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|Interview: ERASURE's Vince Clarke
by Dagmar Patterson
Erasureís Andy Bell and Vince Clarke are heroes of mine. They write perfect songs. They are unafraid to try new things. They have enough hits to sink several ships. Their longevity is deserved and their artistic force unquestionably present. Composer Vince Clarke talked with me right before the start of the 2007 tour.
Q: What are the plans for the new tour? Will there be dancers?
Vince Clarke: Thereís two legs of the tour. The first leg of the tour which is when weíre playing with Cyndi Lauper and Debbie Harry, thatís kind of minimal production. There will be costumes. The second leg of the tour weíre doing on our own and thatís going to be more of a production so we have quite a futuristic stage set. There are three backup singers that work with us Ė more of an entertainment type show.
Q: Where did the title for the new cd (Light at the End of the World) come from?
V.C.: It was actually a lyric in one of the songs that we wrote for the album and we just felt that it encapsulated the positive, optimistic mood of the record. Itís about the most upbeat record weíve written for a long time and it reflects the place where both myself and Andy are at at the moment.
Q: How has your son changed your perspective and yourself?
V.C.: It changes everything, especially my sleep pattern. Itís a whole new world. My son is eighteen months old now. Heís started walking and talking.
Q: Does he have a favorite Erasure song? Is he a fan?
V.C.: You know heís the only member of the family thatís actually listened to the whole record all the way through. He doesnít like the slow songs Ė heís not so keen on those but he likes the uptempo ones. He is a bit of a fan.
Q: This is strange because the other day I was thinking about the name Oscar and how you donít hear it often, then I read you named your son Oscar.
V.C.: There seems to be a run on kind of traditional names. When I told my mom Ė we didnít know what the sex of the baby was going to be Ė if itís a boy weíd call him Oscar. She said well, you have to call him Oscar Wilde. We kept it Oscar.
Q: Is it weird living in the U.S.?
V.C.: Of course itís weird. I was living in New York for a couple of years, then Maine. When I first moved there [Maine] it was pretty surreal. You know in movies when people move into a new neighborhood and someone comes down with a gift basket? That really happened to us. We have really fantastic neighbors Ė there were flowers waiting for us and gift baskets. It was so nice, I couldnít imagine anything nicer. Itís great for Oscar because they love young blood.
Q: Are there songs you havenít done live yet youíd like to do?
V.C.: For the tour weíre trying to include some old stuff and new stuff. Itís a real mixture. When you make a new record I donít think the songs actually come to life until youíve played them live. Iím looking forward to playing the new tracks and seeing what the reaction will be.
Q: I have noticed about your music that I can feel good listening to it even if I am miserable.
V.C.: We do write miserable lyrics. I think that works in a song. It makes the meaning of the song more poignant when you can put a serious lyric, or a sad lyric to an upbeat tune.
Q: Who came up with the idea to have gnomes in the video for your cover of Steve Harley & Cockney Rebelís "Make Smile"?
V.C.: A friend of ours who works with us sometimes has a massive collection in his north London flat, and heís in his 50s. So heís a bit weird and we thought weíd include one in our video. Gnomes are big in the U.K.
Q: Do you have any gnomes?
V.C. I do have a gnome and heís riding a tortoise.
Q: They are hard to find in the U.S.
V.C. Someone should get into that. I think theyíd be a smash hit in the U.S.
Q: How do you decide what causes you will support as a band? I have noticed youíve done several events for different causes.
V.C.: Itís all about timing. If weíre in touring mode weíll get involved. We only turn stuff down when itís totally impractical.
Q: What kind of music do you like listening to or see live?
V.C.: Well, since Iíve had my baby itís mainly music from Sesame Street. And obviously the Wiggles.
Q: About six years ago you posed nude for the photographer Rankin. Do you ever think about doing it again?
V.C.: No. It was one of those drunken decisions. I thought, that would be fun. Itís not often that someone comes up to you and asks you to pose nude for a publication. And I did it. That was it, it was a one-off.
Q: Was it liberating?
V.C. It was embarrassing. It wasnít like it was just the photographer there. There was the stylist, a makeup person Ė a whole team of people watching you take your kit off. Obviously youíre slightly self conscious. It was an interesting project to do but I donít think my wife would allow me to do that again.
Q: Why do you think Erasure is so popular in Nordic countries?
V.C.: Weíve been very fortunate. Weíve toured all the time from when we started, weíve built up a loyal fan base. A lot of these people have stuck with us. Iíd like to think that the songs that we write are songs that they go home and sing in the shower.
Q: Who made the better girl between you and Andy in the video for "Take A Chance on Me"?
V.C.: I definitely do.
Q: Do you worry about Erasure being thought of as a cover band because of all the covers youíve done?
V.C.: Sometimes Ė I mean, we sometimes get that comment. I think because we did that whole cover record and then we did the acoustic record, this new record is all new material. It was quite good because there was a gap between then and us writing new material. We came to the table with lots of ideas so it was quite healthy. I think the songs that we wrote for this new record are stronger for that reason.
Q: How have you two stayed friends?
V.C. We stay friends because we enjoy it so much. When we start writing a record I think both of us are slightly nervous because weíre not sure that anything is going to happen. And then when the ideas start flowing, itís just great. Writing a song with somebody else youíre kind of exposing yourself, itís quite intimate, and you have to feel really at ease with the person youíre working with. Iíve known Andy for 20-odd years. Our relationship is very calm and no oneís afraid of making a mistake. Thereís an understanding between us where if an idea isnít going anywhere, if one person doesnít really like the idea, we donít even have to say it. We just drop the idea and move on to the next song.
Q: I donít like the term camp but sometimes I see it when Erasure is mentioned. How would you describe the band?
V.C.: When we perform live Andy really puts on a show. He really goes for it 150%. Itís a joy for me to watch actually - what heís going to do or what heís going to say. He leaps about like a mad person. I think that weíre a pop band essentially. We write 3 minute pop tunes. When you play to an audience and they start singing along with you Ė thatís what weíre about.
Q: Whatís the craziest outfit youíve worn Ė onstage or offstage?
V.C.: I was dressed as a cactus on the Cowboy Tour. That was quite cool.
Q: Like a suit?
V.C.: No, I was in the cactus. My arms were sticking out like branches of the cactus. On the internet thereís probably a picture there somewhere.
Q: Is there an outfit of Andyís youíve seen and just thought heís totally crazy?
V.C.: When we first started performing we wore t-shirts and jeans. The whole dressing up kind of evolved over the years. It was slowly introduced into our style. Thereís nothing that has outraged me yet.
Q: Are there types of music youíd like to try doing?
V.C.: Weíd love to make a record of nursery rhymes. This was before my son was born. The idea would be (which weíre hoping to pull of next year) a gothic musical, almost like a film score. Traditional nursery rhymes, some of them, are quite macabre. Iíd like to work on that theme and make it a kind of Tim Burton record of nursery rhymes. Thatís one project we have in mind.
Q: Is there a particular fairy tale or nursery rhyme you liked as a child?
V.C.: I donít know if I was particularly aware of nursery rhymes when I was a kid. There really wasnít that much music in our family when I was a child. When I was about 13 or 14 my mom bought a second-hand radiogram Ė like a big record player with a radio on it. She had this big collection of 78s, of classical music and singles of songs like Ruby Tuesday by the Rolling Stones. I think she inherited them from one of her sisters or something like that. That was really the first time I was exposed to music. Obviously when youíre a teenager we used to listen to the radio and the chart show on the Sunday - the top 30 or whatever. My father had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and he had a Frank Sinatra At the Sands [tape] and we used to tape the radio, and he only had one tape. Gradually his recording of Frank Sinatra got smaller and smaller and smaller. Thatís how we listened to music.
Q: Music used to be very condensed in that way.
V.C.: Yeah, we would give our parents hell if we werenít allowed to listen to the radio on a Sunday evening.
Q: It was totally different.
V.C.: Now itís everywhere and so much easier to obtain. There are so many more outlets.
Q: What was the first record you bought once you were old enough?
V.C.: The first record I bought was This Town Ainít Big Enough For Both of Us by Sparks. I didnít buy it, my sister bought it Ė I saved up the money and she went in the shop and bought it.
Q: Thatís cute.
V.C.: I played it over and over and over again. When I first started working in my teens I bought my first stereo record player. It was life changing, because I would be up there in my bedroom between the two speakers wearing them like headphones. I just couldnít believe stereo Ė it was so magical. I started listening to early Genesis records. I was mesmerized. It was like taking drugs. To hear them for the first time in stereo was like wow. The radio was in mono Ė Iím starting to sound really old now arenít I?
Q: No, I remember this too. Do you buy music now?
V.C.: I download stuff from iTunes. Iím a big fan of that. Most of my records and cds are still in the U.K. So if I suddenly think, I want to hear something really badly, itís fantastic I can go to iTunes and do a search and download it.
Q: What was the last iTunes you got?
V.C. It was Memorabilia by Soft Cell.
Q: I love Soft Cell. I have a question about disco music. Do you have a favorite disco song?
V.C.: Anything by the Bee Gees. I love that era when they were doing disco music. I thought that was fantastic.
Q: When you were a teenager what kind of jobs did you have?
V.C.: I left school when I was 15. The first job I had was working in the yogurt factory, loading tureens of milk into the yogurt machines. After that I worked at a cosmetics company, and I worked for the post office for a bit. I worked for a supermarket, stacking shelves. I worked in the plastics factory doing plastic moulding Ė shift work. The best job that I had in my teens Ė I worked at a small airport near my town. It was my job to empty the buckets of the toilets and also prepare the food for the flight, and also Ė it was only small airplanes - but when they landed it was my job to get up a ladder and clean the window. So the pilot would be in there and I would be outside the aircraft scraping off the bird poo. I did a few things. I really only worked in order to earn money to buy guitars. I never had any idea of any other career. I didnít really want to be a banker or a civil servant or anything. I just wanted to earn the money to buy the next best guitar or synthesizer.
Q: Whose idea was it to mix "I Will Survive" with "Love to Hate You"?
V.C.: That was really a joint idea. We didnít want to rip it off but there was that chord change which is so interesting. So Iíd be there with the keyboard and Andy would be singing and Iíd be trying to fit the chords to it. . .
Q: Iíve seen in some interviews that you read Science Fiction. What are you reading now?
V.C.: Iím not doing Science Fiction at the moment. Iíve just finished the Grapes of Wrath again. I read quite quickly and I tend to throw books away. I just thought it would be nice to re-read all the classic books I read in my youth and keep those books so that when my son is old enough to appreciate them there would be real tasty books for him to read.
Q: Does he like the Teletubbies?
V.C. We do the Teletubbies a little bit sometimes at breakfast time on the computer. We donít get that station on our tv. Heís more a Sesame Street guy.
Q: You seem always to know a good joke. Any new ones?
V.C.: I donít know any new ones. Iíve got some old ones if youíre interested. Do you know the joke about the chicken and the egg? Thereís a chicken and an egg and theyíre sitting in bed together, each smoking a cigarette, and the egg turns to the chicken and says, ďThat answers that question then, doesnít it?í
Erasure will tour North America through the rest of June and the entire month of July. Then they will hit the U.K. and Europe.
More on Erasure: www.erasureinfo.com / www.myspace.com/erasureofficial.