Yazoo - Biography
By Scott Feemster
For a duo that existed just 18 months between the years 1982 and 1983, Yazoo was incredibly influential in electronic music and the greater world of pop. Their use of cutting edge, danceable electronic sounds combined with soulful vocals has had an effect on pop and dance music that reverberates in the scene to this day.
Vince Clarke, though only 21, had already gained fame and notoriety by 1981 as a keyboardist and the main songwriter in the Basildon, England-based synth-pop band Depeche Mode. He was one of the founders of the group and had written most of the band’s debut album Speak & Spell (1981 Mute/Sire) and such early hits as “I Just Can't Get Enough” and “Dreaming of Me.” During the touring and promotion in support of Speak & Spell, Clarke started to privately express his discomfort with the band's popularity and the direction he felt the band was headed. After touring was completed, he announced he was leaving the band.
Clarke had some ideas for new songs but wasn’t interested in singing. He wanted a more soulful, emotive voice than he had ever worked with before. At the same time another Basildon native, singer Alison Moyet, had placed an ad in the British weekly music paper Melody Maker looking to join a semi-professional band. With her powerful, soul-inflected voice, Alison had sung with various bands in the post-punk pub circuit in Southern England. Clarke had heard Moyet sing before and was impressed, so when he spotted her ad he rang her up and proposed the two try to work together.
Moyet was definitely not interested in becoming a pop star, but found the idea of combining her kind of vocals with “cold” electronics a perverse and compelling idea. The duo's first song, the ballad “Only You,” was presented to Mute Records’ founder Daniel Miller whom Clarke knew through his involvement with Depeche Mode. Expecting rejection, Clarke was pleasantly surprised when Miller was interested in the song and wanted to release it as a single. In another stroke of post-punk irony, the duo took the name Yazoo from the celebrated blues label of the same name,which probably confounding many listeners once they heard the band. (The name was later shortened to Yaz in the US due to conflict with another band also called Yazoo.)
“Only You” was released in May of 1982 and immediately became a hit, reaching number two on the U.K. singles charts. The b-side of the single featured “Situation,” which eventually became a major dance club hit around the world. The mixture of Moyet’s emotional and deeply realistic slice-of-life lyrics and Clarke’s bubbling synths was something of a minor revelation in early 80’s pop music.
Yazoo’s next single, “Don’t Go,” was released in July of 1982, and shot to number two on the singles chart in the U.K. It became a minor hit in the U.S. largely on the strength of the humorous video for the song, which aired on the new MTV video network. Within the space of a year, a duo who wanted to produce music that didn’t necessarily revolve around their personalities, found themselves playing on the BBC’s Top of the Pops and featured in music magazines. To say all the attention was a bit of a shock to Clarke and Moyet would be an understatement.
Yazoo followed up the success of their first two singles with their debut full-length album Upstairs at Eric’s (1982 Mute/Sire), which featured the sparkly synth-pop featured on the band’s singles but also included a few tracks that were more contemplative and experimental in structure. The record achieved platinum status in the U.K. and sold moderately well around the world, while also garnering critical praise.
Yazoo toured briefly in support of Upstairs at Eric’s and released the single “The Other Side of Love” to satiate their fans until they could begin work on a new album. When the two came back together to work on more material, the strain from the previous year was already taking its toll. The two began to have difficulties communicating and frustrations mounted. As they were completing their second album, they found themselves at an impasse. After releasing the single “Nobody’s Diary” in 1983, Yazoo announced that they were splitting.
Soon after the news of their breakup surfaced, their second album You and Me Both (1983 Mute/Sire) was released to favorable critical reviews and reached number one on the U.K. album charts. Both of Yazoo’s albums were underground hits in the U.S. but, through word-of-mouth and frequent play in dance clubs, the two achieved platinum status a few years later.
After the group broke up, Moyet signed to Columbia Records and scored a hit with her debut album, Alf (1984 – CBS/Columbia), released in 1984. She has gone on to a successful solo career in the years since. Clarke collaborated with producer Eric Radcliffe and singer Feargal Sharkey (Undertones) in a one-off project called The Assembly, and also collaborated on projects with singers Paul Quinn (Bourgie Bourgie) and Robert Marlow. In 1985, Clarke started another synth-pop duo, Erasure, with singer Andy Bell. The group has been hugely successful around the world, selling over 25 million albums to date.
A best of compilation, Only Yazoo – The Best Of, (1999 Mute/Reprise) was released in 1999, and featured several remixes and longer versions of Yazoo’s hits. In 2008, a four-disc box set of all of the group’s recorded works, videos, and live appearances was released as In Your Room (2008 Mute), and the duo reunited for a series of shows. Yazoo toured through Europe, the U.K., and the United States as part of the Yazoo Reconnected: Live tour, playing sold-out shows wherever they went. It has been announced that Yazoo will put out a CD of live performances from the tour sometime in 2009, and both Clarke and Moyet have not ruled out working together again sometime in the future.