Over the course of 16 albums and 30 years, Erasure has contributed a number of classic tunes to the modern pop songbook, helped to establish synthpop as an enduring genre, and proven that proudly out gay men can be commercially viable pop stars. While popular tastes have shifted considerably during that time, their music has never been hard to find in dance clubs. Their latest album, The Violet Flame, finds vocalist Andy Bell and instrumentalist Vince Clarke returning to the effervescent, body-moving pop that they’re best known for after last year’s relatively subdued Snow Globe, a collection of Christmas music heavily influenced by the death of Bell’s long-term partner. Brimming with gleaming electronic production and sharp pop hooks, it’s a classic Erasure album that sounds emphatically of the moment.
Before The Violet Flame‘s release, EW got on the phone with the pair to talk about its making and their place in the contemporary pop world. We also got an exclusive first look at a remix of their new track “Elevation” by Jack Antonoff of Fun. and Bleachers fame.
EW: It seems that there’s more music on the radio right now that sounds like Erasure than the more rock-oriented bands that were around when you guys first came on the scene.
ANDY BELL: When we first started in the late ’80s electronic music was quite hip. It was in the pop charts in the U.K. and stuff. We’ve pretty much stuck to our guns, apart from a couple of albums—I remember in the mid-’90s when all the Britpop stuff came out and guitars were really hip. Electronic music seems to have become mainstream via club culture. Maybe it’s because of Lady Gaga being all massive and stuff, and Rihanna and Beyoncé using those electronic hip-hop guys. I don’t know; it seems to have taken over. It all has to do with timing and fashion cycles, and I think at the moment electronic music is kind of the in thing, really. And that’s something we’ve always done and that’s it.
VINCE CLARKE: I’m not sure that we’ve been that much of an influence. I think the reason there’s so much electronic music now is that making electronic music is very democratic. It’s a lot cheaper and a lot more kids can afford to do it. I don’t think it has anything to do with us. I think that Andy and I regard ourselves more as songwriters rather than electronic pioneers. We just happen to use electronic equipment.
At least you guys never made a grunge record.
AB: [Laughs.] I’d quite like to do a punk record.
Tell me about the new album.
AB: We recorded the album in February and March this year. I was staying in Miami with my partner and Vince came down from Brooklyn. Usually I go to him so usually we’re writing in the freezing cold in New York. I think definitely the environment rubbed off on the music. We decided not to write on guitar, which is what we usually do. I like writing on synths but we’ve never tried it before. So he created some loops, like bass lines and percussion and stuff, and came over in the afternoon and played them for me and I had a little sing to them. And then he went back to the hotel in the evening and any ideas I had I’d sing into the iPhone and email to him and he’d kind of rearrange them and come back the next day and play me what he had. It was all quite fluid.
VC: Usually when we start working on a project we start with nothing. Just a blank piece of paper. This time around Andy wanted a more dance kind of record, so I prepared some loops and grooves before we went into the writing session. We’ve tried doing that before and it didn’t really work. I wasn’t that confident that it would work this time, but suddenly everything clicked and the songs came really easily.
That’s quite a different way of working. Does switching things up, giving yourself a challenge, help you create?
AB: Yeah, I think because we’ve been writing on guitar for quite a while I seem to fall into folk mode, just because of the sound of the guitar. I tend to be kind of over melodic. When you’re writing on synths it kind of simplifies things a bit. I think it makes things more immediate–you’re looking for a punchier lead line or something. I think because we had kind of warmed ourselves up on the Snow Globe record that we did at Christmas, we were less nervous, because we do get very nervous when we haven’t seen each other for a while. We get quite shy.
VC: I think it’s quite good to be challenged every time you make a new record because you’re trying to do something different every time. I like the idea of setting myself challenges and tasks before we go into making a record, or maybe putting down rules. One of the disadvantages of electronic music production is that there are endless choices, so if I set myself some ground rules at the beginning and limit myself a bit then it helps with the workflow.
How do you feel that the final results differ from your past work?
VC: I like to think that it’s a little more mature. This is definitely a record from the heart. This is a very forward-looking record, not looking back.
You guys have had successful pop songs and periods where you’ve been out of the mainstream. Where do you feel like you’re positioned now, now that you have this legacy and a lot of bands emulating you?
AB: To be honest, I really love it. People don’t really understand, because we were considered a gay band from the beginning, because I was out; to me that was kind of a really rock ‘n’ roll thing to do. But because of that you’re kind of outside of the mainstream. You’re always considered a gay band and therefore you’re not going to get on Top 40 radio very much. And also you don’t get rock press, so you’re very much left to fend for yourself. People see a Top 40 artist and they think it’s because they’re really popular and whatever, but they have this huge machine behind them that people don’t really know about. I think for us to have survived that without having the machine…I think we’ve made it by pure talent and survival.