Tears for Fears play the hits, go indie, and reveal what led to ‘The Tipping Point’

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity

KCRW: We’re such fans of The Tipping Point. Can you tell us a bit about what this new record means to you?

Roland Orzabal: I could explain it like this: When we made our first record [1983’s] The Hurting focused very heavily on the experiences of adolescence – the pressures, the sense of isolation, leaving your parents behind and going out into the big bad world. The Hurting is a very personal album. It’s quite an emotional record – a lot of soul baring.

I think you can follow our career up [1989’s] “The Seeds of Love” where you could now see us as strong adults with opinions about the world and egos intact. Life is of course full of ups and downs. At some point you find yourself in a difficult place. And that’s what happened. This has certainly happened to me in the last 7 to 10 years. We’re in a circle.

The Tipping Point has many connections to our first album The Hurting. But it has nothing to do with the traumas of childhood, it has to do with the traumas of life. You can’t escape them. Well, some people do. Some people skate on the surface and leave this planet at the age of 27.

Talk to us a little bit about the development of the sound of Tears for Fears.

KurtSmith: For this record, it’s hard to pinpoint the sound of Tears for Fears. I could only ever describe it as the stuff we can agree on. As far as development goes, I think it took us a while to get to a point where we felt like we had material with depth.

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We’ve spent years collaborating with younger songwriters and producers at the behest of record labels and management to pull us into the 21st century. And it really wasn’t for us. We left with this collection of songs that was an attempt at one thing, a modern sounding hit single. I’m not even sure I know what’s supposed to sound modern, it changes every few months anyway. It’s a pointless pursuit in that sense, but it took us a while to get to a place where we could both sit down [and work the way we wanted to]. We lost our management, bought back the music from the record company and made our own way forward. That was the essence of this album. We finished the album ourselves, we mixed it and we sequenced it. Only then did we start looking for partners. That was the most important part – finding a management company that said, ‘I love it just the way it is. Thank you very much.” And we found a record company that did the same. But we had to get to a point where we thought it was really good to start with.

Roland, when you started writing this you went through some heavy stuff Lyrics for many of the songs that made their way into The Tipping Point. You describe your experience of helping a loved one who is suffering, how did that ultimately shape the album?

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Roland Orzabal: As Curt said, we were stuck in this treadmill trying to find this bright, catchy and modern sounding single as if that was all that mattered. Meanwhile, my home situation was pretty terrible. My wife, now my late wife, struggled with alcoholism and mental illness. Whether the insanity came from alcoholism we will never know. She was a beautiful, charismatic, sexy woman who went downhill very quickly. I’ve written a few songs that are kind of heartbreaking. Songs like “Please Be Happy” talk about someone going through a terrible depression. The tipping point itself when you look at someone who is very close to death – they are not happy subjects. But that’s life.

We have these songs that are very heartfelt. We have songs of redemption. That’s what we do when we play live, we take the audience on a rollercoaster ride. We let them feel these phases of mania live and my demons on the record. And then there’s the reward, the release of a beautiful, catchy pop song.

How have you two kept your balance over the years?

KurtSmith: Provisionally [laughs]. No, really, it’s like any relationship – there are ups and downs that will always happen. But I think with this record, I would say, we’re closer personally and musically than we’ve been in a long time. That feeling of finishing an album, sequencing it and then we both think it’s a great piece of work – to be united in that sense was a fantastic feeling.

Roland Orzabal: I personally think that’s our role. And it’s important, just for society and for people growing up, to show your vulnerability, not just to be male in everything, but to say, ‘Well, you know, we have feelings, and that’s how we express them. ” This is another reason why music is so important, because I think that feelings are very difficult to describe in words. And especially if you share them with someone you don’t know, maybe you can do this with your loved one, but for someone you don’t know. And I think this is where music comes in really handy. There’s a tremendous sense of connectedness that’s especially evident on input shows like the Forum where everyone literally connects emotionally. It’s moving and I think it’s good for our soul and it’s good for our mental health.

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They have produced several zeitgeist-defining hits such as “Shout”, “Mad World” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and many more. What new meaning have these songs revealed lately?

Roland Orzabal: It’s as Curt said the other day, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” was written during the Cold War, back in the ’80s when we were worried about a nuclear one attack and mutually assured destruction. Tune in to the news today and you’ll hear similar stories from current leaders. It’s sad and I hope to God that we can overcome this kind of stupidity.

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