Andy Bell should step away from his day job more often.
“Non-Stop,” the new solo album from the openly gay singer and frontman for synthpop hitmaker Erasure, is darker, bolder, sexier and ultimately more fun and adventurous than his first solo outing, 2005’s “Electric Blue,” and than any of the Erasure albums in recent memory.
Bell, 46, produced and cowrote “Non-Stop” with producer Pascal Gabriel to “take a breather” from the group that made him and Erasure’s keyboardist and songwriter Vince Clarke famous around the world. But that freedom came with some new challenges — and some cold realities.
Bell found that even with more than 20 years as a pop star and 20 million albums sold, being Andy Bell the solo artist wasn’t as easy as it should be. He talked to PGN about the creative process behind “Non-Stop,” the changes he’s facing within the industry and his future both inside and outside of Erasure.
PGN: Were you working on “Non-Stop” and the new Erasure album at the same time? AB: No. I was working on “Non-Stop” for about a couple of years up until August of last year. We have started working on the new Erasure [album], but we’ve probably got about 19 songs so far. It should be about 10 by the time we finish.
PGN: Why did you call the record “Non-Stop”? AB: It reminded me of those nonstop porno cinema things that you have in Hamburg [Germany]. You have these 24-hour cabins and things where you can go. It was also a nod to Kraftwerk and the “Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret” from Soft Cell.
PGN: What was the biggest difference you noticed when working with [producer] Pascal Gabriel? AB: I think because he’s more of a dance programmer — that’s the kind of record I wanted to make this time — he came up with these really electronic grooves and these loops going around with a sequence of two or three chords. It was easier for me to slot in there somewhere or make up another rhythm with a melody and hook the words on top of those.
PGN: Had you considered working with anyone else before deciding on Pascal? AB: I took me about two years in all because I originally started working with Stephen Haig, who we worked with in 1989. And I played it to my record company boss and he said it sounded too much like Erasure and to try something else. Then I worked with another guy, John Collier, who had worked with us on [Erasure’s 2005 album] “Nightbird.” We did two tracks together. We also did a track with Kate Pierson, which I still like, but it wasn’t in the style of “Non-Stop” so we’ve got that somewhere. Then we got the gig with Pascal.
PGN: How did you take being told you sound too much like Erasure? AB: It was a strange experience because I was having a bit of mid-life crisis at the same time. To be told you can sound like you, because my voice is so recognizable, people immediately would think it’s Erasure straight away. So I would have to disguise it in some way or take a different approach to it. Then also, when we finished, they said we think it would be a good idea to release it under a pseudonym just to give it a chance at radio here in the U.K. Which is true because we got a couple of plays on Radio One and dance radio here, and now they know it’s me, they won’t play it because I’m too old for Radio One and not middle-of-the-road enough for Radio Two. So you kind of fall in between the crevasses. I kind of understood it in the end but I was happy that it was back to my own name.
PGN: That is strange to hear because usually U.K. and European radio have a reputation for being more open and diverse than American radio. AB: Here it’s gone to the extreme. It just feels like the Hollywood system has moved over to the U.K. in some ways. It’s all about celebrities and you see all the same people on the set or the chat shows. There’s not really much room unless you come off the back of “American Idol” or something.
PGN: Considering how influential Erasure has been on today’s pop music sound, do you think that is fair? AB: It’s not fair, not at all. But that’s always the way. It’s very strange when like Ricky Martin is getting lots of exposure for coming out. I think, Well, hold on a minute. We’ve been out the whole time. Here, we’re never in the straight press hardly at all. It’s hypocritical and just the way the system is.
PGN: Is the record industry in the U.K. experiencing the same steady decline as it is in the U.S.? AB: Definitely. I feel, in some ways, really glad that I am in Erasure because it pays my bills. When you hear of new artists that have had two No. 1 records and they still haven’t paid back the recording costs, it must be heartbreaking.
PGN: Were there places that you went lyrically with “Non-Stop” that you couldn’t have gone with Erasure? AB: Probably. Vince loves the lyrics and he loves what we’ve done on “Non-Stop.” And in some ways that’s down to me, because I look up to Vince, not as a father figure, but I kind of put him on a pedestal when I am working on the lyrics. I feel like I need his input. I hand the lyrics to him and he’ll tell me what he likes and what he doesn’t like. In some ways, I feel like he’s a teacher marking my work. That’s my own interpretation of things. That’s how I feel a bit freer doing the solo thing. But that’s all in my mind. PGN: Is your solo work more or less personal to you than your work with Erasure? AB: It’s more apparently personal. The stuff with Erasure goes very deep as well. Sometimes you can become slightly complacent with what you are doing and sometimes you can pretend things when you are a writer — you feel like you haven’t hurt enough to be truthful about something. But at the same time, you don’t have to be a martyr for your work.
PGN: Are there any plans to tour behind this record? AB: Not a major tour. I’ll just be doing public appearances and DJing as well. Wherever they’ll have me, I’ll come.
PGN: What was it like touring with the True Colors Tour back in 2008? AB: It was great. I must admit I prefer playing with Vince doing Erasure. When I was on my own, I kind of felt it wasn’t really right for a concert. If I were to do it again, I would have to have a band.
PGN: What effect, if any, did going public with your HIV status in 2004 have on your career? AB: I don’t know if it’s had a huge effect on my career. I kind of feel like it’s one of those things that people seem to be embarrassed to ask. Or when they see you they say “Oh, you look really well,” like you shouldn’t. It’s more embarrassing to people than anything else but then again I don’t think my HIV has anything to do with why we’re not on TV. It’s a matter of circumstance.
PGN: How did you end up collaborating with Perry Farrell [of Jane’s Addiction] on your album? AB: Perry came to see me at the True Colors concert that I did solo in Los Angeles. Somebody told me that he had come and missed the show, and he was sorry that he’d missed it. So I thought, well, I’ll get in touch with him. We just met up in the studio. He had this song he had written about a friend of his and I loved it as soon as I heard it. He showed me how to approach the song, how he would sing and it turned out really well. I’m glad that I did it.
PGN: Given how distinctive your voice is, do you feel that you’re responsible for bringing a more soulful influence into synthpop? AB: Not really. Mark Almond is really soulful and so is Annie Lennox, so I wouldn’t be the first one.
PGN: After more than 20 years in Erasure, how has your working relationship with Vince Clark changed, if at all? AB: It’s fine with Vince. He misses me. I miss him. I’m going to see him in July. It’s quite weird when you’re in a music partnership for that long. You are almost like a married couple and you bring your own baggage with you that comes with the marriage. It’s quite refreshing to go off and do something on your own because you can take it all off and hopefully come back and be fresh again, and I think that has happened.
PGN: What is next for Erasure? AB: Next for Erasure is getting our record finished, which hopefully will be by the end of November. Then we’re looking forward to a tour next year, which will be our 25th anniversary year.
PGN: Congratulations! AB: Thank you.
PGN: Are there any more solo albums in you? AB: I’m sure there will be, but not right now. I would love to do an album with an orchestra and do some standards. That would be fantastic.
Andy Bell’s new album, “Non-Stop,” comes out June 7. For more information, visit www.andybell.com.