Sometimes answering a classified ad can really pay off. Take the case of Andy Bell, an aspiring singer who in 1985 went from selling women’s shoes to becoming front man for the synth-pop group Erasure.
And all because he took the time to respond to a search by producer and keyboardist Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Yaz) for a new singer.
“I kind of had a feeling it would go really well, but I didn’t want to get my expectations too high,” recalled Bell. “So I decided I was gonna go down and really have a great day, no matter what happened.”
Bell sang two songs with Clarke, including “Who Needs Love Like That,” which became a hit on Erasure’s debut album, “Wonderland.” And the results surprised him.
“I’d never tried falsetto singing in my life,” said Bell, “and for some reason on that morning it just sprung out of my mouth. And I was really shocked, you know? And the next day they called me up and asked do you want the job with Vince? And I was like, “F— yes!”
Clarke was already renowned for writing the classic songs “Dreaming of Me,” “New Life” and “Just Can’t Get Enough” for Depeche Mode, and “Don’t Go” and “Situation” for Yaz (featuring singer Alison Moyet).
“I was just really proud to work with him,” said Bell. “He was one of my favorite artists at that time, because he was very left-field and his songwriting was very unusual compared to lots of other stuff that was around. And when we first starting working in the studio, I was so enamored of him that I was not saying a word, just staring at him, because I just couldn’t believe where I was.”
Erasure will be at the Fillmore Miami Beach on Friday night, where the duo will kick off its Violet Flame Tour, named after its 16th studio album, an upbeat effort featuring the single “Elevation.”
“We’re doing three songs from “The Violet Flame,” and we’re also doing remix versions of the Erasure classic songs,” said Bell, “so it will all be sounding very fresh.”
You’re sure to hear the hits “Chains of Love,” “A Little Respect,” “Oh L’amour,” “Who Needs Love Like That,” “Ship of Fools,” “Love to Hate You” and the heartfelt cover of ABBA’s “Take a Chance On Me.”
While Erasure’s hits have their own style and sound, they’re not far off from Yaz and early Depeche Mode standards in attitude and atmosphere – and that was by design. Bell says Clarke had no intention of distancing himself from his work with his first bands.
“No, not at all,” he said. “I think Vince was looking for someone who was kind of very new, very naïve – which he got – and I was a huge Yaz fan, so I used to sing their records inside-out, and obviously I picked up nuances of Alison’s voice and sound. I’m not sure whether Vince heard that. And I was also an ex-choir boy, so Vince just fell for that freshness, really.”
Clarke also liked the fact that Bell was open from the start about his sexuality.
“I think he thought it was really cool that I was gay,” Bell said, “because in those days it was very unusual, and not that many people said they were gay. And I was so pleased that I had Vince, because it made it much easier on me.”
Bell has been a gay icon for decades, and it wasn’t always smooth sailing, but he managed to avoid much negativity or tabloid harassment.
“In lots of ways it was much more creative back then,” he said. “I think people were much more willing to give you a chance, you know, because you had college radio and all that stuff. I think musicians were much more experimental, much more home-made and punky. So that’s why I think so much of ‘80s music stands the test of time.”
Today, Erasure – a moniker morphed from the name Razor’s Edge after the guys rejected “awful” suggestions including Vince & Andy, Yaz 2 and Water Babies – has stood the test of time for nearly 30 years, a fact that continuously leaves Bell in awe.
“I’m forever a teenager, really,” he said. “I think all people are. And when you’re doing pop music, if you’ve had a few hits, you can get a bit spoiled because you’re in a very privileged position. But I feel very fortunate to be able to do something that I really love and enjoy, and makes people happy as well.”