Erasure's Still Going Strong

Erasure's Still Going Strong

FOR NEARLY 30 YEARS NOW, ERASURE—THE DYNAMIC ENGLISH POP TWOSOME OF ANDY BELL AND VINCE CLARK—HAS BEEN MAKING PEOPLE DANCE. FORMED IN 1985, THE DUO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR SOME OF THE MOST UNDENIABLY GLEEFUL POP SONGS EVER MADE, INCLUDING “A LITTLE RESPECT,” “CHAINS OF LOVE,” AND “ALWAYS,” JUST TO NAME A FEW. WHETHER THEY INTENDED TO OR NOT, THEY’VE ALSO INSPIRED A GENERATION OF GAY FANS TO COME OUT OF THE CLOSET AND GO OUT TO THE CLUB. HAVING ALREADY SOLD UPWARDS OF 25 MILLION RECORDS, ERASURE SHOWS NO SIGNS OF SLOWING DOWN. THIS FALL, THE BAND RELEASED THE VIOLET FLAME, THEIR 16TH STUDIO ALBUM, AND WILL SPEND MUCH OF THE NEXT YEAR PLAYING SHOWS AROUND THE WORLD. V SAT DOWN WITH ANDY AND VINCE IN NEW YORK TO TALK ABOUT HOW MUCH THINGS HAVE CHANGED—OR HAVEN’T, REALLY—IN THE ALMOST THREE DECADES THEY’VE BEEN MAKING MUSIC TOGETHER.

FOR NEARLY 30 YEARS NOW, ERASURE—THE DYNAMIC ENGLISH POP TWOSOME OF ANDY BELL AND VINCE CLARK—HAS BEEN MAKING PEOPLE DANCE. FORMED IN 1985, THE DUO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR SOME OF THE MOST UNDENIABLY GLEEFUL POP SONGS EVER MADE, INCLUDING “A LITTLE RESPECT,” “CHAINS OF LOVE,” AND “ALWAYS,” JUST TO NAME A FEW. WHETHER THEY INTENDED TO OR NOT, THEY’VE ALSO INSPIRED A GENERATION OF GAY FANS TO COME OUT OF THE CLOSET AND GO OUT TO THE CLUB. HAVING ALREADY SOLD UPWARDS OF 25 MILLION RECORDS, ERASURE SHOWS NO SIGNS OF SLOWING DOWN. THIS FALL, THE BAND RELEASED THE VIOLET FLAME, THEIR 16TH STUDIO ALBUM, AND WILL SPEND MUCH OF THE NEXT YEAR PLAYING SHOWS AROUND THE WORLD. V SAT DOWN WITH ANDY AND VINCE IN NEW YORK TO TALK ABOUT HOW MUCH THINGS HAVE CHANGED—OR HAVEN’T, REALLY—IN THE ALMOST THREE DECADES THEY’VE BEEN MAKING MUSIC TOGETHER.

Text: T. Cole Rachel

T. COLE RACHEL: The Violet Flame is your 16th studio album. Do you find that your way of working together has changed much over the years?

VINCE CLARK: I don't think it's changed, really. Do you?

ANDY BELL: We're still doing things on a wing and a prayer, really. I don't know... maybe the process is a bit more comfortable now. Maybe we're a little less precious about the whole thing now than we used to be. We used to put a lot more pressure on ourselves in some ways- we must come up with 10 new songs right away! Now it's like if an idea works, then great. If it doesn't work, it's not a big deal. You move on to the next thing.

VC: I can't believe that we used to actually write in the studio.

TCR: What do you mean?

AB: Like, for a record like I Say, I Say, I Say I think we just turned up at the studio with nothing and started from scratch.

VC: No, don't you remember? You wrote those songs in Amsterdam, back when you had a place there. You can't remember, Andy. You did.

AB: I honestly can't remember. Wasn't I living in a hotel at some point then? You see, the years go by... you forget everything.

TCR: Much of The Violet Flame was made in Miami, right?

AB: Yeah, most of the writing was done there. My partner lives in Miami, so I spend a lot of my time there. I always had this strange feeling that I might end up in Miami, which is so odd. It's one of those places where you can have a totally great time or a completely hideous experience- it€'s one extreme or the other. It's much different having a home base there as opposed to being a tourist.

TCR: This new record is very much a pop album, which means it sits nicely alongside your previous body of work. Still, I know that often bands with a career as long as yours will feel like they are constantly competing with their back catalog- especially when you go out on tour. Do you guys every struggle with that? You have so many iconic hits, people would go crazy if you didn't play most of them.

AB: It's quite tricky. It often depends on what country you happen to be in and what sort of relationship the audience has with your music. When we come here to the States and make a set list it would be impossible not to play "A Little Respect" or "Chains of Love," even though you don't always feel like singing them. That being said, we feel really privileged that we can still go on tour and people will come and see us after all these years.

VC: People are generally pretty receptive. On previous tours I would always be a little more nervous about breaking out the new stuff, but now I feel pretty good about it. Also, the set that we've devised for this tour is very cohesive- the versions of the old tracks that we've worked up fit quite nicely alongside the new ones.

AB: It's very odd when you do an album that you really love and you go out and play new songs for an audience that clearly hasn't heard them yet. I understand that though. I'm a huge Blondie fan and I know that when I see them I always have that feeling... I kind of don't want to hear the songs that I don't know, but as an artist I understand where they are coming from. As a musician you want to continuously make new things, I can't imagine trotting out to play only the old songs forever and forever.

TCR: The new album really plays to your strengths. It sounds like Erasure. I appreciate the fact that you guys weren't trying to make your version of an EDM record or something.

AB: Oh, we wouldn't be able to do something like that. Half the time we don't even know what is going on in current popular music.

VC: It's impossible to try and do that successfully. To try and guess what is popular and what might still be popular... I mean, who fucking knows? When you start to second-guess yourself too much the work really suffers.

TCR: As a band that has been working within the milieu of pop music for nearly three decades now, I wondered what you thought about the current state of pop music. Or do you have any thoughts about it.

AB: It's quite funny. You know, when you've been around for as long as we have you start to hear how everything gets recycled. When I hear things that kids think are these brand new ideas it's like... yawn. I mean, David Guetta is not really doing anything really "new" is he?

VC: I'm not saying anything about that. (laughs)

AB: I just mean that it sounds like something you might have heard in Ibiza twenty years ago, but for young kids I guess it sounds new.

VC: It's different in America as well. The whole EDM thing caught on much later here than it did in the rest of the world. In the UK the culture of electronic music is a much different, much bigger thing.

TCR: Trying to calculate just how meaningful and how deeply impactful your music has been to gay culture would be impossible. I'm sure you must hear this from people all the time, but it must be incredibly gratifying to know how much your music really helped people... and to see insanely personal connection it has for your gay audiences.

AB: It's really amazing. You know, we were only trying to be honest. That's it, really. People attach so much of themselves to it that it's... it's a bit overwhelming. It's not as if we don't want to take responsibility for it, but it's almost as if it's too big... we didn't know how much it would mean to people. I was just trying to be myself, you know?

VC: He wasn't trying to turn anyone gay.

AB: (laughs) Well, maybe a couple of people I might have.

TCR: As a gay teenager growing up in the Midwest- before there was the Internet, before there were gay people regularly appearing on television- your records were kind of a lifeline. I saw you play in concert before I was actually old enough to go into a gay bar and I remember that it felt crazy- and really radical- to see that many gay people together in one place. It was really impactful.

AB: That's wonderful. You know, it reminds me of when I myself was a kid. I moved to London when I was about 17 and I remember going to clubs like Heaven and seeing Boy George and Jimmy Somerville and how it was just this huge rush to feel like you were a part of this thing that was happening. It made it feel ok for me to say, "Yes, I'm gay." To be a part of that scene made me feel safer somehow. I like to think that maybe we provided that for people in some way. People could come to the shows and feel really safe and free.

TCR: Andy, you were always very open about your sexuality, even at a time when a lot of people were not. Did you have to take a lot of heat from people because of that?

AB: Not really, but it's funny. There were other gay artists I knew who were NOT out of the closet and I sometimes felt like they didn't want to get too close to us, as if being associated with us would have somehow blown their cover.

TCR: When you stop and think about it, are you amazed that the two of you are still doing this? Thirty years is a long time.

AB: It's quite amazing to think about, and that this has been my job, you know? I must admit, there were periods- say, around 10 years ago- when I became quite disheartened. I'd find myself thinking about what else I might be able to do, and then realizing that I can't really do anything else. (laughs)

VC: (laughs) We don't know how to do anything else.

AB: Maybe someone could put me in a play or something, but that's about it. I have no other skills.

TCR: Was there ever a point when you thought Erasure might come to a stop?

AB: I don't think so. I don't think we ever thought about it too much.

VC: There were times when we thought maybe we'd stop being released, but that had more to do with record labels and things like that. It never really had anything to do with the two of us not getting along.

AB: We always find it kind of funny when people fall out with each other over "artistic differences" or what have you. Bands always seem to be so delicate, so volatile. People break up and talk badly about each other in the press. That's never been us at all. We get along nicely.

TCR: I know you'll be out on the road for the next few months. Are you excited to tour? Has the experience of performing live changed a lot for you over the years?

AB: I was quite nervous before this tour. There's so much to do. Our stage set is more minimal this time, so it's up to me to be out there moving around. I'm always so surprised by how you just sort of fall back into it. It's not as if I'm a trained dancer or anything, but I do my best. We're not spring chickens anymore, you know, so we just have to make sure we get plenty of rest... then it's fine.

Erasure will wrap up their US tour by playing two big shows at Terminal 5 in NYC on December 30 and 31. Their album, The Violet Flame is out now on Mute Records.

ERASURE PHOTOGRAPHY Phil Sharpe

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