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Erasure’s Clarke and Bell bask in ‘Light’

Erasure has remained in the spotlight for more than two decades, beginning with the British duo’s single “Who Needs Love (Like That)” in 1985.
/ Source: Billboard

Erasure has remained in the spotlight for more than two decades, beginning with the British duo’s single “Who Needs Love (Like That)” in 1985.

In May, Erasure’s longtime label, Mute Records, released the band’s 13th studio album, “Light at the End of the World.” After the acoustic-leaning previous set (2006’s “Union Street”), “Light” finds bandmates Vince Clarke (a founding member of Depeche Mode) and Andy Bell returning to their synth-pop roots.

These days, Erasure is touring the United States as part of the monthlong True Colors tour, which was conceived by Cyndi Lauper, and features Lauper, Debbie Harry and the Gossip. The “equality for all” trek supports the Human Rights Campaign, which seeks to improve the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

When True Colors wraps June 30 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, Erasure will take one week off and then commence its global Light at the End of the World tour July 6 in Tampa, Fla.

Billboard: Did you ever think Erasure would be actively recording and touring some 20-plus years later?

Clarke: When you start out, you’re really just looking to the next day or the next week. In the beginning, we were really looking from gig to gig. That was as far as we could see. I can’t believe we’ve been together for so long and that we’ve managed to sustain a fan base for this amount of time. It’s amazing to me.

Billboard: Many acts have come and gone in the same time period. To what do you owe Erasure’s longevity?

Bell: Oh, I don’t know, I think it comes down to our storytelling and the way we create a mood. Whenever we’re on tour, I am reminded of how holistic-sounding and healing synthesizer sounds are. Each night, when I’m performing onstage, I feel like I’m in a music box. I’m the ballerina, and Vince’s music is all the laser beams coming off the mirror ball. That’s what it is. And people like music boxes.

Clarke: Our survival as a group comes down to my relationship with Andy, because we know each other so well. We write the songs together, which is a very personal thing to do, to sit in a room with somebody and bare your soul. We both trust each other. Also, we have both learned to not be precious about what we do and about the songs we write.

Billboard: The new album, “Light at the End of the World,” is upbeat and tailor-made for dance floors. Is fatherhood agreeing with you, Vince? (He and his wife had a child last year.) Is Andy in a good place?

Clarke: I think that’s part of it. We’re in good places personally in our lives. We’re both very up at the moment. Also, I felt that we were going through a midtempo crisis and, as you get older, your songs get slower. So, we made an effort to write more uptempo songs for this record. With songwriting, it’s all about where you are in your head as well as where you are physically. We recorded the new album in Maine, a beautiful environment, and that also comes out in the music.

Billboard: If you look back over the last 22 years, are there any moments that stand out in your mind?

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Bell: We played a show in Sao Paulo in Brazil in the mid-’90s. All these Brazilian rock acts performed the whole day before we went on. By the time we got onstage, the whole audience was in hysterics and screaming, “Puta! Puta!,” calling us whores and throwing things at us — in a really horrible way. And all the boys were getting up on each other’s shoulders and pulling their pants down and mooning us. I was quite scared. Then, we came off stage and immediately did an MTV interview. The first question we’re asked is, “How was the show for you?” I was about to go into a tirade and Vince put one finger up to his lips and went, “Shhh.” I said, “The show was fantastic. We never had such an amazing reaction in our whole life.”

Billboard: What can fans expect from the upcoming Light at the End of the World tour, which immediately follows the True Colors trek?

Bell: My inspiration for the new show was sparked when we were recently in L.A. doing promotion. I saw this piece of camouflage material in a frame, but it had frilly petticoat bits around the outside. I thought it looked great: so bizarre and a little bit twisted. I thought, “Yes, we’ll base the show on that.” Then I returned home and found an Andy Warhol handkerchief in my drawer still in the packet. So, we started looking through all his books and thought we’d mix these kinds of elements into the show, too, along with a bit of John Waters. We may even toss in some Liza Minnelli.

Billboard: Since day one, and unlike other artists, you have never hidden your sexuality. You’ve lived your life as an out, loud-and-proud artist. Do you see yourself as a pioneer?

Bell: At the time, in 1985, I had just met my partner, Paul, as well as Vince. Paul was saying, “Oh, you can’t say that” or “Don’t say that.” He thought I should just keep quiet about it. And I thought, “I don’t want to keep quiet.” What for? So, I decided that when people would ask me about a girlfriend and stuff like that, I wasn’t going to say, “Oh, yes, I fancy this and that.” I was simply going to be me.

Billboard: Did you ever have discussions with your label, Mute, about your sexuality and how being an out artist could affect your career?

Bell: Not overt discussions. Well, there were some comments, because we shot our very first video in drag. Then, with our first hit, “Sometimes,” we were wearing jeans and T-shirts, very James Dean. After that, though, when our records began selling less, the label asked, “Can’t you put on a dress again or wear a rubber leotard for shock value just to bump up sales?” I was like, “No.” Anybody that tells me to do something, I will do the opposite.

Billboard: Why did you decide to publicly announce your HIV-positive status a couple of years ago?

Bell: I was very confused, and I hate keeping secrets to myself. It’s not because I’m a big blabbermouth or anything. It’s just such a burden to carry. It took me a while to clear my head and sort it all out.

Billboard: It’s now 22 years after the two of you began your musical journey together. Where does Erasure go next?

Clarke: After this tour, we’d like to do an album of nursery rhymes. It wouldn’t be a children’s album, though. What we’re envisioning is a record of Goth-styled nursery rhymes, more macabre. I mean, lots of nursery rhymes are pretty dark anyway, so the idea would be to make a record that adults would appreciate on one level and kids would appreciate on another.