Head2head: Yazoo

Yazoo’s existence was so fleeting that their appeal has remained largely cult. They crop up now and again in new artists’ lists of influences, and when Tim and Dawn finally got together in The Office, it was their 80s hit “Only You” that provided the backdrop for their excruciatingly awkward first kiss. Apart from such anomalies, however, they have remained firmly filed under 80s nostalgia. Yazoo, formed in Basildon in 1981, comprised of Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke.

Clarke was in the original Depeche Mode ensemble (and was, at the time, the band’s main songwriter) but he left Dave Gahan and his bandmate in a state of flux in 1980, when he quit the band just as they were about to reap success. Still, Clarke put a call in to Moyet (at the time a punk singer on the pub rock scene) and, a few rickety bedroom recordings later, Yazoo was born. “Only You” was written, recorded and released within weeks, and rose to number two in the UK charts in April 1982, backed with “Situation”.

The band quickly scored another hit with “Don’t Go”, and their debut album “Upstairs at Eric’s” went platinum in the UK. Yazoo would amicably go their separate ways after the release of their second album, “You And Me Both”, despite it sitting nicely at the top of the charts. Clarke then became one half of Erasure, while Moyet launched a lucrative solo career. Now, with the advent of acts such as The Knife and Hercules & Love Affair (both of whom cite Yazoo as a major influence), Yazoo’s sound has found new significance.

Re-united for the first time in 16 years for their 25th anniversary tour, the pair talk suburban ennui, careers advice, escaping their predestined fates at the yoghurt factory and bending over for paedophilic technology teachers.

Alison Moyet: There’s not even been so much as a telephone call between us in over a decade, but it feels just the same.
Vince Clarke: We didn’t lose touch deliberately, did we? It’s just been circumstance. You’re exactly the same as you always were, in a good way, of course.
AM: We’ve both got the same hometown sensibilities, we talk the same language – that’s why it feels so natural to be here drinking tea after all these years.
VC: Our managers have been talking about doing some sort of 25th anniversary thing for some time, I just never thought it would actually materialise. It seems somehow fortuitous.
AM: It’s true, it does. The Yazoo songs were written and recorded so quickly that we never really got a chance to play the songs live. I have always wanted to do it though, and should have reeled you in long before now.
VC: I did consider the possibility of re-recording the songs a couple of times, but thought better of it. Truth be told, I haven’t listened to the Yazoo songs for about 15 years.
AM: Yeah, it’s almost like you don’t want to fill in the holes from then until now, isn’t it? Sonically, they should stay as they are.
VC: (Laughs) The tracks were so simple, it would be hard to make them sound better.
AM: I think they sound as good now as they ever did. It’s weird, because I have been playing all my older solo stuff from the 80s for years, and now I’ll be going back even further. Visiting the halcyon days of yore!
VC: But, even though you’ve dropped a few Yazoo songs into your set, it’s all clean out the bag as far as I’m concerned.
AM: It is for me too. It feels, dare I say, virginal? Do you remember when we first started recording, how good our working relationship was? It was such a natural coming together. It was never like ‘oh yeah, we’re going to create this or that’, we were just two people working together on a project. It was like good cop, bad cop for our musical child.
VC: (Laughs) The thing I loved the most was that we worked so fast. It was all about getting into the studio, recording and writing. But it was just about having that opportunity for us, wasn’t it? We were absolutely blown away that someone wanted to record our songs, and threw ourselves into it. We didn’t even go to the pub or anything, did we?
AM: I think you’re so focused at those times that you just want to get it done. I mean, how many albums have Erasure released?
VC: Fifteen.
AM: Fucking hell, see what I mean? I’m like a hyperactive child, getting distracted by everything. I think we balanced each other out quite well at the time. You plucked me from my pub punk ‘career’.
VC: Yeah, before we met properly I’d seen you in a couple of bands. I think I’d seen you about at the art centre in town, too?
AM: But don’t you remember? Your best mate was the guitar player in my punk band, The Vandals? It was almost like we were on the periphery of the same crowd – we knew each of other but didn’t really socialize together. I knew the other guys in Depeche Mode better, because most of them were in my class at school.
VC: It’s worth mentioning that our schools were rivals. There were some big fights.
AM: I didn’t have you down as a particularly violent chap, Vince. I was, however, very surprised when my mum told me you had called that evening, saying you had a track that you wanted me to sing on. I was like ‘what does he want?’ But I called you back, then came round a couple of days later and sang for you.
VC: Then we got the call from the record company saying that they loved it. Literally within weeks, we had a hit on our hands with “Only You”.
AM: At the time I was, what, 21? That’s so young. It was hard for me to fathom what was happening. I never wanted to be a pop star. I’d have been happy staying in Basildon, headlining the pub circuit, living the provincial life. But, coming from such an insular, poor place like we did, music was a salvation. It was something we all did just for something to do. Everyone was in a band because it meant that when you played in pubs, you could do underage drinking. Aside from the drink, though, it was such an outlet.
VC: It really was. Unless you come from somewhere like that, where the only hope for you is working in the yoghurt factory down the road, you can’t really understand how important music can be. I was 19 when Depeche Mode started to take off. I was still really just a child.
AM: Do you think we would have had continued success had we toured more in the beginning?
VC: Definitely. We were only around for 18 months. If we hadn’t have been so successful so quickly, I think we could have really worked at it and made it much bigger. You know, Erasure’s first album did nothing. We toured relentlessly to plug it – student union bars and stuff – because if you want to make it, you can’t afford to turn anything down.
AM: I don’t know if you had something to prove with Yazoo, having just come out of Depeche Mode, but I knew you weren’t really open to have a close musical relationship with someone. You’d walked out on people who you’d developed a relationship with, and I sensed that you wanted to keep a bit of a distance.
VC: That might be true, but I think we benefitted in having complete creative freedom. We maybe had a couple of arguments over lyrics, but it was almost like we were just looking for something to let off steam over.
AM: Did you ever think you would have the success that you have had?
VC: No. I knew, because of my sheer determination, that it would go somewhere, but not to the level it has. I told my careers advisor at school that I wanted to be an electrical engineer. I didn’t, and still don’t know what one of those is. I just said it because I didn’t know what else to say.
AM: Careers advise for girls in my school consisted of some saggy old bag saying ‘Have you thought about pursuing typing, Alison?’ Typing? Where exactly in life would that get you now?
VC: Well, at least you wouldn’t have been filling up yoghurt pots in a factory. Didn’t you have dodgy teachers at your school?
AM: Oh my God, I don’t want to be reminded. My technology teacher used to ask me to tie his shoelaces all the time, so I’d be on my knees with my bum in the air in front of a classroom of teenage boys. I think he got struck off.
VC: It’s always the techcy ones.
AM: (Laughs) Moving on. Are you aware of the influence Yazoo’s sound has had on modern music?
VC: Not really. I only listen to The Wiggles.
AM: Well, I heard of Hercules & Love Affair recently because my fans had been talking about them on the forum of my website. I can see the influence. I think Vince’s music sounds as forward-thinking now as it did at the time, and I can’t wait to play them live. Although, I’m so far from being down with the kids it’s untrue. I’m middle-aged, so it’s quite right and appropriate that I’m not that aware of what’s going on. I can just dip my toe in the scene now and then.

Yazoo are touring throughout June this year, following the release of In Your Room, a four-disc box set released on Mute Records.

Name: Alison Moyet
Age: 46
Born: Billericay, Essex
What you know: Brassy singer songwriter best know for the massive top ten hits “All Cried Out” and “Love Resurrection”.
What you didn’t: Her 11-year old daughter’s favourite film is Napoleon Dynamite and they watch it twice a week.
Previous: Her first solo album, Alf, released in 1984, was a reference to her nickname at the time. She has since dispensed with it.

Name: Vince Clarke
Age: 47
Born: South Woodford, London
What you know: Clarke was in the original Depeche Mode line-up. He left to form Yazoo, The Assembly and Erasure.
What you didn’t: He only listens to The Wiggles and smokes 30 cigarettes a day.
Previous: Andy Bell, his Erasure co-member, was the 41st person to audition, after spotting the advert Clarke placed in Melody Maker for a vocalist.

Originally printed in the June 2008 edition of Dazed & Confused.
Reprinted without permission for non-profit use only.

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