Erasure’s Andy Bell goes solo for True Colors 2008.
By Nancy Ford
Photo by Dirk Lindner
He claims that “words are always the hardest thing” for him, but Erasure front man Andy Bell had little trouble putting his response together when True Colors tour producers asked him to once again be part of the concert’s gay (and gay-supportive) all-star cast.
“When they asked me if I would just do these seven shows, I couldn’t resist,” Bell says, calling from his home in London. “It was such good fun last time, you know, meeting all the people and stuff. It was really a good vibe.”
Bell once again joins the sophomore incarnation of the True Colors tour, Cyndi Lauper’s queer pride summertime extravaganza, but not in the familiar Erasure package. This time Bell goes solo, sans his 23-year techno-pop partner, Vince Clarke.
“I’m a bit nervous this time because I’m on my own,” he says. “Vince is on tour this year [with Alison Moyet as Yazoo], so I’m going to do it on my own.”
Before he joins the myriad other True Colors artists June 21 onstage at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Bell shared plenty of words with OutSmart not only about the tour, but also about the threat of over-commercialization to gay heritage, and what his mum always taught him.
Nancy Ford: Thank you for talking to us and thank you for rejoining the True Colors tour.
Andy Bell: Well, that’s all right. It was really nice last year.
What a fun time and what a great idea the tour is! I like that it’s scheduled during Pride month, during Stonewall month. The whole month is like the Christmas holidays–it’s just very celebratory, and the True Colors show is the cap of the whole month. There’s such great energy to it.
What’s it like backstage at a True Colors concert?
Well, there are so many people running around all over the place. You just kind of get to know who people are after a while of being on the road with them. Most people travel separately, though; it depends on who’s going on before you.
Does the celebratory spirit continue backstage or is it pretty much just all
It’s pretty straightforward, you know. It’s pretty much business as usual. But there is a really good camaraderie, because everybody’s doing it for the same reason. Everybody’s cool. I mean, people have their off moments and stuff, but generally it’s pretty cheery.
Do you have a favorite moment from last year’s tour that you can share with us?
I think it’s probably the last show. It was in Los Angeles, I took my camera on stage, and we sang “Take a Chance on Me.” Cyndi [Lauper] was on the stage, Debbie [Harry] was on the stage, Rosie O’Donnell was on the stage, and all the people from all the different bands. I was going round and taking everyone’s picture on stage, so I got some great shots of some people’s faces right up in the camera. That was pretty good.
What fun! I was at the concert last year and I have to say the energy you brought to the show was just amazing. I was left feeling so uplifted after the Erasure set. How will your solo set differ from your set last year?
Obviously, I shall do some Erasure numbers, because you can’t really escape doing them. That’s what everybody wants to hear anyway, but I’ll do some stuff from my own record that came out a couple of years ago [Electric Blue, 2005]. Hopefully, it will be kind of dance-oriented and have a kind of club feel.
There are always a lot of gay people in your audience, but obviously the True Colors Tour is just, well, super-gay. Do you notice a difference in the energy from the True Colors audience than, let’s say, a “regular” audience?
No, not much. If anything, I think [True Colors] is probably more diverse. I think probably when you arrange a show it gets maybe 30 percent gay people at the show and it’s usually quite rip-roaring. I think on the True Colors Tour–I don’t know. It seems to be more of a “family” atmosphere.
You’ve been out for most of your life and we thank you for that. It’s folks like you who make it easier for gay men and lesbians to come out of the closet, especially at a younger age. What would you say to these younger gay people to remind them how important our gay heritage and history is?
I would just say, in general, to not take things for granted. Don’t take your life for granted. The few rights that we do have have been fought for very hard. We’ve lobbied for years and years to get those things for us, and things are still not that good for us everywhere.
I was speaking to one guy who lives down in Hastings, down in the U.K. I think he was from Missouri, and he said that when he was living there, to be a gay young man was the same as being a sex offender, or the equivalent to being a pedophile. They had a sex offender’s register, because gay sex was still illegal in that state. Don’t know if it’s still true, if it’s illegal there now. [Editor's note: According to the Human Rights Campaign, Missouri's sodomy law was overturned in a 1999 court decision, and all remaining sodomy laws were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 with the Lawrence vs. Texas decision. A sexual misconduct law that remained on Missouri's books criminalizing same-sex sexual relations was repealed in 2006.]
I think it’s important to learn your history wherever you come from. I get kind of frustrated even here in London, because everybody thinks it’s fabulous on the gay scene, and there’s so much for young people to do, especially in a city of this size. But it’s very easy to forget the rural communities and people that are still isolated, so just remember those people.
Wise words. Along that same line, there’s a fine line between fighting for our rights — being out and being active — and, like, over-mainstreaming our “gayness.” Is there such a thing as too much
In the U.K., when you look through the magazines to go out on the weekend, there’s so much stuff going on. They have all these naked clubs and these leather clubs and things like that. There’s so much for people to do, but the bottom line is, these are club promoters wanting to make money on us. I think that really small businesses and drop-in centers and community-based projects are much more important than going out and getting trashed in a club.
It seems like our Gay Pride parades and things like that have become so commercial.
It almost seems like it’s promoted as a lifestyle choice, which it’s not.
It’s an interesting conundrum, though, that we seem to have brought upon ourselves.
It really is, yes. And gay men aren’t necessarily good at interior design.
[Both laugh] And not all of us lesbians are good softball coaches.
Obviously, this is a presidential election year in the U.S., and I understand this year the True Colors tour is going to offer a big voter registration push. What would you say to members of the True Colors audience to encourage them to become more politically active?
My mum always supported me and always encouraged me to support the underdog and the people that are having a hard time. I would just say that it’s important to look after your pounds or your dollars and the economy and stuff like that, but [it's also important] to have a heart and look underneath and look what’s going on with other people beside your immediate circle.
Again, I appreciate your taking time to talk to us today. Do you have anything to add, or anything you’d like to tell the Texan fans?
All I can say is that I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be doing a duet with Cyndi. Maybe if I can get finished in time, I might do a new song from a forthcoming record.
When is it coming out?
Probably not ’til next year now, because I’m kind of dragging my heels a bit.
Can you tell us any more about that — is this going to be an Erasure release? Is there a theme?
It’s going to be a solo. I don’t really know what the theme is. I’m kind of still working on the words. We’ve got all the tunes and stuff; the words are always the hardest thing for me.
Nancy Ford interviewed Latasha Byears for OutSmart’s May issue (“Free Agent”).