Erasure have lived the pop dream for almost two decades. The most down-to-earth musical duo ever to sell more than 14 million albums across the globe, Vince Clarke and Andy Bell have built an 18-year partnership on instantly memorable pop hooks, shimmering disco anthems, outlandish costumes and a million great nights out. Theirs is a lifelong intoxication with pop music as a celebration of love and lust, heartbreak and head-spinning spectacle.
The Erasure story began almost two decades ago, when former Depeche Mode and Yazoo founder member Vince Clarke advertised to find a singer for his new project. Then just 21, Andy Bell was an ex-butcher and the 41st candidate Vince auditioned, but their creative electricity was instant. Years before they even met, Andy had seen Vince playing Space Invaders in a London studio and felt a premonition of their bright future together. "I almost had this feeling," Andy says. "I knew that I would work with Vince." Their musical chemistryErasure have lived the pop dream for almost two decades. The most down-to-earth musical duo ever to sell more than 14 million albums across the globe, Vince Clarke and Andy Bell have built an 18-year partnership on instantly memorable pop hooks, shimmering disco anthems, outlandish costumes and a million great nights out. Theirs is a lifelong intoxication with pop music as a celebration of love and lust, heartbreak and head-spinning spectacle.
The Erasure story began almost two decades ago, when former Depeche Mode and Yazoo founder member Vince Clarke advertised to find a singer for his new project. Then just 21, Andy Bell was an ex-butcher and the 41st candidate Vince auditioned, but their creative electricity was instant. Years before they even met, Andy had seen Vince playing Space Invaders in a London studio and felt a premonition of their bright future together. "I almost had this feeling," Andy says. "I knew that I would work with Vince."
Their musical chemistry was clearly strong, as Erasure were soon notching up a pop strike rate that remains virtually unrivalled among their peers. Before long Andy and Vince were scoring the first of five number one albums, with more than 14 million sales, plus a staggering 25 singles in the Top 20. They could easily have retired to some millionaire playground by now. But Vince and Andy remain restless spirits, infatuated with pop old and new, unable to break the chains of love.
Ever since his early Eighties career as chief songwriter with groundbreaking electro titans Depeche Mode, Vince has been an influential figure across two decades of cool clubland scenes, from early techno to electroclash. His remixed Happy Monday's 'Wrote For Luck' was released in 1988 to great acclaim and his remixes for Betty Boo and Simple Minds gave both an edge of left-field credibility. But Vince has also remoulded the work of LA glam-pop legends Sparks, industrial Essex noiseniks Nitzer Ebb and numerous cult techno talents.
In turn, Erasure songs have been mixed by cult house and techno artists including Little Louie Vega, William Orbit, LFO and The Orb. Meanwhile, Vince's extra-curricular projects over the years have included a key reference archive of synthesizer sounds for fellow programmers, cheekily titled 'Lucky Bastard', and two acclaimed albums of ambient dreamscapes recorded with Martin Ware of Heaven 17.
Erasure were trailblazers not just in music but in sexual politics too. With minimal fanfare, Andy joined a small but highly significant frontline of universally loved and openly gay pop frontmen during the intensely homophobic climate of Margaret Thatcher's administration, with its pernicious "family values" propaganda and Clause 28 hate campaigns. Although he is reluctant to claim credit, the fact that tabloids can no longer get away with bigoted stitch-ups of gay singers in this age of Stephen Gateley and Will Young is partly thanks to Andy's matter-of-fact attitude to his highly visible sexuality.
"I can't take credit for all of that," Andy argues, "because it doesn't mean what it did anymore. It mattered to me then, and you think it's going to matter for life. But then things start happening, the age of consent comes down, gay people getting married, all that stuff that you fought for. In general, we're in a much better place."
Taken from the duo's 1986 debut album 'Wonderland', the rapturous Hi-NRG heartache of 'Oh L'Amour' established Erasure's international appeal almost immediately, becoming a huge hit in France and Australia. The title and sentiment is pure Andy, the tune totally Vince. "That was one of the first songs I co-wrote with Andy," says Vince. "Hi-NRG was happening at the time, and there was a Hi-NRG band recording upstairs at the studio we were in. We'd go outside their control room and listen to what they were doing with their cowbells."
Erasure's second album, 'The Circus', just grazed the Top 20 in March 1987. It contained their Number Two single, the defiantly ecstatic 'Sometimes', and another Top Ten smash in the crashing disco tidal wave 'Victim of Love'. "People always refer to that 'Sometimes' video, with me dancing on the roof in a sexy T-shirt," sighs Andy. "I don't think we've ever equalled that video. I'm still waiting to be sexy again."
In December 1987, as club culture was just beginning to gatecrash the mainstream, Erasure proved ahead of the pack once more with their sparkling remix and live collection 'The Two Ring Circus'. Featuring mixes by house icon Little Louie Vega, supergroup producer Flood and Vince himself, it confirmed the duo's credentials as a cutting-edge techno-pop hit machine.
Just five months later, 'The Innocents' began an unbroken and highly impressive run of five chart-topping albums for Erasure. The mournful electro ballad, 'Ship Of Fools', and the towering electro-soul anthem 'A Little Respect' both became Top Ten singles, while the helium-voiced Spector-pop stomper 'Chains of Love' hit number 11.
"'Ship Of Fools' is a lovely song," says Andy. "It was written at Vince's house in Holland Park. He got the guitar out and came up with the tune straight away. It was one of those songs that wrote itself, you didn't have to pore over the words so much because they just attached themselves to the tune straight away."
'Chains Of Love' also gave Erasure their first taste of serious success in America, where they maintain a fanatical following to this day. "Andy Bell is the sweetest-sounding cherub in all of dance pop," the LA Weekly wrote recently. "Not since Bronski Beat's Jimmy Somerville has there been a melody maker whose swooning can send you into dreamland like a lullaby at your mother's bosom.
Taken from the 'Crackers International' EP, another Number Two hit in October 1988, 'Stop!' is a fantastic love muscle of pumping rhythm featuring Andy in full-on Divine-meets-Diana-Ross overdrive. It's the kind of glorious, glittery masterpiece that should be available free on the NHS as a surefire cure for depression. "'Stop!' was a Christmas present that Vince wrote for himself on holiday in the Caribbean," Andy recalls." We'd just started writing together."
Erasure's next full album was 'Wild!', another chart-topper released in October 1989. It contained the duo's most sensual, grown-up lust anthem yet in the form of the Top 20 hit You Surround Me, plus a Number Three smash in the shape of 'Blue Savannah', a sublime glide through the ghostly musical moodscape not far removed from David Lynch's Lost Highway. "That's one of our best written songs," nods Vince with typical understatement. By now Erasure were playing vast arenas, their stage costumes increasingly bizarre, their army of devoted fans growing by the day.
Recorded in Hamburg and released in 1991, 'Chorus' was yet another chart-topping treasure chest of hits. It also saw Vince experimenting with vintage synthesizer sounds that were an Erasure trademark long before they became a badge of credibility in underground techno circles. "I was into this idea of just using specific sounds," Vince says. "I could only use analogue equipment, I wasn't allowing myself to play chords, and I was using a very basic sequencer. It was very time-consuming but it gave the album a very unique sound."
The album spawned another raft of Top Ten singles, including the impeccably crafted title track, the gorgeous 'Breath of Life' and the chunky floor-filler 'Love To Hate You', a shameless post-rave twist on Gloria Gaynor's defiant disco classic 'I Will Survive'. Andy describes 'Chorus' as "a renaissance thing for us, it was the last song we actually wrote on the album and we were really excited about it. I thought it sounded like Fleetwood Mac meets Queen." Always ready to dress up at the drop of an expensive hat, Erasure shot a striking video for 'Breath of Life' that proved as memorable as the song itself. "It was based on 'Alice in Wonderland' and I fancied myself as a bit of a Donna Summer type," grins Andy.
The epic promo for 'Love To Hate You' also became an all-time Erasure favourite, with Vince swooping through the rafters of an East End shopping market, over the heads of a crowd of invited fans. "We stole the Gloria Gaynor line from 'I Will Survive', which Robbie has since done," Andy says. "It was a great song, but I did some awful version in Italian and Spanish. This was before I could speak Spanish, but I just loved the idea of doing international language records because that's what Abba used to do."
Speaking of Abba and outlandish videos, Erasure once again displayed their impeccable taste for gold-plated pop with a four-song cover-version EP of classics by the Swedish titans in 1992, 'Abba-esque'. Long before 'Muriel's Wedding', 'Mama Mia' the musical and a million tribute bands fired up the retro-kitsch bandwagon, Vince and Andy paid homage with a quartet of pulsing, thrusting, tastefully modernised covers - including 'Take A Chance On Me'. Their instincts proved spot on, earning the duo their first Number One single.
Two further chart-topping albums followed: the hits collection 'Pop' in 1992 and 'I Say I Say I Say' in 1994. The latter launched the sleek, bejewelled single 'Always' to Number Four in the UK and considerable airplay in the US. But this was a transitional period for Erasure. As the chirpy cartoon characters of Britpop took over the airwaves, Vince and Andy turned to more deep and experimental matters with 1995's brooding art-rock album 'Erasure'.
The single 'Stay With Me' reached a modest Number 15, but it remains perhaps the duo's most beautiful composition to date, a surging gospel rhapsody of devotional yearning that *The Guardian* labelled "more beautiful than this world deserves." Andy says, philosophically, "I suppose you could call it our first flop. It's quite a sombre song. I think it's beautiful, but the excuse we got was it wasn't for drivetime, it's not for waking people up in the morning. But as with all our work, I don't care how much it sells. I really love the song."
Similarly mixed fortunes greeted 'In My Arms' from the 1997 album 'Cowboy' and 'Freedom' from 'Loveboat' in 2000. But even with a lower commercial profile than usual, Erasure remained Top 20 pop stars whose increasingly flamboyant live shows were still greeted with nationwide hysteria. Now dealing in adult themes and soulful sounds, both albums contain some of their freshest, most enduring work.
"The songs on 'Cowboy' were really cool," nods Vince. "Our writing was working together really well at that stage. For me, whether it will stand the test of time is all about whether the tunes are any good. I think that album has got the most best tunes on."
In 2003, Erasure brought this new soulful maturity to bear on a full collection of cover versions, 'Other People's Songs'. A shiny, soaring makeover of Peter Gabriel's pastoral folk-pop standard 'Solsbury Hill' became the lead-off single, but only after Vince persuaded Andy of the tune's merits. "That song is completely our own style," claims Andy. "It sounds almost like another record, it doesn't sound like the Peter Gabriel song. I took Kate Bush as my inspiration for that song rather than him."
Almost two decades on, Erasure are still dreaming. Their songs may have been covered by everyone from peroxide Eighties love kittens Dollar to nu-metal goofballs Wheatus, but Vince and Andy are pressing on into virgin territory. Their next project is an acoustic album, with a dash of country-and-western flavour. "We're going to be the first band ever to cross over from pop to country," jokes Andy. "We want to play the Grand Old Opry."
But Vince and Andy are not ready to give up their position as godfathers of electro-pop quite yet. Both are keen fans of the ultra-hip electroclash scene, which makes perfect sense - Erasure were original pioneers of glossy Eighties techno-trash, after all.
"I want to make an electroclash disco album as well," nods Andy. "It really feels like some kind of underground, punk type movement. I love the twisted cheek of it."
Call it chemistry, call it luck, or call it a deep and unpretentious love of great music. Erasure are still writing planet-sized melodic hooks, still intoxicated with this perverse and wonderful thing called pop. "After 18 years we have a great relationship, and that becomes a friendship as well," Andy insists. "You feel very secure in that. I have fantasies about being a solo star, but I really don't need to be, because that's almost what I have anyway. Really, in Erasure, there are no confines."
Keep dreaming. After all, what's a boy in love supposed to do?… Expand