80s Synth-Pop Duo Yaz Reunites In the early 80s, Yaz was a favorite on dance floors worldwide. The duo was short-lived, but they scored multiple Top Ten hits in the U.S. and the U.K. Now Yaz is back together for its 25th anniversary.
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80s Synth-Pop Duo Yaz Reunites

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80s Synth-Pop Duo Yaz Reunites

80s Synth-Pop Duo Yaz Reunites

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Back now with Day to Day and something that might make you feel really old.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: If it feels like it was just yesterday that you were listening to this song on your Walkman - it wasn't. It was more than 25 years ago that the British band, Yaz, put out the album "Upstairs at Eric's." Their digital disco sound was huge way back in the 1980s. And now Yaz is back. Lara Perigrinelli reports.

(Soundbite of music)

LARA PERIGRINELLI: Yazoo, as the duo was known in the UK, only lasted 18 months. In 1982, singer Alison Moyet placed an ad looking for a blues band. Vince Clarke had just left the successful pop band, Depeche Mode. The synth player had already heard Moyet sing in pubs, saw her ad, and then called her to sing on a demo he wanted to record. The two had a contract within weeks.

Ms. ALISON MOYET: We started off working 16 hours a day and never even going for a drink, never having a conversation. And, when things got tense, which they tend to when you become suddenly very-very famous, we didn't have the ability to offload with each other. You know, there was no companionship.

Mr. VINCE CLARKE: It was just that we were in the studio all the time and we were writing and recording. And then we didn't want to talk. And it was all about the work, it wasn't about any real friendship, I don't think.

Ms. MOYET: No, it wasn't.

Ms. MOYET: (Singing) I can't believe you want to turn a page, and move your life into another stage

PERIGRINELLI: They split, and Moyet and Clarke didn't speak for decades. When their label decided to cash in on their 25th anniversary, by re-releasing their two albums in a box set, Moyet decided to give Clarke a call. She wanted to know if he'd be interested in doing some live dates.

Ms. MOYET: I was feeling brave, you know, I was at a stage where, what's he going to do, say no? So I asked him, and he said no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PERIGRINELLI: Clarke was still with the group he'd formed after Yaz, Erasure. That band's taking a break, and now Yaz is back on the road for a mostly sold-out tour of Europe and America.

Ms. MOYET: (Singing) If I wait for just a second more, I know I'll forget what I came here for

PERIGRINELLI: The music owes much of its sound to the 80s technology used to make it. Today, Moyet and Clarke can tour with little more than a laptop, but the gear they originally needed was much more complicated and cumbersome. Clarke says its limitations dictated certain styles of writing.

Mr. CLARKE: They were monophonic synthesizers, so you could basically play one note at a time, and you couldn't play chords. So that styled the music in a certain way, because, rather than playing, kind of, blanket chords over a song, you would compose and play interweaving lines, melody lines.

(Soundbite of music)

PERIGRINELLI: One of these synthesizers was the Fairlight CMI, which stands for computer musical instrument. Without it, there would have been no synth-pop.

Mr. STEVE RANCE (President, Fairlight US): It was the first computer at the time that could actually do a sample.

PERIGRINELLI: Steve Rance is the president of Fairlight US. But, in the early 80s, he was a sound engineer who became a Fairlight programmer for such musicians as Meatloaf, Roger Daltrey, and Hans Zimmer.

Mr. RANCE: If you don't know what sampling is, it's the process of taking an analog signal and storing it in computer memory. And the Fairlight could do that and then play back the sound at different pitches.

Mr. CLARKE: (Singing) Inside, outside, inside, outside, feel the difference.

PERIGRINELLI: Rance says that today's machines have presets that can do all of the work for you. Back then, you had to program them yourself.

Mr. RANCE: There was a library of sounds. It was about 20 floppy disks that came with the Fairlight at the time. And I would say the vast majority of the sounds were pretty useless. The remaining ten percent had some musical positives, if you like, and could be played. And so, unless you were going to copy everybody else's sound, or you wanted your record to sound like everybody else's, you had to do your own samples.

(Soundbite of music)

PERIGRINELLI: Vince Clarke used samples to invent sounds that did not correspond to familiar acoustic instruments.

Mr. CLARKE: I'd written that song on guitar, and I was trying to emulate the finger-picking style that I used on guitar for that song. You know, it was all different types of arpeggios.

Ms. MOYET: (Singing) Looking from a window above, it's like a story of love, can you hear me? Came back only yesterday, moving farther away, want you near me

Mr. CLARKE: I have in mind the sound when I'm composing. You know, I kind of try and aim for a trumpet sound, or aim for a guitar sound. And then it just doesn't turn out like that. And then I think, well that's interesting.

PERIGRINELLI: Many critics dismissed synth-pop as robotic. But singer Alison Moyet counters that the synthesizer is just as human as any instrument.

Ms. MOYET: When I think of the pianos that I had worked with, I'd press a key on a piano and it is the piano that speaks, you know. To get the sounds that Yaz was using, that Vince was using with his analog synthesizers, were so affected by a personality, by a human ear, that how could it not been seen as, actually, quite a human sound?

PERIGRINELLI: Perhaps that's why Yaz continues to be popular with DJs. And why such bands as Hercules and Love Affair, LCD Soundsystem and Shiny Toy Guns are emulating those early 80s synth sounds today.

Mr. JACOB THIELE: (Singing) There's no ghost in this machine, I make my own mistakes

PERIGRINELLI: Jacob Thiele plays synthesizer for the Omaha band, The Faint. He's a big fan of Yaz, and insists it's the player who makes the sound, not the instrument.

Mr. THIELE: You know, obviously, there are bands like Kraftwerk and people that had used those types of instruments before, but Yaz put a new twist on it, you know. There's just so much fun to be had with synthesizers once you start twiddling those knobs. And I think that you can hear that in their music and in good electronic music. Knobs being twisted. And there's a frame of reference now because of bands like them, that you now, kind of, know what the human aspect is to the electronics.

PERIGRINELLI: Vince Clarke still likes to work with analog equipment. So he's transferred Yaz's original tracks to a laptop for the tour. Even though there are no plans at the moment for a new Yaz recording, Clarke and Moyet seem to be enjoying their relationship on and off the stage, the second time around.

Mr. CLARKE: We will eventually get down to doing some writing together, I think, on this tour. We never really wrote together. We kind of wrote separately for the two albums.

Ms. MOYET: The irony of it all is that when Vince and I split up after 18 months without any great love lost between us, it was to find out that we actually have quite a huge amount in common and the same sense of humor. So it's been a real revelation that, whilst this is a little moment in time that is unlikely to happen again, it's just being joyful.

PERIGRINELLI: For NPR News, I'm Lara Perigrinelli in New York.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Cohen.

CHADWICK: And I'm Alex Chadwick.

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