A little while ago we had the pleasure of interviewing Vince Clarke, the pop music master behind Depeche Mode’s first album, Yazoo, The Assembly and of course, Erasure, the synth pop duo he formed with singer Andy Bell in 1985.
On October 11th, they will release their 14th studio album, Tomorrow’s World, which expands their streamlined, hooky romantic pop sound into something more epic in scope. We chatted to Clarke about entrusting Erasure’s sound to 25-year-old producer Frankmusik, the secret to their longevity and his favorite pop star at the moment. Read the Q&A after the jump!
Erasure was on a break for a while. When did you guys decide to regroup and start working on another record?
Well we started writing about two years ago. We did some writing in London, some stuff in America so we’ve been compiling ideas and tunes together for quite a while and then we finally hooked up with the producer, Frankmusik, and got the job done.
Why did you decide to work with him?
We heard some good stuff and a few people recommended him, some of the fans recommended him. It turns out that his mum is a big fan of ours [laughs]. I don’t know, we just liked what he was doing and we loved the sound that he was making and thought it might be an interesting collaboration.
So this new record sounds quite different.
Definitely. With this new record, it’s completely different than anything we’ve ever made before. Frankmusik really makes and produces a wall of sound whereas I think in the past Erasure records have sounded, purposefully, quite minimalistic. This new record is nothing like that. It’s full on.
Erasure’s new single, “When I Start To (Break It All Down).”
Why so minimalistic in the past?
I think I’ve always been afraid of over-production, you know? And I like hearing every single melody or every single sound. I like that definition and that separation. That’s the kind of way that our records have sounded in the past I think. In this instance, Frank brought something really different and it turns out it was really an eyeopener for me and it turned out to be a really good collaboration.
Did it take some getting used to?
Well, you know, I think as I’ve gotten older I’m far more open to people coming in and stirring things up. I’m much more open to other people’s ideas than I was when I started. When I was 19 I thought I knew it all, now I’m older I realize I know nothing.
People often say things like, they like how Jay-Z sounds ‘age appropriate’ or that Madonna should sound more ‘age appropriate.’ Do you feel pressure to sound ‘age appropriate’?
I don’t know, I think we certainly don’t have any pressure from the record company to make a certain type of record. We’re with an independent record company that’s been very supportive of us. But no, because at the end of the day it’s not about age appropriateness it’s more about writing a song that you’d like yourself. I think as far as fashion is concerned and trends, that’s the sound of the record, it’s not the song. A song is a song.
You have a studio in Maine that I always picture as being full of vintage, analog synth gear. What role does the analog gear play in this bigger sound you’re going for?
I only recently finished my studio so this is only the first time I’ve been reunited with all that equipment in quite a few years… I really, really wanted to use my old equipment again just because it’s so much more enjoyable to use, you need two hands to operate it as opposed to just a mouse. There’s something very satisfying about it. Most of the old stuff I’ve got doesn’t have memory so every time you mess about with a sound it’s going to be different every single time. You’re not looking at presets you’re creating something completely new so that’s always very satisfying.
A lot of bands are doing these nostalgic shows where they perform an album in its entirety. Do you ever get requests like that?
No, we don’t get those requests. We did it. We did an acoustic tour a few years ago but that was basically the entire acoustic album but then again that was songs recorded acoustically but they were from all of our albums. We mix and match it. We’re doing five tracks from the new record on this tour, and there are various tracks from all of our albums.
Are there any songs that you’re completely uninterested in performing or just don’t relate to anymore?
Um, I don’t know. I mean, Andy kind of comes up with the set list and the ideas but if it’s something that really grates me then eventually it gets dropped. [laughs]
What’s a song that’s grated on you?
I can’t say that, can I?
Some fans will be disappointed if it’s their favorite one.
You’ve worked with many singers over the years. Who are some singers you’ve enjoyed working with or learned a lot from?
Well Alison [Moyet from Yazoo] is obviously the main person because we recently did another tour together the first time in 25 years or something. I love the sound of her voice and I always have done, even when she was in punk bands from my hometown. She always sounded amazing.
What was it like the first time you heard her sing again after all those years?
Great! We met literally at the first rehearsal session and I said to her, ‘OK hi, what, you know, what should we do?’ And she just did “Only You” and it sounded exactly like when she first recorded it. It was amazing.
When you did that tour it was to wrap up unfinished business. Is there ever a desire to collaborate again?
No, I don’t think so. Erasure is my thing. It’s my band. That Yazoo tour was the end of that.
What’s been the key to your longevity with Andy?
We’re good mates and I think neither of us take the music business too seriously. That helps, for one. I don’t think we take ourselves too seriously and we never argue. We’ve never argued in 25 years.
Nope. Never. Over nothing. When we write a song, if someone comes into the room with a song, with an idea, and the other person isn’t 100% behind it, then no one really fights for their corner. The idea just gets dropped because it’s never worth the hassle. There’s always another idea around the corner.
You live in Maine and Andy lives in London. How does songwriting work? Can you do it remotely or do you have to be in the same room?
We have to be in the same room for the writing. So we got together, in this instance, in London. We spent some time in New York together and we spent some time in Maine together. The programming stuff, that can be done remotely.
So what do you start with? A melody or the music?
It’s always the melody first and then the chord progression. Then it’s the lyric and then we’ll demo it with an acoustic guitar or a piano and the electronics come last.
Do you ever worry that with the ability to email beats or vocals, that music loses the spontaneity you get when people are in the same room collaborating?
No, not really. I don’t think songwriting is done like that. Arrangements or, as you say, recording is done like that but I don’t think songwriters can work like that. I’m sure not. We don’t do spontaneity in our recording sessions, you know? [Laughs] We use a computer! You totally come up with melody ideas and sound ideas, that’s spontaneous I suppose but it’s not like anybody sits down and starts jamming. Heaven forbid!
What pop artists are you into nowadays, from a songwriting point of view?
This week I really like Robyn, from Sweden. Next week it could be someone else. Depends who’s on the iPod.
What’s your favorite Robyn song?
I don’t know. I just like the feel of her songs and the atmosphere that she creates with her records.
She creates a very wistful mood.
Yeah and I think it’s really interesting with the electronic background. I think it’s really cool.
You recently did a remix for the singer Billie Ray Martin that is really great. How did that come about?
She just approached my management and said are you interested in doing it. It sounded like a good song and a good idea. You know, I’ll only do a remix if I feel I can contribute something. That’s the only way I kind of work and I felt I could something with that track and I think it turned out quite good. I love her voice.
What did you feel you could bring to it?
It’s hearing the song and thinking, OK I can take that in quite a different direction and get something more or different out of it. I’m not saying what I do makes the track better. It’s just different. If I have a vision or an idea then I’ll take up the offer and do the remix.
“Sweet Suburban Disco (Vince Clarke Remix)” by Billie Ray Martin.
What’s your favorite track from Tomorrow’s World to perform live?
The one I enjoy performing from the record the most is a track called “Save Me,” which is a big, gospel-sounding song. I love playing that song live and people really react positively to it. They get it.
And what’s your favorite song from your older material to perform live?
At the moment, this week, it’s “Oh L’amour” from way back when.
Why that one?
Because I get to use a Stylophone, a tiny little keyboard with a pen. You use the pen to touch the keys and it sounds like a tuneful bee or a wasp. It makes a buzz-y bee sound.
Sounds quite dainty.
It’s a very dinky thing. They came out in 1970 and they weren’t toys exactly, but they were kind of toys and they were really cheap. Do you know Rolf Harris? He’s an Australian actor/musician and he was the main promo guy for this particular instrument. He used to be on TV all the time selling this thing. It was very cool at the time and now it’s cool because it’s ‘retro-cool.’
Tomorrow’s World comes out via Mute Records on October 11th.
Erasure Tomorrow’s World 2011 fall tour dates:
Oct 6 – Seattle, WA @ The Moore
Oct 12 – Leicester, UK @ De Montfort Hall
Oct 13 – Glasgow, UK @ Academy (SOLD OUT)
Oct 15 – Edinburgh, UK @ Corn Exchange
Oct 16 – Newcastle, UK @ Academy (SOLD OUT)
Oct 17 – Grimsby, UK @ Auditorium
Oct 19 – Nottingham, UK @ Royal Concert Hall
Oct 20 – Manchester, UK @ Apollo
Oct 21 – Preston, UK @ Guildhall (SOLD OUT)
Oct 23 – Wolverhampton, UK @ Civic
Oct 25 – London, UK @ The Roundhouse
Oct 26 – Southend, UK @ Cliffs Pavilion
Oct 28 – Southampton, UK @ Guildhall
Oct 29 – Bristol, UK Colston Hall (SOLD OUT)
Oct 30 – Cardiff, UK St David’s Hall
Nov 1 – Cambridge, UK @ Corn Exchange
Nov 3 – Reading, UK @ Hexagon
Nov 4 – Brighton, UK @ The Dome (SOLD OUT)
Nov 5 – Blackpool, UK @ North Pier
Nov 7 – Copenhagen, Denmark @ Falkoner Theatre (SOLD OUT)
Nov 8 – Offenbach, Germany @ Stadthalle
Nov 9 – Brussels, Belgium @ Ancienne Belgique
Nov 11 – Stuttgart, Germany @ Liederhalle
Nov 12 – Köln, Germany @ E-Werk
Nov 14 – Dresden, Germany @ Alter Schlachthof
Nov 15 – Prague, Czech Republic @ Inceba Arena
Nov 16 – Bratislava, Slovakia @ Hant Arena
Nov 18 – Budapest, Hungary @ Hajógyári Sziget