Music has been so much of my life, since as long as I can remember, and there are few bands that have come into my life and stayed as regular fixtures and in my top 10. I heard Erasure in 1987, and they have been a constant in my life since. As a teenager, I found there was no way to miss what they were singing about. Andy Bell was the first openly gay singer I ever “noticed”. With songs like “Hideaway”, about a young boy coming out to his family, and “March On Down The Line”, Erasure was one of the first bands to make it known what they were about in the mainstream as LGBTQ artists.
Vince Clark who had founded synth giants “Depeche Mode”, then teamed up with the equally shy Allison Moyet for synth duo “Yaz” or “Yazoo” in Europe, a stint with some other musical geniuses, until one day, Andy Bell walked into an audition with an accordion in a tutu. Andy Bell is the most charismatic, sociable, flamboyant, extroverted, kind, friendly singer. His andro vocals in the early days were often mistaken for being a woman. His vocal talent is immeasurable, and his performances are lively, funny and inspiring. He is the exact opposite of his team mate Vincent Clark, who describes himself as “painfully shy”. Vince is a musical genius to the likes of Beethoven, Schubert, Jimi Hendrix, and George Gershwin, happy to stand behind his keyboards and let Andy take the show from there.
Having released two singles already “Hey Now” and “Nerves of Steel” just last last week, I was able to interview Andy as he was preparing for the release of their newest album, and on August 21st “Shot a Satellite” will drop from the new album “THE NEON”. All of this excitement is enough to make you want to walk backwards through the 17 studio albums of the last 36 years. It was an honor to talk to someone I have listened to so much for so many years.
New single just released last week, “NERVES OF STEEL”.
JH: Well Andy, how are you this morning, or I guess afternoon for you in London?
AB: Well, it’s actually more like morning for me anyway, I usually get up later, around 10 AM, so, I guess it is morning for the both of us.
JH:, Well Andy, as a fan, I could write a book in five volumes, three hundred pages each about my Erasure experiences, starting at age 13, with “The Circus”.
The ballad of loss to someone who has passed. It does not get more moving than this.
AB: Well, not sure I have that good of memory for all of that, but I’ll try to cover what I can.
JH: By the time you came to play “The Innocence” tour in Utah in 1988, I was right up in the front row getting crushed. I remember clearly when the curtain on the stage dropped, and you were in the “wrestling” uniform, the stormtrooper boots, and the ringmaster’s jacket, and the look on your face to see there were 15,000 people on the side of the mountain, and the surprise on your face of “Holy shit, that’s a lot of people!!”.
AB: Yeah, especially in Utah, ha!
JH: Totally, it was a great coming of age moment that night, I was there with one of my favorite bands, with some wonderful friends, and it just was a fantastic moment in my life as a teenager. I had bruises on my side for weeks, and it was worth all of it.
AB: Thank you so much, that goes to show you that music can cut through anything. No matter what the religion is, what your attitude or views are, music transcends everything.
JH: You touched a lot of people that evening. I called that chapter of my life even long before that concert “The days of the innocence”, I was still this young idealistic naive kid just in awe of so many beautiful things. The music and my life were just that during those days, they ended a few months later unfortunately with the suicide of a friend who was with me that night. Life suddenly became very real, and very painful. The days of “The Innocence” ended, and if I didn’t have that record or your others, I probably wouldn’t have made it through that experience in one piece.
AB: Wow, that’s amazing, thank you.
JH: Then the next time you came through, you were supposed to play with WIRE, who is one of my all-time fave bands, and they canceled last minute, and you had this god awful shitty band “Louie Louie” instead.
AB: Yeah, that was a SIRE label band thing back then.
JH: Well, Erasure and WIRE on the same stage, I mean, GODS, that would have been one of the greatest concerts in history for me. But, the show was just as amazing too, all the theatrics, and stage, the costumes, you had Val and Em (Back up singers) you came on stage playing the “Wedding March”, you had the big snails rolling around on stage, and you were joking about “Mrs. Fields Cookies” cause they were local to Park City Utah at the time. I hope my photographic memory is bringing back some good times for you.
AB: Amazingly good, yeah, good memories.
JH: I met you guys that night, and I learned that Vince had a sense of humor, and could in fact even be funny, and he was not such a stoic.
AB: Vince is REALLY funny, he could do stand up comedy if he had the confidence.
JH: Well, he says he is really shy, and on stage total stoic, however, that night he was joking with everyone, had us all laughing. I mean, you, that’s’ your job to be charming, you’re great at it, Vince was a surprise.
AB: He gets frozen with nerves, I find it hard to understand it, but for myself, I feel at home on stage. In the beginning, it was very different, you have to kind of build up this persona. But a lot of time getting to know Vince over the years, you have this completely different character, I mean he IS really shy, he is a “Stay at home” person, doesn’t get on well with crowds, and he HATES being famous. And I was in a sort of disbelief thinking “How can you be like this, you must be pretending, otherwise, HOW would you like to be in a band?”, then after all these years (36 or so) you realize that’s just him.
JH: Sure, he just wants to make and play music, not “perform”. I remember your first night in Utah, after you had introduced Val and Em, you started making this sound like when a cassette gets wound up in the player and spins faster and faster, you did it in perfect speed and tone change, that was incredible talent there by the way. Then you worked your way over to Vince with the fastest, highest pitch, then put your arm around him, and introduced him as “MISTER VINCENT CLARK” and he stood there, almost cracking a smile.
AB: Yes, he just wants to do his craft, be left in his room, make strange weird noises.
JH: It is clear that for the better part of my life Erasure has played a major part, I carve it up into decades, you know, the eighties was “The innocence” the nineties was “Cowboy” and “I Say I Say”, and through the decades. But the one that stands out, “Loveboat” was my fave for that period, it started with this “island” guitar feel, really lush then went REALLY DARK, very quickly. It took a different tone, again where you guys can make that sound, to feel good about being sad. The gem “Where in the World” was one of the best songs you have ever done.
AB: That so funny because that is one of my favorite records, it is so underrated, so “UN-ERASURE” sounding, so it was hard for a lot of people. But as soon as you said “Loveboat” that’s the song I started singing in my head. “Where in the world did we go wrong?” see it started already, though it kind of sounds like a country song.
JH: Well, I hope you are a New Order fan, but I heard some Peter Hook in there, just out of nowhere, it was a nice change to just shake it all up.
AB: No, it wasn’t all guitar, but the guitar appeared on all the songs, but it was a very melancholy sound in them all, kind of quite “jangly” indie sounding. But I think the idea for that one comes back to Phil Spector, that’s how I wanted it to sound. I can’t get that sound out of my head whenever I’m making a record. In the beginning, I have to admit I did not understand the mixes, I thought “What in the hell are we doing with these, that’s not what I wanted it to sound like at all” but when I listen to it now, I would have to hear it again, but it was quite “Somber” of a record.
JH: Sure, at the time it was, “Love is the rage” is where I would say the “Wall of sound”, stood out,that’s cool that we are on the same page . I loved how it was also just steering in a different direction for a while, shaking the expectations up. Then, “Other People’s Songs” was great too, I mean, “Salisbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel, what can you say, just a great song, and a good cover.
AB: Well, there are a couple of songs on that album that I liked, but to be honest the rest of the album I don’t like at all. I think because it wasn’t our songs, we hadn’t written them, and I think the choices of covers weren’t good?
JH: So you are happier playing your own songs you have written?
AB: Yes, I think in hindsight it feels like a bit of a cop-out to do covers. Even though I LOVE doing them live and for B-sides, I feel like that was maybe just hitting the “Reset” button after “Loveboat”, Vince always says it’s like an exercise when you are deconstructing someone else’s song to see how they do their songwriting. It is neat to dissect someone’s song and see the tricks they use.
JH: That is an interesting point, especially coming from Vince.
AB: Maybe I was disappointed in my performance on the record or it was a bit rushed, but it was… “Not” us.
JH: Well, your Tina Turner cover was a KNOCKOUT. (They did a cover of Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High”)
AB: Well, yeah, that one I REALLY wanted to do.
JH: Well, you did Tina Turner justice on that one, so be proud of that. Then “Abba-Esque” was a great collection, especially the theatrics in the videos. Was that you doing the gymnastics, driving through the forest on a spray-painted motorcycle, it was like the whole big snails on the stage theatrics.
AB: We had an equally crazy couple of video directors, one was French, the other was Dutch-French, and we had a few wild days. They were all done back to back, and we are wandering around London pretending to be crazy, for the “SOS” video, and that was in somebody’s house. That was taken from “I love to listen to Beethoven” from Annie Lennox. The other was in a forest just outside Versailles, Jan was pretty crazy as a director, and he was more of an animator. He had just done a film of three witches on broomsticks doing stop motion shots with his friends jumping up and down with broomsticks. He was just crazy.
JH: Flowing into another subject, with 17 albums of original material, and “Crackers international” EP, I mean all of that together, how would you even begin putting together the live set? I would consider that a daunting task.
AB: It’s hard, I am kind of working on the new set list now, which includes a quarter of the album, if not half. I would like to do a few album tracks along with the singles. I know that might not be what everyone wants to hear but just for your own musicality, I would like to maybe do something like “Save Me Darling” from “Cowboy”.
JH: That would be great, “Cowboy” man, the memories.
AB: Well, at the time that was too poppy for me.
JH: Well what about “World Be Gone”? The song “Oh What a World”, the acoustic, the piano, the cello, that was the darkest I have ever heard out of you guys. That was powerful, and I felt like it was just you handing us something completely what you wanted to do. Where did that come from to deliver it in such a way? It was one you had to experience, not just listen to it.
AB: What it boils down to is that you just have to put your feelings down on paper, and that was how I was feeling and in essence is true. I think it’s easy to get despondent in the world we are in now, you have to just take yourself back to that childlike innocence really, and almost ignore the adult stuff. I think that’s probably the amazing thing about having a child I would imagine. I don’t have any myself, but I have lots of nieces and nephews but just things of hope and optimism and doing things for people. For instance, my partner got stuck in Atlanta, there is a lady who lives near him, and she is 94 and she loves the arts and music. So he arranged a little concerto just for her, him on the piano and somebody that he hired from the Atlanta Philharmonic just for the afternoon. I thought something like that just really gives you hope. The way people help each other when you hear about it in the news. It’s hard not to be cynical, capitalism is kind of cynical. Here in the UK during the COVID experience, nobody could afford the advertising for the adverts, so on the TV, there were all of these charities and their adverts. And they were just as bad as people trying to sell fish fingers (Fried Fish strips, with french fries, but they call it “Fish n Chips”) just trying to tug on your heartstrings. Then you have all these old guys patting themselves on the back saying how well they handled the crisis. And I’m thinking “C’mon guys, where is the humility? Where is the genuine love?” It doesn’t come through selling stuff.
JH: Did you see recently in London at the protests for Black Lives Matter, this racist got knocked down the stairs of a train station and was getting beaten pretty hard. Then this black guy “His enemy” carried him out of there preventing it from getting worse. That black guys message was “WE ARE BETTER THAN THAT”. That gave me hope, that is where all of this brings out the best and the worst in everyone.
AB: That’s incredible to hear that, no I didn’t see that though. But I think we are all kind of rudderless, and people are seeking so badly to cling to an ideal that they will go to any extreme to belong to a group.
JH: So, I am all things Vince, and there is this bootleg video on YouTube, it had Allison (Moyet) on stage, Fergal (Sharkey) and then you on stage. That was for me the moment to die for. I have the 7” and 12″ of everything he ever did, so when you come through Salt Lake I will hand you both a pile of stuff to sign.
AB: Well, I’ll just use a gold stamp in that case.
JH: I was about 3 songs into the new album, and I’m emailing your publicist asking “WHO ARE THESE GIRLS SINGING?” you managed to pick some sirens for voices on this one. This is the “Let’s kick off the next decade ” for Erasure. I’m sitting in my chair bopping around to “No point in tripping”, classic Vince music, but, I will describe it as it builds up, it is the audio experience of climbing a staircase. Talk about that one.
AB: We did have two gospel singers, but they were on 4 tracks, I sang the rest of them. Let me see, (he starts singing them to himself). That one reminds me of a “Scissor Sisters” song. They were all written in Vince’s studio in his basement in Brooklyn, he had been working on them for a year or so. When I got the structures and the chords, I literally just picked up the microphone and started “Toasting” lyrically to the tracks he had made. And I think for most of the songs, that’s exactly what came out.
JH: Well, the way they all meshed together, the same riff in “Satellite” was the second half of “Tripping”.
AB: For me, “Satellite” was the sister to the single, maybe that is what you were feeling, the songs are all related. I think now more ways than ever because all the songs on this album were done in two blocks. It was kind of like we weren’t tired. Sometimes songwriting becomes very tiring, it’s not physical labor. I think what has happened is that we have gotten to where we have given each other a huge break, and we’ve taken the pressure off. It’s almost like we have a clean slate. With this record, perhaps the “World Be Gone” was the end of that series.
JH: so launching back into the familiar territory then, “Diamond Lies” is my fave song on the album. It is this “I am at an impasse” on the song, I love you, I need something from you, but trying to lay down some rules.
AB: “Diamond Lies” was my take, off the cuff of “Love Is a Stranger” by the Eurythmics. It’s about being on a merry go round, and kind of not wanting to be in the golden circle, and the disillusionment of being famous, all these people aspire to be famous.
JH: Then “New Horizons” is the message of hope.
AB: Well, that was the closest we got to “Simon and Garfunkel” in our careers. (laughing)
JH: Ok two questions left, “Kid You’re Not Alone”, is that about your journey, your message to the youth?
AB: That is a song of advice and love to a younger person, compassion, and wisdom.
JH: Well, here is my final question that I ask everyone. And you were the first openly gay singer I ever saw, and you were announcing it proudly on stage, without any shame when it was “Risky”. My question is now, 35 years later, what would your message be to the young gay kid who is in the closet, afraid and in a vulnerable state.
AB: I would like to say that “The Closet” has not been created by you, it is a kind of fabrication, it is walls that have been put up by other people. If you are between those walls, just know that when you do come out when you are honest with yourself and honest with other people, those barriers will break down, and you will soon realize the people that really love you and they are the only people that count.
JH: Andy thank you so much for your time, this has been an amazing conversation. I hope this tour is magnificent.
The timeless song “When I Needed You”, the theme of my life for the days of “The Innocence”.