Erasure's Andy Bell and Vince Clarke sit in a quiet corner of Manhattan's Marlton Hotel lobby, sipping their coffees, surrounded by dark, oak-paneled walls and comfortable leather couches.
It all seems a little low-key for the British duo known almost as much for their onstage flamboyance as they are for their pioneering synth-pop hits like "Chains of Love" and "A Little Respect."
But then they started talking about stage costumes for their tour supporting the recent "A Violent Flame" (Mute) album, which wraps up at Terminal 5 on New Year's Eve. Bell wants to go down the block to pick up some horses' heads.
"There's a brown one and a white one," Bell tells Clarke.
"Were they horrific?" Clarke asks. "Like out of 'The Godfather'?"
"No, they were nice horses," Bell assures him, though
Clarke isn't quite convinced.
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"I guess we could just leave them in someone's bed if we don't like them," Clarke says.
That's how the Erasure partnership has worked for nearly three decades, growing so strong in recent years that it's produced two albums in the past two years.
"We always get nervous when we haven't worked together for a while," Bell says. "We have this shy period, which lasts for about an hour, but we were so surprised when we were working on 'Snow Globe,' especially on 'Loving Man' and 'Make It Wonderful,' that these songs just came out of nowhere. I was so surprised at how easily they came because I think we tend to pore over things a bit too much. We should just strike while the iron's hot, really."
Clarke says the collaboration has evolved over the years -- although their writing process has essentially stayed the same, coming up with melodies first, then lyrics. "You always come up with new ways of working," says Clarke, who recorded the music for "A Violet Flame" in Brooklyn, while Bell recorded his vocals in London. "The big thing is, it's much easier now for us to reject stuff and say, 'Don't even bother working on it.'"
"Our music has become less intricate as we've gone on," Bell adds.
When asked if that's a decision to get back to the simplicity of their early work, Clarke laughs. "In the beginning, it was more like luck," he says.
Of course, longtime fans of Erasure and Clark's previous bands Depeche Mode and Yaz may disagree. "Vince Clarke is to the synthesizer as Jimmy Page is to the guitar," says Denis McNamara, an early champion of the band when he was program director at the influential Long Island radio stations WLIR and WDRE. "He's just a phenomenal composer and instrumentalist, and he's done it decade to decade without any boasting. Together, they Clarke and Bell] have influenced so many bands and so many artists."
For Erasure, though, the focus is still on crafting memorable melodies. They proudly point out that "Sacred" on their new album is the kind of song that keeps them going.
"That song had three or four strong melody ideas that I thought we could string
together into an interesting arrangement," Clarke says.
Writing by feel
"It just kind of came out," Bell adds. "The lyric made it more spiritual, I suppose.... When you're performing it, it's one of those that you feel every time, and the audience seems to feel it, too."
They knew they had succeeded when their manager's father-in-law, a Jehovah's Witness, saw the lyrics to the song and asked, "Which Scripture has this come from?"
"I thought, 'Oh, good!'" Bell says, laughing. "It worked."
The reactions to "A Violet Flame" and the current tour have made it seem like it's all working for the duo again, after a few more restrained years.
"You just feel like you've been pushing this thing up a hill, and then you reach a point when everything's come around full circle," Bell says. "It feels like the timing is just right. The music seems just right. It seems like luck, but magical at the same time.... Because, when you've had knockbacks, as we have, you can't put too much on it each time because you get hurt," Bell says. "Now, we just do what we do, really."
"We feel pretty good in our own shoes," Clarke adds. "We're still able to fill venues, and people still come along to enjoy the music. What more could you want, really?"
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Dec. 30-31, Terminal 5, 610 W. 56th St., Manhattan
INFO $50; 800-745- 3000, ticketmaster.com
Their early work
Erasure's first decade is filled with an incredible string of smashes from "Who Needs Love Like That" to "Chains of Love" to "Always." Though the duo's next two decades haven't been quite as hit-filled, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke have added plenty of great songs to their impressive catalog, including the ones on their new album, "The Violent Flame" (Mute). Here's a look at three more recent albums to check out:
TOMORROW'S WORLD (2011)
THE VIBE Teaming up with producer Frankmusik, best known for his work with Lady Gaga and Pet Shop Boys, Erasure hits the club scene hard, with plenty of dance-floor fillers.
THE BEST The classic-
Erasure-sounding, uplifting dance anthem "Fill Us With Fire"; the irresistibly catchy tale of a fallen movie star, "A Whole Lot of Love Run Riot."
ON THE ROAD TO NASHVILLE (2007)
THE VIBE The live album chronicles the band's
reimagining of their biggest hits as country songs, with jangling guitars replacing the soaring synths.
THE BEST "Victim of Love" sounds like it's straight from Elvis Presley's country period; the version of "A Little Respect" could easily be on a Taylor Swift album.
OTHER PEOPLE'S SONGS (2003)
THE VIBE An album full of covers stripped-down to show off both Bell's gorgeous voice and Clarke's ability to convey complex arrangements in the sparest way possible.
THE BEST The sweet reinvention of Cockney Rebel's "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" sounds like a campy Kraftwerk; giving The Ronettes' classic "Walking in the Rain" some sort of electro-pop reggae groove is brilliant.