Vince Clarke, one half of synthpop duo Erasure chats with Kevin Cooper about opening for Robbie Williams, his love for plinky plonky music, their soon to be released album World Beyond and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

Vince Clarke is an English synthpop musician and songwriter. He has been the main composer and musician of the band Erasure since 1985, and was previously involved with several groups including Depeche Mode, Yazoo and The Assembly.

Erasure are a duet with singer songwriter Andy Bell, who was launched onto the music scene with their 1985 debut single Who Needs Love Like That. Following the release of their fourth single Sometimes, the duo established themselves in the UK Singles Chart and became one of the most successful artists of the late 1980s to mid-1990s.

From 1986 to 2007, Erasure achieved 24 consecutive top forty hits in the UK, including A Little Respect, Victim Of Love and Always. At the 1989 Brit Awards, they won the Brit Award for the Best British Group.

In February 2017 Erasure announced that their seventeenth studio album would be entitled World Be Gone and to mark the release the band would headline three UK shows at Glasgow’s O2 Academy, Manchester’s Albert Hall, and London’s Roundhouse before embarking on a four month European tour as special guests of Robbie Williams in June, July, August and September.

Love You To The Sky, the first single to be taken from the album World Be Gone was released as a single-track download on 17 March 2017. In March 2018 they announced that they were going to release their album World Beyond, a re-working of their previous World Be Gone in a post classical garb.

Whilst preparing for their forthcoming tour, Vince Clarke took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Vince how are you?

Hi Kevin I’m fine thanks how are you doing today mate?

I’m very well thank you and let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Of course, it’s my pleasure.

Before we move on I have to ask you, you have had to postpone the three opening gigs at The Olympia in Dublin, just how is Andy (Bell)?

Well what can I say, he is on the mend. The doctor has told Andy that he needs to give his voice a rest for a bit so that is what he has to do. He started off with a cold but it has just stayed with him for a while. He struggled with it during rehearsals and so we thought that rather than us kicking off the tour with, how, can I put this, with half-hearted shows. Don’t get me wrong, he could have done the gigs but it might have made his voice worse for the rest of the tour.

Whilst there will naturally be some very disappointed fans out there, I have to say that the way that you are handling the situation really does make sense.

We all think so. It’s funny; it’s not exactly the same but when I started rehearsals myself all of my fingers were already cut up because let me tell you, it is so fringing cold in New York (laughter). All of the ends of my fingers were split open due to the cold so I went online trying to find the best way to get around it. However, the suggestion was always just not to play the guitar (laughter). So I guess it’s the same with Andy’s singing although my guitar playing isn’t as essential as his singing in this particular instance (laughter).

Despite all of what is currently going on I wanted to ask you, just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I have to say that yes, everything else is good (laughter). We had an enjoyable time opening for Robbie Williams on his current tour. That really was fun and something different.

Is he as mad as he looks when he is out on stage?

(Laughter) Robbie’s not mad at all; in fact Andy and I found him to be normal; so normal in fact that he was on the verge of being boring (laughter). I have to say that he really is a nice and pleasant guy, he really is lovely (laughter). That really was an interesting experience for us, simply because we had never played in front of so many people for such a long time now. So in all honesty I would have to say that despite this small hiccup, everything is good.

Just looking back for a moment if I may, you and I last spoke before you performed your Violet Flame Tour on 15th November 2014 here in Nottingham at The Royal Concert Hall. How was that for you because from the audience’s perspective it both looked and sounded amazing?

Well I have to say that was a really good tour. It was interesting because that was the first tour where we didn’t rely upon theatricals. We simply wanted to play the songs and see just how the people reacted to them just as they were. And I have to say that we were really pleased with the way that it panned out. The people really did appear to enjoy it.

You released your last studio album, World Be Gone on May 19th last year. Were you happy with the fans reaction to the album?

What can I say, we were really pleased with the album. It seemed to get a good reception generally all over the world. It was quite a departure from previous recordings in the fact that most of the recordings were really slow. For me personally it has been one of the most pleasurable records to record. We weren’t trying to make a dance record; we were being a little more reflective I think and the music is more reflective and moody than usual. So all in all it was a nice project for us to do.

A lot of the fans are saying that it’s your best work to date. Would you agree with that?

(Laughter) certainly not (laughter). Whilst it is kind of the fans to say that I personally would love to think that my best work is yet to come.

After hearing the album I actually wrote down ‘more mellow and relaxed than usual, whilst still making a point’.

Thank you, that’s kind of you to say that. We have never been particularly political, but there is so much to write about right now. There are so many weird happenings going on in the world right now that you can’t but help reflect those in both the mood and the lyrics of the record.

Keep making the statements but please don’t turn into Billy Bragg (laughter).

(Laughter) there is no danger of that. Billy is good at what he does that’s why we never did it ourselves. There are a lot of artists out there who I think do it really well. With the last album we didn’t want it to be blatantly political, but at the same time we just wanted to hint on some of the subjects that concern us and hopefully we will leave the listeners with some kind of positive feeling at the end of it.

I understand that you have recorded a classical re-interpretation of the album?

Yes we have. What happened was, because most of the songs on the album are slow, I suggested to the record company that rather than doing a banging four on the floor remix of a slow song, why didn’t we record either a classical version or a string version. The next thing I knew, the record company were contacting me saying “yes that’s a great idea, why don’t we do the whole album” (laughter). I just thought ’okay fair enough, whatever’ (laughter).

How close to the original album is the classical one. Have you stayed loyal to the original songs?

Without wanting to give too much away, I would like to think that we have stayed as close to the original songs as we could have. However, what I will say is that there are most definitely no synthesisers on the new album (laughter). Other than that it’s the same (laughter).

And I am correct in thinking that album is in the can; all ready for release?

Yes you are, it is all ready for a release date to be confirmed sometime in March.

You joke that there are no synthesisers on the new album, well I was recently speaking to Andy McCluskey (Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark) and he was telling me that it still angers him when people say that their music is not real music because it is synthesiser driven and that there are no real musicians in the band. Do you find that people react the same way to Erasure?

Well in their instance there isn’t (laughter). I’m joking of course; Andy and I are really good friends. To be honest we don’t get that now as much as we did in the early days. I personally got that a lot, certainly in the early days with Depeche Mode. People accused us of making plinky plonky music and all that. But you know what, I love plinky plonky music (laughter). That’s my cup of tea.

Taking aside the current situation with Andy, I have been listening to the album and I was going to say that in my opinion Andy is sounding better than ever. Would you agree with that?

Yes he is, I totally agree. On the last album, World Be Gone we really thought about the idea of making it a more vocal sounding kind of record. So with that in mind I kept the music quite minimal and Andy did tons and tons of vocals, backing vocals, harmonies, and counter-melodies. When Andy was recording his vocals, he was actually working with a guy who used to work with the late Freddie Mercury, so I thought ’okay, I don’t mind us having some of that’ (laughter).

When things improve with Andy’s current situation, are you looking forward to getting back out on the road here in the UK?

Yes I am, very much so. I’m just sorry that we aren’t able to be out there right now. I’ve come all this way; I have travelled three thousand miles, do you know what I am saying (laughter).

All things permitting, you will be here in Nottingham at The Royal Concert Hall on Monday 12th February, what can we expect?

Well, we have got a bit of a set this time; it’s not just a plain stage. The set actually looks a bit like the set from the movie Tron; in fact thinking about it, it’s a bit like Tron meets the red light district in Amsterdam (laughter). It’s perhaps best if you see it first and describe it later (laughter).

I checked this morning and the UK leg of the tour is completely sold-out. That must please you?

We are really happy about that. It’s funny because the agent would send me the spreadsheet once every two weeks to let me know how the ticket sales were going. I had been looking at this spreadsheet for the past six months thinking ‘the sales are the same, nothing has changed’. They were still showing seventy percent sales for the first London night and thirty-two percent for the second. At that point I started to think ’I knew that we should have played just one London gig’. Then I suddenly realised that I was just looking at the ticket sales for July (laughter).

I see that you have today announced seven more dates in North America.

Yes we have; that part of the tour is also selling really well. However, they operate in a different way over there to how we sell tickets here in the UK. They don’t announce the dates until quite late which is just the way that they work. I think that because we haven’t played in North America for quite some time there is now a bit of momentum over there, especially with the new record too so yes, we are really pleased about that. Overall the tour is looking really good for us.

Which do you prefer, large arena tours or smaller intimate gigs?

I have to say that both Andy and I much prefer playing in smaller more intimate venues and sell them out rather than trying to play bigger venues and end up looking a bit sad. I also think that the fans enjoy the smaller shows too because it makes it more of an intimate evening.

As we all know, you are a well-respected and established music producer. Is there anyone who you haven’t yet worked with who you would like to collaborate with?

I don’t think I could say “this person” or “that person”. For me it is not just about a particular artist, it is always nice for me to collaborate with many different people. As you know I have my own tiny record label, VeryRecords and that for me is all about collaboration. There are no famous people that I would necessarily want to work with. However, having said that I wouldn’t mind having the opportunity to do something with Brian Eno. That would be quite cool.

You mention your label, is there anyone in particular who we should be looking out for?

Well, the last release that we put out on the label was an album called The Colour Of Terrible Crystal by Brian Alka. The way that I would describe it to you is that it is weird electronic music which you don’t necessarily want to play at a party (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

That was This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us by Sparks back in 1974.

Who did you first see performing live?

The Tubes at Hammersmith Odeon in nineteen something or other (laughter).

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

That’s a great question. I think that would have been Röyksopp & Robyn’s Monument.

On that note Vince let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. Good luck with everything and I hope to see you here in Nottingham.

Kevin, it’s a pleasure as always. Thank you very much and I hope to see you up there in Nottingham. All the very best and bye for now.