In 1985 Andy Bell and Vince Clark burst into the forefront of electronic music and made history by forming the band Erasure, after Clark ’s departure from another legendary musical tour de force Depeche Mode.

On May 6, these legendary performers will once more make history following the release of their new album “Union Street,” which brings soulful new depths and acoustic and country-western textures to 11 songs spanning their entire career, the pair will head to Nashville to begin their first-ever acoustic U.S. tour at the legendary Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry.

“ Union Street ” proves there has always been much more to Vince and Andy than shiny pop thrills. Unplugged, both musically and emotionally, they have never before sounded so graceful or so heartfelt. This is an album full of pleasant surprises, but coming from Erasure that is no surprise at all.

Recently, O&AN had the chance to interview gay icon Andy Bell over the phone about the band’s upcoming appearance at the Ryman and how “Union Street” came to be.

Why did you decide to kick off your tour for the first time in Nashville ?

We thought it would be a great way to start this tour out because I have always wanted to play there and I have never been in all the years that we have been performing.

It has been almost a year since your last tour ended. What are you doing to gear yourselves up for this tour?

We are really working on promoting " Union Street " mainly right now. Before the last tour I had a double hip replacement and had to take lots of physical therapy and really hit the gym to get back in shape before going out on tour. It was a very physical tour so I haven't done anything since. We did sixty shows last year so we're taking it easy this time around. There are only ten dates in the US , eight in the UK and three in Europe . We start rehearsals for the tour at the beginning of April. I'm here and the band is there in Nashville where we will meet them and then just go out from there.

Do you miss touring much since you have been inactive for such a long time?

Not really, no. Whenever we get to do something new like this it's really nice. It will be great fun to meet all of the musicians who will be touring with us since this is a sort of first for us. It's usually just Vince and myself on the road and this time out we will have a full band backing us for the first time ever. I'm getting really excited about this tour and can't wait to get out on the road but I really don't miss the previous tour because it's good to be home and back to my own life.

Erasure has always been known as an electronic band. Why did you feel drawn to reinterpreting your old works in an acoustic album?

I've always wanted to do a Country & Western album because I was brought up on it largely as a kid. Country music is quite huge in England . In Peterborough where I am from we have a huge Country & Western music festival every year and my parents were huge fans of Johnny Cash, Charley Pride and Slim Whitman. We were promoting other people's work in America recently at acoustic geared radio stations where we met up with Steve Walsh who is the producer of " Union Street " and it went so well that we decided to do a few acoustic shows that were about forty or so minutes long in New York . The vibe there was so good that we thought rather than doing another album of covers we would use our own songs and treat them in an acoustic country way. I really think that the musicians we used on the album were brilliant and it made my voice sound very nice.

Was there any trepidation when recording " Union Street " that some of the more hardcore fans of your electronic work might be turned off by this extreme departure from your previous work?

Well, I don't think so because Vince is a sort of electro god in his own right at the moment so I feel like it is admirable of him to kind of take a step back and allow some of his songs to be re-imagined in a different light. Our fans pretty much genuinely like everything we do. We've done quite a few sorts of indie sounding albums before with lots of guitar but this is a totally different thing from even that. I think it will allow the fans to enjoy our sound in a more intimate way. For the next record we will return to doing electronic music, so this isn't a permanent change by any means.

How did you feel about the songs as you watched them change into their acoustic versions before your eyes?

It was really quite amazing I think to see these songs re-imagined in such a way. I was quite surprised at them because the songs all seem to grow with you over time and when we did them this time it was almost as if another person were singing them entirely.

You and Vince have been performing together since 1985. What is it like for you to continue collaborating with someone over such a long period of time?

It's really quite lovely. We always have such a great fun time together. I think I might have blown it ages ago had it not been for our partnership. If Vince weren't there I might have made many more mistakes than I have thus far. He's really kind of low-key and down-to-earth. We both love songwriting so we just get on with it.

After the tour promoting " Union Street " is done what is next on your plate to tackle?

At the end of the tour there is a festival in the U.S. called "True Colors" which we will potentially be joining with Cyndi Lauper, the Scissor Sisters and the B-52's. I will also have another single released from the solo album I released last year and then we'll start working on the next album but not before we relax a bit. *chuckles*

Tickets to the Ryman show are available through Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com or through the Ryman box office at www.ryman.com or by calling 615.889.3060.

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Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville

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