Erasure’s out frontman Andy Bell on the group’s new CD, his love of carols and campy holiday albums
Two years after their last studio effort, 2011’s Tomorrow’s World, synthpop icons Erasure have returned with a first holiday-themed album, Snow Globe (Mute Records). A mix of classics and original ditties, Snow Globe features keyboard whiz Vince Clarke in a restrained yet tech-forward mode, while frontman Andy Bell’s vocals are mellifluous and harmony-layered.
Out now in CD form, Snow Globe is also available in a special three-disc box set containing a Christmas bauble, calendar, signed Christmas card and more, while the superb Tim Burton-esque stop-motion animation music video for “Gaudete” is online.
Openly HIV-positive since 2004, London-based Bell joined his Florida-based boyfriend, Stephen Moss, in a British civil partnership in January and splits his time between their respective cities.
“I just moved to a new area called Limehouse in East London,” Bell says. “I went to the local gay pub and there’s an 80-year-old drag queen there. Her name is Maisie Trollette, and she used to be in a trio called The Trollettes. They were funny and extremely filthy.”
Bell talked about Snow Globe, the campiest holiday album ever, and whether he would have blurred lines like Miley Cyrus did at the VMAs.
— Lawrence Ferber
Dallas Voice: Have you always been a fan of holiday and Christmas albums? Andy Bell: Not particularly. It depended on what your parents had around. When we were kids, we listened to those by Elvis Presley and Jim Reeves, which is where “Silver Bells” came from. For myself, I really loved the Phil Spector Christmas record, Barbra Streisand’s A Christmas Album, which she did in 1967. That’s where we took Erasure’s version of “Ave Maria” [on the 2003 Solsbury Hill EP] from. I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of Christmas music, but I do love the carols.
What is the gayest holiday album or TV special you’ve ever seen? It was probably one of Stanley Baxter’s Christmas Specials they used to show here in the 1970s on the BBC. He was a very masculine, handsome Scottish actor who did a magnificent Judy Garland impersonation even with a large nose. Erasure starred in one of the campiest TV shows ever, called Camp Christmas, for U.K. Channel 4 in about 1996. And the best camp Christmas album has to be Christmas in the Stars: the Star Wars Christmas Album.
In a recent Billboard interview about Snow Globe, Vince said, ‘We thought it would be more interesting to look into the darker side of the season. For a lot of people, Christmas is not a happy time.’ How dark do the holidays get, do you feel? To me, I think it depends on where you’re at, because I had quite a few Christmases where, especially when my previous partner [Paul Hickey, who passed away in 2011] was really ill. I hate that feeling of when you have to be somewhere. You don’t want to be there but have to. It’s nice once in a while to have your schedule clear and do what you like without feeling obliged during holidays. At the same time you do have to think of other people. It sounds terrible.
You’ve been alternating solo albums with Erasure efforts for some time. Is it easy to snap back into Erasure mode? Yes. We always get nervous before we meet again, me and Vince. It’s like meeting your ex-wife or something, and once we’ve been together for a half hour it’s fine again and back to normal. All the solo stuff is still ongoing and hopefully some time next year more will come out.
What is the story behind the original tune, “Blood on the Snow?” That’s inspired by the story of the Little Tin Soldier. He blew up the mantelpiece and flew out of the house and got caught in the rain, went down the drain, got eaten by a fish, and the fish got caught and he was found inside. It’s based on that, really. A sad Christmas story. It’s beautiful, though!
There are no Hanukkah ditties? For shame! I don’t really know any Hanukkah songs, even though my new hubby is half-Jewish, half-Lebanese. I suppose I will learn some one of these days!
Regardless, it’s a beautiful album. I love the album. It’s really quiet, and I think the song “Silver Bells” at the end really reminds me of the film It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s very snowy, and it’s like a black and white album in some ways, I don’t know why.
On to non-holiday related topics, what are your thoughts about the will-it-ever-go-away Miley Cyrus VMA hot mess? I thought it was quite unnecessary, all the stuff she did. But she’s very young and very naïve. Unfortunately, people these days, the more sexy and explicit and outrageous you can be corresponds to record sales. Young kids get a thrill from watching their heroes like that. But I was really appreciative of Sinead O’Connor’s letter to her.
I was surprised that sparked off a war! Yeah, yeah. I think once Miley gets older, she’ll realize that was a really sweet thing of Sinead to do. It wasn’t to cause trouble or anything; it was because she cared. And it’s true. The music business is exploiting women.
You’ve been provocative and flamboyant in concert. Do you think, were you Miley’s age today, you might do something like she did? Well, maybe. I feel like I might be a bit of a frustrated porno star! So if I was younger, I probably might be tempted to go off and do something like that, but I’m glad we came out when we did because it was a very different climate. There’s a huge amount of pressure on young people to become sexualized now.
The HIV drug Truvada is being used now by HIV-negative people to lower the chance of HIV infection. It’s been controversial some feel it encourages less responsible behavior while others feel it is a new tool to prevent HIV. Your thoughts? I would much rather take the least amount of pills as possible. Of course safe sex [is best]. If there was a cure for HIV, I would take it tomorrow!
Do you feel a bit like a U.S. citizen now that you married a Floridian, and will you get married there, too, once it’s legal? I know it sounds funny, but you really do live out of a suitcase. I’d eventually like to settle down with Steve and Angel, our Dobie, but for now I love my trips to Florida and the U.S. because I do feel truly embraced there. I can leave my baggage elsewhere, if you get my drift!
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 22, 2013.