Andy Bell and Vince Clarke, a.k.a. Erasure, have been pioneering figures in both electronic dance music and LGBT visibility for nearly 30 years now. They have made occasional diversions into acoustic recordings, ABBA covers and even a Christmas album, but the pair has remained consistently dedicated to pushing musical and cultural boundaries.
Erasure is making a triumphant return to dance territory with their newly-released CDThe Violet Flame. I asked Bell during a recent e-mail exchange whether this was intentional. “It was totally intentional,” he replied. “Vince and I wanted to make a dance album. It was written on synth instead of guitar and piano in sunny Miami, which I think rubbed off on us.” From the opening track, “Dead of Night,” to its slightly more subdued finale, “Stayed a Little Late Tonight,” the duo’s 16th studio album is chock full of high-energy greatness.
They are currently on an international tour in celebration of The Violet Flame and will be making several stops in Southern California this month including San Diego on October 22nd and Los Angeles on October 24th and 25th. Full tour details can be found at Erasure's official website.
Bell was coy when I pressed him for intel about their upcoming shows, but he did allow “my costume is Disco Dickensian.” He was more forthcoming when asked about his and Vince’s obviously successful songwriting process.
“Vince will play through a series of chord progressions and I will ad lib top lines to these chords,” Bell shared. “Vince will arrange what we have and creates a demo. I will re-sing the completed song then go away to work on the lyrics. It is usually a mixture of fantasy-based reality.”
Since they burst upon the pop music scene in 1985, Erasure has had numerous Top 40 hit singles in their native UK and the US, and has sold over 25 million albums worldwide. The duo’s name is rumored to have been inspired by a sound technician who accidentally wrote “erasure” on the demo tape of what would become their debut single, “Who Needs Love Like That.”
Bell has been openly gay throughout his and Clarke’s three-decade partnership, and has also been outspoken in support of LGBT rights and marriage equality. I asked him how he felt about the growing legal acceptance of same-sex marriage in the US, something neither of us imagined would happen so quickly when I last interviewed Bell in late 2012. “It just goes to show that public opinion is usually swaths ahead of the government,” he wrote. “And those that are unwilling to get real and participate need a good shove.”
In recent years, several of Erasure’s contemporaries from the 1980’s have written stage musicals. These include Cyndi Lauper (Kinky Boots), Pet Shop Boys (Closer to Heaven), Dave Stewart of Eurythmics (Ghost the Musical) and, most recently, Sting (The Last Ship, scheduled to premiere on Broadway this season). What would be the chances of seeing Erasure on the Great White Way some day?
“I would love to do some kind of musical theatre collaboration but the road is very hard,” Bell replied. Perhaps he was thinking first and foremost of U2’s famously problem-plagued journey getting Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark to the stage. Still, that show proved to be a hit in New York and a Las Vegas edition is reportedly in the works.
The Violet Flame arrives ten months after Erasure’s last, surprising albumSnow Globe, a sometimes joyous, sometimes cynical tribute to the holiday season. It combined electronic renditions of such Christmas classics as “Silent Night,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Silver Bells” with darker original tunes entitled “Blood on the Snow” and “There’ll Be No Tomorrow.” Bell and Clarke even produced some charming Claymation-inspired videos for some of the songs à la TV’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.
Bell stated there are no plans “as of yet” for a follow up to Snow Globe despite my argument that there are so many traditional Christmas songs out there begging for the Erasure treatment. “Maybe we’ll do an Easter record!” he teased.
It’s especially inspiring to see Bell and Clarke return to full-out dance mode on The Violet Flame since Bell has weathered some serious challenges in recent years. His longtime partner, Paul Hickey, passed away in 2012. “I am fine but (the loss) never goes away, especially when I am traveling for some reason,” Bell reports. He has also found new love with Stephen (last name unknown), whom Bell credits with helping to inspire the new CD.
Bell continues to live with HIV as well as avascular necrosis, an unrelated but debilitating condition. He has had to have both of his hips replaced, which is why he is no longer able to go “pogoing around” on stage as he regularly did during previous Erasure performances.
Looking to the future, Bell is excited about Erasure’s current tour, the upcoming holiday season and “hopefully finishing” a long-in-the-works album with DJ/remix king Dave Aude. I expect Erasure’s flame will continue to burn brightly.
Interview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.