine years ago, he was hinting at the same thing. In D.A. Pennebaker's 1988 Depeche Mode concert film 101, a youthful Gahan is seen pacing the dressing room of the Pasadena Rose Bowl in his underwear, explaining to a roadie why he was happier when he was stacking shelves in a Basildon supermarket than he was with having to endure the pressures of playing to tens of thousands of people on a nightly basis.
"I remember that," he admits with a cringe. "I think when I said that... I think it always seems better on the other side, you know what I mean. And perhaps it would seem very ungrateful of me to have said that. I'm anything but ungrateful! I'm very grateful for the position I'm in. It's just... It's more like my personal life was affected by."
Deep breaths Dave, deep breaths.
Suddenly he can't get the words out fast enough: "I have a real problem with doing two things at once, you know. I m classically ADD Attention Deficit Disorder. That's actually gonna be the name of my sideline band. But I have a real problem with that and it affected my personal life a lot. And I think that thing in the film was just a case of me whinging about what I was doing. You know, I wouldn't change anything really because it's gone now and there's nothing I can do about it anyway. But I have to be really careful nowadays that I don't fall back into old traps and think that it's better on the other side."
Why? What's on the other side?
"For me, the other side is being a screaming heroin addict," he answers in a whisper, "and that's no way to live. That's the way to die, man. You know, at the height of it I couldn't function at all anymore. It wasn't like I still had the band or anything. I didn't care anyway. I couldn't really do anything. The only thing I was into was shooting dope."
Long before he became a screaming heroin addict, Dave Gahan was a whispering one. He first chased the dragon at the age of 17 in his hometown of Basildon, in Essex. He liked the dreamy buzz that smack gave him but, at the time, heroin wasn't a drug that suited either his lifestyle or his wage-packet, so he simply noted the experience for future reference. Not that he was any stranger to narcotics generally, mind. From an early age, he'd always been into having a good time, be it with drink, drugs, girls or whatever else was going. A born party animal, through and through. An addict waiting to happen.
His case history would make a convincing argument for advocates of the gateway theory. At 12 he was stealing his epileptic mother s phenobarbitones and washing them down with cider in the local park. By the time he hit his early teens, hash and grass were a staple part of his nocturnal diet. When he became old enough to go out to gigs, he took another step up the ladder and was soon off snorting copious amounts of amphetamines and dancing his weekends away, following bands like The Clash and The Damned around the country. And when he first became involved in music in the early eighties, cocaine was the popular drug of choice for many fashionable young New Romantics. Naturally, he over-indulged on a regular basis. Why not? He was a pop star after all!
As Depeche Mode's career gradually snowballed, Gahan and his cohorts became quite proud of their hedonistic reputation, often boasting about their exploits in the music press. "Personally speaking, I think we're quite decadent," Martin Gore told the NME in 1985. "When we're on tour we tend to go out every night, have a lot to drink and generally have a good time. I know it's expected of most rock bands but going out is enjoyable, drinking is enjoyable, collapsing is enjoyable."
Alcohol was the band's main drug of choice but if something else came along (and something usually did), Dave would always be the first to try it. He used heroin irregularly towards the end of the decade, even injecting it a few times, but it was never really a problem. Or so he thought anyway. Then came Violator and everything changed forever.
Naturally enough, the first thing to change was the music. Depeche Mode had become famous as a rather eccentric English pop group but after 10 highly successful years of touring and recording, their once unique style had been imitated so often it was no longer recognised as their own. Everybody was using synthesisers, everybody was making the same sounds. The band had lost their edge. They needed to do something new, to innovate once again and leave their imitators standing in their tracks. What they did in the end was so obvious it was surprising nobody else had already tried it. They simply added guitars to the mix and turned the volume up to '11'. They reinvented themselves and became a rock band. A rock band with synthesisers.
Violator was the heaviest album the band had ever made and when the time came to tour it, Gahan decided to tailor his image to suit the sound. If Mode were gonna be a full-on rock band, then he was gonna be a full-on rock star, no matter how selfish he had to be to become one. "I just thought there were no real fucking rock stars any more," he says. "So I decided to become one. I decided to push it all the way." And that he most certainly did. All the way to the edge (and then some).
The metamorphosis from Basildon boy to long-haired, global rock god didn't take long. He grew a beard and began wearing black leathers and shades. Like his own father before him, he walked out on his wife and four-year-old son and moved to Los Angeles. He began an affair with the band's American publicist, Theresa Conway (whom he would eventually marry in 1992), appearing at all the most decadent parties with her in tow. It was Theresa who introduced him to bands like Jane's Addiction. She also reintroduced him to smack. Soon he was mainlining heroin on a daily basis. Eventually he had all the trappings of a real rock star the look, the chick, the independence, the Hollywood home and the habit. His downward spiral had begun.
When did smack stop being fun for you, Dave?
"Smack was fun for a while, like any drug you pick up, you know," he says through a cloud of blue smoke. "But my problem was I couldn't get enough of it and the fun soon died out. I had a couple of years where I really enjoyed it but eventually found that I was just left chasing that first high, which is never gonna come back of course. So for the last couple of years it was just pure maintenance."
By the time the band released Songs Of Faith And Devotion in 1993, Gahan had been a junkie for almost four years. When the time came to hit the road and push the record, he made sure he had everything a serious smackhead would need to survive a major world tour a team of doctors , a new tattoo for luck and a like-minded support band. "Yeah, Primal Scream toured with us", he grins. "Like, I knew what I was doing, it was all conscious stuff. I picked the Scream because I'd heard that they liked to party. And I really liked their record and it sounded like it'd be a good time, like we'd be a good combination. And we did have a good time, it was a lot of fun. And I was able to function, whatever that was, and do whatever I had to do to get through the shows."
The Devotional tour lasted 14 months and 180 shows and, over that period, Gahan partied like he'd never partied before. His activities were putting a serious strain on band relationships but he was blinded by the needle and didn't let it bother him, even when things reached the stage where his bandmates were refusing to travel in the same car with him.
All good things must come to an end however and when the narcotically chaotic tour finally drew to a close in the Autumn of 1994, the singer suddenly found himself in serious shit."Once the gigs were over and that was taken away from me and all the people around me had gone, all I was left with was the drugs," he says ruefully. He and Theresa spent a few months living in London directly after the tour, where his habit gradually worsened. By the time he returned to his home in LA there was no stopping him.
I ask him to describe a typical day at the height of his addiction.
"Well, it would begin around getting some heroin", he explains. "And then getting some more. And a bit more after that. And that was all it was about really. There was nothing else."
How much smack were you using?
"Em, pretty much breakfast, dinner and tea, you know. It very quickly got to the stage where I was constantly overdosing, blacking out, waking up in strange places days after I'd started on a binge. You know, days later I'd wake up on someone's lawn or naked in a strange hotel or in someone's bedroom. It became pretty fucking obvious to me that it just wasn't working anymore. It hadn't been working for a couple of years. And I knew as well that it was going to kill me. I was at that stage. I ve been described since then since I've been into various detoxes as the hopeless hope-to-die junkie . And that pretty much sums it up, that's where I was at."
Without a gig to play every night he had no real reason to even try to stay straight(ish) and his life quickly became a living nightmare. Like the song said, he just couldn't get enough. When he finally made the long overdue decision to go into rehab, Theresa told him that just because he was going to try to kick his habit, it wasn't going to stop her using. Their relationship was deteriorating as rapidly as his health. "When I first tried to get clean a few years ago, she told me flatly that she wasn't going to stop doing what she was doing just because I had to," he says bitterly. "And it was pretty much over between us after that."
When she eventually moved out of their marital home, Gahan went on a serious binge at his favourite haunt the Sunset Marquis Hotel in downtown L.A. After a few weeks of shooting up his sorrows, he decided to get clean and went into detox at the Los Angeles Exodus Clinic, the same clinic that Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon had attended (though seeing as both have since passed away, I doubt the place advertises the fact). A few days later he checked out again and went on another binge. He would follow this same sad pattern for some months serious heroin use either at home or in the hotel for a few weeks, then into detox for rehabilitation, then straight back to the needle again. With all of this fear and self-loathing, something had to give. On August 17th, 1995, something finally did.
Gahan was returning home after yet another stay in the clinic. Upon his arrival he discovered that his house had been burgled and everything including his two Harley Davidsons, televisions, stereos, recording studio and so on had been taken. Even his cutlery had been stolen. Seeing as the burglars had reset the alarm code on their way out, Gahan knew it had to have been an inside job. One of his so-called friends had ripped him off. Devastated, he returned to the Sunset Marquis, shot up a fix, called his mother to say goodbye and then slashed both of his wrists. Luckily a friend called by and called the paramedics before he had lost too much blood. It was a cry for help, he says now. The suicide attempt made headline news around the globe, the first hint anyone outside of his immediate circle of friends and acquaintances had, that something was seriously rotten in Daveworld.
Upon his release from hospital things went from bad to worse. Seriously depressed, Gahan began doing more and more drugs. He began injecting cocaine as well as heroin just to feel normal and, as the months went by, started becoming increasingly paranoid. When he was holding, he used to lock himself into a tiny closet in his mansion for hours on end: "I called it my Blue Room. I spent a lot of time in there. I couldn't find a room small enough to be in, you know." At one point, he spent a full three weeks locked in his closet, impossibly fucked up and with just a needle and a bag of smack for company.
He rarely left his house or hotel room and, if he did, he always carried a gun in his belt, convinced that they were out to get him. "In some ways it was much harder for me to hit rock bottom because I'd an endless supply of fucking money," he says. "Like, the dealers would come to me. It wasn't until the last year that most of my dealers began to cut me off. I'd been publicly getting into a lot of trouble with drugs so they didn't really want me around anymore."
He still needed his fix though and when the smack stopped coming to him, he began going to the smack.
"I was having to go to places like downtown or gangtown and into shooting galleries and places like that," he recalls.
"Fuck yeah!" he laughs. "I've had a few guns pointed at my head and shit like that. But I mean, you walk into a crackhouse and what do you expect, you know? Everybody's fucked out of their heads and they've all got .38 s down the back of their pants."
Have you done crack?
"Shit, I've done everything, man," he smiles. "I've smoked crack. I didn't really like it though, it wasn't my scene. Thank God! Smack was my drug of choice by far. I'd take and use anything, it didn't really matter. But definitely, if there was a choice, I d use heroin."
And use heroin he did! Pharmacy loads went into his veins in the last few months of his addiction. When you chase the dragon that often however, you're eventually going to catch up with it. Dave Gahan finally ran out of luck on May 28th last year. He had just returned to L.A. after recording the vocals for Sister Of Night in New York (the only Ultra vocal he managed to complete in a six-week session) and, having checked back into the Sunset Marquis, he immediately called his dealer. An hour later he eagerly shot up a speedball containing half a gram of cocaine blended with a particularly virulent brand of heroin called Red Rum. It killed him stone dead.
He shudders visibly when talking about the incident today.
"The last thing I remember was looking into the eyes of the guy who shot the dope into me," he recalls. "I knew he d put too much coke into the rig. And then apparently I had a heart attack and went blue and all that stuff."
You were actually dead, weren't you?
"Well, apparently I was, yeah," he admits. "According to the paramedics they didn't have a heartbeat for a couple of minutes, so I was officially dead I guess. But even that didn't stop me, that was the insanity of it. I got arrested for possession of heroin when I came out of hospital and they put me in jail for a couple of days. And as soon as I got out of jail I went back to my old tricks. That's when I finally realised I had to stop. After a couple of days I found myself just sitting there you know, the .38 at my side, the dope in one hand and the spoon in the other and it was like, 'What the fuck am I doing here? This isn't going anywhere. I'm just gonna die, man'. I really didn't give a shit about myself anymore. I was tired of being tired, you know."
What do you think drove you to that level of abuse?
"Well, it was all my own doing, nobody made me put a needle in my arm, you know," he sighs."It was mostly to do with the fact that my self-worth was practically nil. I despised myself and heroin was the only thing making me feel good for a long, long time."
Dave Gahan's horror story finally began to come to an end when the LA police announced that they had decided to press charges after the speedball incident. In order to satisfy the courts that he was seriously intent on kicking his addiction and thus avoid a jail term, Gahan had to check into rehab yet again. He went back to the Exodus Clinic in June and this time he stayed there. He's been clean ever since.
"There is a positive side, you know," he tells me with a tremble of born-again earnestness in his voice. "You can reach out for help or you can choose to die. Because you will die in the end. I've been clean for eight months now and I've been attending these rehab meetings in LA and I haven t heard one story yet of anybody who s gone out and relapsed and actually had a good time. The truth of it is, if I thought heroin was working for me, I'd still be doing it now. And it just wasn't."
Do you do anything at all now? Would you have a beer or smoke a spliff?
"No, I can't do anything," he insists. "It's just not enough. I tasted the Devil and it burnt me, you know. Now I feel that God's back on my side. And I don't want to lose that feeling again. I've kind of got a naivety back again. That's what I meant about the album earlier. All the anticipation has me feeling very childlike, which is nice. I haven't felt that way in quite a while."
One thing that has helped him stay on the straight and narrow is the fact that, for the last eight months, Gahan has had to give urine samples to the authorities on a twice weekly basis. If they find any traces of an illegal substance then he faces a mandatory two year jail term.
"Yeah, I've gotta go back to court soon," he explains. "Basically what's happening is I'm currently living in a sober live-in place in Los Angeles with a lot of other recovering addicts. And you go about your daily life but you have to attend a certain amount of meetings and you get urine tested a couple of times a week. All those reports go back to the judge. I got a two-year suspended sentence so I'm sort of on parole basically. If they choose, the charges could be dropped and I'm free. But they might choose to continue. And I have to look at that...
"But, you know, what all of this has bought me is time. I didn't have a choice. I was gonna be put in jail for two years unless I done what the judge told me to do. So it s given me these last eight months. Staying clean is all about time. It's not gonna happen overnight. You're not gonna feel brilliant within a few months. You've gotta give it time."
Is that why you've decided not to tour with Ultra?
"Yeah," he laughs. "I think it would be just too much of a temptation to go on the road at the moment. And that goes for all of us. You know, we all kinda suffered at the end of the last tour, it wasn't just me. In fact, all the focus has been on me but all of us were spiritually and mentally fucked after it. Our private lives were in tatters and it takes time to heal all that kinda stuff. It's not really healed yet so it seems kind of crazy to just go out and repeat the same actions and expect a different result. And I don't feel strong enough yet to be able to do that, to be that vulnerable on the road. I love doing the gigs and I know I'm going to miss it but, for the rest of the year, it's probably best that we put it on hold."
For the immediate future, Dave Gahan, ex-junkie and thirtysomething rock star, is planning on taking his life one day at a time.
"I've got a big problem thinking about tomorrow to be quite honest," he says. "The most important thing that matters to me today is that I'm clean today. And if I haven't got that, I haven t got anything. You know, I ve been divorced twice. I have a son who s nine years old who I really want to have a relationship with. And we're forging that now. I've spent some time with him since all that stuff happened and it's been really fantastic.
"At the moment I feel really good. It's a daily thing. I have to do certain things during the day to make sure I don't forget what I am and that's an addict. I always will be an addict. And that's something I have to choose to accept. It's like the first step in the programme, choosing to admit that I am powerless over drugs and alcohol. I just can't do that shit anymore.
"Anyway, let's face it," he says, hiding a sly grin behind yet another cigarette, "if God handed out heroin then I've had more than my fair share. I just used it all up too quick!"