Synth-Pop Legend Yaz Makes Its L.A. Debut
The sound of singer Alison Moyet’s looped giggling on Yaz’s “Situation” is as recognizable as a tooting horn at a rave. The new wave that Yaz’s Moyet and partner Vince Clarke helped usher in during the very early ’80s might now seem as quaint as a pair of shoulder pads. But through the air ducts of every American Apparel, not to mention every radio station, the genre has magically reappeared in the mainstream as new rave, electroclash and mash-ups. And like the first superhits Clarke wrote for his old band Depeche Mode, including “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “New Life,” Yaz’s “Situation” has been remixed and re-morphed more times than New Order’s “Blue Monday.”
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Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet: Their sound defined a moment.
So it did seem like unfinished business for Clarke and Moyet, whose partnership ended in less than two years, and whose American tour lasted a mere three shows in New York. Talk of reunion sprang up after the duo’s old label, Mute Records, decided to reissue 25th-anniversary editions of Yaz’s only two studio albums, the classic Upstairs at Eric’s and You and Me Both.
“I finished my last tour with Erasure last year,” says Clarke, who currently lives in Maine, via phone from the U.K. “Andy, my partner, suggested that he wanted to take some time off. I’d kind of heard that Alison was interested in working with me and doing something together. There were some discussions and e-mails about doing some writing together. A tour seemed like the best way to go forward together. But if you had asked me six months ago that we were doing this, I wouldn’t have said yes.”
After writing much of Depeche Mode’s 1981 debut, Speak and Spell, Clarke took off in search of a singer with a “little more emotion” and found Moyet, a fellow native of Basildon, England, who had been in a number of blues and punk bands (including one coincidentally named the Vandals). If front man Dave Gahan was a baritoned robot during Depeche Mode’s beginnings, Moyet’s bluesy, soulful voice was the aural equivalent of smoke wafting through a cabaret club. That, in contrast to Clarke’s futuristic synth experimentation, made the odd couple innovators of their craft, and Upstairs at Eric’s was their perfect beat baby, from dance-floor stompers like “Don’t Go” and “Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)” to the romantic “Only You” (originally written for Gahan and company) and hushed beauty “Midnight.”
You and Me Both proved to be their swan song, and the two parted ways in 1983, even before its release. Moyet embarked on a near-25-year career that’s yielded seven albums, and a single nominated for a Grammy in 1991. She’s also recorded with the likes of Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, Tricky, the Lightning Seeds and King Britt; sung backup for Dusty Springfield; joined Paul McCartney for a rendition of “Let It Be” at Live Aid; and even had a stint in the West End as Mama Morton in Chicago. Clarke, well, he lucked out again with a vocalist of equal prowess — the lovely and flamboyant Andy Bell — and formed the more disco-leaning Erasure.
But don’t expect to see Moyet prancing around in, say, a top hat, corset and riding crop. Yaz is sticking to the same formula: Moyet belting out the tunes, while Clarke quietly mans the keyboards. (In fact, whatever the incarnation, Clarke has always been the silent one, so we’re not entirely sure we were speaking to the man himself.) And he’s not trying any funny stuff with the old material either. “I had to tighten up a lot of the sounds, but I actually work with the original multitracks to prepare for the tour. I tried to stick to the originals as much as possible because some of the songs have never been performed live before. It would be wrong for me to suddenly start doing modern remixes of the tracks.”
Clarke admits he’s “completely out of touch” with new music. “I’m just in tune with the tastes of my 2-and-a-half-year-old son, which is mostly Sesame Street.” But true to his personality, Clarke is modest about the current crop of electro-revivalists gaining respectability with a sound that was considered disposable the first time around. “I’m not sure about gaining respect,” laughs Clarke. “I think, perhaps, people are looking at it again because it’s like the first time around again. You can’t do the ’50s for the third time or the ’70s for the third time. So maybe for the ’80s, it’s the second time. That is what was so exciting about electronic music in the beginning. It wasn’t a genre being copied from another period. It was completely new and original.”
Yaz plays the Orpheum Theatre on Tues., July 8, and Thurs.-Fri., July 10-11, and the Pacific Amphitheatre, with the Psychedelic Furs, on Thurs., July 24.
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