Humanist is the brainchild of producer and Exit Calm guitarist Rob Marshall, who next month will drop the self-titled debut album inspired by the film The Living Room – a documentary about the life and death of singer-songwriter Gavin Clarke.
To portray the record’s themes of “life, birth, death, religion, mortality”, Marshall invited his wishlist of guest vocalists to sing – including longtime collaborator Mark Lanegan, Ride‘s Mark Gardner, The Membranes’ John Robb, Ron Sexmith, Carl Hancock Rux, Jim Jones and Gahan.
“I got involved through Mark Lanegan who had worked with Rob on his last couple of records,” Gahan told NME. “The music was already all together and Mark had already written the words, so really it was just me singing the melody. It was a weird collaboration. Mark would have normally been singing this, so I had it in my mind to be true to what they were doing.”
Speaking of his connection to the track, Gahan told us: “Rob’s stuff is pretty dark. The record is pretty unusual and way more instant. There’s a lot of depth added by Mark as a guitarist too.
“It’s great to work with people like this because they stretch you. Having been lucky enough to make music with other people for the last 40 years, I’m always looking for someone to take me out of my comfort zone. It makes me better at what I do in the long run. I learn so much from people with fresh ideas. Well, I nick so much – to be honest.”
And did he instantly fall for the song’s retro-futuristic post-punk sound?
“It’s funny you say that, because when I initially heard the backing track of what Rob had done first, my initial thought was that it felt like Echo & The Bunnymen,” said Gahan. “I liked a lot of that stuff in the ‘80s, and I think Rob is influenced by a lot of that full-on, wall-of-sound stuff.”
He continued: “I think it’s pretty fresh because it came together pretty quickly. It wasn’t messed around with too much and we just got on with it. It just is what it is, and is certainly a good way to start the new year.”
Gahan went on to explain how his work with Humanist acted as a muse for him to return to creating more music of his own.
“This all came as a surprise because I’m lying dormant at the moment, trying to get my juices flowing with writing and recording,” Gahan told NME. “I didn’t feel like I wanted to do anything, but this came along and got me to hear a lot of stuff that I probably wouldn’t have.”
“When these things come along, it’s always a bit of a nudge into something that I wanted to do anyway. Since then, I’ve been working again with Rich Machin on [side-project] Soulsavers again. It looks like we’ll be doing another thing there which will probably surface towards the end of the year. Before that, I’d just come off the road. For the first six months after you’ve been out there for over a year, it’s always a weird transition. This time more than ever, I just thought ‘I don’t know if I want to make music any more’. Not because I don’t like music, but because I was so drained. Still, music is one of the only things that makes any sense to me in life.”
With all these new experiences taking Gahan out of his comfort zone, does this mean that we can expect an extreme departure in sound for the next Depeche Mode album?
“I don’t know!” he replied. “I can’t honestly answer that question. Depeche have made so many records together and after a tour Martin [Gore, chief songwriter and bandmate] and I are like, ‘See you then!’ There will more than likely will be another record, but we really don’t make plans beyond what we’ve just done. To be honest, it’s always been like that. In the first 10 years we could keep up with the pace of boshing out a record then a tour, record, tour, record, tour. As you get older you start to get a little more selective about what you want to do. I know Martin is taking a bit of a break at the moment. We’ll see.”
Humanist’s self-titled debut album will be released on February 21. Mainman Marshall described his work with Gahan as “something special”.
“He’s achieved so much over the years, an incredible front man, with such a soaring voice and presence, but with no trademark tone of celebrity or ego whatsoever,” said Marshall. “Very humble, gentle and giving. When we shot the video, he worked extremely hard on the day, performing each take with total gusto and energy, which didn’t let up throughout his performances.”
Humanist will also head out on a UK tour in March. Full dates are below, with tickets available here.
23 – The Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham
24 – The Lexington, London
25 – Sheffield Picture House, Sheffield
26 – Nice N Sleazy, Glasgow
27 – Riverside 2, Newcastle
28 – Soup Kitchen, Manchester
29 – Prince Albert, Brighton