Bell Ends Covered Up

You can say what you like about Erasure. They’re one of those bands you either love or hate. But whichever side of the fence you choose to sit on, there’s one thing you cannot deny: They have been consistently making healthy chart impressions for the best part of 20 years and have released their fair share of “perfect pop songs” along the way. Vince Clarke and Andy Bell took time out to shed some light on what’s been going on in the Erasure camp.

AD: It’s been some time since we last caught Erasure on the road. What’s been going on?

AB: The last tour was three years ago and it was quite a big tour because we tagged on to the end doing a tour of South America supporting David Bowie and No Doubt were on the bill and we were going round and swapping running orders, depending on who was more popular in which country.

AD: I would imagine you’d have a few stories to tell about that point in your career then…

VC: Well, I mean it was quite an adventure and we were working quite hard, because we'd never been to those places before, so that meant that we were doing lots and lots of promotion. I think we both found it quite tiring, more so than most tours, because you're trying to pack everything in and of course, at the end of the day you really don't get the chance to see the different places particularly. And then the worst thing of all was that the idea was to do this tour and then hopefully get some action happening in those territories and there was the great South East Asian collapse of the economy.

AD: You have chosen to release an album full of cover versions this time around. Why?

AB: Well, the whole thing started out because I was toying with the idea of doing a solo project and I was looking into doing a lot of Phil Spectre songs and we were going backwards and forwards; I was in Spain most the time and Vince came over and saw me and we had a real heart-to-heart and everything and he said, 'Oh, why don't we make it an Erasure project?' There's another guy involved, Gareth Jones, who we'd been working with quite a bit and do it as a three-person project and all come up with a CD full of songs that each of us would choose and so we kind of went from there really. And it took probably about half a year just to decide which songs we were going to do.

AD: You have done a similar thing before though, when you achieved your number one single “Abba-esque”…

AB: I think it's a bit more serious than the ABBA thing and I mean the ABBA thing was going to be an album in the first place, but then we were really glad that we didn't do that, because we were pretty swamped by ABBA anyway when we did it, and, I don't know, it just kind of seems not so throw away as the ABBA thing was.

VC: We thought about it a lot more. The ABBA thing was kind of done on a whim, really, and this was more talked about and discussed. And you know, we ditched a lot of songs as well, the songs that we decided weren't working.

AD: Having been in numerous bands myself, I know that there are often arguments where covers are concerned. Any disputes?

VC: I don't think there were disputes, because the ones that weren't working we knew straight away. Most of the singing was done in the control room, so it's just me, Gareth and Andy and the microphone and you knew instantly whether that was going to work, whether there was some magic in the track and in the singing and in the approach to the singing. We tried lots of other stuff, lots of other songs that just didn't make the mark.

AD: What made you decide to record and release Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill”?

VC: That was one of my choices and I just think it's a fantastic record. The thing about that particular track that's right is that the time signature's 7/8, which is pretty difficult to put a groove to, so we struggled with that beat, myself and Gareth for ages and ages, trying to make it sound groovy and it just wasn't happening. And we just figured we'll make it 4/4 and then suddenly the whole thing came together and of course all the riffs, all the parts all fit anyway perfectly and hopefully the song has a bit of a groove to it now. That was quite a moment. It was such a simple thing to do, but it took us ages to work it out.

AD: Can you talk us through some of the other track choices?

AB: The song that started off the whole project was “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers. We went through a few versions of it and we ended up with the original vocal that I did at Gareth's house, just on a live mic with the music in the background. It was before all the Pop Stars started doing their Righteous Brothers 'Unchained Melody' and I just remember when I was living at home, I didn't realise how influenced I was by my parents' records; just my mum was a huge Elvis fan and my dad was a Buddy Holly fan and they had this Phil Spector Greatest Hits album and I used to listen to that like every day, and I remember going out and taking it to the two girls across the road and I said, "You've got to listen to this. It's fantastic!" and I put it on and they weren't impressed at all. But I had kind of taken it to my heart and I just thought, "If only I could sing like that." And it was just like getting a Righteous Brothers-ish feeling in the voice and I think we've got it quite close. What's interesting about doing these cover versions is a lot of them are really old; they're from the 1950s and its really weird that we've done synthesised versions, but the vocals still sound sometimes almost older than the original ones, just the effect of them. So it's quite bizarre.

VC: “Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)” by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel was one of my records from when I was a teen that I loved.
We struggled over that a little bit, because at first we tried to do an imitation, an impression almost of the original, but Andy's not Cockney so it didn't work, so he just kind of sang it in his own style.

AD: So what have you got in store for us with the forthcoming tour then? No more rubber G-strings hopefully…

AB: We're going back to Edwardian time and then bringing it up to now; we're going back to when the gramophone was first invented. From sepia to colour.

VC: I'm kind of looking forward to touring, yeah, I feel a lot better about myself generally in life; I feel more positive, and I'm doing lots of interesting things, so I think if you've got a good spirit, then touring is not as bad. I've been looking at the dates and thinking, "That's going to be quite exciting."

AB: I just need to be out there, because I'm a performer and I really miss it.

AD: Once this album and tour have been put to bed, what are your future plans?

VC: Well, I think both of us are really looking forward. We've enjoyed doing the cover songs album, but I'm sick of covers, actually I'm really looking forward to doing our own writing again. We've started some writing. Even though it's been really good, it's not the same; you don't get the same emotional lift from when you write your own song, for sure, that magic sort of tingle when it works and it's your own.

Transcript by Tone E

Thanks to Sarah at Pomona for this interview.


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