By Ira Robbins
In September 1989, the week Tears for Fears released their third album, The Seeds of Love, I interviewed both members of the duo separately for a short feature published in Rolling Stone that November under the headline “Fear of Finishing: How Tears for Fears Took Four Years to Sprout The Seeds of Love.” (Had an editor pored over my interviews, the title might well have included the word “Fussy.”)
I wasn’t the world’s biggest TeFoFe fan; I found their records both compelling and off-putting: strong melodies, great production, opaque, sometimes pompous lyrics. I don’t recall being especially curious about them until I heard how they had approached making the new album, which involved having a large cast of guest musicians record countless takes of the songs, editing the best bits together, note by note, bringing in different players to add overdubs and then replacing their sounds with samples from other players. As good a record as it is, their Frankenstein creation (including a ten-month false start) took years to complete and seemed to me a most awful way to craft pop music.
So I had a lot of questions. In addition, I was intrigued by the relationship between Roland Orzabal and bassist Curt Smith, which struck me as not too dissimilar from the creative dynamic between Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey: the songwriter and the valued but expendable colleague, co-dependents but not co-equals, inextricably bound together in an unbalanced pairing, with one reliant on the other in great ways and the other in less obvious ways. (And let’s not even start with Art Garfunkel or Andrew Ridgely.) After they split up in 1991, clearly delineating the imbalance, Orzabal released two solo albums under the band’s name.
As I wrote in Music in a Word Volume 1, Roland struck me as “a full-on British snob: self-assured to the point of smugness, a bit condescending and chilly. ” In the piece, I credited him as possessing “the ingenuous arrogance of the truly self-righteous.” So, not exactly likable, but in retrospect, exactly what I might have expected from his music. But also “thoughtful, smart and articulate.” The book contains the article as well as the complete transcript of my conversation with him.
I can’t say I’ve given the band much thought since then, so I was surprised to learn of another album on the way. Although The Tipping Point won’t be released until February ’22 (points for advance planning, yeah?), the title track is already out as a single.
Welcoming the duo back to the stage, the Guardian ran an illuminating profile that explained how they got here. Reading that prompted me to fish out my q&a with Curt Smith, who I recall as a pleasant, down-to-earth fellow who was (and evidently still is) married to his second wife, an English record company publicist of my acquaintance.
Although he waited until we were nearly done to share his occasional deep displeasure at doing interviews, Smith did his duty, ably and exhaustively discussing the pointillist creation of The Seeds of Love in detail.
Curt Smith of Tears for Fears, 26 September 1989
How do you divide up responsibilities?
It’s hard for either of us to analyze it because we’ve been doing it for 15 years, since we were kiddies. You just slip into a natural role. He’s the more artistic of the two of us — I’m not saying I’m not at all, but he gets quite heavily and deeply into it. I get into things on less a level than he does. I do take care of more of the business side of it, and like to take a hand in it, otherwise you have someone else running it for you. I’m not happy letting that happen, because you tend to get exploited if that happens.
Both of us sing, both of us play. We’re not particularly precious about that — we get in other people to play the same instruments as us, ’cause they might be better for the song. We don’t fight over who sings what, because that comes quite naturally. We work with a lot of different people, so it’s really hard to pinpoint anything. I suppose what makes the album quite diverse is the fact that we’ve used so many different people.
I infer Roland does not have the same rights to tamper with your bass parts as with other instruments.
That’s probably true. It’s the same with the singing and playing when we do our bits. We’re fussy enough as people, ourselves, to be conscious of making sure that it’s pretty good. So we don’t need direction particularly: we have out own direction.
Are you as fussy as he is?
Pretty much so. Maybe he’s a bit fussier in the sense of the technicalities. I’m not particularly into the Fairlight and things like that. I don’t operate those things, because I don’t find them particularly inspiring. Roland likes to get into it more, which is fine by me. The whole thing about the working relationship the two of us have is that between the two of us we manage to get everything done, which is the important thing.
It’s a group effort. It’s very democratic. When we’re in the studio we always need a third person — we need a David Bascombe — because a two-to-one vote will win. If it’s just the two of us and we disagree on something, which actually very rarely happens, we need someone else there. We put the project before egos.
Outside musical interests?
I’ve done a few performances as guest vocalist for some things. The Nelson Mandela benefit last year. I’ve done a couple of appearances with friends of mine, Was (Not Was), just for fun. When we’re in the studio making a record we normally don’t do anything but make the record.
The past four years?
We haven’t been working during the whole time, obviously. The uppermost thought has been about what do we do next. The first thing was, let’s take some time off and think about this. The whole thing was waiting until we were inspired to do another record. It’s nice that, with success we had that luxury; we didn’t need to do another record. It allows us time to be inspired to make music. It’s nice not to have to think of it as a job and to go in [just] because it’s expected of us.
How do you work out artistic direction?
It’s another hard thing to describe. I’m obviously a big fan of Roland’s songwriting. We got together at different points throughout that year off and went through the songs, how we want the album to be, what kind of stuff we want to be doing. I was very much into his writing with Nicky [Holland], that brought an extra dimension to our music, which is great. Then we worked on all the arrangements together — how the song works — and the main point, the production, afterwards, is how we want it to sound, who we want involved on the record, who do we want playing. How do we approach this — do backing tracks in the studio? Or, with this song, it’s going to be easier, work better, if we start with a rhythm program and build on top of that. Or this song’s going to work better if we do it live in a studio, it’s gonna give it spontaneity, which it needs to bring it to life.
It’s a whole process of how you bring the songs to life. How you do them in the best way so that, one, you get the point across and, two, it becomes musically interesting.
Did you enjoy the three weeks working with a live band?
Yeah. That was good because it brought inspiration, it brought the songs to life. It added extra dimensions to them which wouldn’t have been there had we done them ourselves with just a Fairlight or started with a drum machine. It added spontaneity, which was great. There are parts of the songs which came about due to playing live. One example is the jazz piano in the middle of “Badman’s Song.” The band were getting bored performing it so Oleta [Adams] decided to go off on a jazz solo. It was great, one of those moments you couldn’t capture if you were just sitting around a machine meticulously constructing this backing track. It could end up sterile. “Badman’s Song” demanded some live playing. We just tried to do the best for each song.
Would more live performing or recording have been helpful?
I don’t know. It may well have done, all I know is we didn’t do it that way. It felt right, the way we did everything. The only way you can approach it is if it feels right. It felt right to do that period of time with a live band, then it felt right after that to construct the backing tracks from the X amount of takes and put it together. I don’t think these were our conscious decisions — you just do whatever you feel you have to do to get the record done. I think we wouldn’t have got the results as quickly had we gone on and done for it longer — I think we maybe would have come across the problem of confusion. When we think we’ve got something right, it’s good to work on it from there on and get it completed. It seemed that a few of the songs weren’t gonna work that way.
We did attempt, while the band was in, doing other tracks live, but you immediately know if it’s not right: this doesn’t feel right with this set of musicians, or with this musician it’s not his style to do that kind of stuff. That’s when you go away — with “Woman in Chains,” we put in the rhythm track first and then got Phil Collins in to come and play on top of it, because that’s the way it felt good.
That’s quite the opposite of a spontaneous recording process…
We are the way we are. As individuals, we’re pretty complex. Consequently, our records will be. It’s finding the right elements and the right balance. I honestly believe we’ve found it for this record. What you’re talking about would be a problem if you picked up that album, you heard it and thought, “My god, this is self-indulgent nonsense.” Then, yes, we could be accused of doing it wrongly. I don’t believe it sounds like self-indulgent nonsense. I believe we’ve captured spontaneity, we’ve just put it all on one track. We spent the time afterwards editing all the spontaneity together, so we got all of it on one track as opposed to 30 different takes and bits of takes we weren’t happy with because it wasn’t right.
We are fussy individuals, and it is a dichotomy, and it is quite hard to strike the balance and it takes us a while. If we were maybe smarter and were better at what we did then it wouldn’t take us as long, but it’s something that we’re gonna learn over the years. To capture the rawness of seeing Oleta, being inspired by her, is not necessarily limited to playing live. But we like our records to sound good, and if we just went in and banged them out I don’t they’d be that good. Also, taking this long and doing different ways of doing things is experimental for us, and we are still experimenting, still finding our way musically. That’s the reason it can appear to be self-indulgent. I don’t believe it really is, in a sense, other than I would just label it as fussy. We are fussy. I care about music, so that makes me fussy. No question about that. I stand accused, I’m guilty.
Do you know of any other artists who work at this level of fussiness?
Peter Gabriel is one.
Was he around when you were working at his studio?
He popped in now and again. He liked the stuff we were doing. He loved “Woman in Chains,” he heard that first, but then it would be pretty obvious he would like that because he’d probably hear the influences of himself in it.
You’ve got to do whatever feels comfortable, and we will get accused of being self-indulgent, of being overly fussy, but you have to feel comfortable making music. I have to be happy doing it. I’m not happy just going in and banging it out. So it seems a stupid thing to do just so that I wouldn’t get accused of being the other way.
I’m happy working this way: it’s comfortable, it’s relaxed. We’re not in the studio all day going, “Oh fuck, we’ve got to get it this way…” We work from 12, 1 o’clock to late at night and we take weekends off. It’s a sensible way of working for me, it’s a relaxed way of working. I would think it a problem if it was like an angst-ridden process — that’s the wrong kind of overindulgence. As it is, this is an album that was easy to make. It wasn’t a problem once we started producing ourselves the beginning of last year. Time-consuming because we don’t have a set band, we are experimenting, we get in all these different people to see what works, which makes it time-consuming. Again, I’m quite happy working that way. It feels comfortable for me, we’re both relaxed in the environment. We like being in the studio for this time, we like playing around, we like getting different people on tracks, working with different people that inspire us. It just feels right.
Playing on one’s own LP
We have these eight songs. We set about finding out what’s the best way to record them so that we’re happy with them. There’s a lot of wasted time, but it’s still learning — myself and Roland are still learning. It would be easy enough to go in and do an album, just put it down — go in, play, do it and release it — but because we’re still learning and still experimenting it’s impossible to do.
It’s just the two of us. It all takes time. The time-consuming side of it, and appearing to be overly indulgent, some of the time it’s a subconscious effort to stay away from the industry. We need the space, we need the time. And we have to fill the time up, we have to be doing something. But we don’t want to release a record yet, because we’re not ready to come back into the public eye. We’re quite happy achieving this anonymity, the normality of everyday life.
How much work went into the first two albums?
A lot. They took as long as this one — from what you hear as the finished product. We made some mistakes early on on this project, but the finished product you hear took a year and four months, from the beginning of last year. Which is the same pretty much as [the first two LPs].
This process was far more intricate. If we’d have done this on the other albums it would have taken even longer. Maybe we’re just a bit better at our jobs now than we were before.
Was it recorded to 32 tracks? 64 tracks?
Every track pretty much on this album went 64-track in the end. That wasn’t because it was getting overly complex and we were putting too much on a track. It was pure laziness as to not make decisions as we go along, so we just kept everything to sort out when we were mixing. So there’s not 64 tracks of music on any one track on this album. Half of them we didn’t use, we had them there just in case we wanted them. It was actually quite nice, ’cause at the end we started discovering things we’d forgotten we’d done a year ago. “That was good — forgot about that!” I like to stay happy and fresh while we’re recording. The methods that we employ keep us thinking and mentally agile.
Is this the most highly mixed album of all time?
You could have mixed it loads of different ways. We like to leave our options open to the last minute and see what we feel works.
Can you describe the chronology of the last four years?
Touring for a year up through the end of ’85. The beginning of ’86 we did a remix for “Mothers Talk” and a few different [?] and then we took ’86 off. We said, “Right. We don’t want to work. We don’t feel inspired to make a record so we’re not gonna bother at the moment.”
I went home to rediscover my friends and my family. I wanted to return to normality, so my way of doing it was to buy this old big house [in Bath, England] that needed tons and tons of work, ’cause it was a wreck, and then spent most of the year just doing that…traveling, enjoying it, just relaxing really and getting my head together again because it was a mad period of touring while the success happened very quickly and in a big way. It really does do your head in, and I needed time to reflect on what we’d been doing, on what went on and find out ways to improve on it so it wasn’t as hard next time ’round.
Roland that year got together with Nicky and was writing songs. There was a couple that came out of touring and stuff that he was doing. Roland had moved to London, and I would go to London maybe once a month or something and go through songs with him and see if I liked them or didn’t like them or whatever, And basically try and help him along in the sense of giving him confidence. You need your partner to come along now and then and say, “Yes, you’re doing the right thing. That’s exactly what we should be doing next ’cause it’s new and it’s different and it’s fresh and interesting.”
At the end of ’86 we decided to try new producers: Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley. That didn’t last that long — three weeks to a month at most. We liked their work on The Teardrop Explodes and Elvis Costello. We met Clive and thought he’d be a good person because he’s a musician as well and he could bring that added thing into the studio. Through no fault of ours or theirs, just a mixture of events, it didn’t jell, it just didn’t work. We weren’t happy with it. So we knocked that on the head and got back together with Chris Hughes.
What was Hughes’ long-term role?
He was there from the start, and a big help. This time we just had to break free and work on our own. It’s the only way we were gonna grow, the only way we were going to turn into adults. And not have someone breathing down our neck, telling us what to do.
What wasn’t there with Langer / Winstanley?
Something. I really don’t know what. It’s hard to put a finger on it. It just didn’t feel right. I don’t think they understood it. I don’t think anyone understood it, apart from us, which is why we had to produce ourselves. I think the producers were trying to pull in the reins a bit and not let us go off on too big a tangent. They wanted it to be somewhat similar to the last record because they thought maybe there’s no way you’ll be successful again if you do something that’s completely different than what you’ve done before. We felt we were being held back, and we wanted to rush ahead. We experiment so much. They didn’t want to experiment so much. We rush ahead, sometimes blindly, but it’s good to do.
[Prior to that] we did spend a little time with Chris [Hughes] and Ian [Stanley], but it wasn’t that long. Because they couldn’t find a right way of working, because they couldn’t put their finger on the way that the songs should be, they blamed it on the material, which I felt was completely unjustified, ’cause the material was great. We just had to find a way of doing it well. Then we decided we’d work with Chris on his own and see if that worked. Due to our own stupidity, we spent a ten-month period that we scrapped.
We had to go through that — we had to re-employ the old way of working to realize that it was definitely wrong. I think the reason it took so long is because it’s a very comfortable situation. We’d always worked with Chris, and so it felt kind of alright being in the studio with him every day, going through the same processes. It was so familiar that we kidded ourselves that it was right, when I don’t think it was.
There was a gradual realization that we had to do something, ’cause this wasn’t going anywhere. Eventually, me and Roland sat down — it seemed like we hadn’t really talked about what we thought about what we were doing, we were just going through the motions of doing it anyway. [I said] Are you inspired by this, do you like it? And he’d be like, not really, do you? No I don’t, I don’t think it’s that great, I don’t think we’re doing this right. So we had a discussion about what to do then and we decided we wanted to just knock it on the head and say we don’t want to continue. We need to reassess this.
What did you have to show for it at that point after 10 months of work?
Not much, nothing finished. We had backing tracks put down, things like that. Same set of songs.
How did it sound that made it unacceptable to you?
Sterile. It was meticulously put together on a machine and it was very clean and nice, but it wasn’t great. We decided we wanted to produce ourselves, more because it seemed myself and Roland were the ones that wanted to do something different and no one seemed to agree with us, so it was a necessity to do it ourselves. We wanted to employ lots of musicians and add an extra dimension to what we do, and we couldn’t do that on our own. We wanted the inspiration of working with other people, we wanted the other dimension of the music that they’ll bring to it. This album is not just mine and Roland’s — it belongs to all the people that played on it as well.
We stopped working with Hughes around October, November ’87. We started again at the beginning of ’88. In that gap we decided on who we wanted to work with and picked tracks they’d be good on. Also we made the decision that we wanted a female co-singer for two songs and went back to Kansas to find Oleta Adams again. That was at the end of ’87. Beginning in January of last year, we assembled a band in the studio and started recording.
Had you been in touch with Oleta prior to that?
No, we didn’t even meet on the night we saw her in ’85. We just remembered her. We both went back in December, and she was in a different hotel bar. We called ahead and said we were coming.
Did she know who you were?
No. She bought our records after finding that we were coming. She realized who we were when she got the records, in the sense that the songs were familiar: she’d heard “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Shout,” but didn’t pinpoint the name ’cause she doesn’t buy that kind of music most of the time.
Did any of the musicians you wanted decline to participate?
No, that was the nicest thing. We got absolutely everyone we asked to play on the record. I guess that’s another luxury of success is that they know you, so they don’t mind playing on your record, even down to Jon Hassell, who I thought we might have problems getting. He just said yeah, fine and came over and he was wonderful.
The ones we started with were Manu [Katché], Carole [Steele], Oleta [Adams], Pino [Palladino], Neil Taylor and Simon Clark in the studio at one time: those were the ones that worked together. Roland and I didn’t play with them. We let them do most of it. We went in and jammed now and again, but we were at that time in the role of producers.
How did they learn the material?
We just played it to them, and then Roland or I would go in and sing along. And then they got to know it all. Then we said to them, just play it. Once they were familiar with the tracks, and got to know the arrangements. Some of the arrangements were relatively complex, ’cause there’s a lot of different parts. It took a while to learn the arrangements, but once they’d learned it and were comfortable with it, we said play it and we’ll tape it each time you do it until we think we’ve got enough. I think we did three weeks, at the Townhouse.
We didn’t want them to worry about what we were going to do with it afterwards, we just wanted them to play the way they felt. We didn’t restrict them as to what they could do at all because we wanted them to play around.
Did anyone voice reservations about being part of this experiment?
I don’t believe so. At times it wasn’t that easy for them because they knew we were going to make, effectively, a compilation afterwards so at times I would imagine if anything it got a bit tedious doing the song over and over again. It can get a bit of a pain but then what comes out of that is that you get a nice bit of ad-libbing in the middle of songs and stuff.
The more they played it the more they got into it and the more they started playing around, which was good. I don’t think they felt it was a cold way of doing it. We didn’t ask them to do the same take over and over again. They knew to experiment on the takes. Don’t make every take the same — that would get boring. Just play. I think it would have been for a musician singly if they were in there doing it, but these people were actually having fun playing together. They didn’t mind at all; it was like a long soundcheck. I think it was three weeks altogether, seven or eight hours a day, and good-sized breaks in between. We did go about it in a pretty relaxed fashion. We weren’t there cracking the whip, ’cause we’re not like that.
Piecing it together
Because we are quite fussy about it and we want to capture the best all on one take, there’s no way you’re going to get six musicians to do a brilliant take all at the same time and it’s brilliant all the way through. If something’s wrong, we don’t want it there. We just want to get the best bits. So we [went through] all the takes, just taking it out and putting the best bits on one take.
One thing we did keep from Chris [Hughes]’s production thing was the “Sowing the Seeds” drumming, ’cause he does the best Ringo Starr impersonations. Ian played the organ solo on that as well. Carole came back and did percussion tracks and stuff, Jon Hassell came in, Phil Collins, Neil Taylor would come in and do guitars. Robbie McIntosh wasn’t involved in those first sessions, we didn’t get to know him until later. He came in and did overdubs. If there was a part missing from the song, we’d search in our minds for the person who would be perfect for it and go about getting them.
Were Tears for Fears — that is, you and Roland — also “the perfect” musicians? What was your role?
Yeah, “Seeds” being one. Playing and singing was for us, we did enough of that. We put the project before the ego. We want, at the end of the day, to just get the best results, that’s all we want. We want an album we think we did a good job on.
Did it take from February 1988 to July ’89 to edit eight songs?
Not solidly, but pretty much so. We had breaks. We wanted to clear our heads and get out of the studio. We finished it in June. All during that time we were being experimental. It wasn’t us being indulgent in one track and keep working at it, keep working at it, it was us trying something and it not working and so take that off and try this. It was us finding our feet during that time and getting comfortable with this way of working. It was new to us. You can’t say, “Yeah we’re done, put it out” if I’m not happy with it. I can’t do that.
Sequencing the album?
That was just done here in New York when we were cutting — two, three days ’til we got the order we were happy with.
I think the reason we were happy with this order is cause it’s so similar to the last album: the first song is the second single, the second song is the album track, the third song is the first single, the fourth song is another single. Turn over the other side and the first song is a bit more ethereal, kind of loose (which was “I Believe” on the last one), going into weirdness, which is “Broken,” which I can compare to the instrumental middle section of “Swords and Knives.” We even have the applause, going into another track that was effectively a single and ending up with “Listen,” which is very much the last track of an album, quite ethereal again, which is “Famous Last Words.” So I think that’s probably why it was comfortable.
How much time did you spend mixing?
There wasn’t a period where we had finished everything and started mixing. More to satisfy the record company that we did have something, at the end of last year we got [Bob] Clearmountain in. We had finished “Woman in Chains,” we felt we’d done the recording. The rest of the tracks weren’t ready to mix yet, apart from “Year of the Knife,” which he did as well. The first track finished mixed was before Christmas, and the rest of the time was finishing the other tracks and then mixing them and finishing more and mixing them. We didn’t mix tracks together very much.
What was Bob Clearmountain’s initial response to the project?
Confusion. Out of sheer laziness, we’d kept everything, but everything wasn’t intended to be on the track, we just kept our options open. He got there and got 64 tracks and he was like, “What!? What’s this? Where does this go?” It was hard, because he hadn’t been there for the recording process. “Woman in Chains” is a more understandable song — it’s not particularly off the wall. It’s pretty straightforward in its musicality. Everything definitely had a place. That one was OK for him, that was easy enough to do.
“Year of the Knife” was a bit hard. In the end, that was actually mixed by Dave Bascombe and Clearmountain. We edited two mixes together. There’s an edit in there where it goes out of Clearmountain’s mix and into Bascombe’s mix.
We were in the studio at the time Clearmountain was working on it. You’re in there initially to show him the cuts, to show him what’s where and what isn’t going to be in and whatever. And then you go away for half a day and leave him to it for a bit, ’cause you should hear what he has to do and if you’re there all the time you might as well do it yourself. We just came in later and liked it, but there might be a couple of things we didn’t like, so see if he could change those.
Did you tinker with “Woman in Chains” afterwards?
No. It was definitely the right mix.
How long did your own mixes take?
The average would normally be a couple of days (each).
How did you gauge the state of a track?
You normally go across the board, left to right, and then back again. You start with this and this, and they work together, but then you put this in and that doesn’t work. There’s not a set method. You normally start with the drums. You put the drums up and you try and get a sound on the drums, but you’ll probably change that later ’cause it might not fit with something else on the track, or might get in the way. It’s a question of frequencies, really, so the track is clear. Sometimes if the drum has this frequency in it and so did that, you suddenly get a mess around here. Just tidying it up
We did some quick mixes and took them home. Everyone is familiar with a sound system, and it’s not the one in the studio, it’s usually the one at home. We took home the first mix and picked out the faults in it. The desk is still set up, so the second day is just correcting the things you heard at home wrong and then it’s finished. The bulk of the work was done at Mayfair, in London.
How much time did you spend in London?
Most of the time. Most of the album was recorded in Roland’s house. With the live band, we had to go into a big studio because of the noise level, but most of the creative work and the construction was ’88, in the studio in Roland’s house. For ’89, we’ve been in Mayfair, finishing it. Two different environments. We find it hard to be creative in a studio environment when you know you’re paying X a day and the pressure’s on you to get stuff created. That’s not conducive to a creative atmosphere. Going in a studio is good when you know what you’re doing there and just get it done.
I don’t know. Half of it is an investment into the studio, ’cause we bought all the equipment for Roland’s house. A million dollars, maybe. But half of that is in solid recording equipment, which is still there.
How much stick did you get from the label?
Not much. They pretty much left us to our own devices. Not that they had tons of choice in the matter. What were they going to do? They couldn’t physically make us make a record that they wanted, or in a style that they wanted. Obviously, the fact we’re successful helped us in doing what we felt was right.
They’ve been OK. They’ve not really pressured us. There might have been a time when they got a bit concerned over the amount of time we’re spending and the amount of money in recording, but it’s our career. If we’re not happy with it, then it’s not going to come out. If it goes wrong, it’s only us to suffer. Record companies don’t. [Uhhhh….that’s hardly the case.] They’re anonymous people in the background. The one to suffer inevitably is the artist, ’cause he’s the one with his face on it, who is labeled as being Tears for Fears. So if we were going to make mistakes, we were going to make them ourselves and do what we felt was good. They were OK. I think they’re better than most.
They never thought of getting rid of us. We have a good working relationship with them, so we have no desire to change. Nothing like that was ever considered. They were coming down to the studio, and they thought what we were doing was great.
Do you ever hate Roland’s work?
Most of the time he’s aware of it before I say it. There are times when he’s unsure if it’s really good or crap, so it’ll be my job to say it’s shit. I’m normally pleasantly surprised. He improves. He’s growing and he’s getting better.
“Sowing the Seeds of Love” is very different for you…
I thought it was fun. I hope people get the humor as well as the political content. It appears that most do. It’s supposed to be ironic — in the sense that it’s politics couched in humor. It is an oddity. It appeals to some and not to others. That’s fine. I like it. It was a great exercise. It tested us.
It just came straight out. I thought it was there. The first listen I had I started singing it. Roland played me this cassette that he’d quickly thrown together the day before, and it hit those chords in the chorus and I just went [sings] “Sowing the seeds of love.” The only thing that was on the chorus was “Anything can happen when you’re sowing the seeds of love,” which Roland sings in the chorus — there was no other melody. It’s a very small bit of melody. It’s amazing how off the top of your head you probably came up with the most commercial thing on the whole record. You couldn’t have worked it out: those things just come.
Whoever writes gets the publishing. That’s the fair thing to do. We share the ownership of that one.
Nicky Holland’s involvement.
It added an extra dimension of someone who had a far greater chordal knowledge than Roland. Some of the chords in the harmonic conversion she came up with are just great. It added a depth that was not there before.
I have done, now and again. It’s not a big part of my life. I was invited to do it once and found it exciting, so I’ve done it a few times. It’s just a break from doing the same thing everyday, day in and day out. I think maybe it’s another subconscious need for adrenaline in my body. You don’t get much sitting around thinking all the time.
I get the excitement when we take it on the road, but a record is something you answer to for the rest of your life. I like to spend a lot of care and effort trying to make it good and right.
Lessons for the future
I can’t plan that far in advance. I know we’re going out on tour. By the end of the tour I probably won’t think the way I think now. We don’t have a formula, that’s why our music tends to be different each time we make an album. We’ll learn more when we’re off on tour. We may be inspired to just take the band straight in the studio and bang out an album. Who knows? Or we may just disappear and do nothing for eight years. I’ll think about it the end of next July and see what I feel like doing. If the album bombs, then we’ll have to make another one quickly. It’ll teach us something: one, we’re out of touch and, two, you’ve got to make another record quickly.
Stardom’s two-edged sword (freedom vs. responsibility)
It’s not easy integrating the two. I’ll lean towards the freedom it brings me, but I can’t ignore the other side, because there’s some validity in it. I don’t want to become a piece of public property. The two of us are comfortable in the role of musicians and making records; we’re not comfortable in the role of popstars. When you become like Mr. Popstar, it’s not us. So you tend to shy away from stuff you’re not comfortable with, but we have to take it into consideration, we have to take in on board. But we would lean away from that side of it.
If we didn’t have the success, we wouldn’t have had the time [to make this LP]. We couldn’t have done it the way we wanted to. We would have had to compromise and do it to a formula, effectively.
How rough was the last tour?
Bad enough that at one stage I booked my flight home from America. Everything happened so quickly. It wasn’t the playing at night that bothered me — that was fine — it was just what they made me do all day long, which was interviews. I would get up at 8 in the morning, start interviews at 9, till 4 in the afternoon, soundcheck, eat, play, try and sleep, get up the next morning, another town — the same thing again. It just did my head in completely. It’s completely exhausting, mentally and physically.
Did Roland participate?
It just works out that I do the majority of interviews. It’s another thing where we share our responsibilities as a duo. He prefers me to be doing most of that kind of stuff. I don’t mind doing it most of the time, but it did get troublesome on tour. I got to the drastic step where I’d booked my flight home — I didn’t want any part of it anymore. I valued my sanity too much. My manager flew in and said, “Stay for a week and if you feel the same in a week’s time then you can go home.” He met with the record company and said you’ve got to cut everything down by half, or you won’t get any, ’cause he won’t be here. That calmed things down.
Your body needs to know where it is — some time off during the day so you can look in the window and say OK, I’m in San Francisco. Go out, get some air, have some friend, spend some time with the people in the band, your friends or whatever. You tend to get alienated. The only time I’d see them was briefly at soundcheck and then in the evening when we played. After that I’d be whisked away. I wanted to be part of a live band. My now-ex-wife came out now and again, but only to the more exotic places. I felt quite alone, ’cause I was the one that had to be off all day long doing this shit. I didn’t feel a part of the tour. It was confusing. I didn’t feel like I was on tour. We’d been out four, five months then. We’d only just got to the States when it got bad. We got to America and by the first date we played in the States we had a number-one single, so everyone wanted us. And they expected me to meet everyone and talk to everyone.
Looking ahead to the next tour
I’ve asked people not to do it to me this time. Please do not make me do interviews all day. I’m excited about the music this time, going out on tour, and the fact that we have a ten-piece band rather than the machinery we took out last time. It should be fun, it should be really good.
The main things you want to make sure are, one, you’re with a great band, and they’re nice people to be around, and, two, you don’t do the interviews unless they’re incredibly important, so you keep them to an absolute minimum. You play less dates in a given time. I’d like there to be two days a week when I’m not doing anything so I can know where I am and I can go out and shop. You get yourself an incredibly efficient tour manager. I’ve spent the last two months just doing publicity. Just let me tour when I’m touring.
We’re still waiting to confirm on a drummer, keyboard player and two backing vocalists. We have an idea who they might be. The other six are myself and Roland, 0leta, Carole Steele, Neil Taylor and a guy called William Gregory, a saxophonist who was on our last tour.
There will be revamped versions of songs from the first two albums. We’re trying to keep the [theatrical side] to a minimum. I don’t believe in huge stage shows and pyrotechnics. I’d rather there just be ten people playing a gig. Big shows tend to alienate you from an audience. I don’t feel comfortable with them much.