'There's crazy stuff going on right now': Vince Clarke of Erasure on getting political
PUBLISHED: 12:24 09 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:24 09 February 2018
The Erasure composer on how Trump, Brexit and LGBT rights inspired them to speak out, how The Graduate opened his eyes musically and how they've given songs a classical makeover for new album World Beyond.
Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson. Without The Graduate, we may never have had Depeche Mode, Yazoo or Erasure. Vince Clarke played violin and a little bit of guitar growing up in Essex. Watching the 1968 movie was an eye-opener.
Hearing Simon and Garfunkel’s amazing songs, he suddenly realised that music didn’t have to be all about glam rock, expensive guitars, expensive studios.
“I brought the guitar book for the soundtrack and learned all those songs. Then synthesisers happened and for me there was this weird relationship between really simple acoustic music and simple electronic music such as bands like OMD were doing.
“Everything seemed possible. It wasn’t like waiting for someone to knock on your door and say ‘you were brilliant, we’ll sign you for a million dollars or whatever’. I could do it from my bed.”
An, albeit short-lived, founding member of Depeche Mode; one half of Yazoo and then Erasure; Vince downplays his part in shaping the musical landscape of the 1980s.
“Meh...I just make music mate, do you know what I mean,” he laughs. “I never look back, the only time I listen to old songs is if we’re preparing for a tour. It’s always been about the next thing and it’s been the same for 30 years.”
He is enthusiastic about electronica’s golden years.
“It wasn’t just different, it was so different, these were people making sounds you’d never heard before to make pop songs which everybody can relate to. It wasn’t like punk rock, which was just a re-hash of 1950s rock and roll, not that I didn’t like it... when you heard the Human League’s first two albums they were so like science fiction. For me, that was incredibly influential.
“It was great to understand how you did it,” he laughs, “to work out how people made those kind of sounds and try to incorporate some of that experimentation into your own songs. Every time you mess with the faders and knobs on a sytheisiser you come up with something original. The songs we (Erasure) have always written have been just songs, really. We could’ve maybe turned ourselves into a jazz band and done jazz versions of A Little Respect but that wasn’t what we wanted to do so, yeah, it was halcyon days.”
He and Andy Bell recently accepted the Icon Award at Attitude’s 2017 award ceremony and have released a staggering number of albums including five UK number ones, and 35 UK Top 40 singles. World Be Gone went to number six in the UK Official Albums Chart, giving the BRIT and Ivor Novello winning pop duo their highest album chart position since 1994’s I Say I Say I Say.
Songwriter and keyboardist Vince never thought their partnership would last 30 plus years.
“I don’t really make any plans whatsoever, it was all about the next two weeks. In a fortnight we have a gig somewhere blah, blah, blah and then tomorrow we have to do some promotion here. Then in the middle of next year we have to start writing so there was never any concept for a long-term relationship. At the same time you can’t conceptualise those things because relationships happen because it turns out the person you’re working with is quite nice and you quite like them,” he laughs.
Somebody else he recently enjoyed working with was the Brussels based Echo Collective best known for their work with A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Johann Johannsson, Dustin O’Halloran and Stars of the Lid.
They gave Erasure’s latest album, World Be Gone, a post-classical rework. The resultant release, World Beyond, is a natural progression from 1987’s The Two Ring Circus, a companion EP for the duo’s second album, The Circus, which included several orchestral interpretations.
His initial suggestion to the record company was to do string arrangements of World Be Gone’s slower tracks as dance remixes were out. It dived right in and suggested making a whole album.
It was recorded over 10 days by Bell and Echo Collective’s Margaret Hermantarp, Neil Leiter, Thomas Engelen, Jaroslaw Mroz, Gary De Cart and Antoine Dandoy.
“It was great to talk through ideas with them and then see how their arrangements took shape. The collaboration has given elements of the album a whole new feel and Andy’s vocals remain as powerful and uplifting as ever,” says Vince. “It’s very re-assuring when you’re working with really good people who know what they’re doing.”
Produced by Echo Collective, mixed by Gareth Jones and arranged by the Echo Collective’s De Cart, Hermant and Leiter, the whole process was one of deconstruction and re-purposing. By stripping so much away, they were able to find a new space for Bell to fill. Bell has said the reinterpretations have brought such enormous context to the songs, it’s created a new place for them.
It sees them in a more reflective mood; giving the world and recent political upheavals a thoughtful examination. There’s a new dimension to tracks like fan-favourites Still It’s Not Over, which tackles the LGBT rights movement post-Stonewall; and Lousy Some Of Nothing, a ballad for our post-truth age.
“There’s crazy stuff going on right now. I mean I live in America so bloody Trump, then Brexit...there’s all this s*** going on and before we’ve always shied away from saying anything political. In this instance we thought ‘you know what, we’ve been doing this for 30 years and we’ve a solid fan base who kind of understand where we’re coming from,” says Vince.
“We felt it was almost liberating to be able to say the things we wanted to say without having a ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ vibe. The whole album isn’t pessimism. There are a few optimistic moments and that’s really what we wanted listeners come away thinking, that things can still get better.”
It’s a rather cinematic remake, bringing us full circle to The Graduate and film scores in general.
“I’ve done a couple of little small independent movies, none that you would ever have heard of. It was something I was kind of interested in doing about 10 years ago. I went to LA and we were there for two or three weeks having meetings with people, but I realised its such a bulls*** industry and I can’t do that you know,” he laughs.
“You know I’m not a very good person at selling anything particularly, which is why my job at Sainsbury’s in Basildon didn’t last very long. The only connection I have now is the accent, which never goes away. The more time I spend in the UK the stronger it gets. When I go home to the States my wife can’t understand me if I speak too fast.”
Vince, who finds the start of a tour as nerve-wracking as it’s always been, says they’re really excited to vist the region with a date at Norwich UEA.
“I’m sorry there’s not a straight motorway that goes there,” he laughs. “We always have a good time and the reception has always been really brilliant and we really appreciate the support.”
The support act is Bright Light Bright Light - aka Welsh synth pop artist Rod Thomas - who’s has success both sides of the pond and collaborated with everyone from Scissor Sisters and Elton John to Alan Cumming.
Having previously remixed BLBL’s Running Back To You, Vince is a friend. With Erasure being one of his biggest influences, plus Rod signing to Mute Song last year, both acts hitting the road together made perfect sense.
Rod says: “My love of Erasure and how important I think they are both to the LGBT community and to music in general has been well documented. Being able to do a full tour opening for them is a total joy.
“The teenage me can’t believe what’s happening and the current me isn’t much calmer either really. Vince and Andy are legends and also happen to be two of the nicest people I’ve met, so all in all, this double bill is a dream.”