There’s no stopping Andy Bell
There is a very good reason that Andy Bell has titled his newest solo effort Non-Stop, as the 46-year-old Erasure frontman is showing no signs of slowing down.
His latest offering is just as the title refers to, a non-stop ode to dance music, which is sure to get your body moving and your blood pumping upon its release on June 8.
During our conversation, Bell’s blood got to boiling (and rightfully so), as he lambasted everything from being seen (or rather heard, as the case may be), by radio stations as merely an artist from the 1980s, or the media frenzy surrounding much-speculated about music stars who come out to fanfare, while Bell has been open about his sexuality from the get-go of his 25 years as a musician.
Ricky Martin may want to watch his back, so to speak, if he were ever to meet Bell in a dark alley, as it wouldn’t be a close encounter of that kind.
Musically speaking, the falsetto voiced phenomenon is already taken, as he has been betrothed to his partner-in-rhyme, Vince Clarke, since he answered a want ad for a singer in 1985.
“I think when you’re working with someone else, it’s as if you are in a kind of marriage, and it’s a collaboration,” he said. “You have a certain kind of respectfulness for them. I think when you’ve been with somebody for some time; you tend to bring more baggage along with you.”
Bell, who had previously packed light for his 2005 solo CD, Electric Blue, relayed that the creative process for joint ventures and personal ones alike aren’t too terribly different.
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t write with Vince, really, that I wouldn’t write on my own,” Bell stated. “After I asked Vince if I could have a break from doing Erasure for a couple of years; it’s nothing against him or anything, I just wanted to be out of the scene. I think I felt a bit like a little puppy being let off the leash. So maybe it’s (the songwriting process) is a little more exuberant or just more playful.”
Playful is the perfect word to describe one of the most infectious tracks on the CD, ‘DHDQ,’ which is the acronym for Debbie Harry Drag Queen. Erasure previously covered Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ on 1997’s Cowboy, and were on the road with Harry during the 2007 version of the True Colors Tour – so what is the chance that these two musical pioneers might get together and record a song together?
“Well, I would love to,” he proclaimed. “That would be one of my ultimate orgasmic moments!”
Non-Stop is chocked full of such moments, even on the autobiographical slow jam ‘Slow Release,’ as Bell definitely practiced the rhythm method during its inception. He described his new baby as “full-on club glamour” during our chat, and the project was a case of if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, as early songwriting efforts with Stephen Hague (who worked on Erasure’s The Innocents) left him feeling as “though my heart’s not really in it.”
As luck would have it, someone suggested that he work with Pascal Gabriel, who has written and produced songs for the likes of Kylie Minogue and Little Boots, among others. The two created the double whammy dance tracks, ‘Will You Be There?’ and ‘Running Out’ for his sophomore solo endeavor.
“We just really hit it off,” Bell recanted. “He’s Cancerian – same as Vince – so I was really used to his character. And he’s very similar to Vince; he’s very camp for a straight man.”
Unfortunately, not all straight men are as gay friendly, as Bell informed me that a form of homophobia and labeling dictates the types of music and artists that DJ’s play on-air in his native England. This almost led to him releasing the project under the pseudonym of Mimó.
“That was because, mainly, the radio is so predjudiced here in the U.K.,” he explained. “It’s very narrow; they’ll play lots of guitar bands and lots of dance/pop, but it’s all very young. They play all of the reality “Pop Idol” stars, but otherwise it’s very hard to get a way in there.
“Because we’re seen as being Erasure is like an ’80s band, even though we didn’t really break (in England) until 1989, right at the end. So the radio has seemed to have gotten narrower and narrower, where they’ll play only the hits you had in the ’80s and nothing else. But, when we released ‘Will You Be There?’ on Radio 1, it was kind of 50/50; some people hated it and some people loved it. So, we called it Mimó for that reason, and also we didn’t want it to sound like Erasure; that was quite a hard thing for me to get over in the first place. Because instantly when people hear my voice, they think it’s Erasure – to hide your name and voice seems ridiculous.”
If there’s one thing you need to know about Bell, is that you can’t box him in, and if you try – you’d better be sure that you have a big glittery bow at the ready to attempt to tie him up with.
This is the man who has taken to the stage in a tutu during concerts, and had a leave-no-questions-to-the-imagination approach in videos, such as ‘Chains Of Love’ and dressed as ABBA member Frida Lyngstad for their Abba-esque video version of ‘Take A Chance On Me.’
“The whole other thing, of course, is really homophobia – people don’t understand it if you say it,” he explained . “The whole music industry press is homophobic, you know, we’re never ever in Rolling Stone, or any of those magazines – it’s like Erasure never even existed. Because we’re not macho and guitar-strumming, we’re not in the ‘100 Best Frontmen,’ or anything like that.
“And I think it’s interesting with the whole Ricky Martin coming out story,” he exclaimed. “They seem to give more coverage to a closet case, then to somebody whose been honest from the very beginning. It seems like everything’s all the wrong way around. Maybe I should be a priest.”
Talk about a blow to the music world, thankfully, Father Bell came to his senses and informed me of a dream project he’s intrigued by.
“I’d love to do an album of duets,” Bell said. “But only with female singers, like – dare I say it? Barbra Streisand. And Annie Lennox and other amazing female singers. I love harmonizing and I love the sensuality of their voices; that’s the thrill I would get with working with Debbie, as well, because hers is like candy coating, isn’t it?”
First though, he’s renewing his vows with Clarke on their forthcoming fourteenth studio LP.
“By doing Non-Stop, I feel like I’ve blown out a few cobwebs,” Bell stated. “And I think Vince is really exicted about making music, I mean, he always is. But, I think it’s kind of shaken us up a little bit. From what we’ve done so far, I’m really excited about it. But, I’m way behind on lyrics now, and it’s funny though, I loved doing Non-Stop, but I can’t wait to do Erasure. I’m greedy.”
Apparently greed is good, since this year marks his 25th anniversary of being in the music business, the ‘Call On Me’ (that’s the first single off Non-Stop) singer imparted some wisdom about his longevity.
“The most important thing, really, in the end, is your sanity,” he answered laughingly. “Remaining sane by being creative, I think. And, you can’t take yourself or the whole thing too seriously, even though you do. If you’re making music, hopefully lots and lots of people will enjoy it, and really being thankful for what you do and what you have.”
To keep up with all things Andy Bell, log onto www.andybell.com
This interview was first published in June 2010.