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Members include Andy Bell (born on April 25, 1965, in Peterborough, England), vocals; Vince Clarke (born on July 3, 1960, in Baiseldon, England), keyboards. Addresses: Record company--Elektra Entertainment, 345 North Maple, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Website--Erasure Official Website: http://www.erasureinfo.com/.
The British synth-pop duo Erasure debuted in 1985 to a good deal of attention, well before any of their dance singles became standard tracks in English and American clubs. Vince Clarke, the keyboardist and driving force behind the band, began this new venture on the foundation of a series of previous---and highly successful---bands. Clarke and vocalist Andy Bell generally viewed the media attention surrounding their duo as both a blessing and a curse.
Erasure was born when Clarke advertised for vocalists in the renowned English music journal Melody Maker in 1985. He enjoyed the backing of the record label Mute, a result of his success during brief stays with two important English pop bands: Depeche Mode, from 1980-81, and Yazoo---known as Yaz in the United States---from 1981-83. Consequently, he had the go-ahead from Mute to put together an album featuring ten assorted vocalists. By 1985 it was considered common knowledge that the taciturn Clarke was "difficult." Andy Bell, however, seemed to change all that. Clarke told Paul Strange of Melody Maker, "We'd auditioned about 40 people and Andy was the 43rd. He was like a breath of fresh air." Clarke settled on just one singer for his new project.
Unlike Clarke, Bell was entirely new to the music industry. In his early twenties in 1985, his singing experience was limited to a church choir in his native Peterborough. His association with Clarke, however, shot him from obscurity to an instant fame---of sorts. In October of that year, Strange underscored the duo's instant credibility when he asked, "Would MM [Melody Maker] have dispatched a writer to the depths of Willesden to report on a new synth duo if Vince hadn't been in Depeche or Yazoo? Probably not." In fact, the publicity guaranteed by Clarke's musical history supported the band through their first year and a half, during which none of their singles broke into the charts. Their debut single, "Who Needs Love Like That?," was, according to Strange, "hardly earth-shattering." This being the case, Clarke and Bell delayed the release of their first album as well as their first large-scale tour; they decided to wait on both until after they had broken through with at least one single.
Although commercial success was slow in coming, interviewers did report a different kind of success for Erasure in those early years. Kris Kirk noted in Melody Maker, "Five years of monster hits with Depeche Mode, Yazoo and The Assembly may have made Vince Clarke some money, but it never seemed to get him very much happiness." Indeed, Clarke's association with Depeche Mode was brief, and his break with Alison Moyet of Yazoo seemed to leave considerable bitterness in its wake. Even when Erasure was failing to produce a hit, Clarke seemed to derive an uncharacteristic pleasure from his work; he told Kirk, "It is a problem that Erasure aren't getting hits, but I'm really enjoying the band. Especially the gigging."
Clarke's relationship with Bell appeared to be the reason for his buoyant mood. The two developed a work style that differed greatly from Clarke's earlier experiences. In the past he had composed music for the band by himself and then brought it in for rehearsal; with Bell, Clarke actually began collaborating on his compositions. Bell was also responsible for introducing an element of camp into the band's music and performance that would turn their sound away from the more dour, experimental synth tones of Depeche Mode and Yaz to the dance club beat for which Erasure would eventually become known. Kirk wrote that this was also new for Clarke, who explained, "I've never experienced pleasure in playing live before. ... But there's nothing like playing non-stop dance music loud for feeling good. ... And the other reason it's working for me is that I get on so well with Andy."
The shift to dance music would eventually pay off for Erasure, but not until the end of 1986---well after the release of Wonderland, their first album, in June of that year. In December, though, the single "Sometimes" shot to the top of the British dance charts, ultimately coming to rest at number two. Since breaking that barrier, Erasure's popularity in England has never really wavered. The year 1987 brought them another hit with "It Doesn't Have To Be," and a number six spot for the album The Circus. Over the next two years, Erasure dominated English airways and dance clubs with "Ship of Fools," "Chains of Love," and "Just a Little Respect"; the 1988 album The Innocents claimed first place in the charts immediately upon its release.
Erasure's story in the United States, however, was unfolding a little differently. While The Circus took a number six chart spot in England as early as April of 1987, it couldn't move past number 190 in the United States, even as late as July. Stateside success had to wait for the release of "Chains of Love," which finally brought Clarke and Bell into the top 30 in 1988. Writing for Seventeen, Barry Walters described the song as "full of compulsive rhythms and synthetic textures topped by yearning, soulful vocals." Erasure did not break the top 20 in the United States until March of 1989, when "A Little Respect" peaked at number 14. By that time, the BRIT Awards had dubbed Erasure the Best British Music Group, and singles from Wild! brought them even more chart success.
While mainstream audiences in the United States remained ignorant of Erasure, fans in gay clubs were turning "Oh l'Amour" into a classic dance tune as early as 1986. This aside, debate about the band's sluggish rise to popularity in the States often focused on Bell's refusal to hide his homosexuality. As Clarke explained to Kirk, Erasure had had some difficulty with their American publicity reps over this issue: "It came back to us ... that people in the [record] company in New York were saying they thought it was really bad that Andy was making it plain he was gay because they were worried it would affect our sales. And yet when we were in San Francisco, Warner Bros. was encouraging us to talk to the biggest U.S. gay paper, the Advocate. " So while Bell conjectured in Spin, "If I'd never said I was gay, I think Erasure would've taken off years ago in America," Amy Linden could nonetheless describe the twosome in Entertainment Weekly as "the techno-pop duo that makes flamboyant gay sensibilities palatable (and marketable) to the Luke Perry posse [of middle-American Beverly Hills 90210 watchers]."
In 1986 Bell explained his refusal to be closeted to Melody Maker's Kirk, saying, "I don't want to go out of my way to talk about it, but I'm not going to pretend I'm not. I won't portray a heterosexual in videos, for example, and we're consciously doing lyrics that can apply to either sex, but I'm not going to bore people rigid with it either." By 1990, however, Bell was more insistent about the political importance of being "out," as he told Walters: "I want to be known as a good performer. ... But it's important to me to take a stance. If you're doing music, you should use it for something and have substance. Being gay and open about it is my substance."
In 1992 Erasure discovered the value of recycling; they released both a collection of their singles and Abba-esque, an album of techno cover versions of four disco classics by the monstrously popular 1970s Swedish band Abba. While Pop! The First Twenty Hits reintroduced listeners to some of Erasure's neglected early singles, the single releases from Abba-esque debuted at number one on the English dance charts. Kurt Reighley, writing for Reflex, enthused, "If covering another artist's material means plumbing the depths for new meaning, can we honestly expect our heroes to find any substance in this froth? Yes, yes ... a thousand times, YES!"
Over the years, Bell continued to explore what it meant to be an openly gay performer. He told Larry Flick in Billboard, "My real obligation to the world is to show people that I am a happy person who happens to be gay. To me, it comes down to how you feel deep down inside. You can't change the world if you feel miserable and hate yourself."
The group's 1995 release, Erasure, departed from traditional rhythmic pop with a more instrumental, experimental sound, but it had lackluster sales worldwide. Bell told Chuck Taylor in Billboard that this was upsetting for the duo: "We went quite deep emotionally. I don't think we had any great hopes for it, but I took it so personally when not many people got to hear it."
Despite this setback, by 1997 Erasure had racked up 20 consecutive tops hits in the United Kingdom, but only three in the United States, according to Taylor. However, they persisted in marketing themselves in the United States, with a ten-stop mini tour to promote their album Cowboy, which was released in 1997. Bell told Taylor, "It's quite funny, because right now I feel a really strong vibe going on here [in the United States]. We're getting more requests for radio interviews and press than we've seen the likes of before."
Clarke and Bell had a good time making Cowboy. They met in a Dublin hotel room that was equipped with a piano and a guitar, and created the album's melodies and hooks, then recorded them on microcassettes. They then went home to work on the songs independently, then joined together to work out the keys. Another period of separate work followed, with Bell writing lyrics and Clarke working on the instrumental tracks. Only after this did they come together again to record the final vocals in the home studio of producer Gareth Jones. Regarding Cowboy, Clarke told Taylor, "We're doing what we do best and are writing songs that we really like." In the Advocate, Barry Walters described the album as "a nonstop explosion of short, snappy, and instantly memorable pop ditties."
The pair's next album, Loveboat, was not released until 2000, despite the fact that it was written soon after Cowboy. Bell noted in an interview on the group's website that recording the album was refreshing and seemed to break a feeling of staleness that he had been experiencing: "Recording the Loveboat album it felt like the spark was revived."
Other People's Songs, released in 2003, featured a collection of cover tunes. Although the album seemed to recall Abba-esque, Bell noted in an interview on their website that it was "a bit more serious," and "not so throw-away." He also noted that the songs he found easiest to do were songs that were meaningful to him during his teenage years: "They're easier to get under the skin of the song, because they gave you goose bumps in the first place."
Regarding the group's past and future, Bell remarked on the duo's website that "making it to twenty years is quite good." Clarke told Billboard's Taylor, "I'm very content. We're in a privileged position and we've had a really good career."
by Ondine E. Le Blanc and Kelly Winters
Clarke performed with Depeche Mode, 1980-81, and Yazoo, 1981-83; recruited Bell through a print advertisement, 1985; released singles, 1985-86; released Wonderland, 1986; The Circus,1987; The Two-Ring Circus, 1987; The Innocents, 1988; Wild!,1989; Chorus, 1991; Pop! The First Twenty Hits and Abba-esque, 1992;I Say I Say I Say, 1994; Erasure, 1995; Cowboy, 1997; Loveboat, 2000; Other People's Songs and Hits! The Very Best of Erasure, 2003; Nightbird, 2005.
BRIT Award, Best British Group, 1989.
- Selected discography
- Wonderland Mute/Sire, 1986.
- The Circus Mute/Sire, 1987.
- The Two-Ring Circus Mute/Elektra, 1987.
- The Innocents Mute/Sire, 1988.
- Wild! Mute/Sire, 1989.
- Chorus Mute/Sire, 1991.
- Pop! The First Twenty Hits Mute/Elektra, 1992.
- Abba-esque Mute/Elektra, 1992.
- I Say I Say I Say Mute/Elektra, 1994.
- Erasure Mute/Elektra, 1995.
- Cowboy Maverick Records, 1997.
- Loveboat Mute/Elektra, 2000.
- Other People's Songs Mute/Elektra, 2003.
- Hits! The Very Best of Erasure Mute/Elektra, 2003.
- Nightbird Mute/Elektra, 2005
- The Erasure Show Souvenir CD Mute/Elektra, 2005.
October 4, 2005: Group member Andy Bell's full-length solo debut, Electric Blue, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, October 7, 2005.
- Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, ABC/CLIO, 1991.
- Advocate, May 13, 1997, p. 61.
- Billboard, June 25, 1994, p. 37; April 5, 1997, p. 81; February 5, 2005, p. 32.
- Entertainment Weekly, September 11, 1992.
- Keyboard, February 1990.
- Melody Maker, October 26, 1985; May 31, 1986.
- People Weekly, November 13, 1995, p. 37.
- Reflex, Issue 29.
- Rolling Stone, April 19, 1990.
- Seventeen, February 1990.
- Spin, December 1992.
- Erasure Official Website, http://www.erasureinfo.com/ (March 15, 2005).
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