Vince Clarke (born Vincent John Martin; 3 July 1960) is an English synthpop musician and songwriter. Clarke has been the main composer and musician of the band Erasure since 1985, and was previously a member of several groups, including Depeche Mode, Yazoo and The Assembly.
Vincent John Martin was born in South Woodford, London and then he moved to Basildon, Essex. He initially studied the violin and then the piano, but his interest shifted toward synthpop upon hearing the 1979 debut release from Wirral electronic duo Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD). In a 1995 interview, Clarke said: "When I was 18 or 19 I heard a single called 'Electricity' by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. It sounded so different from anything I'd heard; that really made me want to make electronic music, 'cause it was so unique." Along with OMD, other early influences included The Human League, Daniel Miller and Fad Gadget.
Early bands and Depeche Mode:
In the late-1970s, Clarke and schoolmate Andy Fletcher formed the short-lived band, No Romance in China. In 1979, he teamed up with Robert Marlow and Martin Gore to form French Look. Another band, named Composition of Sound, followed in 1980 with another addition of Martin Gore and also, Fletcher. Clarke provided vocals until singer Dave Gahan joined the band, which was renamed Depeche Mode. At that time, he adopted the stage-name by which he is currently known: Vince Clarke. The band initially adopted a slick synthesized electropop sound, which produced the album Speak and Spell and the Clarke-penned singles "Dreaming of Me", "New Life" and "Just Can't Get Enough" in 1981.
Clarke left Depeche Mode shortly thereafter. There were many rumoured reasons pertaining to his departure. He commented on Depeche Mode's later material as being a little dark for his taste, but good nonetheless. Clarke stated that he didn't enjoy the public aspects of success, such as touring and interviews, and found himself frequently at odds with his bandmates, particularly on the tour bus. He also stated: "I think everybody in the band, especially myself, imagined that the reason we were doing so well was because of themselves...We were pretty young and very lucky, and things had happened very quickly for us and I don't think we were really mature to handle the situation." Clarke was replaced by Alan Wilder and Depeche Mode went on to achieve international stardom.
Clarke then teamed up with female singer Alison Moyet (at the time known by the nickname of 'Alf') to form the popular synthpop band Yazoo (known as Yaz in the U.S.), which produced two albums and a string of hits including "Only You", "Don't Go", "Situation", "The Other Side of Love", "Nobody's Diary" and "Walk Away from Love".
Yazoo split in 1983, and Moyet went on to have a successful solo career. Yazoo reformed in 2008 for a series of live dates to celebrate 25 years since the duo's split.
In 1983, Clarke teamed up with Eric Radcliffe and it was their idea to collaborate as one-off associations with different artists on each new single, under the name The Assembly; notably with singer Feargal Sharkey they scored the Top 5 hit "Never Never". Meanwhile, he founded the label Reset Records with Eric Radcliffe. During 1983 and further on in 1984, he produced four singles "The Face of Dorian Gray", "I Just Want to Dance", "Claudette" and "Calling All Destroyers" for his friend Robert Marlow, which were released on this label. They also produced an album, which was shelved but was released much later in 1999 under the name The Peter Pan Effect. In 1985, another collaboration took place with Paul Quinn of Bourgie Bourgie, the result was the single "One Day" by Vince Clarke & Paul Quinn. However, the project never took off, and Clarke moved on to other projects.
In early 1985, Clarke put an ad in Melody Maker for a singer, and one applicant was Andy Bell, who was a fan of his earlier projects. He teamed with Bell to form the group Erasure, and the duo became one of the major selling acts in British music with international hits like "Oh L'amour", "Sometimes", "Chains of Love", "A Little Respect", "Chorus", "Love to Hate You", "Take a Chance on Me" and "Always".
The band has released 16 albums to date and have enjoyed a long string of hit singles spanning their more than two decades together, most recently topped-off by the 2005 top five hit "Breathe" taken from their Nightbird album. In 2006, Erasure produced a country-western style acoustic album consisting of mostly non-single cuts from their previous albums. This album, Union Street was preceded by the single "Boy" originally included on their 1997 Cowboy album.
On 26 January 2007, in a video message on the official Erasure website, the band announced the release of their sixteenth (thirteenth studio) album, entitled Light at the End of the World. Released in the UK on 21 May 2007, with a US release the following day, it was preceded by the single "I Could Fall in Love with You", released on 2 April 2007. The second single, "Sunday Girl" was subsequently released.
The album was produced by Gareth Jones and was a more "dance oriented" effort than some of their more recent work with Clarke making reference to the new material sounding potentially a bit more like Andy Bell's 2005 solo effort Electric Blue.
Erasure went on to tour with Cyndi Lauper, Deborah Harry, Margaret Cho and other artists, for the 2007 True Colors Tour of the United States, a tour which benefited gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender freedoms and rights. Erasure then went out on their own, headlining the "Light at the End of the World" tour in North America and Europe.
The band released a new EP, Storm Chaser, in September 2007. The EP contains nine tracks, one of them the winner of an online fan remix contest, for the track "When a Lover Leaves You", from the Light at the End of the World album.
The Erasure album, Tomorrow's World, was released in October 2011, featuring production by Frankmusik. The album was done in two locations, Vince in his Cabin Studio in Maine composing the music, vocal arrangement and production done by Andy in Los Angeles. The album featured three singles- When I Start To Break It All Down, Be With You and Fill Us With Fire. A very limited edition of Tomorrow's World box sets were issued through the EIS and gathered a bunch of remixes, demos and videos of this project.
The Erasure Christmas album Snow Globe was released on 11 November 2013. A new collection of material was released by the middle of 2014, named The VIolet Flame.
In July 1984, Clarke teamed up with Stephen Luscombe of Blancmange, Pandit Dinesh and Asha Bhosle. The group, West India Company, released a four track, self-titled EP.
Clarke worked with synthpop producer Martyn Ware (of Heaven 17 and The Human League) in 1999 as "The Clarke & Ware Experiment" and released the album Pretentious. The duo collaborated again in 2001 for the album Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle, which was created with "3D music technology" specifically designed for listening in headphones. 2001 also saw the release of the Clarke-produced album Erasure's Vince Clarke which featured The Peter Pan Effect, an album that he and Eric Radcliffe produced for his long-time friend, Robert Marlow. Clarke wrote "Let's Get Together" for the pop girl group Girl Authority for their second album, Road Trip. The song was originally meant to be for Depeche Mode, but was never recorded by them. Clarke also co-wrote "What Do I Want From You?" with Freeform Five, for their album Strangest Things (2005).
Also in 2001, Clarke founded Illustrious Co. Ltd. with Martyn Ware, to create new forms of spatialised sound composition using their unique 3D AudioScape system, collaborating with fine artists, educational establishments, the performing arts, live events, corporate clients and educational settings round the world.
In 2004, Clarke provided additional music for an episode of Johnny Bravo entitled "The Time of My Life". This was a collaboration with Richard Butler (singer).
Clarke was an essential component of a 2000 project called Family Fantastic. They produced the album Nice!. In 2008 Family Fantastic released a second album, entitled Wonderful.
On 21 May 2009, Clarke was awarded by an "Outstanding Song Collection" prize, during the Ivor Novello Awards ceremony of the same day, in recognition of 30 years in the music industry.
Clarke was featured in the BBC Four documentary Synth Britannia.
Clarke collaborated with his former Depeche Mode colleague Martin Gore for the first time since 1981 as techno duo VCMG on an instrumental minimalist electronic dance album called Ssss, released on 12 March 2012. The first EP entitled Spock was released worldwide exclusively on Beatport on 30 November 2011. The second EP Single Blip was once again first released exclusively on Beatport on 20 February 2012. Their third EP Aftermaths was released on 20 August 2012.
In 2012, Vince collaborated with the band The Good Natured on a track called "Ghost Train", available as a free download on their website, in exchange for a Tweet.
Also in 2012, Vince produced a cover of the Depeche Mode song "Fly on the Windscreen" featuring Ane Brun.
In 2013, Vince worked with Andy Bell on a new Erasure Christmas LP which will be released in November 2013. There is also a rumor that a collection of original materials will also be ready by mid year 2014. Vince Clarke is currently doing DJ sets in various locations in North America and Europe and has also continued his production work of remixing songs for Dido and Chad Valley. Clarke is holding a competition online for synth guring, which is composed of making synth-like noises with your mouth, registration ends at the end of August 2013, judging shortly there after.
In October 2013, Vince announced on his Twitter page that he is collaborating with musicians BT and Christian Burns on their "All Hail the Silence" project.
In December 2013, Clarke listed his "13 LPs that mean the most to him" for The Quietus:
The Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd,
Computer World - Kraftwerk,
Travelogue - The Human League,
Bookends - Simon & Garfunkel,
Electric Warrior - T. Rex,
"Heroes" - David Bowie,
Hotel California - Eagles,
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark,
Glassworks - Philip Glass,
A Trick of the Tail - Genesis,
Dangerous - Michael Jackson,
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols - Sex Pistols,
Led Zeppelin IV - Led Zeppelin,
Production and recording methods:
When Clarke started using synthesisers, they were predominantly analogue (digital synthesisers were rare, and would remain that way until the launch of the Yamaha DX7 in 1983). In order to connect analogue synthesisers, analogue drum machines and analogue sequencers together, multiple CV/Gate cables were required between each device. This system was not standardised, so interoperability between instruments from different manufacturers was not always straightforward. In addition, some manufacturers used their own proprietary interfaces. When an industry-wide standard called MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) was introduced in 1983, Clarke, like most other electronic musicians, gradually migrated to the new technology. However, he continued to prefer his older analogue instruments:
"... CV and Gate is tighter. I can hear and feel that it's tighter than MIDI - we can even prove it using 'scopes. Because everything is clocked simply, it arrives bang on the beat. The whole production starts to 'tick over'. Just look at Kraftwerk's stuff. I think that 'feel' has been lost with MIDI sequencers. No matter what you do with MIDI, the music will never sound as good as it did in the good old Futurist days. That's why our tracks sound the way they do."
For the Chorus album in 1991, he gathered together his collection of analogue synthesisers from various recording studio locations in London and set up a small studio in Amsterdam. This led Clarke to assemble an intricate patch system to more easily enable the control of his analogue instruments:
"... the secret is having a good patch system - not as in patching to the mixing desk, but in patching CV and Gate. Because we don't use MIDI at all, you have to run three or four cables between each synth module - CV, Gate, Filter, Amplitude or whatever - and you've got to have a really unique system to do that."
In 1993 Clarke described his approach to songwriting:
"Andy Bell and I get together with a guitar and a tape recorder, I'll strum some chords, he'll sing a melody and we work in little sections, four or eight bars long. Then we'll try stringing the sections together. It's like a jigsaw puzzle. I find it very hard to relate songwriting to synthesisers, actually - we write songs in a very traditional way. The electronic side of things is just to create the atmosphere. It's mostly just messing about..!,
"Once we've worked out a song, I start programming up the arrangement on the BBC UMI sequencer, which lets me run 16 synths simultaneously. That way you get a better idea if parts are working together or not. Then we start refining the individual sounds. And finally the whole lot is transferred to my Roland MC4, piece by piece, so it's being run in CV and Gate. Once we've got that, it's a case of Andy sketching out vocal ideas - in the studio we use two 48 track digital tape machines, which gives Dinger 24 tracks just for his voice!"
Clarke continued to expand his collection of analogue synthesisers and in 1994 set up "37B", a recording studio built adjacent to his custom-made home, "Ammonite", in Chertsey, Surrey. From 1994 to 2003, all Erasure albums were either wholly or in part recorded at "37B".
In 2004 Clarke moved to Maine, USA. While waiting for his studio equipment to be shipped from the UK, he began using an Apple Mac laptop with Logic Pro, Max/MSP, and various software synthesisers (many of which were analogue emulations). Since then, he has continued to use Logic Pro, along with both software and analogue synthesisers:
"Nowadays, you can take the best bits from digital and analogue. On certain projects - say, if I'm doing library music - where you need to have instant recall all the time, then it's obviously much more convenient to use the computer. When it comes to writing a new song, though, I still like to have the old analogue gear there, too. But, a lot of soft synths have a character of their own, too; the Moog Modular V is just crazy!,
"I think that analogue has an inherent sound to it - it's like the old argument over vinyl versus CD. It seems that you hear more frequencies coming from an analogue synth than you do from a software synth, but the great thing about the latter is that you can do far more complex modulation, both within the synth itself and on the keyboard. To emulate any of those really complex modulations on an analogue... well, you'd need a mile of cable."
As of 2009, Clarke has installed his analogue synthesisers alongside his Logic Pro-based workstation in a custom-built commercial studio called "The Cabin" in Maine.
Current/recent studio equipment: Dave Smith Instruments Mopho, Roland System 700, Roland 100M, Roland Jupiter-8, Roland Jupiter-4, Roland MKS-80, Roland SH-1, Roland VP-330, Roland JP-8000, Roland Juno-60, Roland Juno-106, Roland Super JX, Roland D-550, ARP 2500 Modular, ARP 2600, PPG Wave 2.2, Waldorf Microwave, Waldorf Pulse, Moog Modular, Minimoog, Moog Source, E-Mu Modular System, Buchla 100 series Modular, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Sequential Circuits Pro-One, Oxford Synthesiser Company OSCar, Synton Syrinx, Korg MS-20, Korg MS-10, Korg 700, Korg M1, Korg DVP, Serge Modular, Polyfusion Modular, Oberheim Xpander, Oberheim SEM System, RSF Kobol, Electronic Music Studios VCS 3, Matten and Wiechers x2 48 track sequencers total 96 track., Sennheiser Vocoder VSM201, Apple iPad 2, Apple Power Mac G5, Apple MacBook Pro.
Current/recent software: Apple Logic Pro, Cycling '74 Max/MSP, Arturia ARP 2600 V, Arturia Minimoog V, Arturia Moog Modular V, GForce impOSCar, GForce Oddity, LinPlug Octopus, Muon Tau Pro, Native Instruments Absynth, Native Instruments Reaktor, Native Instruments FM7, Native Instruments FM8, Vienna Symphonic String & Choir Libraries.
Clarke has been married to Tracy Hurley since 2004. They have a son named Oscar and live together in the United States, in Brooklyn, NY, and have another home in Maine. Tracy Hurley is co-founder of the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn. Her twin sister, the American author Tonya Hurley is married to Michael Pagnotta, the manager of Erasure. In 2012, Vince Clarke and his family moved in a new house in Brooklyn (New York), where he also relocated his Cabin studio and synthesizers collection.
Clarke is left-handed.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license