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Written in the Stars

Sep 01, 2014 Erasure
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British singer/songwriter Andy Bell believes in fate. He speaks of his Erasure bandmate and writing partner, founding member of Depeche Mode, Vince Clarke as if their meeting 29 years ago was written in the stars. Who knows — maybe he’s right. A fan of Depeche Mode before joining up with Clarke in 1985 after spotting an advertisement in the now-defunct UK Melody Maker magazine, Bell’s introduction into the music world was certainly charmed.

“I think Vince and I have this real essence,” says Bell. “It was really meant to be that we were meant to be together. He was looking for a songwriting partner, and he found his partner. We both love it. Vince is very concerned with the songwriting craft.”

He pauses, adding tongue-in-cheek, “I think my ego is probably more apparent than his is.”

Bell is speaking from a hotel room in Washington, DC, where he’s trying to sneak in a few hours of downtime before his show that evening. He sounds cheerful but relaxed — miles away from the glitter and spandex-clad persona he presents onstage. He jokes about getting older (After all, he rightfully points out, popular bands with frontmen in their fifties are hard to come by.), but admits that it’s more about feeling comfortable in his own skin. Naturally shy, Bell says that he no longer feels like every interaction has to end with him being the life of the party.

“I was kind of a boy who used to dress up. I’d dress up and go out onto the streets and stuff near where we lived,” he recounts. “I would meet people and put out lots of seats in the back garden. I’d have a tea chest that I would make into a cauldron that would be part of the show. I made some tickets and then I’d wonder why people wouldn’t come. I didn’t realize that you have to have advertising for your show. I thought people would just walk by and come in.”

Bell brought his childhood performance ambitions with him to the clubs of London, where he says he would he would get everyone in attendance to dance along with him. He also dabbled in music, joining a band and selling women’s shoes on the side before answering Clarke’s ad. It was a Cinderella story — save for one small detail. It took time before he felt comfortable truly performing alongside someone he admired so greatly.

“Vince was one of my heroes,” he recounts. “I was over the moon that I had met this guy. But the first two or three shows that we did I was really painfully shy on stage. I created this persona for the stage.”

To date, the numbers associated with Erasures’ career are staggering. It’s rare that any musical partnership lasts a decade — let alone almost three. In their home country, the band is considered to be one of the most popular acts of the 1980s. Worldwide, they’ve sold over 25 million albums. They’ve become a rare act that can curate multiple “best of” collections while continuing to release new material.

Bell admits it’s a bit dizzying to contemplate. More than anything he’s grateful that his youthful ambitions have really come to fruition.

“People do really care about music,” he says. “It’s not some dispensable commodity. I think that if you’re around, and proving your worth, and proving that people want to see you live, even if you’re not being played on the radio, it’s quite a feat.”

The duo’s sixteenth album, The Violet Flame falls in line with the upbeat electronic pop of the duo’s back catalogue. Bell is proud of Erasure’s work, but admits that their catalogue as a whole is more about party starting than gravitas.

“I think everybody has a really personal core, that I think is something never ever gets exposed,” Bell muses. “It’s something you carry with you until the end. Or maybe that’s the just essence of who you are. Your soul. I don’t feel like so far in my work, even though I pretend that I’ve got my heart on my sleeve, I don’t feel like I’ve written something yet that’s so deeply personal that it’s affected people in a profound way. I think that’s what makes you carry on. I still feel like some heartbreaking, heart-wrenching things like Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” I feel like, wow. I wish I could write something like that.”

Bell admits changing up, both as part of Erasure and as a solo artist, might be in the cards for future releases. After all, life is short and the possibilities are endless.

“I’ve always felt that there are all kinds of musical avenues I’d like to explore still,” he notes. “Like a mini orchestra recording. In some ways, I feel like I was born a bit out of era. I would have made a really good torch singer in the 1930s or ’40s. I would watch those movies. That’s all inside me. I’m hoping it will all come out still. That’s why I’m hoping. I’m rushing around and doing so many things. It all needs to come out.”



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