Contributor’s Note: Even in my most metal years I always liked Erasure for their catchy pop melodies-and even went to see them live on several occasions over the years.I was delighted to be able to have the opportunity to be interviewing Andy Bell. (I know my sister would have been particularly proud of this one.)
Torsten In Queereteria is the third solo album by Andy Bell (Erasure) performing as alter-ego Torsten, a semi-immortal polysexual who is destined to love many, lose many and be haunted by bittersweet memories, due to his unnaturally elongated life. The album is released on 12th April through Cherry Red Records. It’s a role Andy first took up at the Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Festival in 2014 in ‘Torsten The Bareback Saint’ and a role reprised by him in the critically acclaimed 2016 follow up, ‘Torsten The Beautiful Libertine’, which enjoyed a sell-out 4 week run at London’s ‘Above The Stag’ Theatre.
‘Andy Bell Is Torsten ‘is a unique collaboration between a singer (Andy Bell), a poet / playwright (Barney Ashton) and a musician (Christopher Frost). Their new album is structured around 4 separate themed ‘Acts’ which deal with different aspects of both Torsten’s life story and his self-realization. As with previous Torsten albums, each song is designed as if a postcard insight into a particular hot-spot of memory.
Mark: Hello? is that Andy ? This is a bit of a bucket list moment for me. I’ve been a huge fan. I think I saw Erasure way back on the Innocents tour .
Andy Bell: Oh go on.(modestly)
Mark: You’ve a new studio album, a new solo album coming out on the 12th of April?
Andy Bell: Yeah, that’s right. It’s a written for me album, this part three of Torsten, the is project that I’ve been doing for a while. And it’s called “Torsten in Queereteria”, which I’m sure you know about.
Mark: I just wonder how the original concept came to be devised?
Andy Bell: Well what happened, I got the main writer on the … Ashton-Bullock. He’s a poet and a playwright. He’s one of Britain’s most promising playwrights, so probably about ten years ago, I was at the Mojo awards with him. We were on the independent table, with Cherry Red, and I was giving Daniel an award from the record and Barney said to me, he had this idea of this character in mind, with me in mind to play the main character. And when I heard the material, I thought, “wow, this material’s great and this guy’s for real.” And we started kind of working together. We’ve been friends ever since really. We just meet together, talk quite a lot, and I think, I mean he kind of reams lots of information from just conversations that we have, and then kind of writes it into the story a little bit.
Mark: So was it solely his writing or was it more of a dual collaboration in terms of the writing?
Andy Bell: No, it’s purely Barney Ashton-Bullock, it’s his writing. And the musician is Christopher Frost.
Mark: When it was created, was it always the intention for it to be performed? Rather than just be a collection of songs?
Andy Bell: Yeah. The first recording was called the Bareback Saints, which of course, we got a bit of flack about. In the Edinburgh Festival we performed. And then second was above the Stag Theatre in London before it moved. Now it’s a lovely brand new theatre with a double arch in Vauxhall, so we just had our first readthrough last night, and rehearsals begin on next Monday.
Mark: How does performing songs different from what you’ve done in the past with Erasure? Is it more of a theatrical performance?
Andy Bell: It’s kind of … because with Erasure you kind of … because we’ve written the songs in the first place, you almost can’t forget them. You know what I mean? They’re so embedded in your brain and you’ve sang them 70 times, apart from your album tracks which you haven’t visited so often, you just sing them by muscle memory. But also memory, it just comes out, the words come out. Usually. Now there are a few words sometimes that you miss. I mix them up in concert sometimes. The theatre, I find it really really hard to kind of fix the words in my head. I still haven’t for the upcoming play, it begins on the 12th, although the 10th of April is the kind of launch date. So I’m just going to have to record the lines on my phone, and I’m just going to have to kind of listen to them over and over and over again. ‘Cause I was quite good in school at doing foreign languages. ‘Cause that’s how you learn those, just by listening and repeating all the time.
Mark: Did you have to go and take any acting classes? Or how did you find it quite easy to slip naturally into the role?
Andy Bell: No, not really. To be honest, it’s quite embarrassing. I mean, I have done quite a few a things. You know, I was in two school plays and I did this one show called “The Night with Barry Judy Garland” about 20 years ago in London. That was just for one week. I also did an acting to camera course at the Central School of Speech and Drama here in London. That’s just one of those courses and you don’t get anything at the end. You can’t even get to keep the film that you’ve made while you’re there. You know, so it’s all a fruitless exercise, you know? But no, when I’m working with the people, the above the Stage, I really feel out of my depth ’cause they’re so good. You know, these people. And they’re also … they’re young and they’re kind of like, they just learn their lines. I really don’t know how Ian McKellen and people learn their lines. They must just get a method down … one that they’ve used for years, so….
Mark.What about touring and promotion for this album, Do you have any dates lined up?
Andy Bell: We haven’t got touring dates, no. The main thing is just promoting the show and the show’s on for two weeks, hoping with an extension. We’ll be here in London so far. We have had in the pasts requests to come play in Manchester and San Francisco. And I’d love to go back to Edinburgh. So it just depends on the … you know, you have to have a certain amount of success with the show to get some cachet and a bit of sponsorship.
Mark: What about, now I understand this is the third of the albums. I just wondered if you did, say a residency would you be performing each album over a period of nights? Or is it just going to be primarily focused on the latest album.
Andy Bell: Yes, it’s just the latest album. But there are only three to four songs from the new album, and then revisited versions of songs from the previous two albums. It just depends on the storyline and how the songs fit into the story.
Mark: I just wondered, as I say, in terms of maybe a three night residency, would you be able to perform all three albums?
Andy Bell: Oh, that’s a lot to take on. Because that would be like, that would take me at least probably a month of rehearsal. To do those three nights.
Mark: Just an idea. Obviously so that maybe you’re able to perform the full story, the full picture as it were.
Andy Bell: Well, we would like to. Because this is the third album, it was meant to be a trilogy, but we would like to do a retrospective, maybe in another album. Just like with all the tracks that we like the most from them. Or maybe put all albums together and do something in a fourth. ‘Cause Barney just loves the newest album. He works at Cherry Red records in Strike Force. His day job he’s an archivist. So he gets all these artists like Holly Johnson, Mark Harmond, Jimmy Somerville,Black, Liza Minnelli, you know, all these kind of back catalogues, and reissues the back catalogues for the record companies. And then like, actualizes lines and notes and makes it into these sort of, you know they’re kind of a full book things. He does that.
Mark: Moving on, Erasure was one of my first introductions to music. But I just wondered what was your very first introduction to music?
Andy Bell: My first introduction to music was my parents record collection, where they had a big tonne of all these 1950s singles, so I had kind of Kalin Twins, and all these kind of 50s artists people probably wouldn’t have heard about, like Helen Shapiro. and then albums wise they had country and western music, which was popular kind of in East Anglia where I’m from. Like Charley Pride, Motown, they had Phil Spector’s greatest hits. My mom was a huge Elvis fan, like Slim Whitman. So it was kind of mostly country I suppose. But then I started buying my own records and stuff. I think the first record I nicked from my mom, that was Dancing Queen, I’m a bit embarrassed to say. But then I started buying my music, it was a bit … I was kind of a soft punk. So I bought Lene Lovich, Siouxsie and the Banshees, B-52s, all that kind of stuff. It’s a bit, sort of left field.
Mark: And of course you’re able to use that ABBA influence in later life? (Erasure released an EP of ABBA songs)
Andy Bell: Yes, it makes it lively. It’s funny because I only have that one single and then probably their very first album, well it was that great old sleeve with them sitting all on the park bench. That’s the only one I have. And then later on, when CDs starting coming out, I got the whole collection. It was kind of seen as being quite girly in school, to like ABBA, so me and my best friend, we used to kind of listen to it when I went around to his house.
Mark: Bit of a guilty pleasure then?
Andy Bell: Yeah, it was a guilty pleasure yeah. There were aspects of their music that I did find very cheesy. Do you know what I mean? Especially like Chiquitita or something like that. It’s just too soft.
Mark: Talking about song writing, do you find that it becomes easier or more difficult as you get older?
Andy Bell: It kind of goes in waves. It goes in waves, it goes in waves, it goes in cycles. It’s like any job I suppose. If your an artist, your inspiration kind of comes and goes and it’s something that you can’t really be constantly doing. That’s why I like to do these other projects. ‘Cause I think one thing feeds another thing. It’s like, you can’t keep making the same chair over and over again if you’re a carpenter. I just feel like … you know, I love Erasure, and I love going on tour, I love working with Vince. But then, since we did like 100 shows last year, you have to kind of put a bit of distance between you and the band in order to come back fresh.
Mark: And of course it’s nice to do other things and spread your creative wings.
Andy Bell: I mean, I love to … when it’s tours and it’s bills, you’ve got some … I’ve got three, six of these “let’s rock”, kind of these retro gigs in the UK. And then I’m going to go off, I’ve got two in America, and I’m going to go and see Vince on the way. So I’m really looking forward to seeing him. He lives in Brooklyn, so I just kind of stop off in New York on the way. And then fly to LA for this show, and then there’s one in San Fran and there’s one in Dominican Republic, and I come back via New York and see him again at the end. So hopefully we’ll have some more new material ready for next year. You just don’t know.
Mark: A lot of bands celebrate the anniversary of a particular album. Like going out and doing that album in its entirety. I’m just wondering if that’s something that you ever considered?
Andy Bell: No. I don’t know about the feeling of that. It’s something that, ’cause Vince always feels like he’s a working band. We’re writing, still creating. You know, our profile’s not how it used to be, so people don’t really know, but or most people don’t know. But I think once you do that kind of thing, it’s almost like you’ve got nothing new, you know what I mean?
Mark: You have a very successful and musical back catalogue, how do you feel about it yourself? I mean, you must be very proud of what you’ve created over the years with you and Vince.
Andy Bell: Yeah, it’s amazing, you know. I thought when the Four C Singles Box Set came out, I thought, wow that’s pretty amazing. Having all that stuff. Even now when I look at the kind of things that we’ve done in our careers and all the music that we have made together, and the music outside of Erasure. I just think like, oh wow, that’s a pretty good gain really. Even to survive in this industry these days. I don’t think if we were new artists, we would be around anymore. Or if we had signed a big huge label, I don’t think we would be around anymore.
Mark: I was listening, in preparation for this, and I was listening to quite a few of the back catalogue. There’s a lot of songs that fans recognize as quality songs, but you’ve never performed live. Things like “How Many Times” and “You Surround Me”. Would there ever be a notion for you to perform that would be some of those earlier album tracks instead of the hits?
Andy Bell: We’d like to. It’s always really tricky pitching the playlist .And what tends to happen, we have done “You Surround Me”, I think we had that on the last tour or the tour before, and what tends to happen is the reaction from the audience is very muted. Kind of like, we end up dropping it because we just feel like it kind of detracts from the show. Most people seem to only want to hear hits. It’s a bit boring. Because really they just want to have a party when they come and see us. They’re not, like, serious fans you know.
Mark: You’ve accomplished so much in your career, I just wondered musically, is there anything you’d still like to do? Maybe record with another artist? Do your album in a different style for example?
Andy Bell: I would love to … you know like the string version of the last album?
I would quite like to record with maybe something more orchestral. I love that. Or something a bit more challenging. Also, I do love that sort of singing … that Frank Sinatra type of singing, I love that. I hear so many other people doing it, and I just think I could do that much better. And then maybe something just completely different, like a punk record. Just something that people would think like, what the fuck is he doing?
Mark: You still like challenging people’s perceptions?
Andy Bell: I do yeah, ’cause people just have this idea of who you are. Oh you’re this bloke, you’re this guy who sings for Erasure. You’re that bloke. And it becomes kind of one dimensional, the character.
Mark: It is pretty difficult, I mean, in an internet age, even to have something about you that somebody doesn’t already know.
Andy Bell: Yeah, it is. I much prefer now when our profile is much lower, I’m always welcome to do the old TV show and that, but, I know I did that reality opera show thing. They’ve asked me still on the others. But I just think, I can’t. I just don’t want that. It’s just such trash publicity, you know what I mean? That stuff. I don’t know, it’s not really my cup of tea. It’s an indulgence sometimes to watch those things, but I’m glad my life isn’t like that.
Mark: Outside of performing and creating music, what do you do in your spare time?
Andy Bell: Well, to be honest you don’t get very much spare time because there’s so much red tape that goes with it all. I’ve just been trying to kind of send off these forms, I’ve sent them twice now, to my bank in Spain where I have an account there. It’s just a nightmare. You know what all these things are like. Especially with all this Brexit crap going on. Everything’s changing everywhere. So you have to do that. I’ve got licence copies. You know, there’s just all these different things everywhere, you know what I mean? When Paul was alive, he kind of took care of all that business. But my new partner, Steve, he lives in the US so there’s only a certain amount that he can do. So it’s quite good that … I need to take responsibility, so I’m the kind of person that would just shove all the bills under the doormat.
Mark: Okay, there’s been many changes in the music industry since you first started out. Do you find it’s easier or a worse to try and earn a living.
Andy Bell: To be honest I don’t know, I think it’s been quite tough from the range, probably since 2000’s onwards. But it seems to be picking up again now. Again, I think saying it’s one of those cycular things. ‘Cause I was talking to someone yesterday, ’cause I did quite a few interviews on the East London radio, I never knew there’s so many kind of … ’cause of this stuff you can learn about, there’s all these internet radio stations. And they were just saying of how popular or … they’ll play, there’s some DJ who’ll play three Erasure tracks in a row, on a night out. And loads of the kids in their 20s who will come up and they’ll say, oh who’s this, we really like it.
Mark: I was going to ask if you see a new generation of fans in your audiences these days?
Andy Bell: Well, I haven’t really been that much aware of it to be honest. I think it’s like one of those things where, when you do such popular bands, and then been forgotten about, it’s like all these other new people discover you. You’re their thing. Know what I mean?
Mark: You mentioned there, I mean it sounds very demanding they’the fans are always going to demand and … want more new music. Obviously for now you’ll be focused on the Torsten album at the moment. Do you have much opportunity to create new Erasure music? Do you get together and create ideas? Or how does it work, do you do it via the internet?
Andy Bell: At the moment, Vince … ’cause I emailed him and I said, do you mind if I come over in July, we’ll hang out for a week. He said, “Oh yeah, let me start getting some tunes together. What would you like? Would you like some kind of high energy type tunes?” We hummed out that for a while, I said, “Yeah, that’d be great, do some really good unusual drum rhythms as well”. And then, so then we just take it from there, and it’s literally going in the studio, me listening to the music, and just picking up the lines and singing … you know, singing la dee da dee da, or making up some words. We decide whether it’s a good idea or not between us, you know?
Mark: Looking back on your career, do you have any regrets? Or you see it all as a bed of roses?
Andy Bell: No, I wouldn’t say it was all a bed of roses, I mean, it’s a cliché thing but I wouldn’t change a thing. At all really. I just wish, I mean it’s really not in my character, but I wish I was more disciplined person, but I’m just not, I guess. I never have been. Even when I was at school, I never used to go to bed until midnight, never used to do my homework. It’s always been these nightmares of getting things finished. So if there was one thing, I would change that. But having said that, I’ve only ever missed probably about three or four appointments in my life, and kind of maybe six planes?
Mark: What in your life are you most proud of? Would it be something you created through your music? Or something else?
Andy Bell: Well, I love the music. I love the fact that I got to work with Vince. ‘Cause he was one of my heroes in music. And I love the fact that I’ve just been very open and honest in my career. I just feel like I took the correct path the way I’m doing it, rather than keeping things hidden to make more money.
Mark: Just returning to Torsten, the aspect of acting, has it piqued maybe a new interest in you? To maybe further explore and develop that side of you?
Andy Bell: I think definitely I would love, I would love to act. I really would love to. But it’s just the time constraints. ‘Cause I’m a bit slow. I need more time to kind of learn lines and stuff like that than a normal person would. Or that an actor would. It’s just that. It’s having that, the luxury of doing that. But the way that’s TV’s made now, like I’ve even have a chance at that. Unless somebody was just really interested in you and had the patience to wait for you. Or to work with you and help you, that would be great.
Mark: I assume then that your answer to the next question is probably the gonna be the same, that it comes down to time. Obviously then you’ve no plans to ever write a book?
Andy Bell: Well, when I have been asked, I got asked just last year, and I just thought I don’t want people knowing my business right now. I’d rather wait a few more years until I’m in my 60s or a bit more. And then I’ll just see how I feel. But at the moment, just because it’s the way the media is, and the way everything is out in the open, I just don’t want my life raked over. That’s it. That’s all.
Mark: You don’t have any privacy at all, I mean really.
Andy Bell: No. No otherwise, you wouldn’t. And really now it’s all gone up, mate. It really is that kind of … side with the devil kind of thing.
Mark: Just a couple then to finish, you’ve been creating music with Vince for quite some time. How would you describe your relationship with him these days?
Andy Bell: Well, Vince is really sweet. I mean, he’s really funny. He could be a stand-up comedian, people don’t realize. His humor is so dry, really really dry. He’s very clever, in kind of not some … he’s vary wary of people. But, I mean, we get on pretty well. I mean, I’m quite patient. I think there’s only one time where I’ve ever blown up at him, which he doesn’t remember, so I’m quite glad.
Mark: That’s pretty good for, what, over 40 years?
Andy Bell: Yeah. It is, yeah. He doesn’t really hold grudges or anything. I think that’s how we work so well. But I have to go now, I just got a tweet/ping from someone.Thank you very much.
Mark: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure, thanks!
- Photo Credit: Barney Ashton
And there you have it! Fans can find Andy Bell’s solo artist page at the following locations:
Fans can find Erasure at the following locations:
Fans can also go to www.lexermusic.com to pick up a copy of the 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of “Wild!”.
Find Mark Dean at the following locations and publications: