For Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, the band's new album, Exciter, is all about contrasts.
The contrast between the coolness of electronics and the warmth of the human voice. The contrast between upbeat tunes and downbeat lyrics. Even the contrast between the hopeful mood of "I Feel Loved" and the attack dogs threatening him in the song's video.
"They're real attack dogs, and I'm singing 'I feel loved,' and [the director] told me whatever I do don't look into the dogs' eyes," Gahan said of the video shoot, in which the band played a sweaty Los Angeles club that came under siege by police and their tooth-baring canine helpers. "I didn't feel scared, and that's not because I'm a tough guy. It was just like, 'The dogs are there. They're going to kill me. Just get the shot.'"
"I Feel Loved" is the second video and single from Exciter, which came out May 15. The British group hooked up with producer Mark Bell, who worked on Björk's Homogenic and Selmasongs, and Gahan said Bell let the band explore its musical contradictions.
While the band's been known for its keyboard-based sound since 1981's debut LP, Speak & Spell, Gahan said he's most excited when the electronics are placed side-by-side with guitars or his own emotional vocals.
"I wanted to be human, and when you're working with a lot of electronics and stuff like that, I think there's a real contrast there that is exciting, and that's what's interesting to me about what Depeche Mode does," Gahan said. "A bit raw and rough on the edges, just as we all are, and then there are the electronics that Martin [Gore] likes to be perfectly in time and perfectly in place."
Even though the album may be called Exciter, the music is often subdued and haunting, never getting into the uptempo, rocking territory of previous singles like 1990's "Personal Jesus" or 1993's "I Feel You."
Instead, Depeche Mode offer plenty of ballads, such as the gently yearning "When the Body Speaks," alongside the stop-start tension of "Dream On" and "I Feel Loved," a song that harks back to the dance-pop of the group's early days.
"The song for me is a dance song," Gahan said. "Some twisted electronics I've written and the vocal melodies are quite dark, so it's a contrast to the music."
Gahan said the band plans to perform about a half-dozen Exciter songs on its upcoming North American tour, which kicks off June 15 in Montreal and ends August 14 in Los Angeles (see "Depeche Mode Plan Summer North American Tour").
After the tour wraps, Gahan said he plans to start work on his first solo album, which he said will have a different feel than Depeche Mode.
"It's song-based," he said. "It's about what's going on around me, my own experience, things that have happened to me in the last 10 years and the things that are happening to me right now. I'm excited about that."
The past decade has seen Gahan shed a decadent image, including a drug problem that nearly killed him in 1996 (see "The Dave Gahan Interview"). Today, he recalls those years as frankly as he can.
"We filmed ('I Feel Loved') in California in a little club," Gahan said. "It was a sweaty little club called the Opium Den, which apparently when I lived in California I used to frequent a lot. But I don't remember much about that."