- Sun, 2003-10-05 17:31
After nine albums of almost exclusively original compositions, plus their recent Other People's Songs album, Erasure released their Greatest Hits in 2003. Since forming in 1985, the British pair have proved themselves with a decade and a half of flamboyant pop , creating some of the most uplifting electronic based tunes ever. They have had multiple number 1 albums and top ten hits, and have stretched the melodic synth pop core of their music in countless directions, from proto-electroclash to clubbable populism.
I Like Music caught up with Andy Bell to chat about the past, present and future for Erasure.
''I like music because...it speaks to everyone'' Andy Bell, Erasure
ILM: So how has 2003 been for you so far?
Andy: Well it started off with the release of our Other People's Songs album, and that didn't do too badly. I'm not sure how many we sold so far. But it was more about profile to show people that we're still around. So people don't think we've retired or that we're DJs. Then we did the tour in the UK, in Germany and in America which was really good, and then did some more UK shows, they were brilliant and I really enjoyed myself. It's good to just be out there and I'm really glad I got fit before we did it, I didn't want to be huffing and puffing all over the place.
We finished in May, spent a couple of months in Spain, and then went to New York as we're doing an Erasure ballads acoustic album, with all national musicians and stuff, which is quite country and western, and now we're just getting ready for this one - our Greatest Hits and the remixed version of Oh L'Amour.
ILM: You've got Your Greatest Hits album out now, and a new version of Oh L'Amour. Can you tell me how you've changed the song in this version, plus tell me your three favourite songs out of all your albums?
Andy: The remix, well I usually tend to make things faster, and we did that but it wasn't working very well, so we dropped the tempo. We only had two days to do it, so we slowed the whole thing down, and there's a Fern Killey song and we used that vibe. It's very bare because we stripped it back, but it's quite funky and there's a few good remixes by different people.
My favourite Erasure songs would be Home from Chorus, and Blue Savannah.
ILM: On your Others People's Songs Album, what track did you have the most fun making?
Andy: Filsbury Hill was quite good because it wasn't my choice. But often Vic comes up with things I wouldn't dream of doing. I'd rather cover Kate Bush or Queen. So I thought how can I do this? And I wasn't that taken by the original, so I thought I'd sing it in gospel style and messed around with the vocals at home and cut them up and stuff. And I made a little choir in the background, Moby-style. And that worked out quite well.
Ebb Tide was quite good because it was quite mad. It's a ballad in the first place, but we took out some beats where there should be beats.My least favourite was When Will I See You Again. There was one more song we needed to put on the album really and it was the last choice. I thought it was a bit too Country and Western.
ILM: Are there any songs that you'd love to give a go at covering that you didn't do at the time?
Queen and Kate Bush and also I'd like to do a version of Ride a White Swan by T-Rex. Maybe Love Is Like A Butterfly by Dolly Parton and stuff I like, variations of music. 1940s/50s kind-of crooning is what I'd like to do, but Robbie Williams has gone and done that with Swing When You're Winning, but I bet I could do a hundred times better.
ILM: So would you want to collaborate with Robbie?
ILM: Do you have anyone on your wish list in terms of dueting or collaborating in the future?
Andy: I'd love to do a duet album with women only and do one with Debbie Harry, one with Barbara Streisand, one with Dolly, whoever would be up for it really.
ILM: Erasure are known for making music that people grew up with, like Duran Duran, Wham! and so on. How does it feel being in a band that meant so much to so many?
Andy: Well, I'm quite down to earth and I find embarrassing but I also quite enjoy it. It's lovely going out and people knowing who you are. And I just like to go out and have a good time anyway, but I don't push myself to the front of the queue or anything like that. I've been fortunate just to be in a job where you do something for pleasure and get paid for it. And I couldn't ever imagine doing anything else really - maybe a bit of stage work or something like that.
But its really a privilege, and I have to pinch myself sometimes. A girl came up to me after we'd done a performance of Oh L'amour recently, and she said, Andy I really like you, you're really great, and I was just like, yeah, yeah and then found out she'd been to all the concerts. You're kind of dismissive of people because you think they're just saying it, and then you realise they're actually not, and they really mean it, so that's quite humbling.
ILM: You're a great singer, amazing vocal range - how have you kept your voice strong over the years?
Andy: Well I'm really bad; I smoke, but I like my voice and like singing as a means to make peace with people and make people feel good. But you never want to rest on your laurels being a singer, you always want to be stretching yourself - like with any kind of exercise. The deeper you dig the more comes out.
ILM: You work well of a team, what do you each bring to the group. I've heard Vince is very organised and can get things finished quickly, while more of a creative bit less organised but with huge talent. What's your definition of each other?
Andy: I'm quite organised and tidy too. If somewhere starts getting messy I can't stand it and I have to clean it up. My boyfriend gets quite messy but I get to a stage where I have to sort it out, and if I'm on my own I'm immaculate. Vince is a person who decides he wants to do something, and then gives himself a time frame, and gets it done within that period and makes sure he gets it done, whereas I'm the kind of person who will put things off until tomorrow. It's like getting those dreams of being in sixth form and going to school without your clothes on, kind of unfinished business.
ILM: Do you find the process of writing songs cathartic? And can you describe the Erasure process of making music?
Andy: It's quite strange really writing things. It's quite bitty. Sometimes you'll get a whole song out in one go, which are usually the best songs. We've written songs for an album hopefully next year, and it's quite interesting how sometimes some of the melodies are strange because once they're written you can't believe you wrote it, because it sounds like a song already. Then you piece it together. It's kind of like a jigsaw that doesn't fit, and you make it fit together. I haven't written the words yet for the melody I'm working on, but then when the words are finished and the song and the music is done, it's almost like it bears no resemblance to the original tune. The different stages of the song are almost like completely different songs in themselves.
Usually I get a song idea when I'm lying in bed, and I can't get to sleep because it's stuck in there. So I have to get up and sing it into a tape recorder, or if I'm out I'll ring home and leave it on the answer phone. Usually it stays in your head anyway. But otherwise Vince and I will meet up and decide we're going to write a song and he'll strum on the guitar and play some chords on the piano, and when he hits upon some nice chords or riffs I'll say yes, 'that's nice, play that over,' and then while he's playing I'll sing a melody, and he'll say, 'I like that bit, but can you make the ending different,' and we'll see how bits fit together, and sometimes one part of one song will fit together better with another song.
It makes it easier with a computer too, because we record the stuff into micro-cassette and then put that on the computer, and then clean it up and chop and change it around and do the vocals on there too.
ILM: Do you keep all your outrageous stage show outfits?
Andy: Yeah, there's quite a lot of them which are mostly in the cellar in Spain. We just gave my cowboy outfit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and they've got the circus jacket and a bustier that I had and ruby red slippers.
ILM: Are you still having as much fun 17 years on? How has the industry changed for the better and for the worse?
Andy: I have just as much fun. I'm not as irresponsible as I used to be, but I still like to have fun. And I'm looking forward to turning 40 next year. It takes a week to recover from one night out. I love what I do and like where I am, and as far as the industry goes, I feel very grateful that we still have a record deal after all this time. The industry is much more cut throat and more commercialised than it used to be, it's like fast food. Things are really heavily promoted these days, although sometimes things take off of their own accord, which I like to see.
It's good to see new artists coming through, except those from Pop Idol. I think 19 Management have a lot to answer for really. I call them the Hello Children because they're always in Hello and OK and the like. It's this celebrity cult thing, which is a bit tacky and I couldn't really be doing that myself.
ILM: You've lived in the UK, and now live in Spain, can describe your absolute favourite place on earth and why?
Andy: I do like cities because you can get lost in them. Also I do like a good beach, especially a nudist beach. It's amazing how many people don't recognise you without your clothes on. One place I really like is Saint Martin in the Caribbean, it's a hot island, anywhere with a breeze and good weather and big waves and not too many people.
ILM: And how is life in Spain with your man?
Andy: It's really nice. We're not back until November, so it'll be rainy there too but it doesn't matter.
ILM: What advice do you have for young singers starting out on the road to fame?
Andy: I have respect for people for songwriters and singers who work on their craft, it's like anything, whether you make chairs or make music, you have to practice. So songwriters should write as much as they can, and singers should go out and sing live, there's nothing like going out and playing live, even if it's the local pub. I love doing karaoke. If there's a band playing when I go home and I'm out with my parents at the local Working Men's club, it's great to get up and do one song. Just keep at and carry on regardless is all the advice I can give.
ILM: What is in your CD player right now? And which bands are rocking your world right now?
Andy: I've got the acoustic album we've just done in New York on my CD player, on my iPod I've got Once Upon A Time by Donna Summer, and Hollywood by Madonna, and DJ Caroline, it's like electro clash style. Plus I've got M - remember them, they did Pop Music, their album.
ILM: Can you describe the highlight of your life so far and highlight of your musical life?
Andy: One is having the keys the City of San Francisco and two, it hasn't happened yet.