This week sees the release of Non-Stop, the dancefloor-ready second solo album from Erasure frontman Andy Bell — but in some ways, it’s actually the singer’s third, after his record label forced him to scrap a Stephen Hague-produced effort that “sounded too much like Erasure.”
Bell spoke to Slicing Up Eyeballs last week about the evolution of Non-Stop — the finished, Pascal Gabriel-produced album is out today in the U.K. and Tuesday in the U.S. (see full tracklist here) — and how he enlisted Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell to duet on the record’s closing track, “Honey If You Love Him (That’s All That Matters).”
He also touched on the realities of being an aging pop star, which, in his case, included an attempt by his record label to rebrand the singer as Mimó to mask his true identity: “You’d think that after being in the music business all this time, not to be called yourself and not to be allowed to sound like yourself, well, it was quite a strange occasion for me.”
Finally, Bell offers an update on the progress he and Vince Clarke have made on the next Erasure album, reveals that the synthpop duo will tour next year and offers his own theory on why his musical relationship with Clarke has lasted so long and been so rewarding for fans (“Really, I think it’s because Vince was my hero in the first place.”).
Read our full interview with Andy Bell and hear ‘Non-Stop’ samples after the jump…
SLICING UP EYEBALLS: So your new album is almost out — you must be very excited.
ANDY BELL: Yeah, I’m quite excited, although I try not to get too excited because you can’t set yourself up, really, in case it all goes wrong. But I’m quite excited, yeah.
EYEBALLS: How do you feel this one turned out?
BELL: It went really well. I mean, I’m really pleased with the results — I love the album. It’s just really about trying to get radio play here in the U.K. right now. It’s really difficult, you know. It’s difficult for anyone, really, unless you’re a new, young, bright thing. It’s just one of those things, you know.
EYEBALLS: What was your intent with this album? Did you set out trying to do something different from what you’d done with 2005’s ‘Electric Blue’?
BELL: Really, Electric Blue was like a one-off thing. It kind of wasn’t meant to happen, really, and the guys (collaborators Manhattan Clique, aka Philip Larsen and Chris Smith), we just got to know the guys, they’d been on tour with, I think, Erasure, and one of the guys lived around the corner form where I lived in north London. And so I was around the house and doing some singing and songwriting and we ended up with having a whole album. But it wasn’t really planned, so we didn’t have any space between Erasure records (2005’s Nightbird and 2006’s Union Street) to come out. This time, I purposely asked Vince if I could have a break from doing Erasure and get it placed properly. I’m really pleased I did. And also, just kind of like to dust the cobwebs off after Erasure, which really works, because I’m really, really looking forward to working with Vince again in the studio. I’m going to see him in July after the July the Fourth weekend.
EYEBALLS: Obviously you’ve worked with Vince for a long time and it works very well, but you also must get excited — and get something out of — working with other people.
BELL: Yeah, I think it really comes town to I just sort of like meeting people. I love doing remixes for people and being in the studio with other people. Sometimes we’re doing B-sides or EPs or just collaborating with other musicians. It just makes change, being with someone else. And also, with Erasure, I’m not really in the studio with Vince that often; really, we work separately. He lives in Maine and I live in London in the U.K., so that’s why I’m really looking forward to being in the studio with him, because I just feel like I want to create music with him. That’s what I’m really looking forward to.
EYEBALLS: A couple of the songs on ‘Non-Stop’ were released recently as singles, but under a different name: Mimó. What was the reasoning behind that?
BELL: That was really kind of a record company idea, to see if we could catch radio play on its own merits, which did happen. We were played on Radio 1 here. It’s true, when they found out it was me, then age comes into it. For some reason, if you’re over 40, you’re not deemed in the demographic for Radio 1. They just like really young people, and because it’s like, really, dance music, it’s not middle-of-the-road enough for Radio 2. They like really old-school stuff. So you’re kind of in a difficult period. Daniel Miller, who’s the boss of Mute Records, says, once you’re over 50, you’re fine. But right now I’m at that difficult age.
EYEBALLS: Yet you ran into some legal problems with the name.
BELL: We reverted back to the name of Andy Bell (for the album). Mimó was named after a friend of ours (Tomeau Mimó) in Spain. … His son suggested we call it Mimó, because I couldn’t think of a name for it, and then another guy named Chris MiMo, who’s a DJ here in the U.K., contested the name. EMI had just lost some big legal dispute in the U.K. and didn’t want to get into another one. But I’m quite pleased it’s called Andy Bell, really.
EYEBALLS: Now, the ‘Non-Stop’ record that’s coming out isn’t the original version of what you’d recorded. What happened there?
BELL: That’s true. I did about 12 songs with Stephen Hague, and there’s some really good material on there. But when I played it to Daniel Miller, he said it sounded too much like Erasure, and to go away again and make something not sounding like Erasure. You’d think that after being in the music business all this time, not to be called yourself and not to be allowed to sound like yourself, well, it was quite a strange occasion for me. I also did a track with Kate Pierson (of The B-52s), which isn’t on the record that hopefully will come out in some guise.
EYEBALLS: Do you think the Stephen Hague material will come out some day, too?
BELL: I don’t know. There’s one song I’d like to keep for myself, but otherwise I think I might pass the material on to other people.
EYEBALLS: Are you happier with what you ended up creating with Pascal Gabriel?
BELL: Yeah, really, really happy. Very happy.
EYEBALLS: What did he bring to the table that maybe had been missing before?
BELL: I think he’s got a current sort of vibe. He’s very clear about what he wants to do. He’s got this disco kind of ethic. He’s quite a camp guy. He’s married and stuff, but he’s quite camp and he loves French stuff from the 1970s and all this space-age kind of music. We got on well. We’ve known each other, but it was really nice to be in the studio working with him.
EYEBALLS: How did Perry Farrell get involved?
BELL: That came about purely by chance. He came to see my performance at the amphitheater in Hollywood and he missed the performance because I was on really early. I was support on the True Colors tour (in 2008), not on my own. He wanted to say hi because he hadn’t seen the show. I think he was slightly embarrassed about it. But I wanted to meet him anyway so I called his management afterward and we arranged to meet in Los Angeles and we hooked up in the studio. He said he had this song [“Honey If You Love Him (That’s All That Matters)”] he’d written for a friend of his who had broken up with some guy and we sang it as a duet. It was a really, really great way of meeting someone for the first time — being in the studio and working together. You know, I really highly recommend when people to make music together.
EYEBALLS: Are you going to be able to tour this album?
BELL: Not so far. I’m doing some PA’s (personal appearances). I’m going to be grand marshaling the San Francisco Pride Parade and performing there, but they like Erasure material, so I’m only doing one new song and one song from Electric Blue. There are some other PA’s, one in Florida and one in New York and another PA in Rome. But I’m open to offers, really.
EYEBALLS: Do you find performing on your own to be significantly different than when you’re onstage with Vince?
BELL: Yes, it’s quite different, because when Erasure’s touring, there’s a whole team of people that we always use, and they’re really like family. They’re a great security blanket, you know. I love being on tour with Erasure, but when you’re on your own, you really are on your own. There’s much more of a learning curve. Because you have to do things yourself, and get the money up yourself, and if it al goes wrong, it’s all down to you, really. You’re much more exposed being by yourself.
EYEBALLS: You mentioned you’re meeting up with Vince again this summer, but you’ve already been posting videos to YouTube to update your fans on the early work on the Erasure album. How’s that progressing?
BELL: It’s going great so far. We have loads of ideas. We almost have too many ideas. We have 19 ideas for songs so far, of which I think probably 10 of those are really good. But once we’re in the studio together we’ll probably do, I don’t know, five or so more songs, and then hopefully we’ll have a good bunch of songs. But I’m very excited about the new Erasure material. I think it’s going to be great.
EYEBALLS: Clearly there’s something special about working with Vince. The two of you have been doing it for so long and yet you’re still so excited about it. What’s the secret to the connection you two have?
BELL: Really, I think it’s because Vince was my hero in the first place. When I was a teenager, Yazoo was one of the coolest bands on the planet, really. It was great to see them play live last year. And then he had the Assembly project that was great. Before I even met him, I’d thought of all the people doing pop music, he’d be the coolest one to work with. He was the coolest one I could think of. And then when I answered this audition, it happened to be for him, so I just thought, well, I’m going to just knuckle down and get to know the guy. I never dreamed I’d be a song co-writing partner for 25 years. I think maybe he was just waiting for the right person to come along. We have complete, mutal respect for each other. I just think his work is so unique, his synthesizers, his electronic work — nobody’s come close to what he does, I don’t think, maybe aside from Kraftwerk. I think it’s a great combination.
EYEBALLS: Coming back to work with Vince after the solo project, you must be re-energized.
BELL: Yes, I think that’s the whole purpose of me going off and doing other things, it’s that re-energization. I feel completely ready now. I’m really looking forward to it, especially the next Erasure tour.
EYEBALLS: When will that be?
BELL: That’ll be next year.
EYEBALLS: Last year you reissued ‘The Innocents’ in expanded form. Is that something you’re going to do with other albums, or was that one special?
BELL: Well, I think it was kind of a special one. My three favorite Erasure albums of that period were The Innocents, Wild! and Chorus. I don’t think it’s something you can necessarily do with every single record because otherwise you lose the magic of that one album. But I think it worked really well for us on the Innocents record.
EYEBALLS: You mentioned earlier having to deal with your age, and for a lot of people, Erasure may still be known primarily as an ‘80s band. But you’ve obviously been very productive since then, especially in the 2000s. How do you keep that creative energy going?
BELL: Ummm… sometimes I wonder. I kind of feel like I don’t really know what else to do. I always accuse Vince of being a workaholic, but I think maybe I ‘m a bit of one, too. I just really love making music. It’s great being in the studio with Vince. He loves making music out of nothing, making something out of nothing. And I like the whole performance aspect as well, and the whole thing that comes afterward, the remixes and putting together ideas for shows and things. I think we just spur each other on, really.
PREVIOUSLY ON SLICING UP EYEBALLS:
- Erasure’s Andy Bell to release ‘Non-Stop’ solo album featuring Perry Farrell duet
- Video: Erasure’s Andy Bell and Vince Clarke recording new album in parking lot
- Erasure reveals tracklist for ‘The Innocents’ expanded reissue, ‘Phantom Bride EP’
- Erasure reissuing ‘The Innocents,’ rare club mixes, ‘Abba-esque’ remix EP