Erasure is best known for making irresistible dance music. The ’80s-era synth-pop duo of Andy Bell and Vince Clarke have been filling dance floor with their upbeat synth-driven songs for more than thirty years, but when it came to making a Christmas album, the pair took a “humbug” stance.
Their new album, the decidedly holiday-themed Snow Globe (Mute), does away with the ghosts of Christmas albums past, swapping stripped-down synths for silver bells and pairing obligatory “Silent Night” covers with “Gaudete,” a new take on a 16th-century Christmas carol and original tracks like “Blood on the Snow.” It’s a fun mix that is far from the average Christmas album, which is just what Erasure wanted.
We talked to Vince Clark about the making a Christmas album after all these years:
TIME: When you started Erasure, some 30 years ago, did you ever think you would do a song in Latin?
Vince Clarke: I’m not sure, but I love it. I don’t think we ever had any plans to, but Andy had done stuff in Spanish and French before, singing different versions of our songs. But this is the first time that we’ve worked in Latin.
What was it about doing a Christmas album that appealed to you?
It wasn’t appealing at all, actually! The idea had been discussed for awhile and I was really not convinced that it was a good idea, because obviously these Christmas songs had been recorded a million ways by a million artists and thought they were usually really naff.
We originally were going to do ten or twelve original songs, but so much was going on and there was so much pressure from all sides, so we ended up doing half original songs and half covers.
How did you choose which of the many Christmas songs available to cover for the album?
We were looked for songs where there was something sort of sinister in some of the lyrics and some of the melodies. We wanted some pathos. We thought that would be an interesting thing to come out in these songs, it’s not something that we have heard much before in covers. We wanted songs that have quite a bit of sadness to them.
So “Jingle Bells” was never on the list?
No, no. We wanted songs we could strip back to their bare minimum and make them not dark exactly, but show off the darker aspects in the music.
For Christmas carols, these are fairly dark songs. “Blood on the Snow” sounds more like a Tom Waits song or something from the John Waters Christmas oeuvre. Where did that one come from?
That song was all Andy. He sang the whole song through completely from beginning to end on his iPhone in the middle of the night and all I had to do was find a musical arrangement for it. It’s not really a Christmas song. It taps into the sadness of the season. It’s very different from anything we’ve ever recorded before.
Working with such well-known material, like “Silent Night” and “Midnight Clear,” how did you approach re-working the songs?
I thought it would be really interesting to strip the arrangements back as much as possible and leave a spooky kind of musical background that would allow Andy’s vocals to really shine. He really sang his heart out on this album. “Gaudete” is amazing.
With a track like “White Christmas,” everybody has done that song in every format you can imagine, so I just looked at the chords at that particular song and what chords would make it work. That’s kind of quite a sad song and I had this idea of someone singing it in the subway, someone who is homeless, old and sad. It’s not an optimistic song, really —it’s yearning, when you examine the lyrics. We wanted to bring that out.
Why did you want to make a sad, dark Christmas album?
Our manager has been talking about a Christmas album for two years, but there has been lots of personal stuff happening, some hard personal things that would have made it hard to make an Erasure album. This is not an Erasure album, but it was a way to ease back into recording with each other. Aside from that though, we just wanted to do something different really. I went on iTunes and looked at versions of Christmas songs. Everyone has done them! Even Lady Gaga has done them, we just wanted to make something unusual. Something that would stand out.
Andy has compared this album to the Christmas albums by Tracey Thorn and Kate Bush. Do you think that’s apt?
Andy is mad about Kate Bush. He puts her in as many conversations as he possibly can!
Do you think this is an album that people will listen to once a year during the holidays? Or will they add it to their Erasure playlist?
The reason our manager wanted to make the record Christmas record sells every year … [laughs] or it doesn’t sell every year! Andy sang his heart out this one and sounded like he did 15 years ago, so I hope people listen. There wasn’t much pressure on us this time. It was very comfortable to make this record. We’re saving the Erasure pressure for the spring.
Will there be a new Erasure album then?
Yes. We will start writing in spring and go on tour next year with festivals in the UK. Hopefully, we will extend the tour into Christmas next year and perform some of these songs live with a special in London. I think the time is right, now. The last tour was really good and this should be great.