Andy Bell’s new solo flight is ’Non-Stop’

by Robert Sokol

Bay Area Reporter

Thursday June 3, 2010

Like the genealogy of its monarchy, Britain's pop music scene is full of dotted lines. Vince Clarke founded, among several early efforts, the electropop group Depeche Mode in 1980, after which he teamed up with Alison Moyet for the synthpop sound of Yazoo. Moving on, in 1985 he advertised for a singer for his next project, met Andy Bell, and formed Erasure, one of the most successful bands of the 1980s and 90s.

Still very much part of Erasure, Bell is now also branching out with Non-Stop, his second solo recording, co-written and co-produced by Belgian musician Pascal Gabriel. "It's quite exciting," Bell says from his home in London. "It's been a couple of years getting it done, but it wasn't at all laborious. It was great fun. We did it in sort of fits and starts. Once I got hooked up with Pascal, it went very smoothly. He's very much like Vince. Cancerian. Very organized and methodical."

A long-time out artist, Bell ponders the light-hearted accusation of cheating on straight "boyfriend" Clarke with another collaborator. "Hmmmm. Maybe a little bit - though Pascal is straight as well - but no, not really. Vince and I are very respectful of one another. We've been doing some writing for the next Erasure album, and he's really glad to have me back. He really missed me, which is very sweet and heartfelt, and I'll be seeing him in June." San Francisco will also be seeing Bell in June. He's scheduled to grace the main stage of the Pride parade celebration and offer up some samples from Non-Stop, which includes two singles he originally released under the nom de CD Mimo.

Lead singers for established groups often feel the need to spread their wings in solo endeavors. Annie Lennox of The Eurythmics maintained a thriving solo career while continuing to record with Dave Stewart. Obviously Bell feels the same drive, and experiences no Sybil-like challenge in managing the twin identities. "The two don't collide at all," he says. "It's like separate mind-spaces. I don't know how that works, but it's totally separate. With Erasure, it's like being in a marriage. The record is created by two people who have grown together. You bring your shared experiences.

"I was 21 when I met Vince," says Bell, now 46, "and over that much time you get to know almost everything about each other. So we're kind of quite naked when writing for Erasure. We'd been going kind of non-stop, which is not where the title of my CD came from, and I asked Vince if he'd mind if I took some time off. He was like yeah, sure. Do what you want to do. I felt like a little puppy being let off the leash!

"Writing your own material becomes more personal. I've always looked to Vince as my mentor. When we're working together in Erasure, my lyrics always go through Vince, kind of like a pupil giving something to his teacher and asking if it's OK. He'll go through and say that he doesn't like this or that, but it's only because I've asked for his advice. When I'm on my own, it kind of lets the lid off and makes me realize what I can do under my own steam."

Clarke was an influence on Bell long before they met. "Of all the songwriters around then, he was one of the most left-field people I would have cared to meet. He was top of my wish list. Other people, I suppose, would be The B-52s and Talking Heads, maybe Japan, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Blondie."

Bell has also explored performing the work of others. In 1991 he recorded the role of Montresor in the opera The Fall of the House of Usher by Peter Hammill and Judge Smith. "It was quite a naive performance, but I think that's why the guy picked me to do it." He's got a wish list of recording projects to tackle. "I would love to have a go at Threepenny Opera," he says. "I would love to do a duets record with mainly female singers. I would also like to do an orchestral album, so there's still loads and loads of things to do."

Spending time in the theatre world is also not out of the question. "I would love to. I just saw [Andrew Lloyd Webber's] Love Never Dies, though I prefer the original Phantom of the Opera. I'd love to do something like that, but maybe not so commercial. Something Off-Broadway perhaps. People keep reminding me that I'm getting older, so I can't play Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," he laughs. He's also intrigued by the thought of a stage production based on the Erasure songbook, a la Green Day's American Idiot. "I've got a list of some of my favorite songs from Erasure that I think are very theatrical and do tell a story. It would be case of weaving a narrative through the lyrics, but I know that's not just a walk in the park. It's a monumental task."

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