Yazoo (known as Yaz in North America for legal reasons with Yazoo Records) were a British synthpop duo from Basildon, Essex, England, consisting of former Depeche Mode member Vince Clarke (keyboards) and Alison Moyet (vocals). Formed in late 1981 after Clarke responded to an advertisement Moyet placed in a UK music magazine, over the next 18 months the duo made two critically acclaimed albums, Upstairs at Eric's and You and Me Both, blending Clarke's synthesizer melodies with Moyet's blues- and soul-influenced vocals. Yazoo enjoyed worldwide success, particularly in their home country where three of their four singles reached the top three of the UK Singles Chart and both their albums made the top two of the albums chart. In North America they are best known for the song "Situation", originally only a B-side in the UK but which was a club and airplay hit in the US and Canada before being released as the band's debut single in North America.
Despite their success, the duo split acrimoniously in May 1983 due to a combination of Clarke's reluctance to make more records under the Yazoo name, a clash of personalities, and a lack of communication between the pair. Clarke went on to form Erasure, another successful and longer-lasting synthpop duo, while Moyet embarked on a solo career. Although their musical career was short, Yazoo's combination of electronic instrumentation and soulful female vocals has been cited as an influence on the house music scene that emerged in the mid-1980s, as well as bands such as LCD Soundsystem (who name-checked them on their debut single "Losing My Edge"), Hercules and Love Affair (whose leader Andy Butler has said that "Situation" was his biggest musical inspiration as a child),La Roux, Shiny Toy Guns and Blaqk Audio.
In 2008, 25 years after splitting up, Clarke and Moyet reconciled and reformed Yazoo to play a successful tour of the UK, Europe and North America in support of the reissue of Yazoo's two studio albums and a box set of their material. The pair briefly reunited again in May 2011 to play three Yazoo songs at a music festival organised by their record label.
Formation and Upstairs at Eric's (1982):
Having spent her teens singing in various punk and blues bands in her home town of Basildon, Alison Moyet placed an advert in the UK weekly music magazine Melody Maker in late 1981 asking for musicians to form a "rootsy" blues band after her most recent group The Screamin' Ab Dabs had broken up. She was surprised when the only reply she received was from Vince Clarke, a fellow Basildon native who had recently stunned the music press by quitting Depeche Mode after their debut album and three hit singles, all of which he had written. Despite growing up in the same town and having attended the same Saturday music school when they were eleven years old, Moyet and Clarke did not know each other well and had never spoken to each other before. Moyet had been in the same class at school as Clarke's future Depeche Mode bandmates Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher but had little contact with Clarke himself, remembering him as an outsider who with his brothers would wear T-shirts proclaiming their Christianity. For his part Clarke had seen Moyet sing live a few times, as his best friend had been in the same punk band as her. Aware of her vocal abilities, he was looking for someone to sing on a demo of a song he had written called "Only You". Clarke was worried that by walking out of Depeche Mode he would lose his record deal with Mute Records and wanted to show the label that he still had something to offer them, saying in a 2008 interview, "When I left Depeche I wasn't sure I'd still have a record deal and was keen to play the label something of my own, so I wrote the song 'Only You' but needed someone to demo it with. Alison happened to be advertising in a local paper so I called her."
Despite their entirely different backgrounds--in an early interview Moyet stated that "I'm a traditionalist, I can't accept the fact of blues with synthesizers at all", while Clarke admitted to tolerating modern R&B outfits like Dr. Feelgood but disliking traditional blues artists such as Muddy Waters--Moyet was won over by the song Clarke had written and his positive attitude to making music, and sang the lyrics into a tape recorder at his house. Clarke took the demo to Mute label boss Daniel Miller but recalled that at first Miller appeared to be uninterested: "I tried to give it to Daniel and he didn't show much interest... I brought it in and put it on, and the whole time it was playing, Daniel was messing around with a synthesizer. He said he liked it, but carried on doing what he was doing--and that was it. Only when the publishers took an interest did he brighten up." Mute asked the duo to record the song as a single and make an album together. Clarke had already written "Don't Go" but both he and Moyet felt it was too good to be the B-side of "Only You" so they quickly wrote the song "Situation" together for the single's B-side. According to Moyet the name Yazoo was taken from the specialist blues record label, Yazoo Records. This decision led to a £3.5 million lawsuit threat by the label over the band's name and coupled with the fact that the name Yazoo was already in use by a small American rock band, the group was renamed Yaz for the North American market.
"Only You" was released in the UK in March 1982 and rose to number 2 on the UK singles chart. The duo recorded their debut album at Blackwing Studios in south-east London, where Clarke had recorded Depeche Mode's album Speak & Spell the previous year. As the studio had already been booked out during the day by fellow Mute artist Fad Gadget Yazoo recorded most of the album during the early mornings. Clarke had expected that Daniel Miller would produce the album, but discovered that Miller was already otherwise occupied, so Blackwing studio owner Eric Radcliffe ended up carrying out production duties with Clarke and Moyet. The album was named Upstairs at Eric's in recognition of Radcliffe's input.
"Don't Go" was released in July 1982 as the second single in the UK and also reached the top three of the UK charts, but in North America "Situation" had been a hit in the clubs in a version remixed by New York City-based DJ François Kevorkian, and against the band's wishes, it was released as their debut single in the US and Canada, where it reached number 73 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Only You" was released as Yazoo's second single in North America in November 1982 and reached number 67.
Upstairs at Eric's was released in the UK in August 1982, peaking at number 2 on the UK albums chart and going on to sell more than 300,000 copies and achieving platinum status. In the US initial success was more modest and the album peaked at number 92 on the Billboard 200 album chart, but by 1989, seven years after its release, word of mouth had helped to push the album to platinum status for sales of over one million copies. The duo played 24 dates in support of the album across Europe and North America.
You and Me Both and break-up (1983):
After releasing "The Other Side of Love" in the UK in November 1982, a non-album stop-gap single which reached number 13 in the UK singles chart, the duo went back to Blackwing to record their second album. However, by now there was growing tension between the pair: Clarke had always seen Upstairs at Eric's as a one-off project and had to be persuaded to make another Yazoo record by his publishers, who felt it would not go down well if he was seen to walk out of a second band within a year of the first. Aged just 21, Moyet was struggling to come to terms with being in the spotlight and the pressures of sudden fame, and resented the fact that Clarke was leaving her to carry out all the promotional work for the records by herself. Unlike their first record, the second album was made over a longer period of four months and with Clarke and Moyet rarely in the studio together at the same time: Clarke would record instrumental tracks in the morning, and Moyet would come in during the evening and record her vocals.
A single, "Nobody's Diary", was released in May 1983 ahead of the album and reached number 3 in the UK charts, but within days of the single's release, Yazoo announced that they were splitting up. The album, ironically titled You and Me Both, was released in the UK in July 1983 and reached number 1 in the album charts, a feat it would also achieve in New Zealand. However, with no further singles or live appearances to promote it, it did not sell as well as Upstairs at Eric's, although it still achieved gold status in the UK for sales of 100,000 copies. In the US You and Me Both peaked at number 69 on the Billboard 200.
Reflecting in 2008 on the group's split, both Moyet and Clarke agreed that a lack of communication between the pair had been a major reason for the breakdown of the partnership. Moyet recalled that Clarke "was creatively very encouraging, very open to hearing my ideas for songs. The thing I found difficult was the lack of warmth. I wanted to feel more likeable, and you can't feel likeable if someone doesn't want to interact with you." Clarke admitted that "I lacked the life-skills of communication in a relationship. I felt confident in the studio, but starting a chat with somebody..." He put it down to the fact that the duo's career had taken off so rapidly, there had never been any time to build up a personal relationship between them: "It all happened very fast and because we hadn't been in a band for years, playing in clubs, it was very much just a working relationship--we never had the chance to bond. We never really knew each other. Not really... The fact that we never talked, never socialised together, meant that when problems came up we didn't know how to communicate and sort things out." Moyet added that their differing personalities had not helped matters, saying, "He was, I think, sad at the time after leaving Depeche and remote, a bit angry, but it was all internalised. Whereas I was this disaffected, slightly aggressive ex-punk rocker where nothing was internalised. I was probably quite difficult to be around."
Following Yazoo's split, Clarke formed The Assembly with his label boss Miller. Intending to record a series of one-off singles featuring different vocalists, in the end The Assembly produced just two singles, "Never Never" with Feargal Sharkey, and "One Day" with Paul Quinn of Bourgie Bourgie, before also splitting up. Around this time, Clarke also produced the album The Peter Pan Effect for the singer Robert Marlow, an old friend of both his and Moyet's. Clarke then teamed up with singer Andy Bell to form the successful synthpop duo Erasure. Moyet spent several months out of the limelight before signing a deal with CBS Records and embarking on a successful solo career.
"Situation" was finally released as a single in the UK in 1990 in another remixed form, which was moderately successful, reaching number 14 on the UK singles chart. A compilation entitled Only Yazoo: The Best of was released in 1999 and was preceded by a re-release of Yazoo's debut single, "Only You", featuring a new remix of the title track and several more of "Don't Go". The band's output was book-ended with yet another release of "Situation", accompanied by many remixes. Clarke was tapped to remix Moyet's 1994 single "Whispering Your Name" and, with Erasure, Clarke and Moyet tried to record her single "This House" as a duet. This project never came to surface because Sony Music Entertainment would not permit it.
The band's songs have appeared in a number of films and television shows. In 1988, "In My Room", "Ode to Boy", and "Only You" were used in the film The Chocolate War (the adaption of the book of the same title). "Only You" was used in the film Napoleon Dynamite, the BBC television series The Office, the film Can't Hardly Wait, the Fringe episode "Transilience Thought Unifier Model-11", and the "The Americans" episode "Dimebag"; a cover version of "Only You" by Joshua Radin was used in 2007 in a J. C. Penney commercial; "Don't Go" appeared in the BBC series I'm Alan Partridge and was used in the film Tango and Cash. The song "Situation" was used in the 1990 TV movie Exile and was also used in a Nintendo commercial highlighting the classic edition of the Game Boy Advance SP and the NES games ported to it. In 2007, "Bring Your Love Down (Didn't I)" was used in The Sarah Silverman Program episode "Not Without My Daughter".
Antony Hegarty, lead vocalist in Antony & The Johnsons, talked with Terry Gross in February 2009 about recording the debut self-titled Hercules & Love Affair album. He said he had been asked by New York-based DJ Andy Butler to join the project and that the objective was or became "Let's sound as much like Yazoo as we can .... We loved Yazoo."
2008 reunion and 'Reconnected' tour:
Despite the long estrangement Moyet had always harboured plans to perform the songs from You and Me Both live on stage, something that had never occurred as the duo had split before the album was released. Towards the end of 2007 she had finished promoting her album The Turn and with no immediate plans for more solo work, and aware that Mute were planning to issue remastered versions of Yazoo's albums, she e-mailed Clarke to see if he was interested in the idea of a reunion. Clarke welcomed her message, but replied that he was now committed to his current band Erasure and felt it would be disloyal to his musical partner Andy Bell if he returned to work with Moyet. However, shortly afterwards Bell told Clarke that he wanted to take a break from Erasure, causing Clarke to reconsider Moyet's proposal, and with a message sent via Mute label boss Daniel Miller he indicated that he was open to reuniting for live performances. Clarke disclosed that out of courtesy he had felt obliged to first ask Bell if he had any objections to Clarke agreeing to perform with Yazoo again: Bell's response was simply to ask Clarke for tickets for the reunion shows.
The first public indication that Yazoo was being revived was on 11 December 2007 when Erasure's website announced that an official Yazoo website and MySpace page were being set up. On 13 December the Planet Sound music magazine pages on the UK's Teletext service on Channel 4 exclusively revealed that both Yazoo albums were to be reissued and that the duo were planning to reform and play a gig in support of the albums' release. On 20 January 2008 the new official Yazoo website confirmed that Clarke and Moyet would be reuniting to play five concerts across the UK in June 2008, preceded by a four-disc box set entitled In Your Room which would feature remastered stereo and 5.1 surround sound mixes of the albums Upstairs at Eric's and You and Me Both, a disc of B-sides and remixes, and a DVD including new interviews with Clarke and Moyet and the videos for their five UK and US singles, along with video footage of television performances from 1982 and 1983. Two EPs available on vinyl and as digital downloads were released to coincide with the box set, the Nobody's Diary EP released on 12 May 2008 featuring various remixes of the song (including one by Erasure's Andy Bell), and the Reconnected EP released on 9 June 2008 which featured various Yazoo tracks remixed by different artists.
Having re-established contact, Clarke and Moyet met on 8 April 2008 in a private members club in London's Covent Garden, with the occasion filmed by the press: it was the first time they had met since a mutual friend's wedding in the early 1990s. The promotion for the tour received moderate television coverage, including a performance on the prime time BBC chat show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross, broadcast in the UK on 16 May 2008. The tour was rapidly expanded to include concerts in Europe and in the US, as well as extra dates in the UK. The 'Reconnected' tour, as it became known, began in in Copenhagen on 26 May 2008, the same day as In Your Room was released. The concert of 10 July 2008 at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles was recorded to be re-aired on Richard Blade's Sirius Radio show. Yazoo wrapped up the final two dates of the US tour by returning to New York City for the first time since October 1982.
In an interview in May 2008 with the online magazine Side-Line, Clarke said that there were plans to record the two London shows on the tour for a possible live album in the future. A double album titled Reconnected Live, featuring tracks recorded on the 'Reconnected' tour, was eventually released in September 2010.
On 14 May 2011 Moyet appeared as a guest on stage before Erasure's set on the second day of Mute Records' Short Circuit music festival at the Roundhouse in London. She performed three Yazoo songs with Clarke, "Nobody's Diary", "Ode to Boy" and "Don't Go". In an interview prior to the concert Moyet said she was "99.9% sure it's the last time" that she and Clarke would perform together as Yazoo, adding, "It was really good that Vince and I had come through the whole circle of being really angry with each other, forgetting what we'd been angry about, and forgetting that there was ever any displeasure".
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license