Vince Clarke, the keyboardist/non-singing half of synth-pop duo Erasure, called in to the Reader having “just arrived in Chicago.” His half-continent connection’s a bit scratchy, with dropouts, but he seems alert and earnest. He looks forward to the band’s October 22 gig at Humphrey’s, noting wryly that in America’s Finest City, “We haven’t had anybody ask for their money back yet.”
The Violet Flame is Erasure’s 16th studio set in its 29-year history and its first with Richard X as a full-on producer. Clarke credits the busy Mr. X for “helping out at the end with lyrics. Andy and him worked on the vocals together in London.” Clarke says Mr. X also helped define their sound on this one. “We always want producers to give us some kind of direction. Andy and I basically write the songs and rely on a producer to help us into action.”
And this time that direction’s definitely disco, a back-to-booty-shaking move with an EDM update through X. “We were definitely going for that,” notes Clarke. I started off with grooves and rhythms, and genre, and we built the tracks up from those starting points.”
Underneath the beats, though, you’ll find melancholy and reconciliation, to life and its pain: frontman Andy Bell lost his lover of 25 years in 2012. Clarke admits he can’t speak for Bell, but notes, “He’s always been very honest about his relationships. He’s always been quite ready to put those events in lyrics. Both of those felt a bit spiritual, a full-thinking feeling of this record. Obviously I want Andy to be happy, it makes writing a lot easier.”
Asked what surprises him most about the twosome’s three decades at it, Clarke thinks a minute before summing up: “I guess I’m surprised, in a good way, about the fans’ loyalty towards us. It’s quite incredible to us. We’re seeing faces that we saw when we first began. My relationship with Andy...we’ve grown up together, really, spent the best part of our working lives together. So, it’s not so much surprise, it’s the way it is, you know?”
Asked about specifics of the band’s stage presentation this time out, Clarke promises “a disco extravaganza, how’s that?” Only without the classic disco ball. “There was a temptation, but we’ve done that already. It’s a disco extravaganza minus the disco ball.” Then he rings off, and the extravaganza struts a little bit further westward.