September 1, 2011 | by Joey DiGuglielmo
A new ‘World’ for Erasure

Andy Bell (left) and Vince Clarke of Erasure. They play the 9:30 club Tuesday and Wednesday. Tickets are $45. Go to 930.com to purchase. (Photo courtesy of Mute Records)

It’s a great time to be an Erasure fan.

Anticipation is high for the band’s new album, “Tomorrow’s World,” slated for an Oct. 3 release. It’s the dynamic synth-pop duo’s first full-on album release since 2007. Band mates Andy Bell and Vince Clarke have been wowing audiences all summer on a world tour that’s found them stopping off in Dublin, Berlin, Moscow, Rio, Mexico City and more. A U.S. leg began this week in Tampa. They’re heading up through the South with stops scheduled for D.C.’s 9:30 club Tuesday and Wednesday. Upcoming shows in Houston, Dallas and Portland are already sold out.

The band’s first two albums, “Wonderland” and “The Circus” were re-released in elaborate three-disc special editions in July.

“When I Start To (Break it Down),” the first single from the new album, was released this week and features production by Frankmusik, who’s also touring with the band and whose production credits include the Pet Shop Boys and Lady Gaga. A five-track maxi with remixes drops in September.

And the road trek has brought the band rave reviews. A July festival appearance inspired the Scotsman to gush that their “huge catalog of hits has stood the test of time” and that, “it was impossible not to get carried away with the sheer joy of it all.” Their local appearance with Cyndi Lauper on the 2007 “True Colors Tour” drew equal raves.

Lead singer Andy Bell, who’s gay (Clarke is straight), says the tour has been going amazingly well and that “World” is his favorite new Erasure album in a decade.

During a rehearsal break in Tampa, he took time to talk with the Blade.

“[The tour] is fantastic really,” he says in his impossible-to-resist British accent. “In Lima, I couldn’t believe it really. There was the whole shebang, with escorts and police and everything. We did 12 shows in six countries in 20 days. Wow.”

The set list doesn’t change radically from night to night, though Erasure does throw in certain songs if they have particular relevance to a certain town. Like b-side “When I Needed You,” which charted in Argentina where they just performed an acoustic rendition of it.

“It’s not always necessarily the stuff that charted,” Bell says of the band’s philosophies of set list construction. “You kind of tend to choose the familiar stuff and the stuff you want to do. It’s really like being a DJ in a way where you’re trying to create something, a sort of theatrical soundscape where things from different albums lead nicely in and out of each other and there are a few nice surprises. When you’re doing a show, it’s a bit like having a fairground attraction or a store.”

Bell is amused to see how audiences are different around the world. South American audiences often bring their babies to the show.

“It’s very Catholic there so you see all these babies and little children. They’re very passionate about it. Not really over the top, but they really want their baby to hear the music. It’s not that they couldn’t find a babysitter or something.”

Audiences there tend to skew younger too, he says. In America, they’re more vocal. But in Europe, the band’s audiences aren’t as gay as one might imagine.

“There’s kind of a joke in the UK among some of my friends,” he says. “They say there’s nothing more straight there than an Erasure fan. We do get some really, really hetero people there.”

So what gives? And why do aging dance divas continue having UK chart success when U.S. radio has put them out to pasture?

Bell theorizes that the way people enjoy live music there has been a factor.

“The culture there for concerts is more a sense of people coming out and going on a sort of holiday where you have these huge outdoor spaces like club spaces and even at concerts you have a sort of a rave kind of sensibility that comes to the music. It’s all outdoors. But there’s also a European type of melody idea that seems to be coming into American music more that’s completely outside of hip-hop of course. It’s almost like the Atlantic Ocean is getting bigger but the music is still moving back and forth. Things are getting more mixed up in the waves and it’s not so separate now.”

Bell, who’s used his Erasure hiatuses to release solo albums the last few years (his last was “Non-Stop” in 2010), says it’s always a joy to reunite with Clarke.

Part of the appeal is trading off being at the helm with collaboration, he says.

“A solo album is never done by yourself but when you go off and do your solo record, you can tell them more what to do. Vince won’t do what I tell him to do. The solo work is more about being egoistical and being in control but also what I like about Erasure is not being in control. Vince kind of likes to guide things, but it’s a partnership. We choose the songs together, the playlist for the live shows and now with the new record, everything feels fresh again. It’s like new laundry and you know that you’re embarking on the world with this product. Which sounds so cold, but you’ve got this new record, something you’ve made together and you’re going out on the road with it. You have to go out and work it just like everybody else. It feels really good, like you’re a dynamic duo.”

Bell says he and Clarke’s personal relationship is more a “working partnership” than a close friendship but, “There is love there underneath and respect and admiration.”

“When it comes to the crunch, you have to be there for the other person.”

A few other topics come up in our closing moments.

In the cutthroat entertainment industry, does the cream eventually rise?

Bell says he knows “thousands of very talented people who don’t necessarily get the break,” but just as important as getting the break is the work that comes after it.

“You can’t just be willy-nilly about it. It’s really hard work so it’s something you have to be passionate about. It’s not a nine-to-five job. Like everything, it takes real dedication.”

Being openly gay in pop music is “getting easier, but by teeny-tiny increments.” He says it’s still “much easier for a straight artist, always has been.”

And as for the new record, Bell says he’s “very, very happy.”

“I really love [2005’s] ‘Nightbird,’ but I’d even put (‘Tomorrow’s World’) a few notches above that. I’m just really pleased with where we are, Vince and myself. There are lots of exciting things to come. We’ve re-laid some foundation and it’s a good foundation.”

 

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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