By Tim Parks
When singer Andy Bell answered Vince Clarke’s ad seeking a vocalist in the British music newspaper Melody Maker in 1985, little did they know they were about to enter into – for better or worse – a musical marriage. Clarke, a founding member of Depeche Mode and former Yaz keyboardist, heard from dozens who came to audition, but Bell (lucky number 41) beat out the other potential suitors.
Bell’s distinctive vocal style and Clarke’s knack for writing catchy pop ditties would prove to be wedded bliss – as Erasure has enjoyed more than 20 years of music making success.
I spoke with Andy Bell about his partnership with Clarke (for the record, they are partners-in-rhyme only), their new CD, Light at the End of the World, the recent True Colors Tour, and of course, headlining this year’s Pride festival on Sunday, July 22nd at 6:10 pm.
The secret to any long-lasting relationship, especially of the musical nature, is finding harmony, Bell said about the give-and-take nature of his partnership with Clarke.
“In some ways, it’s very nice having somebody that is so organized and gets things done all the time,” Bell said of Clarke. “If it was up to me, I probably would have only done five albums so far.”
Erasure has racked up an impressive roster of hits in their native England and here in the United States, starting in 1986 with “Sometimes.” And the 1988 song “Chains of Love” brought them worldwide recognition.
They have been known to give an upbeat tempo to losing love and its aftermath in such songs as “Love to Hate You,” “Victim of Love” and “Oh L’Amour.” They have also explored the flip side of finding and sustaining love with “Always,” “In My Arms” and the first single off the new CD, “I Could Fall in Love With You.”
“I think happiness can only come through deep reflection,” said Bell from a songwriting standpoint.
In some marriages, the key to sustaining its longevity can also be found in experimentation, most notably their 1995 CD Erasure and 2006’s Union Street.
“I’ve really enjoyed doing the other things that we’ve done in between, like the ‘Erasure’ album in 1995, and the ‘Union Street’ Tour, the acoustic tour,” Bell said of branching out artistically.
Bell even stepped outside of the marriage, going solo in 2005 with the CD Electric Blue.
At other points in their illustrious career, they have delivered great cover versions of songs, from Abba’s “Take a Chance on Me” to Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.”
“I would love to cover Kate Bush – I would love to do ‘The Man with the Child in His Eyes.’ And I like ‘(I’m Always Touched by Your Presence,) Dear’ by Blondie, and we’ve done some of hers before,” Bell said.
There is a comfort in the familiar, and their latest effort, “Light at the End of the World,” harkens a return to form for the duo with synthesized beats underscoring the very real emotions that are prevalent throughout the disc.
“I was a bit concerned at first,” Bell confessed about the new CD. “I was kind of like, ‘Oh no, we’ve been here already.’ But then because it was so up tempo, very optimistic, I was like, ‘Oh God, just let it be whatever it is.’
“And it’s really lovely, we haven’t written together for ages and ages, and we had loads of ideas because of everything that was going on,” he said. “We sorted of wanted to get them out; it’s a lovely way of expressing yourself with writing songs.”
With so much time accrued in the trenches of the pop music wars, Erasure has definitely stuck to their guns, artistically speaking, and have seen the musical landscape they have marched upon become altered a time or two throughout their career.
“You don’t feel like your reinventing yourself. I think if I was Madonna, who has gone through so many looks and things, I’d be exhausted by now.” Bell jested and then continued. “At the same time, it gets to be repetitive. Around about 1992, I felt like I was on a treadmill because you get to feel like you know the pop world inside out. And then the whole thing changes in front of your eyes and you get the rug pulled from under your feet and the support system that’s been plugging your records. And you kind of have to start from scratch.
“And then you feel as if you come around again and you start questioning everything again,” Bell continued. “And then something really amazing happens, like this True Colors Tour. So it all sort of swings in roundabouts, really. And then you really have to count your blessings for being in such a fortunate position, of having such a great job and meeting someone like Vince.”
Bell’s unwavering ability to stay true to himself as an openly gay artist, while appealing to a broad fan base, has never needed to be reinvented.
“In some ways it’s kind of gets to be insignificant, your sexuality,” Bell explained. “It was kind of groundbreaking all those years ago… even though it’s much more accepted now, and you know there are things going on, still lots of work to do, and you keep going on.”
And that statement of “still lots of work to do” encapsulates the recent “The True Colors Tour,” which benefited The Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG and The Matthew Shephard Foundation. Plus, it had the added bonus of being able to see different musical acts sharing the stage, among them tour creator Cyndi Lauper and Debbie Harry.
“Having the pleasure of watching Debbie and Cyndi every night … for 15 nights,” Bell stated about his favorite part of being a “True Colors” participant, and then added humbly and with an impish laugh. “I think there will be a lot of people there that will say, ‘Oh, that’s who Erasure is.’ Because a lot of people might not know who we are.”
Bell need not worry that he’ll always be a bridesmaid and never the bride in terms of recognition for his on stage presence, because he all but stole the show at the San Diego whistle stop of the “True Colors Tour.”
If that performance is any indication of what audiences can expect at the Pride festival, then it will be one entertaining show that seamlessly weaves old favorites along with new songs like, “Sunday Girl” and “Sucker for Love.”
And besides, there is a good chance that Bell could don a tutu, as he has done on stage innumerable times before. Every gay card shark worth his salt knows that a queen in a tutu always trumps a full house.
This interview was first published in July 2007