Mike Ragogna: Songs From The Big Chair has been treated with such reverence, expanded into a six-disc super deluxe edition. Even to the artist that must be a little shocking.
Curt Smith: What, the extent to which the company has gone to make something good?
MR: [laughs] No, the huge amount of material on there.
CS: Not really. It’s a big anniversary obviously and this is really the first time when we’ve actually been involved in the process. They’ve released various limited things before and obviously they have the masters so it was beyond our control. This is the first time we’ve sat down with management and said, “Let’s do something we can all be involved in and proud of.”
MR: Listening back to all of this content was there anything that jumped out at you like, “Oh, I forgot about that, that was pretty cool?”
CS: Probably a lot of the remixes. You have to understand that when we finished the album it took off really quickly and we were on this big world tour so sometimes we only heard the remixes once or twice and said, “Okay, that’s great,” and then we’d forget about them because we were busy on tour for about a year. I guess a lot of the remixes I’d forgotten about.
MR: Were there any revelations? This must be the biggest microscope you could apply to the actual album. Were there any conclusions you came to that were different from when you originally recorded it?
CS: I think for us, it’s actually nice to look back and start to appreciate how well that record did and the amount of work we put into it and everyone put into it because I mentioned before that at the time we were so busy we didn’t really have time to appreciate it. Being able to look back and see the things that were happening that we missed at the time because we were too busy was illuminating.
MR: What happened in the birthing that made it come together as a significant work? Or were you not aware at the time that it would be as appreciated as this?
CS: When we record, I don’t think we go in with any set idea of what we’re attempting to achieve. Basically, we’re just trying to go in and make the best record we can. “The Way You Are” was not the best experiment and certainly not the best way to start it. I think after that we realized that we are more of an album band, we want to put a project together as opposed to just one-off singles. There’s no real direction in one song, it’s when you get to play with a whole bunch of songs together that you get a sense of an album and a sense of a project as a whole. For us that was the big revelation I guess. “You know what? We’re an album band. We may have hit singles, but we’re an album band.” Obviously, we had some disagreements; the record company back then wanted things done very quickly because The Hurting was successful. It wasn’t as big in America as everywhere else but it was successful. They wanted us to follow up quickly and we kind of didn’t. There were some battles to be had there.
MR: Roland mentioned a couple of tracks that changed when he got a chance to listen and dig into them with this package. For instance, he felt that “Listen” was a stronger track than he remembered it being. Did you have any similar experiences?
CS: I think I would agree with Roland about “Listen.” But I always kind of liked that track. What I remember most about it really is when we were on tour in ’85 that was our opening track, the music we played before we came on stage. In a big arena, it sounded fantastic. We just started playing for a couple of shows “The Working Hour” again live and you forget how good that song is. We just haven’t played it for a long time.
MR: Yeah, there are b-sides that are more loved than one would expect for a b-side. Given the fact that tracks like those became fan favorites, does it seem like they originally should have gone on the package?
CS: A lot of questions have been asked in recent interviews about, “Why only eight tracks?” We felt that the project was complete at that point in time. Plus you had to remember that CDs had just come in and the primary sales at that point were actually on vinyl so you were limited to twenty-two and a half minutes a side. I don’t think we could’ve fit much more on vinyl at that point in time. Going back to the b-sides, yeah, I love them. They become fan favorites and some of them we like a lot as well. For us, that was the chance to experiment outside of us making an album, and that was always fun to do.
MR: I wonder if a seventh disc might have been a re-imagining of the entire album including the b-sides.
CS: [laughs] I mean I guess it could’ve been. I don’t know where some of them fit in. I think “Listen” is really a bigger version of a b-side we would do.
MR:I grilled Roland about this, so I want your opinion as well. I feel like “Shout” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” became huge hits resonated with everything that was going on in the world when they were released. How do you feel about their relation to that?
CS: Yeah, it was a cold war era, there was a lot of posturing on all sides from America and from Russia and also the UK to be honest. Basically, we’re writing about what we’re experiencing, so that was our viewpoint at the time and it expanded to echo your view on society at the time. In a weird way it comes full circle because the reason you write a song is because society is affecting you and then maybe your song affects society.
MR: Obviously, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” is a reference to America and Russia as you mentioned, but I feel like “Shout” additionally describes your generation’s reaction to Cold War stress.
CS: Yeah, I think so. The fact was that it came about quite a way before it ended. I think it’s us reflecting what we’re seeing in the world. There were a lot of protests, the cold war was coming to a head and it wasn’t going to be much longer until the fall of the Soviet Union happened. Again, I think we’re reflecting what we’re seeing and I’m not sure how much we influenced the way other people think about it.
MR: Yeah. But that’s why I think it also resonated so strongly. You supplied an outlet for people’s thoughts and reactions to what was going on at the time.
CS: I think that in general, the people who are kind of into it are the people who agree with oyu. “Yeah, you’re right.” I don’t necessarily think it’s a new concept for them, I guess we’re just verbalizing it.
MR: There are 5.1 remixes in this collection, did you discover anything from the multis that you forgot about over the years?
CS: Not that jumped ahead of me. To be honest, I think the most interesting part of the package to me is the 5.1 mixes and being able to hear things separated more than they would be in stereo. When that happens there are things that jump out at you that make you say, “Oh, I forgot we put that on there,” because you can hear it clearly now.
MR: Are there parts that your mind is putting together now that you would’ve liked to have put on there originally?
CS: No, not really. I find the fact that I don’t really want to change any of it gratifying. I think that it still stands up. I think if I was recording today I don’t think anyone would say it was a bad recording. Even with all the technology and advancements that have happened since we did that album I still think it’s a great record.
MR: It seems each generation discovers Tears For Fears at some point, especially when “Mad World” was popular in Donnie Darko and now Lorde has covered “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” What do you think of that?
CS: Obviously, it’s very nice for us. I believe again it comes down to content. I think that as generations change each generation relates to an album that you made at that age. The amount of young bands we meet who cite The Hurting as a big influence on them purely because of the lyrical content on that record and subsequently on Songs From The Big Chair they can relate to. We were that age when we did them. I find it gratifying that other artists have embraced our music as the years have gone on and more so that they stretch across a bunch of genres. You mentioned Lorde, obviously we had the Gary Jules version of “Mad World,” which Adam Lambert also covered, and now you have Kanye West using “Memories Fade.” It crosses a bunch of genres which is interesting.
MR: Nice. There is something about the material that keeps bringing people back. There’s a timelessness to a good song.
CS: And to a good recording. I thin somewhere between the songs the production is what makes it last, I believe.
MR: Speaking of new generations, what advice do you have for new artists?
CS: It’s a very different landscape now. There are so many more ways to get noticed that it’s kind of hard to stand out. There’s so much out there because of the internet. One, do the best you can, and two, be creative. The things that stand out are those people that are being more creative. I mean that in recording and I mean that in video. It’s a multi-layered medium now. It’s not just recording, you’ve got to be doing other things as well.
MR: Can you picture starting as an artist during this era? How would you approach it if you did?
CS: I think it still starts with the song, I honestly do. My kids will find great songs online before I’ve ever heard them on the radio or anywhere else. It’s like younger kids going out and finding them for themselves. My youngest was a huge fan of Justin Bieber because of YouTube. But again, I think that a great song is always going to stand up. I think the most important part is making decent music but then you’ve got to be creative with everything else you do as well.
MR: Nice. Thank you. What are you going to be working on? Any plans for more Tears For Fears music?
CS: Yep, we’re in the middle of doing an album now. Well, we’re taking a break right now as you can tell, Roland’s in England and I’m in LA, but we’re back in the studio in November starting again. We’re now signed to Warner Brothers records. People ask when the record will be ready and my answer will always be, “When it’s ready,” but hopefully at some point next year there will be a new album.
MR: Are you conscious of gathering all of the stages of the mixes so you can have a six-disc reissue in a few years?
CS: [laughs] With the technological advancements in place now, we have everything on a hard drive somewhere.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne