Published on September 16th, 2004 | by Gerry Galipault0
Closest thing to a ‘Happy Ending’
Their wives didn’t have a hand in it. Their children didn’t convince them. Their many fans couldn’t cajole them.
In the end, it was an accountant who helped put estranged former Tears For Fears band mates Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith back on speaking terms and together again as friends and recording partners.
“We hadn’t spoken to each other in nearly 10 years,” Smith said recently of Orzabal. “We ended up having to speak to each other because of the (financial) dealings, obviously, and we had to talk about those. I think the general feeling for both of us after our (first phone) conversation was: What the hell were we all worried about? Ten years later, it seemed ridiculous that we had fallen out to that degree where we didn’t even speak to each other, especially with the history we had with each other.
“Through the years, our accountant – who’s been with us for 20 years now – was going on about, ‘You know, you two should really talk to each other. This isn’t good.’ Eventually, he just wore us down. I really feel the emotional side of it was, we felt there was some unfinished business.”
That bridge-mending phone call led to dinner with Orzabal during Smith’s next visit to their native England, and dinner eventually led to the recording studio, where they’re most comfortable.
“Of course, what happens with us is that our conversations always come around to music,” Smith said. “We have very similar musical tastes. Before we knew it, we decided to try writing together and see if there was anything there. It was a very relaxed affair. If nothing came good of it, that was that; if something good came of it, we would take it one step at a time, and if we wanted to make a record, we’d do that.
Picking up where the Beatles-and-Beach Boys-influenced “The Seeds of Love” left off in 1989, Orzabal and Smith created “Everybody Loves a Happy Ending,” their first album of new material in 15 years. Along with the power-pop feel of the first single, “Call Me Mellow,” ” the centerpiece of the album- released Sept. 14 through Universal Music Enterprises – is “Closest Thing to Heaven,” a prime example of how these two childhood friends connect musically.
“Every song on this album was written on the acoustic guitar and piano before we even tried to produce them, and that’s the first time we’ve done that, sat in a room together and really tried to concentrate on the songs,” Smith said. “The production side, we already know how to do that. Early on, we decided everything on this album would be written acoustically, and if the song didn’t stand up, then we’re not going to record it – we wouldn’t even attempt to record it because then it would be a waste of time.
“Tons of songs fell by the wayside because they weren’t memorable enough. We don’t record anything or say ‘We have to put this down on tape so we don’t forget it.’ My premise is, if we forget it, it wasn’t good enough. If I don’t come back the next day with it in my head, then the song wasn’t good enough.”
The hardest part was the writing process. It proved to be a logistical challenge, since Smith is based in Los Angeles and Orzabal lives in England.
“We’d spend a few weeks together, and we were also deeply into other things we were doing at the time,” Smith said. “We’d take a few months off; I’d come back to L.A. and he’d go back to England. Then we would get together for a few more weeks. We did that over a period of a couple of years. We started fully recording April last year. And once all the songs were written, (recording) only took six months.”
The two secured a deal with Arista Records, then helmed by L.A. Reid, but then BMG went through major changes and Reid eventually resigned and became president of Island Def Jam.
So much for the happy ending: The album was put on hold.
“Everyone’s done everything they can to keep this record from coming out,” Smith said, with a laugh. “It was weird and sad, to a certain degree, but everything happens for a reason and I’m quite content at where we are now.
“It was great having L.A. Reid around while we were making the record; when I say ‘around,’ I mean he wasn’t around, which was fantastic. L.A.’s just a big music fan; he heard the initial four songs we did and said ‘Fantastic. I’m signing you,’ and we met with him twice during the course of the record. We couldn’t have worked with anyone better for us, because we have a definite idea of what we want to do. We know how to produce. What we wanted was someone who was objective enough to say if that wasn’t quite right, and (L.A.) did on a couple of occasions and he was right. But most of the time, he’d say, ‘This is great. Carry on.’ “
After Reid’s departure, Smith says, the new leadership told him and Orzabal that they loved the album and still wanted to release it. But that tune slowly changed over the next few months.
“Then we realized that the new people weren’t as into it as L.A. was,” Smith said. “We then said, ‘No, we don’t want to do it. We’d like our record back, please.’ Of course, that takes a bunch of months because lawyers have to get involved.”
Around the same time, Tears For Fears resurfaced on the pop map in Britain, purely by coincidence. A somber reworking of the group’s first hit, “Mad World,” by singer Gary Jules and pianist-producer Michael Andrews, came out of leftfield and topped the U.K. chart last Christmas.
“It was all nothing we planned, even though the British press at the time heard we had gotten back together and said we had gotten back together because of the Gary Jules record,” Smith said. “The Gary Jules record is, what, three years old? It was released before we even started this record. It was in a movie called ‘Donnie Darko.’
“I thought their take on the song was amazing. It’s not confused by production. It’s raw, raw emotion, and his vocal on it is just stunning. Obviously, somebody got the emotion behind the song. He and Michael Andrews obviously understood the emotion and it comes across.”
Hell froze over for the Eagles, and now for Tears For Fears. The duo is even touring again. It’s something that Smith never imagined happening a few years ago, but time – and space – truly can heal wounds.
“Like brothers, you have this love for each other, but really there’s always a jealousy there,” Smith said. “You can butt heads at times. It’s like with my brothers – you fight with them all the time, they’d piss you off, they’d annoy you, but as you get older, you kind of accept the fact that that’s the way they are and you deal with it. And life becomes easier because you give them the room to be who they are, instead of constantly trying to change them or wishing they’d be someone else.
“The same goes for us. The difference between us working now and working then is that both of us then wished the other one was someone else and now we’re quite content to let each other be and actually appreciate each other for our strengths.”
Having families and personal lives certainly helps, he says.
“You have something at home that’s far bigger and far more important than any of this business crap. The upbringing of my two daughters is far more important than any Tears For Fears record. Now making music is more enjoyable because it’s a release and a joy. That’s the way it should be.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: ” ‘Slade Alive.’ They were my favorite band when I was young. They were a rock band that wrote pop songs.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I think me and Roland went to the first same concert, when we were first friends. It was, believe it or not, AC/DC and Motorhead. I think we were 14. I remember it was pretty fucking loud; it was so loud, it was ridiculous, but it was in Bath, our hometown, in this pavilion that was like an aircraft hangar.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “To be honest, being a member of Tears For Fears can be the best and worst job you’ve ever had,” he said, laughing. “In the mid to late ’80s, it was the worst job, but then I was smart enough to leave and try and get a life. When you become a musician, it’s because you want to be a musician and you want to write songs, you want to play and you want to record. And when you’re young and stupid, you kind of have dreams of being famous. When you do become famous, you go, ‘Oh, my God, this sucks.’ That lack of personal life when I lived in England just drove me nuts. I moved to New York where nobody cared.”
ON THE WEB: www.tearsforfears.net.
BWF (before we forget): The Tears For Fears album/DVD discography – “The Hurting” (Mercury, 1983); “Songs From the Big Chair” (1985); “The Seeds of Love” (Fontana/Mercury, 1989); “Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82-92)” (1992); “Elemental” (Mercury, 1993); “Raoul and the Kings of Spain” (Epic, 1995); “Shout: The Very Best of Tears For Fears” (Mercury/UME, 2001); “20th Century Masters: The Best of Tears For Fears – The DVD Collection” (Universal, 2004); “Everybody Loves a Happy Ending” (Hip-O/UME, 2004).