|Soulsavers' Dave Gahan and Rich Machin|
Soulsavers are an English production duo who make dark, Cinerama-sized orchestral pop upon which singers such as Mark Lanegan have leant vocal and lyric duty, creating a sort of makeshift band for a made-up modern film noir. Their latest release, The Light the Dead See, features Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode fame, leading to their highest-profile release yet. On songs like the slowly growing epic of “The Longest Day” and gospel-tinged “Take Me Back Home,” Gahan’s deep drawl and lyrics, which filter love and eroticism through a religious lens (or vice versa), find a perfect fit in Rich Machin and Ian Glover’s deft hands. I spoke with Machin a bit over email as he and Gahan filmed a “What’s in My Bag?” section for Amoeba Hollywood, as you can now stream to your heart’s delight below.
Rich Machin and Dave Gahan - What's In My Bag? at Amoeba Hollywood
PST: How did this full-album collaboration with Dave Gahan come about? Did you give him ideas about themes or lyrics you’d like to see, or just present him the music to write to, or some other collaborative process?
Machin: The seeds were sown in 2009 when we went on the road with Depeche Mode in Europe for a few months. I got to know Dave and I figured it would be a collaboration that would work, we shared pretty similar tastes in music and he’s a great singer. When it came to making the record, I gave him no guidance at all as to what I was looking for. Just the music and let him live with it for a while, that’s always the best way to get truly unforced results from someone. All the lyrics and themes were from a place that he felt the music took him to.
PST: What do you think Dave Gahan brought to the project?
Machin: Dave came in and gave 100 percent to the creative process of this record, and as we just said, the lyrics and themes were all his. It was those that really shaped the feel of the record, he bounced ideas off me, but I just let him get on with it at his own pace. Those initial ideas and parts that he had shaped the way the whole record came together. So it’s pretty fair to say he brought a lot to this project.
Any time someone new comes in, they bring a new perspective, be that a singer, drummer or engineer. It’s one of the reasons I try to embrace having a turnover of people on each record. It’s quite a unique thing for us to be able to do that. It keeps everything fresh and exciting, and you’re always learning and improving what you do as there is always someone bringing something new to the table.
PST: Why did you decide to do a full album with the same singer, after previously having multiple singers on your albums?
Machin: Well, that is what we’ve always done really. If you listen to the last two records, they really are just Mark Lanegan on vocals. The other people really are friends who just feature on non-intrusive backing vocals on the whole. But, I guess it’s just lazy marketing from our old record label. They don’t explain that, they just send out a PR with a long list of singers on it ...
I’m not a fan of those “electronic” records that have a different singer on each track. As a rule there can sometimes be the odd good song, but I can’t think of a good cohesive album that was done like that. The vocalists need more of an investment in the creative process that comes from more than one or two evenings in the studio.
PST: It sounds to me like the soundtrack for some imagined film. With the soundtrack work you guys have done, are visuals, either real or imagined, part of what goes into the music you make?
Machin: Very much so. I find film just as influential as music on our work. For example the song “Take” on this record, the music for that was inspired from watching Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. I was looking for an idea that I could have heard being used in that movie, and that’s a common way of starting a piece of music for us. It’s pretty hard to watch something by people like Paul Thomas Anderson, David Lynch or the Coen Brothers and not start having ideas rolling around your head of things that would work in certain scenes, and they can often be the basis of some of our music. The score to films have always been something I’ve been drawn to. Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, Augusto Martelli, Bernard Herrmann, they have all been as big an influence on the sound of this band as the bands I love.
I’m very lucky in that on my last two records, I have gotten to work with Daniele Luppi, who has really been able to take some of these ideas and realize them in the context of what were trying to do. I’ve learnt so much from him these last few years. Doing more film work is something that I want to really focus on at this point. It’s such a big part in what we do and our sound.
PST: The video for “Take Me Back Home” is really striking, sort of simple yet abstract and elicits feelings of nostalgia. Can you talk about that video and its concept?
Machin: Erm, not really to be honest!
That video was really their interpretation of the song. I didn’t have any real input into it. I’m quite controlling of all aspects of things usually, but I had just had my first child the week before they shot it. Normally I try to attend those shoots and get quite involved, but I had to step off on this and let them get on with it. That was a good exercise in itself.
I really enjoy going through all the fan videos on YouTube, where people come up with their own film inspired by your music and seeing how they interpret the music into visuals. There are so many ones up there for us that it blows your mind at times that so many people would go to so much time and effort to make art inspired by yours. Some of them are amazing, too. It’s a huge compliment.
A pretty erotic fan video for Soulsavers' "Tonight"
PST: Have you seen Depeche Mode fans embrace Soulsavers, as they can be pretty die-hard?
Machin: I guess so, I can only speak for my friends who are Depeche Mode fans though really. I don’t venture too far out into the Internet to gauge general opinion. You read the main reviews; artists who say they don’t read their own reviews make me laugh. It’s bullshit, everyone does. The people that say they don’t are usually the ones who probably care the most about them in actual fact.
But as far as fan forums etc., I tend not to venture into that world. But the reaction I’ve had has been good. The three Depeche Mode records that I really like are Violator, Songs of Faith and Devotion and Ultra. To me, although this record has no programming on it, it still sits with the darker feel of those records, and I would imagine if you liked that period of DM, you’d be into it. I’m sure they are some out there that really don’t like it, but I’d say that’s always going to be a given with any record.
PST: There’s a highly spiritual quality to the music on The Light the Dead See, both thematically and sound-wise, also aided by the name of the band. Do you take spirituality and/or spiritual music as a point of influence, or is that something that just happens when Gahan’s lyrics come into play with the music’s grandiosity?
Machin: I guess a number of the artists that I love, who I would also class as an influence, have that quality to their work: Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Mark Lanegan, Nina Simone, Ray Charles. I also love old gospel music. Things like the Goodbye, Babylon box-set, through to early Staple Singers circa Vee-Jay. So I think that kind of thing is pretty deeply ingrained in what we do.
PST: Any chance we will see future Soulsavers performances with Gahan?
Machin: Ha, hopefully. We played a tiny little show just up the road from Amoeba in Hollywood at Capitol Studios a few weeks ago. We filmed that and are just finishing up the editing on a little concert movie we want to put out in some way. It was pretty rough and ready, we rehearsed for one evening and one afternoon, then just went in and did it. Doing it that way had a vibe, and we rode it and had some fun. Hopefully we’ll get that out really soon. Then, hopefully, we’ll try to do a couple of things on the East Coast and in Europe very early in the new year.
I think in hindsight, we both agree that we dropped the ball on the live front with this record. The loose nature we had when we made the record with no real plan or schedule really was a positive at that point in time as we had no pressures to cloud what we were doing. But then when we were done, there really wasn’t enough time to get a proper plan together before we both had pretty full diary commitments catch up with us. These things happen, it’s just one of them things.
I think we're all very happy with the record we made and it’s possible that there could be more to come at some point in the future. I also think with a second album's worth of material, it would make going out on the road and having enough material to put on a A1show every night much more worthwhile. But the reality is were both just about to get busy on other projects amd even with the best of intentions from both sides, lining up diaries to reconvene is easier said than done sometimes. Maybe that was the moment right there and that’s all it was meant to be. We’ll see, I guess.
PST: What’s next for Soulsavers?
Machin: Right now things are pretty busy. I’m just about to start tracking a record of versions of old gospel songs. It’s not going to be a proper Soulsavers record, more a compilation record that we did the music to and produced. Next spring in the U.S., we’re about to reissue the previous two records we did, they never came out properly over there for different reasons, so we are gonna get around to getting them out properly. Plus we never really stopped writing after the last record got finished, and I think we are probably gonna be in the studio working on the next full Soulsavers record before Christmas at this point too. There are a few other ideas being floated around, but those are the three I’m really signed up to at his point. So all in all, the next 12 months plus are pretty overloaded, but keeping busy is good.