COUPLES, MIXED GROUP, SINGLES group—after his marriage crumbled, Peter Gabriel threw himself into therapy in several permutations. It was all valuable. Gabriel says he learned to face his own anger and his passive-aggressive way of expressing it. He found he was not alone in harboring ugly and frightening emotions. "Our latent, murderous feelings should be explored," he says. "You have to make the journey, expose yourself to the demons, before you can heal."
Us documents that process, but the emotional themes were often not present at the creation of the songs. "I started off as a drummer," Gabriel says, "so I write from the rhythm out. I start by searching for the interesting grooves. Then I add chords, melodies, phrases, then arrangements."
The visual arts also provide inspiration. "I write in pictures, landscapes and imagery," Gabriel says. The song "14 Black Paintings found its title after Gabriel visited the Mark Rothko Chapel in Houston, its interior ringed by Rothko's large black paintings. "It didn't sound like much when it was described to me," he says. "But when I saw it I thought it was the most spiritual place I'd ever been." Gabriel also commissioned painters from around the world to interpret one each of the 10 songs on the album, and he'll take the paintings on tour next year.
Gabriel senses that the confessional style of the lyrics on Us may be a few years behind the curve. "I'm conscious that it's not currently in vogue," he says. "But if something is powerful and important and alive for you, then it's right to write about it."