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VC ' Vince Clarke
AB ' Andy Bell
Q1 Who came up with the album title, 'Nightbird'?
VC 'Nightbird' was Andy's idea, for the album title. Originally we were going to call the album 'Snail,' but no-one liked that, so it's now called 'Nightbird'.
AB I think when'¦ last time I was over in New York with Vince, doing the vocals, I kind of tended to make myself scarce, so I'm kind of the perfect guest, really, because they never know that I'm there and I thought it just kind of sums me up, really, 'Nightbird'. So we called it that, instead of Night Owl.
Q2 Where was the album recorded?
VC The album was recorded in London at Mute studios, but the programming for the record was done both in New York and London and I was working with a programmer called John Collyer and we would exchange ideas via the internet.
AB I think Vince did loads of the music at home, in Brooklyn, and I did the kind of demo vocals here, in London, on my Mac and because I'm not really very well'¦ good at editing and all that kind of stuff, I thought, well, I need to go somewhere and because we'd recorded the vocals for the acoustic album at Steve Walsh's studio in Brooklyn as well, who lives round the corner from Vince. It was just a really good vibe and I just'¦ I kind of felt that I sang really well there and I just really like the place, and so I wanted to go back there and it's a good excuse for me to have a trip to New York, anyway, which I love.
Q3 Do you think the location of the recording affected the album's sound or style in any way?
AB Apparently there was quite a vibe going on about'¦ with the Electroclash music, because that was all coming out of Brooklyn, anyway, and Larry T had a club there, which we did an aftershow party at and I mean, I just love the vibe of the studio - Steve's studio - and it's kind of down in the cellar, underneath the house, but I don't think it really has that much effect on where you record. It's just keeping myself and Vince occupied in our spare time. But it was freezing cold. It was about minus twenty or something like that.
Q4 Who produced the album?
VC The album was kind of produced by all of us: myself, Andy and JC.
AB It was kind of a collaboration, the production. Vince had been working with JC, who did the Dave Gahan album. He was doing rhythm and drum programming and a few kind of little keyboard lines and the whole thing was mixed by Tom Elmhirst at the back of the Hammersmith Apollo, in a studio there, but it was kind of'¦ We were sort of sending things backwards and forwards and just kind of like building on it, really slowly. Well, some of the demos are kind of quite'¦ like the finished tracks, but other ones are kind of unrecognisable.
Q5 Has the songwriting process changed for you since the earlier albums?
VC The songwriting process has kind of stayed the same for this album. Andy stayed with me for a few weeks and we'd work, using an acoustic guitar, getting some basic melodies recorded. I did some more programming for each song and Andy would go away and work on lyrical ideas.
AB Well, this time, with the songwriting, we decided to just keep writing and writing and writing, as much as we could, because we'd got a bit lazy, the last few albums and we always wrote the minimum amount of tracks that were needed, usually like ten or eleven and this time, I think there was probably about seventeen or eighteen songs, I think, and some of them were'¦ we didn't finish them, because we didn't think they were good enough. Other tracks were going to be B-sides and then they turned out to be better, so we thought we'd include them. It's a bit like doing homework at school, you know, and the more you do, the better you get at doing it.
Q6 Was there a lyrical inspiration for the album?
AB I don't know. As far as the lyrics go, it's really boring. I mean, I just can't seem to write anything else apart from love songs and I don't know why. Whether it's kind of being an old romantic or always questioning where I am, with Paul and what's going on and'¦ and it's always made up!
Q7 How would you say this album differs from previous albums?
AB I think this album is'¦ quite'¦ It's melancholic, but it's not as gloomy as, say, 'Loveboat' was, and not as acoustic sounding as 'Loveboat' was. It's much more electronic. I mean, Vince has been really turned on by all the Electroclash stuff, you know, and all these bands, the new electro bands, like Ladytron and WIT and'¦ so it's very creamy and I think'¦ I mean, I think lyrically, even though they're still love songs, it's kind of'¦ they've matured a bit. I suppose it's to do with being forty and also, your voice grows with you and I think I've become a man!
Q8 What are your favourite songs on the album?
VC My favourite song of all is 'Breathe'. I really like the track entitled 'All This Time Falling Out Of Love.' That was actually mixed in New York and we worked with Mark Saunders, who's produced an album for us before.
AB My favourite songs on the album are 'No Doubt', 'I Broke It All In Two', 'Breathe' and'¦ what's the last song called? It goes da-da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da. Oh, 'I Bet You're Mad At Me'.
Q9 What can you tell us about the single 'Breathe'?
AB 'Breathe' was'¦ It's quite typical, when you're writing on an album, the best song usually comes out last and the last two songs on 'Nightbird' were 'Breathe' and 'No Doubt'. The same with like 'Chorus', the same with 'Loveboat': 'Freedom' was the last song. I don't know, it's just one of those songs like'¦ because the notes are really long, you can't have kind of like loads of little intricate words, so it had to be a long word and'¦ I think 'Breathe' kind of goes'¦ It's OK to say that word as a long word, because it's'¦ because you're kind of like sighing.
Q10 Can you tell us about some of the other tracks on the album: 'I Bet You're Mad At Me'?
AB 'I Bet You're Mad At Me,' I think it's a grower, not a shower, that one, because it's not immediate and I think the more you listen to it, the more infectious it becomes, because I wasn't really a great fan of that song in the first place, although Vince was and he seems to know these things and as I've been listening to the album, it's always'¦ I love hearing that song, especially since it's the last song on the album. I was kind of thinking about my mum when I wrote that song and kind of just the thing of going home and that I don't see her very often.
Q11 'Here I Go, Impossible Again'?
AB 'Here I Go, Impossible Again''¦ Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da'¦ I hate to mention Abba again, but I kind of feel like if they were still around and still making music, 'Nightbird' would be the kind of album that they might have made, because the songs kind of sound like a continuation from where they left off, like 'The Visitors' or 'Super Trouper' or their last album and this is the most'¦ the most kind of Abba sounding song, I suppose, or I could imagine Frida singing this song and'¦ it's another one just about being out in the evening and causing a drama with your lover, just for the sake of it, because you're bored. You cause a drama because you love making up.
Q12 'Sweet Surrender'?
AB 'Sweet Surrender' had the hideous title 'GI Joe' in the first instance and it was kind of an anti-war song, really, because of all the stuff going on in Iraq and everything, which makes me sick, so I suppose it's kind of toned down a bit, but it's just that'¦ It's just a song of frustration, really. Also a song to say that I would never ever fight in a war situation and the only flag that I like is a white one'¦ is a white flag.
Q13 'All This Time Still Falling Out Of Love'?
AB 'All This Time Still Falling Out Of Love' I think is a kind of a typical uptempo Erasure disco dolly song.
Q14 Any others?
AB Well, I love 'No Doubt'. That's my favourite one, because it's the most soul-y song and I love the intro - all the voices - and it kind of sounds like the beginning of a movie to me.
Q15 After the success of the Other Tour, are you looking forward to touring?
VC I'm quite looking forward to touring. I really enjoyed the last tour. It was a kind of a surprise for me. I was really happy to see that so many people were out there, still interested in our music. Hopefully the next tour will be equally as inspiring.
AB I'm quite looking forward to touring. I started doing the playlist of all the songs already and started thinking of ideas. So far, we've got'¦ it's about 22 songs. I think what's the most difficult thing for us is not being bored, which sounds'¦ not very respectful, but I mean, I can't imagine being Frank Sinatra's age and still singing 'Sometimes' after all those years, you know. The hardest thing is making the list of songs, because you still have to sing the kind of hits for people, because they'd be disappointed, and it's just that and kind of like mixing them in with the new songs from the new album, maybe four or five and then old tracks that people will know, like B-sides and stuff like that or album tracks that people will know and just making them all flow together and having some kind of coherent idea for the show. But I'm sure it'll be alright. I'm looking forward to some dancing, now I've got a decent pair of legs or I will have by that time, anyway and I won't be in agony next time, like I was last time, but I don't think I'll be doing any more Can Can!
Q16 What are your plans for the 'Nightbird' live show?
AB I don't know yet. I think it would be quite nice to reproduce the album design ' the sleeve - for the stage set. I would love an enchanted forest, but it just depends on the money. But I'm sure we could just go and you know, go and get a few twigs from somewhere and paint them white and put some lights on the end of them! I did think about starting the show in my pyjamas and having a clear plastic dress up box, but we'll have to see.
Q17 Were you disappointed about the cancellation of the 2003 Hogmanay show?
VC We were disappointed about the cancellation of the gig in Scotland for New Year's Eve. It was a real special thing for us. We'd never played at an event like that before and it was'¦ the whole thing was cancelled last minute. However, we carried on drinking and had a great New Year's Eve.
AB I was disappointed. I mean, I was disappointed for the crowd, for all the people that had come down. I was in two minds about it, I must admit, because it was 5 below, I think, and me and Vince were going commando with our kilts and we did the soundcheck in the afternoon and it was freezing. I mean, I probably sound like a wimp to the Scots people and I don't know why, I kind of had this premonition that it wasn't going to happen, for some reason. I don't know why, but at the same time, we were all really psyched, you know, psyched up for it, because it was like five minutes before the show when it was cancelled, so we were all ready, all dressed up, had all the stuff ready to go down there, and it was cancelled and we just had all this like pent up energy left and this kind of'¦ with nowhere for it to go. I mean, thank God it was New Year's Eve!
Q18 You've recorded an acoustic album. Could you tell us something about this?
VC Myself and Andy recorded an acoustic album last year - it's not been released yet ' and what we did was we took the'¦ our favourite tracks from all of our previous albums, the songs that we felt perhaps could have been singles, but weren't and then recorded acoustic versions of those songs. We were working with a guy called Steve Walsh, who's an excellent acoustic guitarist, and we recorded the album at his little studio in Brooklyn.
AB Well, that's kind of a dream come true, really, for me, the acoustic album, and it was all arranged by Vince, of course, you know. He really looks after me. I said a few years back (that) I would love to do a Country & Western album and this is kind of a half-half. It's done in the country style on some tracks and we got violins, cellos, all different kinds of instruments and it was really a pleasure to do it and rediscover some of the old songs that we thought could have been singles that never were. It's just really different singing with acoustic instruments than singing with synthesisers. It's just a different space, a different head space and'¦ There's more room. I think it's some of the best singing that I've ever done on that one.
Q19 Do you have any ambitions left with Erasure that you'd like to fulfil?
AB I think making it to twenty years is quite good'¦ and also'¦ I'll never leave Vince, anyway, you know, whether it's Erasure or whatever it is, because we're a great songwriting team. I think probably we'd like to do more'¦ maybe film stuff and I know we've always talked about a musical, but that's going to take at least ten years or five years out of your life, so I think probably a movie or'¦ yeah, that's kind of more realistic, probably.
Q20 How do you see yourselves now in relation to the rest of the pop world?
AB Pretty detached. I mean, I can't really relate to all the stuff on the TV really, because it's all kind of like grunting and groaning and very sexually explicit, which'¦ I think it's fine, I mean, I'm a bit jealous because I can't do that, all the hip thrusts and everything and I mean, I know I'm a bit of a slut, but I don't know how they portray themselves like that on the TV, because I'm sure they're not really like that in real life! I think songwriting seems to have disappeared, which is our main stay, really, me and Vince and'¦ the game's changed. It's much more cut-throat than it used to be and very commercialised. Everybody seems to know how much money you've made before your record even comes out now.
Q21 Are you working on other projects at the moment?
AB There's one single out that's'¦ I think it's only been released on Sony Greece, with a group called In_Vox, and then there's another track with Larry T called 'Matthew', which is out in 2005, which is about a gay guy who was murdered in 1995 and mock crucified on a barbed wire fence, which is lovely! And then I've been working with the Manhattan Clique guys, who supported us on the Other Tour. We've got about 18 songs nearly finished and it's all dance club material and'¦ it's very good and hopefully that'll be out next year as well, but it's'¦ We've got a kind of a backlog of releases!
VC The other project that we're working on at the moment is an album of lullabies or nursery rhymes. We're taking traditional nursery rhymes and twisting them a little bit. It's more like a kind of a nursery crimes record. Hopefully, that's going to be finished soon.
Q22 If Erasure didn't exist, what do you think you'd be doing?
AB If Erasure didn't exist'¦. I don't know. I mean, hopefully I would have shunted my way into some kind of amateur drama production or something and I'd be singing somewhere. I would be singing somewhere, because I couldn't help myself, so it would either be in one of those kind of singers evenings or Karaoke night, down at the local pub, or I'd be in a Working Men's Club band...
VC If Erasure didn't exist'¦. then I would probably be a trans-European truck driver.
Vince Clarke's technical alchemy and Andy Bell's soulful, choirboy voice is Erasure. With their elegant dance pop mixed with flashy live show, Erasure's study in opposites has produced a luminescent collection of work that's charted dozens of hits and sold millions of records in North America, the UK and around the world for twenty years. Uncompromising in their synth-based approach to music and production through the 80's, 90's and the present day, their influence has permanently penetrated the pop and dance landscape and has provided a blueprint for the thriving electronic indie underground from Brooklyn to Seattle. With their pop instincts and unparalleled showmanship once again on display with a new album and tour, Erasure are more relevant than ever as they return to the charts with their first studio album in seven years, Nightbird, and new single and video 'Breathe.'
At 44, Vince Clarke is undeniably one of the most influential figures in the short history of electronic music. Developing a reputation for hit songwriting first as one of the founding members of Depeche Mode in 1980 and then as one half of the legendary synth duo Yaz in 1982 (formed with school friend Alison Moyet), Clarke is responsible for many of the definitive electro-pop classics of the era, including "Just Can't Get Enough," "Dreaming Of Me," "Situation," "Only You" and "Don't Go" -- to name just a few.
Following the demise of Yaz and the short-lived Assembly (a one-off project with Feargal Sharkey), Vince found himself searching for a partner. Through an ad he placed in the UK music press, Clarke auditioned former professional meat mincer Andy Bell and settled on him as the new frontman for a new pop group -- Erasure. Twenty years later they are one of the most successful duos in the history of pop music
Clarke and Bell's collaboration was wildly successful from the very first, when singles like "Who Needs Love Like That," "Heavenly Action" and the classic "Oh L'Amour" placed the pair in regular rotation on US dancefloors and alternative radio in early days of the format and paved the way for Erasure's 1986 debut, Wonderland. Defining an enchanted work of high drama dance pop, the disc -- and Erasure's kaleidoscopic live show -- spawned the group's first major hit, "Sometimes," which reached #2 on the U.K. charts.
The Circus following in 1987, was propelled by an American tour with Duran Duran and instant dance classics like "It Doesn't Have To Be," "Victim Of Love" and the title track, which was subsequently re-released as the remix disc The Two Ring Circus, featuring six remixes and three re-recordings of the original LP.
In 1988, The Innocents, replete with some of Erasure's most assured and finely crafted work, went platinum in the States and sold over a million copies in Britain alone, launching the soulful, fervent hit, "Chains Of Love," the group's first American Top 40 hit. The band finished the year with their four track EP Crackers International.
Erasure's 1989 album, Wild, and its singles "Blue Savanah" and "Star," illustrated the growing strength and diversity of Andy and Vince's songwriting, pairing chilling ballads with Latin rhythms and bruised electro/psychodrama. Wild also marked the debut of a spectacular new stage show and a record-breaking tour that included the Far East, Japan, Australia, North and South America. 50,000 Argentineans gathered in a Buenos Aires park to watch a video of The Innocents; in New York, Erasure's Madison Square Garden show sold out in two hours flat.
Chorus, in 1990, opened still new sonic avenues for Erasure, with Andy's stratospheric vocal range playing counterpoint to Vince's deliberately synthetic, meticulously structured soundscapes. Abba-Esque, their playful paean to ABBA, was released in 1992 and yielded the hit, "Take A Chance On Me," which was a #1 U.K. single and, long before Mamma Mia, one of the first efforts to tap into the growing interest in the group and '70's nostalgia that was soon to overwhelm pop culture in the U.S.
Erasure's 1992 Phantasmagorical Entertainment tour kicked off with an unprecedented 15 nights at England's Manchester Apollo, and with another 15 at Hammersmith Odeon before launching a sold-out U.S. tour, including 13 sold-out shows at the Beacon Theater in New York City and 10 in Los Angeles. Their foray into theatrical extravaganza featured dancers, extra-musical activities such as bingo and ballooning, and a flurry of costume and scenery changes. The combination of Clarke's near-robotic reserve and Bell's flamboyance on stage proved irresistible, wowing critics and fans alike. A new live performance DVD of that unforgettable tour, The Tank, The Swan and The Balloon has just been released.
Following the Phatasmagorical Entertainment shows, the band released Pop -- the First 20 Hits and with their next studio effort I Say, I Say, I Say, Clarke and Bell began a new cycle of their stunning partnership, weaving a lavish sonic fantasy that couldn't have come from any other source. "Always," the first song released from I Say, I Say, I Say, became Erasure's most successful U.S. single to date and one of the biggest hits of 1994, according to Billboard's year-end chart.
For their ninth studio album, Erasure, released in 1995, Vince and Andy were in a more experimental mode, musically and vocally. Featuring guest performances by Diamanda Galas and the London Community Gospel Choir, Clarke and Bell surrounded such lovely ballads as "Stay with Me" with some of the lengthiest instrumental passages they've ever recorded, enlisting the expertise of producers Thomas Fehlmann (Orb) and Gareth Jones to realize their musical vision.
Despite its arrival at the very peak of the grunge movement in America, Erasure garnered some of the best reviews of the band's career. A first-ever acoustic performance at the opening of New York City's Spy Bar to celebrate the release of the disc was standing room only and proved what fans had known all along -- Erasure's success owed as much to their songs as their synths.
Signing to Maverick Records in spring of 1997, Clarke and Bell released a new single "In My Arms" and their eleventh studio album Cowboy. This album marked a return to the kind of up-tempo, three-minute dance-pop that earned Erasure legions of fans worldwide. The album was promoted with an all-request club tour and campy, Western-themed theater jaunt, which lived up to the group's well-earned reputation as first-class showman.
Following a quiet period for Erasure following The Cowboy tour, the turn-of-the-century was marked by a real rejuvenation for Clarke and Bell, including some lengthy atmospheric collaborations between Clarke and Human League/Heaven 17 founder Martin Ware. Clarke's prior work with Depeche Mode and Yaz has also been rediscovered by a whole new generation as the soundtracks to recent Gap ads, big budget car commercials and the placement of Yaz timeless hit 'Only You' in The Office finale attest. This new attention to Erasure's musical legacy as well as the current '80s revival and the explosive growth of a new indie electronic scene, including such artists as Fisherspooner, The Postal Service, The Faint and many more, has vindicated Erasure's approach to music and production, proving that past is indeed prologue.
Clarke and Bell regrouped in 2003 to record and release Other People's Songs, a loving collection of covers of their favorite songs including a bubbly version of Peter Gabriel's 'Solisbury Hill,' which put them back in the Top 10 in the UK and generated a Top Of The Pops performance and sold out venues throughout the world. The Very Best of Erasure (Rhino) two-disk hits album followed, reminding us once again of the beloved and influential string of hits and pioneering remixes Erasure have amassed.
Following Other People's Songs tour, Vince moved to the U.S. and continued writing and recording new songs for Erasure, as well as composing scores for short films and collaborating with Psychedelic Furs frontman Richard Butler on a bouncy piece of electro-pop for an episode of Johnny Bravo. Andy began work on a much-anticipated solo album that will likely be released following the Nightbird CD and the tour is completed.
With the debut of Nightbird (Mute), a title referring to Bell's insomnia, Clarke and Bell have crafted a classic Erasure album which is sure to excite long-time fans and attract a whole new generation of listeners to their melodic and moving synth pop. It is the first original Erasure music released in the U.S. in nearly eight years. From the bittersweet and throbbing single 'Breathe' to the atmospheric trip hop of 'No Doubt' or retro-synth sounds of 'Here I Got Impossible Again' and high energy dance groove of 'All This Time Still Falling Out Of Love,' Erasure's trademark sound -- Bell's angelic vocals buoyed by Clarke's effervescent synths -- is there in full force: fresher and more vibrant than ever.
"The last couple of albums were a bit moody and down," says Bell, as characteristically honest and direct as usual. "I'm so much happier with everything now, and so is Vince. You can hear it in the music. This is easily the best thing we've done for a long time."
"Andy is as excited about this record as he was when we first started releasing records," concurs Clarke. "He's like a little kid. And the record is more upbeat. We're both in a good spiritual place."
What better way, then, to launch another new phase of classic songwriting and innovative musicianship than with a record as uplifting, shiny and new as Nightbird?
Ordinarily, Andy Bell writes his lyrics in isolation, usually at home in North London. Indeed, he'd come up with some at the tail end of 2002, just as Erasure finished work on their last album, their covers collection Other People's Songs. But this time round, for the bulk of the words he flew to New York in early 2004, where Clarke has been living for the last couple of years. He put himself in his partner's environment, and merrily wrote away. No matter that it was February and nut-numbingly cold: flush with enthusiasm they rattled through six new songs.
For his part, Clarke had been busy exploring new working methods. Ever the technical innovator, he had crafted himself an artist's garret/studio based round a computer and two speakers in his apartment. He also found a decent, unshowy, hardworking little basement studio two blocks away in Brooklyn. Erasure had road-tested this new set-up in autumn 2003, recording a series of acoustic versions of highlights from their back catalogue.
"We just felt there were songs on our albums that had been missed as songs," says Clarke - understandable given that their canon tops 100 songs. "We found this cool guitarist [Steve Walsh] with a cool studio [Union Street] and decided to use both. He put the thing together. It was great going back through those songs, some of which I hadn't listened to properly since we made them - suddenly you heard some of the naivety that was in there in the first place."
The idea, says Bell, was "to show the songs in a different light, and show that they could work on whatever instrument, synthesisers or guitars. It makes such a different singing with acoustic instruments - there's more space, it seems. When you're using electronics they soak up part of the voice. Whereas [with] strings, the voice seems to vibrate off of them."
Emboldened by this New York recording experience - Erasure had had an abortive attempt at recording there once before, in Electric Lady Studios 15 years previously - and suitably emancipated from the pressures of deadlines or costs, Erasure worked at a feverish pace on Nightbird.
Ever the technical innovator, Clarke made good use of the internet. He'd email rough versions of songs to programmer Jon "JC" Collyer in London, and the two would then bat ideas back and forth. It was a speedy and liberating way to work.
"You can wake up in the morning and decide on what song you want to work on," notes Clarke, who had done a remix for Wit in precisely this manner. "And," adds this notably restless workaholic, "you don't have to wait for people to turn up."
Nightbird is set for release on January 25, 2005. The single version of 'Breathe,' along with club mixes from Manhattan Clique and Pete Heller, will be released on January 18, 2005. Erasure plans to tour North America in support of the album in April 2005.