Erasure’s Andy Bell goes solo

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday June 1, 2010

Andy Bell is half of Erasure, the British new wave duo that changed the landscape of what it meant to be an openly gay pop band. In the years that have passed since Erasure's debut, 1986's Wonderland, the band has sold an estimated 25 million albums worldwide and they continue to play live and release new music to this day.

And both Bell and his bandmate Vince Clarke continue to pursue other musical projects, including Bell's forthcoming album Non-Stop, his second solo release, due for release next week. The album is sure to be a club hit, with a sweaty, pulsating beat ruminating through the record's every word.

Bell recently spoke via phone with EDGE on the new album and what it's like to start fresh as a solo act in a music industry he describes as "celebrity focused" and "just as homophobic as it ever was."

Frustrated disco diva

EDGE: Andy, It's an honor to speak with you. How are you feeling now, on the brink of the release of your new solo album, Non-Stop? Excited to unleash it upon the free world?

Andy Bell: Well you try not to get too excited really, because I love doing music and the radio is quite hard to get into over here right now. It's very celebrity-oriented. So you try not to pin your hopes up too high, but I am feeling very excited.

EDGE: I'm sure there's also a nervous part to releasing an album. Or have you learned to manage that side of it?

AB: I'm quite nervous. You're quite naked, I suppose. And no matter how thick you think your skin is after so many years, it's all the same, you can't take all the knocks. You just learn how to deal with it a more grown-up way.

EDGE: You really shouldn't have too much to worry about, though! I gave the album a listen and I think we're in for a real treat, it's got a very electro, clubby feel. Is it the "big club album" you've said you're hoping for? Tell me more about the mood you were going for with Non-Stop.

AB: You never know how it's going to turn out, but I really love the song Touch and the slow song Slow Release, plus the title track. It's like the more electro it is, the more I like it really. It's kind of in my blood from being a teenager and being in Erasure but in some ways I'm just a bit of a frustrated disco diva.

Story continues on following page:

Watch the video of Andy Bell's new single "Call on Me":

Like the 1980s

EDGE: Tell me about that frustration. Does that have to do with the difficulty of breaking through to the radio in the industry these days? Is that your aim?

AB: I mean, we've never really been pin-up boys in Erasure and the money is not like how it used to be, as far as making videos and things. It's much more homemade now. I just recently hopped onto Facebook and we're up to 25,000 people now, but if you look at Lady Gaga and she has something like 18 million plays. If you don't have the radio behind you, it's almost like you're an artist starting from scratch again, but I am happy our fan base has continued to support us since the late '80s.

EDGE: And in addition to work on the album, you've been doing some DJ sets. Who are some of your favorite musicians to play?

AB: I do love Lady Gaga as well as Tiga and La Roux. There's so many but I don't have my iPod right on me. I also like finding really old stuff. There's a group called Kano, and I was shocked to find their music came out in 1985.

EDGE: It's funny how so much popular music today is drawing from a very synthy, new wave sound that emerged in the '80s. I mean, you share a producer - Pascal Gabriel - with Little Boots, who's certainly embraced that sound. Sometimes you really can't tell the music was made today versus twenty years ago.

AB: It's quite funny. When I was a kid listening to music, you'd have a whole history of music before you. I listened to my parents' music and it seemed like you knew that history. But today, it seems like people don't really look into the history, it's all disposable and commercial. There were some fans at an acoustic trashy gig I played and they hadn't heard of Visage. It's weird when you have to tell them about these things.

Music industry :: just as homophobic

EDGE: But I think your history isn't lost on too many people. Early on, one of the record folks told you the new album was "too Erasure," correct? I'm sure there's just as many people who might stand up and say "it's not Erasure enough." It must be a difficult line to walk.

AB: Yes, when I played some of the earlier material I was working on for Non-Stop, my boss said it was "too Erasure" because my voice is kind of distinctive. As soon as anybody hears it coming on the radio, it's connected with synthesizers. Even on the Facebook page, a lot of fans still think it's an Erasure record now. We've tried to disguise my voice a bit, but in the end, that's still the case.

EDGE: Speaking of your legacy, a lot of people consider Erasure to be one of the definitive gay musicians of the past 30 years. Is that a daunting label to you when you go about creating new music?

AB: Not really. I feel exactly the same as I did in the beginning. But I guess when you reach age 40, your perspective changes. I know a lot of young gay people don't know who I am at all, which is quite nice for me really.

EDGE: Do you think young gay musicians have it easier today than when you were getting your start? I've read you saying you were glad to not be starting your career now.

AB: To me, the music industry is just as homophobic as it ever was, really. Just look at Adam Lambert. They won't start playing your records suddenly or take your music at face value. I was just speaking with Jimmy Somerville the other night and he wasn't doing any promotion here because it's all so straight. It's mostly women in the music industry who are using their bodies and setting themselves up as sex toys for men and there's not much room for gay men within that dynamic.

EDGE: That's interesting you mention Adam Lambert, because I'd originally thought British gay musicians had a bit more freedom than American musicians. But that homophobia is something you still feel across the pond?

AB: You definitely still feel it. We get lots and lots of our old material played on the radio but when you're trying to promote something new, it's hard to get a platform. I'll get the gay press, but it's like the straight press really isn't interested. Rock n' roll is such a male and macho field, it makes it quite hard to break through.

EDGE: A lot of your press mentions your HIV status. Is it frustrating to you that it comes up so often in interviews?

AB: I really hardly think about it. I get more concerned with what's going on in Africa with people who don't have access to medicine. In the West, we're the lucky ones. I'd rather not be HIV positive, but we don't really get to go on chat shows or anything like that in the UK. People don't really talk about it in press interviews and when they do, it's pretty light. It's just a part of my life and I just get on it with it really. I have quite a few friends in the same boat so I don't feel so isolated.

EDGE: At this point in your career, how do you define success as a solo performer?

AB: I really think that in the end, it just comes down to a personal contentment, feeling satisfied with who you are on the inside. All these things you get to do are a real pleasure and I love it. When you go out and do a gig or DJ, I'm always thinking ahead before the event happens of how I'd like the night to go and usually it's a really lovely occasion. The important thing is being happy with yourself and spreading the love around.

Watch this interview with Andy Bell on 'Non-Stop' (in two parts):

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to to read more of his work.