September 11, 2014 at 9:37 am EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Synth pop savants
Erasure, Andy Bell, gay news, Washington Blade

Andy Bell, left, and Vince Clarke of Erasure. They say Pet Shop Boys and Donna Summer were influences on their new album ‘The Violet Flame.’ (Photo by Phil Sharpe; courtesy Mitch Schneider Organization)

Erasure

 

The Violet Flame Tour

 

Sept. 19-20

 

Doors, 8 p.m.

 

Both nights sold out

 

Nina opens

 

9:30 Club

 

815 V St., N.W.

 

930.com

 

For Erasure singer Andy Bell, the band’s new album “The Violet Flame,” slated for a Sept. 23 release, is reflective of a new lease on life.

“I always think about music in a healing context,” the 50-year-old singer/songwriter said in a press release. He cites creative partner Vince Clarke, 54, for much of that.

“I’ve found a lot of Vince’s music is like holistic laser beams — it’s like acupuncture for the soul,” Bell said.

Having survived the death of his partner of 25 years, Paul Hickey, who died in 2012, the new album (their 16th studio effort) finds Bell celebrating a new relationship, transformation and new beginnings. The title is a spiritual term for transforming negative energy into positive.

The Brit synth-pop veterans who’ve had 40 hit singles and sold 25 million albums will celebrate their 30th anniversary next year and are touring this fall. Their two D.C. shows next weekend at the 9:30 Club are sold out.

Having interviewed Bell last time they were in town — touring on their 2011 release “Tomorrow’s World” — we caught up with the more low-key Clarke this time. From his Brooklyn studio, the droll studio wizard waxed calmly on a wide range of topics.

 

WASHINGTON BLADE: EDM has been so big in the U.S. the last couple years. It may have crested between Erasure cycles but did you guys get any mileage out of it?

VINCE CLARKE: I don’t know that we did really. I don’t think that we are kind of considered primarily a dance act. I think we’re considered more just a modern pop group really. It might have affected things a bit with the remixes … but not really in regard to making records, I don’t think.

 

BLADE: Would you say synth pop and EDM are musically related?

CLARKE: I have always felt that Erasure is really like a songwriting duo. We write songs and we happen to use synthesizers to make records. So we’re related to EDM to the degree that we both use synthesizers.

 

BLADE: That’s the extent of it?

CLARKE: I think so. If you strip it back, that’s what it is. We’ve been doing this for 30 years so this explosion you speak of in musical production that uses that kind of gear now, it’s very exciting.

 

BLADE: Did you hear the Daft Punk album “Random Access Memories?”

CLARKE? Yes.

 

BLADE: Did you like it?

CLARKE: Ehhhh — it was OK. You know, it wasn’t like an instant thing of, “Oh, I love this record”-kind of vibe. I guess I would really give it like a B-minus to be fair.

 

BLADE: When did you record “The Violet Flame” and about how long did it take to make?

CLARKE: We started writing in about April of this year. Andy and I both met up in Miami because he has a place there so we spent maybe four or five weeks writing the basic tunes. This time around it was a little different because usually we’d start writing with just nothing, maybe an acoustic guitar or piano, but this time around I had kind of prepared some parts, some loops and vibes and some general grooves for Andy to work with, so we had a starting point. I wasn’t sure about working that way, but it worked and we had a very successful meting and things started to come quickly. That part was quite successful. As far as the concept for the record, it was more of our usual concept — Andy wants to make a dance record and I want to make something electronic.

 

BLADE: What did (producer) Richard X bring to the sessions?

CLARKE: We made a Christmas record with him (2013’s “Snow Globe”), which he mixed for us in London so we knew him and the kind of stuff he was doing so he was a natural person for us to work with on this new record. The music was recorded here in my studio in Brooklyn and Andy did the vocals in Richard’s studio in South London and it was mixed there also. He didn’t ask why, he was just on our wavelength.

 

BLADE: But since you’re so involved in crafting the sound and texture of an album, what does Richard do exactly? Or any producer you might work with for Erasure?

CLARKE: It’s a little different every time but I think mostly what we’re looking for in a producer is someone who will tell us to stop working or we’d never finish a record. Someone who really has an overall idea of how this record should sound. When Andy and I go in and start making a record, we don’t really have that kind of a vision. We just do things as they happen and as they come along, we record them. So it’s good to have someone there to kind of — someone who’s in charge.

 

BLADE: “Snow Globe” was kind of viewed as this little side project but was it as labor intensive to make as a regular studio album?

CLARKE: A lot of forethought went into it. Since everybody’s made a Christmas record, we wanted to do something a little bit different. So a lot of thought was put into the way it should sound. We wanted to keep it as minimal as possible, which I think is what sets it apart from all the other Christmas records out there.

 

BLADE: Is there are lot of discussion about what the first single will be or does one cut just kind of emerge as the obvious choice?

CLARKE: Well, to be honest we usually lave that to other people. When you’ve been working on something for a long time and you hear it over and over again, it’s hard to be objective. So usually you leave it to the record company or the producer. There might be something we really hope will be a single, but usually we hand that decision over to somebody else.

 

BLADE: What does (first single) “Elevation” mean to you? U2 had a song with that title as well. It suggests a lot of possible meanings.

CLARKE: Like most of the stuff on the record, it’s very forward thinking, kind of like Andy going to these kinds of places spiritually. “Elevation” is one of those kind of happy, very positive-sounding songs. Very celebratory.

 

BLADE: How many synthesizers would you guess you own?

CLARKE: I’m in the studio right now. Maybe about 70.

 

BLADE: Have you kept them all over the years or pared down at times?

CLARKE: I’m not very good at throwing stuff away. I throw old socks away, but I’m not so good with synthesizers. I’ve been collecting them for about 30 years, so I have quite a collection. My studio right at the moment, well, it’s always in a state of being renovated. Some of these are quite old and I’ve had a very long time. Some I’ve kind of revamped. I keep what I use. You know, I’m sorry — if it’s not something I’m using, I’ll get rid of it.

 

BLADE: Erasure is rather synonymous with a big ‘80s dance/pop sound and now that’s far enough back that there’s some nostalgia for it and you see those sounds referenced in current pop. Has that phenomenon informed your creative process to any degree?

CLARKE: No, I don’t think so. I’m certainly not the kind of person to look back. It’s all about the next project really. Even with this project we’ve just done, I’m not listening to that now. I’m thinking about the next thing. That’s the wonderful thing about this job. It’s always something new and different.

 

BLADE: Audiences today seem rather sophisticated because they hear so much. When you’re figuring out the colors and textures for a track, do you consider what references certain sounds — like maybe a vintage Fender Rhodes keyboard — might have for the listener?

CLARKE: No. It’s just about what fits. Even with the synthesizers I have that are quite old, they don’t have any memory, so when I’m creating something, I’m starting from scratch each time and hopefully I’m not repeating myself. I’m certainly not trying to emulate sounds from a particular era. I’m trying to find a sound that’s hopefully unique and fits the vibe of the song.

 

BLADE: Erasure has been so reliable and steadfast over the years. Do you ever feel taken for granted?

CLARKE: No, I don’t think so. We’re very grateful. We’ve had an amazing career and we’ve got some really dedicated followings out there, you know. People who’ve been buying our records since we started so for that I’m forever grateful. I can’t knock it. I used to work in factories, in production lines, so this is a long way from that.

 

BLADE: Do Erasure albums get released on vinyl?

CLARKE: Yes. At the moment, I don’t know about the new record but just very recently once again they are more interested in that kind of thing so I hope eventually they will release it on vinyl.

 

BLADE: It seems to be a medium that suits you well.

CLARKE: Well I’m biased. I love vinyl. I collect records and I still think they sound better than CDs.

 

BLADE: Do you still live in Maine?

CLARKE: No, I live in Brooklyn now.

 

BLADE: Why did you move?

CLARKE: My wife’s twin sister lives in New York so we have to be near her.

 

BLADE: You and Tracy are still married?

CLARKE: Yes

 

BLADE: And how old is your son?

CLARKE: He turned 9 on Monday.

 

BLADE: I understand Andy is in a new relationship. Do your spouses get along?

CLARKE: Well we socialize when we’re together, if we’re working on a project or on tour, then we’ll go out and socialize but when we’re not working he lives partly in Spain and in the UK so we don’t see each other each week at the pub or anything.

 

BLADE: Was Andy out when you first met him?

CLARKE: Yes, he’s always been very up front and forward about his sexuality.

 

BLADE: You’re straight but Erasure has always been such a gay band in many ways. Is there gay musical sensibility somewhere there in your DNA?

CLARKE: I don’t know about musical sensibility. … Andy and I have had, as you can imagine, lots of discussions about sexuality over the years and I don’t know — it’s never been an issue because with Andy it’s never been an issue. So then it’s never been an issue with me either.

 

BLADE: You’ve been in other bands and done lots of side projects. What sense do you have of how rare the partnership between the two of you is? Could it have happened with somebody else under different circumstances or do you think of it as a one-in-a-million-type thing?

CLARKE: I think it’s incredibly rare. I think we’re very lucky to have met and we started working together almost immediately after we met and I think being creative together, we both realized there was a special thing between us. Andy is the first and only person I’ve actually been able to sit down and write a song with. Songwriting is a very personal thing and to that extent, you have to kind of bare your soul a little and you can only do that with the right person. Over the years, our relationship has only gotten better and better an there’s an incredible amount of trust between us, which I think is a very rare thing. Not that many bands can say they’ve been together the amount of time we have.

 

BLADE: Erasure records always feel like these very tight affairs — 10 or 11 cuts and no flab. It could fit on an LP usually, even though you’re not confined by that. Do you purposefully keep them tight?

CLARKE: Well yeah, we always try to write more than we need generally. … It’s usually just a case of Andy and I sitting down and saying, “OK, I think that idea is a strong one and this one maybe not so much.” We basically just pick the best of what we’ve done and that usually ends up being 10 or 11 songs.

 

BLADE: You’ve played the 9:30 Club many times. Good venue, good audiences here?

CLARKE: Yes, we know it quite well. I’m really looking forward to it. You seem to get a very receptive crowd in Washington. I think we played there on a very first U.S. Erasure tour many years ago, some tiny little place I don’t even remember. … So far, no one’s asked for their money back.

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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