Godfathers of Pop – Andy Bell Interview
The Erasure frontman has been busy of late, releasing a solo album, Torsten The Bareback Saint – which he performed at the Edinburgh Festival in August 2014 – and a new record with his old pal Vince Clarke, entitled The Violet Flame. He tells Classic Pop about his pursuits past and present…
Torsten The Bareback Saint is a musical departure from your Erasure work. Tell us a bit about it.
It was written for me by Barney Ashton and his friend, Christopher Frost. They’re great songs. I did six or seven gigs on the Atlantis cruise liner, with a whole band, string players, stuff like that, and I feel that [performing Torsten] is the same kind of vibe. It’s very intimate.
I suppose how it differs from Erasure is that I know Erasure inside out and back to front, and it’s very dancey. I’m very static singing Torsten; it’s not all bells and whistles. It’s almost like storytelling.
The Violet Flame is your 16th studio album with Erasure. Do you and Vince write songs in the same room, or email each other your ideas?
Usually, we meet up. We either go to Brooklyn or this time he came down to see me in Florida. I’m not there all the time – I’m kind of half and half between there and London, because my partner’s there. This time, we wrote on synths rather than on guitar and piano, which is what we usually do. It’s still the same because Vince is using chords, but it’s much more linear than when you’re using a guitar and piano.
Do you ever collaborate with him on your solo albums?
I have sometimes. With iPop [Andy’s collaboration with dance duo Shelter], I asked him if he’d be interested in doing some stuff with them, so he literally just dealt with the two guys and was sending stuff to them, doing the overdubs with them. I was also going to get Vince to do some work with Dave Audé, who I’ve been writing with, but there wasn’t enough time. We were only able to grab a week here and there, because Dave’s really busy all the time in LA.
Erasure released a Christmas album, Snow Globe, in 2013. How do you think that went?
I thought it was really good. It was very critically acclaimed and we got loads of feedback from it. It’s just a shame that radio stations don’t play Christmas songs! The reception was brilliant, though – we couldn’t have asked for much more. I loved doing it.
What current acts would you recommend to our readers?
To be honest, I’m not really up to date! I just dip in and out every now and again, so I’m not really concentrating much on what’s now. By the time you get into something, it’s already old!
Do you think it’s possible to be too old to make dance music?
I love it and see myself just carrying on, because one thing I really love is those disco divas who carry on and do PAs in clubs and things, with just a backing track. It’s really hard work but I love that vibe. If you can work the crowds, I think it’s really healthy for you. In the US I do a lot of gay pride shows, which has a similar feeling, but I tend to mix up the music, so I’ll play some Erasure, some of my solo stuff.
It’s still to a backing track but this time I played Don’t Call Me Up from Torsten, which is kind of a piano lounge song, and then I played a Dave Audé track called Aftermath, and one from iPop and one from Electric Blue, and just mixed it all in. The crowd haven’t heard the solo stuff so much, so I’m quite surprised at the reaction I get.
Have Erasure ever been tempted to do the whole nostalgia circuit?
No, Erasure kind of works on its own, so we tend to shy away a bit from that. It’s kind of like an Eighties time loop you get stuck in. I notice that on a few things, people have started talking about us as a Nineties band because we had three albums or so in the Nineties. It’s really weird because it’s hard to get your new stuff played, as I’m sure anyone will tell you, so you kind of get branded. And what’s weird is that Eighties radio stations will only play two or three songs from that period, because we didn’t start until 1986, did we? So they only play the hits, which gets a bit stifling.
Which Erasure album are you most proud of?
I love Erasure from 1995 and also Night Bird from 2005. Of the early albums, Chorus and Wild are my two favourite ones. The music was so amazing in the Eighties. I think everything has become so commercialised now. People used to balk at being on adverts on the TV, but now it’s the new radio.