Pride’s entertainment lineup this year is brimming with talent, from Atlanta-area celebrities like Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls to up-and-coming pop sensation Rita Ora. With Saturday evening’s headline performer, though, Atlanta Pride gets an international dose of dance when Andy Bell takes the stage.
Bell is primarily known for his role as lead singer of Erasure. The English duo is known mainly in the U.S. for their synthpop hits “Chains of Love” and “A Little Respect,” both of which were hits in the late 80s. In their native England, the duo garnered 24 consecutive Top 20 hits between 1986 and 1997. Erasure continues making music to this day; their most recent album, 2011’s Tomorrow’s World, includes the single “Be With You,” which peaked at #7 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs chart.
While he’s still working with Erasure partner Vince Clarke, though, Bell is also making a name for himself as a solo performer. His first solo project, Electric Blue, came out in 2005. He followed up the album with 2010’s Non-Stop. Bell also competed in the reality program Popstars to Operastars for British channel ITV, where he came in fifth place.
More importantly, Bell has served as an icon for gay men since Erasure hit the music scene in the mid 80s. Bell was, notably, one of the first pop musicians to come out as gay.In 2004, he came out a second time – this time as HIV-positive. He’s since become an outspoken advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness.
Ahead of his appearance at Atlanta Pride, I caught up with Bell. During the wide-ranging interview, he touched on everything from his ex-partner’s death earlier this year and the problems about HIV awareness these days to his favorite current pop artists and his opinion on a certain British reality show judge.
Aside from your appearance at Atlanta Pride, what are you doing these days?
Well, my ex-partner passed away this April, so I have literally been dealing with loads of red tape and coping with all the emotional turmoil which that entails. It isn’t easy. I’m also getting stuff together for a green card – when it rains it pours – and I did two Atlantis Cruises, which I love ‘cause I can do standards with a live band and jazzy versions of Erasure tunes. I’m basically looking forward to my new life with my partner Steve and writing songs with Dave Aude in LA.
What in your mind makes for a good Pride celebration?
I think the camaraderie and civic pride that goes hand in hand with Pride is brilliant, usually a laid back loving atmosphere!
When you perform for a specifically gay audience at events like Atlanta Pride, how is the experience different from a typical concert?
Well, to be honest, it’s not a lot different, but you do feel a great sense of belonging and a soul-to-soul connection with the audience. I love the fact that queens and dykes have seen just about everything so you can’t really shock them. There’s a great leveling humor-wise. Because we kinda live on the fringes of society we have a mutual respect for one another!
Your most recent solo album came out in 2010, and Erasure released a new album a year ago. Is there anything new in the works in terms of music?
[I’m] writing with Vince for the sheer hell of it, not to a deadline!
Dance music is dominating American music charts these days. Are there any particular artists who stand out to you?
Nicki Minaj and Rihanna are my favorites.
One component of being a musician that’s really blown up in the last few years is interacting with fans, which so many artists do through Twitter or Facebook. Does engaging with fans through social media come easily to you, or do you have to work at it?
I like it to a certain extent, but sometimes it becomes too personal and the smallest of things can easily get blown out of all proportion. Let’s just say I like to keep it at arms length!
Last year, you competed on Popstar to Operastar. What kind of challenges did you face in changing genres for the competition?
It was a great experience, but I think the operatic style of singing although very physical can be quite ugly sounding, because you have to use your snout and diaphragm as the amplifier. The show was quite contrived and it’s impossible to learn such pieces in such short periods of time, plus I was exhausted from being on tour. But for the actual improvement in singing, it was magnificent!
You came out as gay in the mid-1980s, at a time when very few public figures were coming out. What’s your reaction to the current pop scene, where an increasing number of artists feel free to announce their orientation?
I think the more people come out the merrier. When the general population starts to finally realize that we are all “normal” and sexuality is an infinite expression of the human heart and soul, the better! It still pisses me off when you see Simon Cowell wincing at a black guy in a wedding dress and patronizing them. That’s the “machismo” of the industry. They would much rather that you weren’t out because supposedly it “damages” record sales…not people!
You came out a second time, in a manner of speaking, when you announced that you are HIV-positive back in 2004. Do you think that people today are less concerned with HIV than they should be?
I think definitely it is hardly ever mentioned in the media. It’s one of those things we’d rather sweep under the carpet; in general, people to seem have quite a difficult time talking about sex in the mainstream media, even though we have pornography thrusted upon us as a marketing gimmick!
What would you like to say to your Atlanta fans?
I would like to say thank you so much for sticking by us and for seeking us out because it’s not always easy to find us when we are up against corporate giants!
Andy Bell is performing Saturday, October 13 at 8:05pm on the Coca-Cola Stage. His appearance is presented by David Atlanta and Project Q Atlanta, with support from Brushstrokes and Jungle.