Behind the Door, a Secret Place: Dave Gahan's Off-Stage Personality
(with video links)
June 17, 2023
I was inspired by some comments made on an online forum posing the following question: What is Dave's true personality like? This question was asked because it seems that Dave as a person is actually somewhat of an enigma; for instance on stage, he is very lascivious, flashy, and charismatic. There is no doubt that he enjoys putting himself out there for all to see and greatly enjoys the attention...when he is performing, that is. But very few people know what he is like off-stage. Therefore, I want to see if we can get a better feel for Dave's off-stage personality by observing him in videos where he is not in performance mode. First of all, note that I didn't say true personality. It is important to know that it is impossible to know someone's true personality unless one knows them personally and interacts with them frequently. Therefore, we assume in this article that we can get an approximation of his true personality by analyzing what he is like off-stage through watching videos of him in that context. Although, remember that when these videos were originally recorded, it was assumed that they were also intended to be publicly viewed, so keep that in mind. Finally, another important thing to keep in mind is another assumption:
Dave's personality has evolved
And I would argue that the evolution has actually been quite dramatic. Even ignoring the fact that every person's personality rarely remains static throughout their entire life, we can argue that Dave has undergone lots of personal changes throughout his life and career that have affected how he carries himself and interacts with other people. What I have noticed, though, is a marked change between Dave pre-1996 and Dave post-1996, i.e., before and after he was pronounced medically dead for two minutes after a drug overdose. I think one of the biggest changes that came from this is that Dave was better able to separate his on-stage and off-stage personas and treat them as completely separate roles, and therefore his off-stage persona became much more distinct. Anyway, here are some videos that I think best showcase his off-stage post-1996 personality.
1. Ultra-era interview (1997)
I must preface this by saying that interviews are probably one of the poorest forms of media through which to gauge someone's true personality because they can be somewhat forced and sometimes even be scripted, but I feel like this one showed Dave in his most vulnerable and forthright moments on camera as he had nothing to lose and nothing to hide at this point. In fact, I would say that this was the case with a lot of interviews with him during this time period — so close to the events of May 1996 after which he began changing his ways. The interviews during this time period were almost like therapy or confessionals for him.1 There is no air of guardedness or secrecy about him here and he appears to speak openly and honestly about everything that he has gone through. It feels as if there was no question too offensive or too shocking for him; he was prepared to spill everything at this point.
2. In Santa Barbara — B Roll Footage (2001)
This footage was filmed by Anton Corbijn during the time that Exciter was being recorded. The documentary, Presenting the Intimate and Delicate Side of Depeche Mode, contains very similar footage so both were probably filmed around the same time. Anyway in this video, we see all of the members of Depeche Mode in the studio working on the Exciter album and doing some promotional stints, but it all feels very intimate and candid, even moreso than the aforementioned documentary, ironically enough. And as expected, it is Dave who steals most of the spotlight. The way that he jokes around with and teases Anton, fidgets and dances around in the studio, talks animatedly with his bandmates, and acts like a total goofball when scaring some unsuspecting seagulls in a Pinhead mask all reflect a very playful, antsy, and lighthearted individual. Many of the other behind-the-scenes studio videos also show him in this light, including early ones from the 1980s like 101.
3. Paper Monsters press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine (2003)
This video appears to have been filmed during Dave's visit to Kyiv, Ukraine during the Paper Monsters Tour. It features clips of him answering questions from members of the press there. What's interesting about this video, though, is that he looks visibly bored and/or annoyed throughout most of this, and we do catch moments of him being less than genial and quite blunt in some cases in his dealings with various interviewers; there has to be a backstory to this, I'm sure. At one point, he complains that talking to the press is "a pain in the ass." Towards the end, he also expresses his frustration with music piracy and even almost appears to walk away mid-interview.
So, what do the events in this video say about Dave in particular? Well, let me just remind you that Dave is no meek and gentle saint and he has never claimed to be anything like one! In fact, he has admitted to being the total opposite at times: "I definitely have a dark side of me that can be pretty vicious...as we all do." So, he definitely doesn't strike me as someone who is a doormat when faced with adversity. During this time, Dave was breaking out as a solo artist and had just released his first album; instead of being asked questions related to that achievement, he was asked irrelevant ones like, "Who is a sex symbol for you?", "Who is your favorite fashion designer?", and even stuff from left-field like, "Would you want Alan Wilder to produce your album?" Putting that in perspective, it's actually a wonder that he exhibited as much patience as he did!
4. Dave Gahan, In The Studio clips (2007)
This was actually a series of videos (17 total including an initial greeting) rather than a single video and each one was rather short, ranging anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 and a half minutes. But each clip offered a somewhat candid glimpse into the everyday shenanigans that Dave got into while recording Hourglass. These were captured during the latter mixing stages of the album production process. In these video clips, we typically see Dave, Andrew Phillpott, and Christian Eigner in the small studio hanging out together with 1 or 2 of them seeming to do work while the third (usually Dave) just goofs off and hams it up for the camera. Dave especially has fun entertaining the camera viewers, using whatever props he has at his disposal to do so, including his entire body. Yes, that is him letting out a loud burp near the end of Clip #8, that is him playing with a Johnny Rotten action figure in Clip #12, and that is him filming and zooming in on Andrew's butt in Clip #14. It's clear from these clips that Dave doesn't take himself too seriously and can be a total clown. You can view all 17 of these videos on the @davegahanofficial YouTube channel.
5. Inside The Universe (2010)
This was a documentary filmed in 2010 during the Tour of The Universe. Along with the other members of Depeche Mode, Dave gives interviews throughout, talking about the touring process and sharing a few personal tidbits. Some of the most revealing ones are when he talks about his pre-show rituals, how he feels after each show, and his cancer diagnosis. The way that he and his bandmates describe how he spends the hour before each show is pretty revealing. His bandmates say that they don't see him much during that time and by the time the show starts, he becomes "a different person." This must be the process of Dave going from regular person to performer and it must be a pretty dramatic one, I imagine. Dave describes it as first isolating himself and going through certain rituals to get himself psyched up for the impending performance; who knows what these rituals consist of as he doesn't elaborate, but suffice to say, they are very, very important to him. This seems to hint towards Dave being a strong introvert as requiring plenty of time and space in isolation to charge up one's "social battery" is most typical for introverts.
This video also appears to be among the first instances where Dave expresses real uncertainty and hesitation about the band's future, particularly with the touring aspect since it is so physically and mentally demanding. He has repeated this theme time and time again since, but even now in 2023, his involvement and enthusiasm in touring and performing still seem to be going strong, thank goodness.
6. Interviews (2013)
The 2 interviews above are from around the same timeframe, but they are like night and day as far as how Dave's personality is presented in them. In the first one, Dave comes across as serious and somewhat guarded and I get the feeling that he is mostly just going through the motions here. He does reveal some personal tidbits, particularly about things in his past, but he kind of keeps it general. For instance, he describes his "biggest mistake" as "opening my mouth too soon instead of just shutting up and being quiet and listening" and then doesn't really elaborate any further saying, "As you get older, you know what I'm talking about."
In the second video, we see him looking to be in a more open and chatty mood as he talks about the album and tour with Adam Weissler, who has interviewed him and Depeche Mode many times before. He is animated and uses a lot of motions with his hands as he talks. It is as if he is more comfortable in this setting and with this particular interviewer.
Of course since 2013 up to the present day, Dave has given many more interviews, but for some reason, it has honestly been more difficult to get a handle on his personality these days. This is because I have sensed somewhat of a marked change in the way Dave has been presented in the press. Whether this was his own doing or not, it seems that the focus has turned more towards his music and professional image and less so towards his personal life. When he does mention personal subjects such as his family and what he, himself, got up to during the COVID-19 pandemic for example, it is rather brief and mostly surface-only. It also doesn't help that fewer candid and behind-the-scenes-type footage has been released which usually provided that treasure trove of intimate glimpses. Thus, it has been harder and harder to find videos that reveal Dave as a person, especially in the last 10 years. And honestly, that's probably for the best...for him, anyway. Our world has become saturated enough with TMI from both regular and famous people alike.
What do you think of these videos? Have you come to your own conclusion of what Dave's off-stage personality is like? What other personality traits have you observed in Dave? Please comment below!