Erasure's Andy Bell On the Magic & Melancholy of Christmas
By Jerry Portwood
The idea of an Erasure Christmas album may sound like a strange idea. Yet, after releasing 14 quirky albums (as well as a four-song Abba covers EP) and a successful career that spans nearly three decades of collaborations, nothing from the synth-pop duo of Andy Bell and Vince Clarke seems that far-fetched. Snow Globe, which includes both originals and updated takes on seasonal carols and classics, may still be one of the more unusual holiday albums of recent memory.
The two hadn't seen one another since finishing the tour for 2011's Tomorrow's World. Plus, their time together in Clarke's Brooklyn recording studio in February of this year was a sort of healing process, since it was their first step back together after Bell lost his partner of 25 years, Paul Hickey, in April 2012.
Bell, who says he and Hickey's last Christmas together was "very sad" and "strange," admits that the holiday has "always been a bit melancholic, really." He goes on to explain: "I wanted to make a record I knew Paul would love. It’s for him. He always wanted us to make a Christmas album. So we did. I know he'd really love it."
Bell spoke to Out by phone from his home in London to discuss the choices for this peculiar Christmas album and whether we'd ever experience an Erasure musical on stage.
On the inspiration for his song "Blood in the Snow" and the pagan holiday tradition:
"It's quite moody, "Blood on the Snow." That song was inspired by the [Hans Christian Anderson] story of the "Tin Soldier." I like those kind of stories; I think Christmas is really bittersweet, really. It's the festival of lights in pagan times because it's shortest day of the year. It's overly commercial now, and I love the buildup to it. I love the magicalness that's created by it. Out of the whole year, even non-religious people like it. I mean, I like I like to go to the church on Christmas Eve to say, 'Thank you' for a great year. It's doesn't matter what church, as long as they have stained glass windows and incense."
On why he chose to sing a Latin carol like "Gaudete" to a disco beat:
Well, I really love the original by a band in england called Steeleye Span. They have a lovely singer named Maggie Pryor. It's very folk, a very pagan-type of music. In England the holiday is much more celebrated by the Solstice and things like that, bonfires and parades and Moorish dancing. I hadn't heard it as a Latin carol, but something struck me about the song. I don't know, in school I really liked languages, but I picked German over Latin because I thought, Well I'm not really going to be a doctor. But now I'm discovering through singing the Latin that it's quite nice.
On why they included "Silent Night" and the holiness of the holiday:
So amazing, I love the German version of it: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht. In some ways, the word holy has lost its meaning and I think, not on purpose, but we try to emphasize the spiritual aspect of the holiday and feeling things with your heart and being connected with some kind of angelic energy.
On why there hasn't been an Erasure jukebox musical—yet:
We've had people say they want to do an Erasure musical, but I'm not so keen on doing a "hits" musical. They're a bit sort of naff. I would rather pick some theatrical songs that we've done rather than the hits.
How Erasure has managed to persevere and continue to produce songs after all these years:
I never get tired of singing. You get a bit bored of singing some of the songs sometimes, and you get bored of the machine. You get trapped in an '80s time loop. That's when the band was born, and people think you haven't done anything else, although your career continues. I really admire Cher and those kinds of people who have been going forever. Those are the people that keep me going. Plus, there are things I haven't done. I would love to play Vegas, and I would love to play with a big band, all kinds of things. That's what keeps me going really, just experimenting and trying to do different things.
On the joy of singing—even when there's suffering:
We were very surprised how easy it was to record the album. Especially when we're doing a whole album of Erasure songs, sometimes you feel like you have to suffer for your art. But over the past five years I realized, you don't have to suffer for your art at all, it's a thing of joy.
You do feel angst and you do feel pain but that's part of the joy of singing. I really love Fado and Spanish Flamenco, there's a yearning and crying in the voice. Which means something is missing; they've lost something. I think that's a good starting point when you're singing a song, so you have some sort of emotional impact for the listener.
LISTEN to the Dave Aude remix of the Latin carol 'Gaudete' from 'Snow Globe,' available now