Erasure: ‘For me, this album is about original pop’

As Erasure release their new album – The Neon – singer Andy Bell talks to Duncan Seaman about the joy of 1980s pop.
Vince Clarke and Andy Bell of Erasure. Picture: Phil SharpVince Clarke and Andy Bell of Erasure. Picture: Phil Sharp
Vince Clarke and Andy Bell of Erasure. Picture: Phil Sharp

While the Covid crisis has temporarily forced Erasure singer Andy Bell to live apart from his US-based husband Stephen Moss, it seems he has spent the past few months nurturing plans for their property in Spain.

“The thing we want to do eventually is have a farm,” explains the 56-year-old. “It was originally a finca, now we want to turn it back. We’ve got sheep on there. We want to keep bees and stuff like that.”

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Realising their farming dreams may have to wait for another day, but in the meantime Bell has a new Erasure album to promote. Called The Neon, it’s his 18th studio work with bandmate Vince Clarke.

Unlike its politically-focused predecessor World Be Gone, this album has no particular theme, other than the simple joy of pop music. It’s a currency that Bell feels has been slightly devalued by major labels’ obsession with teaming up artists to guarantee success.

“I read about singles coming out all the time, Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus or whatever, it’s not just one artist, they have about three on one single just to make it a hit, and they have these writing collaborational teams of people – it’s almost like you can’t fail to have a hit otherwise you’re gone,” he says. “For me, this album is about original pop, Vince and I just being two people on our own making the music, making it joyous.

“All these other singles have these back stories as well, ‘Oh, she’s the best friend of..., can you hear the hidden message? This was her boyfriend but now they’ve split up and she’s seeing so and so’. I just remember that feeling of being a 15-year-old and going into the local vinyl shop, that excitement of going out and finding your favourite artist’s new record and being able to take it home with you; you don’t get that with a digital platform whatsoever.

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“It just made me think about that excitement of hearing these sounds for the first time with Lene Lovich and The Tourists changing into Eurythmics, groups like Japan and Siouxsie and the Banshees, then Blondie when they first broke.”

World Be Gone he feels “put to bed this earnestness and woe is me, for myself anyway”.

Bell recalls that when he first moved to London from Peterborough as a “very shy” young man in the 1980s, pop music gave him a great deal of succour. “Music was amazing. It was the same when I was living in Peterborough, I would go to this Northern Soul club because they would play Sparks and Donna Summer then Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall and I’d love having a really good dance.

“Then other times you’d love sharing music with your friends. They’d come over and you both want to play each other your tunes, the ones that you’ve picked. I think those are the best moments, the ones with your best friends and you both choose what you want to play.”

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The Neon itself is an imaginary place. “It reminds me of maybe being in Greece somewhere on holiday,” Bell says. “Maybe in Mykonos or Santorini, just having really old cobbled streets and lovely ancient stone walls with ‘The Neon’ sign on the stone. It looks lovely, the neon has a softness on the stone, it looks really futuristic but kind of artistic and at the same time really warm. I don’t know if it’s real, but kind of an emotion, really.”

Clarke, who was in Depeche Mode and Yazoo before forming Erasure with Bell in 1985, has talked about evoking some of the spirit of the 80s with his use of analogue synthesizers on this record. Bell also looks back on the era with fondness. “My favourite of all the electronic albums is Dare by the Human League. It’s amazing, now if I put it on I still get goosebumps straight away,” he says. “I’m addicted to Giorgio Moroder, anything that he’s produced, which includes Call Me from Blondie, The Runner from the Three Degrees and Quiet Life by Japan, he’s done so many things. Then of course Yazoo, they made some amazing, seminal records.

“I think because of the age that I was – 16 going on 17 in ’80-’81 – the synth I think gets into your blood, there’s something about it, it’s like a holistic sound, it gets inside you. You put the needle on the record and then the lasers from the synths come and touch you.”

Alongside Erasure both Bell and Clarke have ongoing solo projects. Bell believes the time they spend apart has made him appreciate what they have as a musical duo. “You have to go wandering off and do other things,” he says. “It clears your mind, almost, and makes you completely forget that you’re in a band, and then when you come back you’ve got some news to tell them. Vince will ask, ‘what have you been up to?’ and I’ll tell him all the things I’ve done, and vice-versa.”

As to whether he sees Erasure continuing for at least another decade, he says: “Yes, definitely. And more.”

The Neon is out now.

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