(Interview by János Janurik) Vince Clarke just released his first solo album “Songs Of Silence” in late autumn 2023. The fact that he has now recorded his first solo album after more than forty years in the pop business was long overdue. Our editor Janos Janurik contacted Vince Clarke and his partner in crime, Reed Hays, regarding this solo debut that opens up new listening perspectives into Vince Clarke’s previously unknown parallel universe, and a special concert in London.
Although the ingenious composer and sound wizard had several side projects alongside his main band Erasure – just think of the countless remixes, the collaborations with Martyn Ware, Paul Hartnoll and Martin Gore, and his label boss activities at Very Records, or the almost unknown album of instrumental compositions called “Deeptronica” – this is still the first time that he has released an LP under his own name. And on the parent label Mute Records. A feast for fans of electronic music!
Even the first appetiser was a shock for some fans: Vince ventured to the dark side, his solo track “The Lamentations of Jeremiah” sounding darker and sadder than ever before. The accompanying music video, shot in black and white, only reinforced the gloomy mood of the first pre-release track. This was anything but the dynamic electro-pop that Vince Clarke is known for.
The second pre-release single “White Rabbit” is already more similar to the typical musical style of the Erasure mastermind. Intelligent pop at its best, where hypnotising, shimmering electronic beats keep up the tempo with electric guitar sounds and thundering drums at the end. The visual backdrop this time is an animated film, with educational content about how we are “modern humans”. After the break since “The Neon” sound cosmos, fans of Vince Clarke’s music are eagerly awaiting their musical hero’s first solo LP.
„The joy for me has been the process of making the music… Everything else is a bonus.”
SL. When I heard and saw the track “The Lamentations of Jeremiah” for the first time, I was deeply touched by the experience. Although you mentioned to me in an earlier interview (around the time of the release of “2Square”) that you “still like to write “nobody understands me” songs”, you’ve waited so long to show this side of yourself. If there’s no pressure from the label, these songs might stay in the drawer. Is that really true? Did Daniel Miller persuade you to release these compositions as your first solo album on Mute?
Vince: The tracks I recorded during lockdown were never meant as an album. I was spending time in the studio just experimenting with sound and mood. I sent some of these ‘experiments’ to Daniel Miller, owner of Mute records and he suggested that perhaps this collection of soundscapes could be released as an album. Up to that point I was purely making the music for myself.
SL. As for the album title (“Songs Of Silence”), it wasn’t too hard to work out that it was some kind of homage to the legendary film score by Simon & Garfunkel. They were a big inspiration for you to compose music yourself, weren’t they? And what inspirations did you take this time? Or did everything follow your inner voice?
Vince: Yes, the title is a tiny homage to “The Sounds of Silence” and I’m a huge fan of Paul Simon. At the same time “Songs Of Silence” describe exactly what the album is about.
SL. The music of Vince Clarke lives without bombastic sound or glittery synth pop effects too, that was my first thought after listening to this album. What equipment did you use in your home studio this time?
Vince: For all the tracks I just used my Eurorack Modules. It was an opportunity to learn about the technology and really focus on the precise sounds I needed without being distracted by all the other sound sources in my studio.
SL. The opening track (“Cathedral”) already takes the listener out of the real world and frees them from the matrix. The whole thing has something religious and spiritual about it, in which the wholeness of the world is connected with one’s own existence. Such a process is necessary for mental health and for dealing with negative feelings. Was it the same for you?
Vince: I’m not religious but the word Cathedral suggested to me something huge and wondrous. I found the process of recording all these tracks to be cathartic and helpful to cope with the stresses I was experiencing at the time.
SL. One of my favourites is the track “Red Planet”. Relaxing ambient music with ethereal voices. I think a lot of fans – especially Depeche Mode fans – will say it’s their favourite track. Do you have your own favourite track from the album?
Vince: “Cathedral” is my favourite track and I’m also very fond of “Passage” which is all about a difficult/impossible journey.
SL. Not only “The Lamentations of Jeremiah”, but also “Scarper” has an acoustic touch – flamenco-like guitar. Once again a highlight of the album for me. Did you use samples here or did someone play the guitar live?
Vince: Reed Hays played cello on “The Lamentations of Jeremiah” and the guitar parts were played by my friend Steve Walsh.
SL. “Blackleg” is inspired by the traditional folk song “Blackleg Miner”. Your label mate, Frank Tovey, who died too soon, dedicated an entire album to workers’ songs in 1989 (“Tyranny And The Hired Hand”). Music and resistance was the main theme of this album. And what about you? What did you find inspiring about this folk song?
Vince: The song has a real raw edge to it. The lyrics are quite violent and paint a stark picture of the misery of the mining community during and after the Industrial Revolution. It was interesting to mix a very synthetic soundscape with something so organic.
SL. “Last Transmission” could also be related to the Erasure song “Turns The Love To Anger”, especially with the instrumental intro of its live version. It’s like a radio signal into space, with the hope that it will find a recipient with empathy. Do you still believe in the good in these difficult times?
Vince: No. I find it difficult to feel optimistic.
SL. You have always been known to be rather reluctant to appear in video clips. But for the first promo video, you had to stand alone in front of the camera. Where and how did the filming of “The Lamentations of Jeremiah” take place?
Vince: I wanted the video to convey a certain gravitas that reflected the sadness of “The Lamentations of Jeremiah”. It was shot in Brooklyn New York in a day.
SL. An animated video was made for “White Rabbit” – another favourite track of mine. You recently uploaded funny cartoons (“Günter Finn” and “Bacon And Eggs”) to the internet yourself. How did you find the cartoonist Daniele Arcuri for the second clip?
Vince: I saw his show reel on Fiverr and was instantly attracted to his irreverent and bonkers style of animation.
SL. At the special album release event in London the support band was the duo of Gareth Jones and Daniel Miller (called Sunroof), who play electro-improvisation music. Both of them have played a big role in your career. Was it natural for you to invite them to support you?
Vince: I was delighted that they agreed to do the show with us. I think the combination made for a really interesting evening.
SL. A month has passed since that concert in London. Your first solo album has received very good reviews, it’s also at the top of the album charts. Looking back on the whole process, what are your feelings now? Did you expect such positive feedback?
Vince: To be honest, I didn’t expect any feedback. The joy for me has been the process of making the music… Everything else is a bonus.
Reed Hays, the synthesiser specialist and master of the Buchla synthesiser, and long-time friend of Vince Clarke, also joins the conversation.
SL. Reed, you and Caroline were the first to sign a label contract with Vince’s Very Records. So far you’ve released two albums on his label and you then supported Erasure on their 2018 tour. Now you’ve played cello as a guest musician for Vince’s solo album. How did this invitation come about?
Reed: During the Reed & Caroline years Vince had me put together a couple instrumental tracks to promote Veryrecords on Soundcloud. One was called “Buchla and Cello” and the other was called “Cello and No Buchla”, so he was already familiar with my playing. While working on “Songs of Silence” he asked in his usual polite English manner, “Would you mind terribly if I sent you something, and maybe consider if it needs some sort of cello on it?” I purposely overplayed the part, thinking he would edit most of it out, but to my surprise he kept the whole thing!
SL. Were you there – as an expert advisor – for the entire creative period, or did you only hear the final result?
Reed: He played me some of the tracks while he was working on them, but I’m afraid I had no “expert advice” to give, because they already sounded amazing. I remember thinking only Vince Clarke could call something a “drone piece” but you’d still walk away from it with a catchy part in your head!
SL. Do you have your own favourite tracks from Vince’s solo album? If so, what are they and why?
Reed: Vince’s friend Steve does some great acoustic guitar work on “Scarper”. There’s a little blippy part on “Cathedral” that sounds Buchla-inspired, so of course it makes me smile every time I hear it. I love the sequencer in “White Rabbit” and of course his treatment of the “Blackleg Miner” song is wonderfully haunting.
SL. On release day you shared the stage with Vince in London. What was your role at that concert?
Reed: In a very un-Vince reversal, nothing was rigidly synchronized. We were playing drones and triggering elements from the album by hand. The timing was totally based on the feel of the evening and the impressions of the visuals. And, of course, I had my cello with me. J
SL. For a while you had a joint radio show on a New York alternative radio station called “The Synthesizer Show”, which was very popular among fans of synthesiser music. Do you miss these radio shows? Do you talk to each other privately about what’s new in the genre?
Reed: It’s funny to think that for close to a decade “The Synthesizer Show” was an important anchor for both of us. It was a great way to break up the grinding tour schedule with Erasure, and during Covid it was the only activity either one of us had apart from family lockdown life. I’m sure we haven’t seen the end of “The Synthesizer Show” yet, but right now we have a couple ambient concerts to deal with!
SL. Do you currently have something in progress? Will there be another Reed & Caroline album?
Reed: I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Buchla 100, the earliest Buchla instrument. It’s also the rawest and most visceral of Mr. Buchla’s creations. I like to think of Reed & Caroline as a magical pre-Covid time capsule, but in a couple years her girls and my son will be out of high school, so never say never!
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