Soulsavers featuring Dave Gahan
The Light The Dead See
V2 (Europe) | Mute (US)
22th May 2012
CD, vinyl+CD & digital
In The Morning
Presence Of God
Gone Too Far
Point Sur Pt. 1
Take Me Back Home
I Can’t Stay
“THERE was no real script,” says the laconic Rich Machin of SOULSAVERS’ extraordinary fourth album THE LIGHT THE DEAD SEE, a set of songs of majesty and momentum. “It just rolled and rolled; it was effortless.” Yet the writing was on the wall from the moment Dave Gahan stepped in to tackle vocal duties that this was going to be something very special. “We realised we were coming from the same place in so many ways,” adds Machin. “He’s really laid himself bare on this record, his performances are astonishing: he really is a terrific singer.” Says Gahan, “Everything about it was relatively unplanned, surprising: a magical thing. We were a perfect match and I’m very, very excited about this record.”
Soulsavers – the music and production team of Rich Machin and Ian Glover – have been a growing force since 2003’s debut Tough Guys Don’t Dance. 2007’s It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land brought their dark flair to a wider audience. The inimitable Mark Lanegan served as primary singer, though there were also vocal contributions from Will Oldham and Jimi Goodwin. Tracks such as “Revival” and “Kingdoms Of Rain” revealed a broodier outlook, with a slow-burning, gospel tinge. In 2009, third album Broken confirmed that Soulsavers were moving away from early electronica to earthier guitars, use of space and what Machin described as “a soulful twist”. Lanegan again led the vocals on stand-outs such as “You Will Miss Me When I Burn” and “All The Way Down”, with other guest vocalists including Oldham again, Jason Pierce, Richard Hawley, Mike Patton and Gibby Haynes. Clearly there was no shortage of acclaimed singers ready to lend their lungs to Soulsavers’ stirring, seductive, soothing or startling creations.
Soulsavers, venturing out from the studio to the road, were invited to support Depeche Mode on the European leg of their vast and eventful 2009-10 Tour Of The Universe, during which tour Dave Gahan bounced back from more than his fair share of illness and injury. Here, the seeds of The Light The Dead See were sewn. “We got to know each other,” says Machin. “I really warmed to him, thought he was a particularly nice guy. Dave said he was a fan of our previous albums, and watched us almost every night, and, as you do, we said: Hey, we should work on something, at some point in time…”
“The tour together was great,” recalls Gahan enthusiastically. “I love Soulsavers and I’ve also been a Lanegan junkie for years. Rich mentioned doing some writing, and I told him to send over any pieces he liked, however minimal. About eighteen months ago he sent the first. I was taking a break, with my band having finished the long tour. So I said: let me sit with this, see what happens. And it was right up my street. What Rich does – big grinding bluesy organs, gospel choirs – somehow that touches something in me. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s all those years of being forced to go to Sunday School! He sent me more and just left it open, stuff I could get into, no pressure; perfectly atmospheric pieces that inspired me. Three songs in, I was hooked – keep ‘em coming! It was an experiment, and both of us weren’t sure what would happen, but now I’m so pleased with this, over the moon with it.”
With Gahan penning lyrics for the music and recording his own vocals in New York, then Machin building up the results into fully-formed and arranged epics, the international project was a case of “chemistry working”. “Nothing he did, did I need to alter,” says Rich. “Everything he did just felt right. We both took an opportunity to step away from electronica – which we both love – and do something warmer, to go for full-takes, to not Pro-Tools the life out of it. There’s a human element. It doesn’t need to be “perfect”; it needs to just feel really good, to have room to breathe. We both enjoyed just going where the moods took us.”
Although creatively the pair gelled instantly and consistently – “Hearing the album, I’m almost going: how did that happen? I’ve surprised myself!” laughs Gahan – the “human element” did throw up a couple of testing obstacles. Gahan was recovering from well-documented illness when the project began. “I’m very good now,” he says. “I still have my hospital visits now and again, but fingers crossed I’m in good health.” Then, just as the pair got settled into a rhythm, Machin acquired a “horrendous” ear/hearing problem. “I woke up in the middle of the night in agony; it was like someone was drilling into my ear.” He lost his hearing in one ear for around nine months, and is still learning to manage tinnitus. It’s not music-related either. “Ironically,” he says, “they told me my hearing in my bad ear is better than in my good ear. It was stressful. I thought: am I done? Is that it? You do begin to wonder. I put everything on hold for a while, then decided I’d better stop feeling sorry for myself and just get on with it, at least when I had good days. When it began to clear up, I was half-expecting we’d have to re-do everything, but it sounded great, so we pushed on. The train hadn’t come off the tracks.”
“At one point,” says Dave, “we both realised: oh, we’re making a whole album here!” Both were keen that it played with a “clearly defined” Side One and Side Two, and didn’t “overwhelm” the listener with excessive length. “There’s no filler,” says Rich. “We wanted it intense, not drifting like so many albums do.” “It’s a real album-lover’s album,” concurs Dave. “I was listening to Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” a lot, always one of my favourites. It still gives me goose-bumps on my arm. And I wanted to achieve that kind of level: I’d think: is this moving me? If it’s moving me, I’m pretty sure it’s going to move other people.” As you can hear in the surges of “Presence Of God”, the epic scale of “Gone Too Far”, the yearning of “Take Me Back Home” or “I Can’t Stay” or the snag and snarl of “Bitter Man”, it will.
Gahan’s lyrics and melodies came to him with spontaneity and passion. “About five songs in, I realised I was writing outside myself. I was having a go at myself, to be honest: my questions around faith, and God, or the lack thereof at any given moment. Sometimes I’m full of faith, but there are always questions. And I struggle with letting go of control of what’s going on around me. This album became very therapeutic. No restrictions. Coming out of getting sick myself, I found I HAD to get this stuff out of me. This music gave me the perfect palate to play with the BIG questions that we all ask when life becomes less about what can we GET, than: what can we DO? I’ve been very fortunate, and I’m privileged in my life, so I want to do things I feel really connected to now, otherwise there’s no point. Rich and I had both come out of something difficult. This is something to do with that. It was a wonderful experience.”
“People don’t make these grander-sounding records any more because of budget,” remarks Rich. “We did this on a shoestring, relatively, but I didn’t want to cut corners, so there was some begging, stealing and borrowing. We did the strings in Sunset Sound in the room where the Beach Boys did “Pet Sounds” and Led Zeppelin did some of their best-known tracks, and I love that side of things, thinking to myself: Brian Wilson sat right there. I can never quite get my head round how I ended up here, but for someone with a love of music history, it’s pretty great. So many bands are happy to make the same album three times, but I need Soulsavers to keep changing to keep me excited. The first person I played this to was Mark Lanegan, a good friend, who I trust to give me honest feedback. He doesn’t do bullshit. And he loved it. He sings a subtle cameo on “In The Morning”, and that helps the passing on of the torch…”
Says Dave Gahan, “Rich is Soulsavers, and Mark’s been part of that up to this point, and may well be again in the future, but it’s now an open door. I think this is the beginning of a very interesting friendship! Depeche Mode will get busy again soon, but I’d love for Rich and I to work together again. Look, I’ve been in a successful band for years and people have their impressions, things they like or don’t like, which is fair enough, but I don’t want that to overshadow the importance of this record. It’s a Soulsavers record, and I’m lucky just to be a part of it.”
“Soulsavers comes in waves and curves and changes,” adds Rich Machin. “It’s all about freedom, but on a record I want it to lock into a unifying feel.” With regard to the other musicians, there was a “cleaning house”: in Rich’s words, it was “time for some new blood”. Crucial to the sound were bassist Martyne LeNoble (Porno For Pyros founder member who’d played on “Broken” and on Gahan’s “Live Monsters”), drummer Kev Bales (Spiritualized, and “hands down my favourite drummer”, says Machin), guitarist Tony Foster (Spiritualized & Julian Cope) and organist/keyboardist Sean Read. “It’s an ever-rotating world of friends, which makes the whole thing more enjoyable.” Strings were arranged by Italian composer Daniele Luppi (“Broken”, Danger Mouse, David Lynch), who’s worked on many films, sharing Rich’s love of giants like Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai. (although, Rich adds that the two soundtracks he’s been most into lately are the Chet Baker documentary “Let’s Get Lost” and Neil Young’s “Dead Man”).
The title “The Light The Dead See” comes from a deeply affecting work by the cult American poet Frank Stanford (1948-1978). “He was exceptional: I’m a big fan, and it fits the mood totally,” says Rich, (who’s previously acknowledged his admiration of Charles Bukowski, John Fante and William Faulkner’s Southern Gothic tales). “Yes,” says Dave, “You can walk around this planet with the blinders on, and sometimes it takes big things happening to you to shift you to a different consciousness. Let’s say I’ve had opportunities to turn this around; I’m blessed. I was out there on the edge awhile, and I saw the possibilities of what could be…things like addiction, which is just a sad old journey. But to be able to turn things around, there’s a redemption about that. So if you ask me what this album’s about, I’d say two things. One, exactly that: what IS it all about? And two: redemption.”
“Take Me Back Home”