Arts and Culture

Tears for Fears Could Be Nostalgic, But the Band's Future Is Bright

Tears for Fears (L to R): Roland Orzabal, Curt Smith
Tears for Fears (L to R): Roland Orzabal, Curt Smith Zoren Gold
Tears for Fears is not a nostalgia act, despite evidence to the contrary. The seasoned British band has been touring in recent years without a new studio album, instead performing its throng of hits and deep cuts. Appreciative fans have been singing along to classic music-video-fueled tunes like “Shout,” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Head Over Heels” and “Sowing the Seeds of Love.” Attending one of these concerts is like going back to a time when vintage synths, shimmery guitars and anthemic songs seized MTV airtime and FM airwaves.

While folks have been singing along, recounting their youth, the nuclei of the band, Roland Orzabal (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Curt Smith (vocals, bass, keyboards), weren’t content dusting off old material. This year, Warner Bros. Records will release the band’s seventh full-length studio album; the fifth for Smith who departed and later returned. Tentatively titled The Tipping Point, the record showcases a return that’s been a long time coming. The pair’s last full-length studio outing was thirteen years ago: the sadly overlooked Everybody Loves a Happy Ending. The melodies, musicianship and production on the disc are something to behold. (If people walk away from a listen without “Call Me Mellow” seeping through their lips, then pop hooks have ceased to have power.)

Tears for Fears hope The Tipping Point will live up to its name and resurrect the band's success as a popular recording act.

The musicians have already had a successful return as a live act, largely attributable to their musical aptitude and Orzabal’s unmistakable voice. Like the alligator dropping into a swimming pool in the band’s 1983 video for the song “Pale Shelter,” Tears for Fears isn’t easy to forget, and maybe that’s the secret to the group's longevity.

We caught up with Tears for Fears’ Roland Orzabal preceding the band’s upcoming Denver-area co-headlining show with Daryl Hall & John Oates.

You’ve been doing Tears for Fears for 36 years. What has been the highlight for you?

Roland Orzabal: That is a tricky one. I think probably when we recorded “Woman in Chains,” and working with Oleta Adams and the whole band during the Seeds of Love era when we were playing live, was fantastic. They were incredible. I also have really fond memories of recording Raoul and the Kings of Spain in L.A. with the band I was touring with at the time. We’d written so much of that on the road that it was so simple and so fantastic to actually play everything live.

In the years that you’ve done Tears for Fears, is there anything that you would have done differently?

From a commercial standpoint, I think that we spent probably too long making albums, and we probably spent too long between albums. I think that hurt us quite a bit, because times change in music.

You’ve had a partnership with Curt [Smith] on and off for a long time. What do you like best about working with him?

Well, he’s very rational. I tend to get quite close to the songs because I’ve always been the main songwriter. He sort of stays more on the periphery. Especially during Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, he was more like an A&R man in the studio with us, so he would, in a sense, let us know what he thought about the material and almost police it. Also, when we first began, I needed his voice because there were certain songs – the way I was writing them, the way my voice was then – he sounded much better on certain songs. He also was a lot more confident than me at that age, so I relied on him a lot. Obviously things changed as I grew older and I grew into myself and became more and more confident, and my voice changed and my writing changed.

I’ve always loved the guitar solos in “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Shout.” They seem to come in at perfect moments, and there’s not a flurry of notes; there’s a ton of feeling. What was it like for you recording those parts?

They’re different, because for the guitar solo on “Shout,” I made a suggestion to the producer. I said, “What it needs is a guitar solo now,” and he kind of laughed because we’d never done things like that before on The Hurting. So I started playing him something, which is pretty much the melody as it is now, and he was cracking up with laughter. He said something like, “Can we really do this?” I said, “Absolutely.” He then helped me design that [solo]. As far as “Everybody,” the first solo was a rhythm solo, which I did. It was really constructed virtually bar by bar, and we had to drop in so many things because we were making it up as we went along. But the guitar solo at the end of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is by Neil Taylor, and that was just two takes cut together, and he’s quite incredible.

Since you’ve been doing this for so long and I’m sure it’s trying on your voice, how do you keep your voice in shape?

My voice has changed dramatically over the years. When we play live now, we use in-ear monitors, and the trick, as far as I’m concerned, is not to have too much in your ears — enough things to pitch by — and to make sure that your in-ears aren’t too loud, because you could end up giving yourself a false impression of how fantastic you can sound, especially if you put reverb on it. So I try and keep it down. I do a lot of vocal warmups, which are the same warmups I did when I was a kid, because I had a few classical singing lessons and stuff like that, so I know pretty much how I’m gonna be once I get on stage.

Do you ever get annoyed when you hear a Tears for Fears song on the radio?

When I hear a Tears for Fears song on the radio, do I ever get annoyed? Only because they’re the same ones [laughs]. There’s only so many times you can listen to “Head Over Heels” in the supermarket, but I can’t complain. I don’t want them to stop suddenly [laughs]. I’m drawn to the new versions by young artists and stuff like that. Every time someone does something strange with a song, I’m always pleasantly surprised and amazed.

Can you think of one song that you did that you thought should have been a radio song, but it didn’t happen?

Going back to The Seeds of Love album, that record was kind of not fully supported in America, and I think once “Sowing the Seeds of Love” — the single – only got to number two, even though it was outselling Janet Jackson, it wasn’t being played as much on the radio, so we got to number two, not one. I think once that had happened, there wasn’t a vast push from the record label to get another song on the radio to keep the album afloat. I think it’s a shame that “Woman in Chains” wasn’t a hit at the time, although it’s become one of people’s favorite songs. So not so bad after all.

When Everybody Loves a Happy Ending came out, I was blown away by how great that record sounded. You had “Call Me Mellow” on there, which was a brilliant pop tune. What were your feelings when that record didn’t seem to take off like some of your past albums?

Well, again, it proved a point that we would go on American TV; we would play a single from Everybody Loves a Happy Ending. Then we would look at the record sales, and there would be a peak in record sales, but basically everybody was going, “Yes, Tears for Fears. Love Tears for Fears.” They’d go into a record shop and buy the greatest hits. You then realize that a new album generally promotes older material, unless, of course, like we hope on the new album, there is something that will break through, because we’ve got some real up-tempo, fantastic songs.

Do you have a title for the new record yet?

The title at the moment – this could all change, and you’re the first person to know it – is The Tipping Point.

What was it like recording the album?

It was very strange. It was very strange indeed, because we never recorded a record like this. We were always treated as if we were a new act, and we were sort of pushed around between all these hit songwriters, so like one guy, one day, he’d have Britney Spears in his studio, and then the next day, it’d be us. So all of that was very strange, and it didn’t really click until we started working finally enough in London with a guy called Sacha Skarbek and his engineer Flo. Then all of a sudden it just exploded.

Do you have any songs that stand out for you right now?

Yeah, absolutely. There’s a song called “My Demons." There’s a song called “I Love You but I’m Lost,” “End of Night.” These are all very strong singles. “Up Above the World” has just got a great, fantastic beat.

Would you compare it stylistically to anything you’ve done in the past?

I was playing it for someone the other day, pretty much everything, and their comment was this was the most “clubby” record we’ve ever made, meaning able to be played in clubs. That’s interesting, because it’s not an indulgent record in any way. We really concentrated on bringing out the best melodies in a classic pop way, but with a lot of modern electronics.

You are also an author and wrote the novel Sex, Drugs & Opera: There’s Life After Rock ’n’ Roll.

I spent seven years before that actually trying to write something incredibly serious and long and multi-charactered and historical, but I got into a real mess with it. While that was doing the rounds with publishers – not very successfully – I decided that the next book I was going to have a go at was going to be single-person and in the present tense, and that’s what I did, so about 21 pages of Sex, Drugs & Opera are true. I was asked to go on a show in England, which takes pop stars and makes them sing opera. It’s a reality-TV show. You go up against other pop stars, and then you get voted on-off by the public who are watching the show. I’ve had a little bit of flirtation with opera as well, so I went along for the audition. But in a sense, the fiction took over from the fact, and I started writing about this pop star who actually went through the whole process.

Do you have plans to write another book?

I have written another book, and I’m not going to tell you what it is [laughs].

Is it another novel or is it nonfiction?

It’s a novel, but it’s nothing. It’s not comic; no comedy. Sex, Drugs & Opera is very funny. This one is not funny [laughs].

Having seen the band live, I've seen how you obviously enjoy performing. Would you still want to do Tears for Fears if you were just a studio band?

I don’t know. Maybe. Most of the time we are a studio band, unfortunately. We don’t go out that often. It seems to be a seasonal thing; it tends to be around the summer. Everyone in England keeps moaning, “Why are you not playing here?” We’ve rectified that; we’re playing there in July. I think, live, what’s great is that you get to play all your best songs back to back, and it can be a very powerful thing.

Tears for Fears and Daryl Hall & John Oates, with Allen Stone, 7 p.m. Saturday, July 15, Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre, 6350 Greenwood Plaza Boulevard, $35-$149.50, 303-220-7000.
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Chris Callaway