“How is beautiful Boulder?” asked Roland Orzabal a few weeks ago when he was online for a brief telephone interview.
It is quite common for touring musicians to refer to Boulder in this way, often genuinely as a marker of appreciation for past triumphs and a receptive audience. And sometimes, perhaps, politely playing our famous local narcissism.
But Orzabal seemed completely sincere, and we quickly understood why.
At the time, Boulder was sunny, hot, windy and dry. (It was a week before this freak snowstorm pruned our trees.)
“And how are the fires?
It’s an everyday affair. In fact, a small grass fire broke out in our North Boulder neighborhood about a week ago, teasing the edges of underdevelopment half a mile from where we were sitting. Someone threw hot barbecue ashes into an open space in the middle of a scorching windstorm. It was quickly contained; no one was quite sure what (or if) the abuser was thinking.
But Orzabal was well aware of what the community had been through a few months before.
“We were there last Christmas, and we were driving down the freeway toward Denver…and the police turned us away because of the fire.”
In fact, Orzabal was in the company of his second wife Emily at the time, a Denver native and former Boulder resident, so he knows the area, knows Boulder and its surrounding communities. Now personally invested in this part of Colorado, he understood the ongoing peril that so abruptly visited us last December.
Orzabal and his musical partner Curt Smith are rolling out their roadshow in Denver on Sunday night, and unlike most lengthy tours they’ve done since reuniting as a team in 2004 – bracketing a split that effectively ended their partnership in as Tears for Fears in 1991 – they will be touring behind an album of new and original material, The tipping point.
The road to the new version, however, was far from simple and straightforward.
“We were very happy to play live; we had a great set,” says Orzabal. “We worked hard to create a good set, adding new songs. And if an artist came along and did a cover of one of our songs, we would incorporate that too. So, for example, we were playing the Lorde version of “Everybody Wants to Rule The World” before playing our own version.
“There was a kind of interweaving of other artists’ versions of our own stuff, and it had a kind of contemporary feel, and we were very successful with that. But without a doubt, we got to a stage where we needed new material. And that was really pretty much what we expected from new songs; it wasn’t really about making a record. And there were always songs lying around. Songs happen all the time in my life.
“So there was a discussion,” continues Orzabal. “Our manager at the time convinced us that we had to be more relevant. I don’t know what that means – needing to be relevant means, I guess, you’re irrelevant.
What emerged from this period was a “Greatest Hits” package, with the added bonus of a few new tracks and a handful of collaborations with other artists ostensibly intended to bring the band back to its 1980s sound and tenor.
“‘Well, wait,’ I said, ‘that doesn’t make much sense,'” Orzabal noted. Relevance? Smith and Orzabal set about reworking some of the odds and ends of that period, rewriting lyrics and arrangements, picking up the bits they liked, and basically getting to a place where they actually sounded like themselves- same. And in 2016, they were more or less worth an album.
Fate intervened and Orzabal went through a traumatic time in 2017 when he lost his wife to depression and alcoholism, followed by his own medical issues the following year.
It is now part of his story, losing his wife, whom he had known since his adolescence, a diversion of life that I confessed to Orzabal I myself had experienced 18 years ago. Orzabal was 56 years old. I was 46.
Isolation, attack on his identity. Sorrow and panic and disorientation. The changes that emerge immediately near your daily life, and the hidden, evolving changes that don’t reveal themselves until months or years later. The changes are permanent, even if the very conception of permanence has been compromised.
It occurred to me, and I asked if it was the same with his own experience, that part of that experience was that you didn’t trust yourself anymore. Trust your instincts, trust your abilities, trust your environment and your place in your own story.
“No, you don’t. You are absolutely right,” he said. “And you don’t realize if you’ve gone mad. You had that other person who trusted that for you. While you may make yourself appear and feel sane while that person is going through this, once that other person is gone, it all hits you because there’s no one else in the way. .
There are few events in life, perhaps none, so deeply felt as the loss of a spouse. The record that emerged from the ashes of Orzabal’s tumultuous 2017 and 2018 is tinged, though not uniformly, in a dark manner, with references to that period. Much of the album exudes the beautifully crafted pop that infused the heyday material of Tears for Fears in the mid-1980s – the haunting confidence of “Break the Man”, the poised liberating statement of “Master Plan”. , the oddly sequenced acoustic guitar number “No Small Thing” that kicked off the record.
But you can hear it. The dynamic orchestral title track, peppered with the band’s impeccable vocal harmonies, conjures up an image of a hospital room where, as Orzabal puts it, “you just watch someone and wait for the time when they’re more dead than alive”; “Rivers of Mercy,” which appeals to a time before chaos and uncertainty; and perhaps more directly, the heartbreaking “Please Be Happy”, about watching someone dissolve into the shadow of an irretrievable void. A wine glass smashing into pieces on a staircase. A scene from a tragedy in slow motion, taken from real life. A room where the light will not find them.
I wondered what Orzabal’s level of comfort would be, bringing these things to life and refinement – a songwriter who doesn’t shy away (and never has) from giving himself into song – but isn’t it no different?
“We shared a similar experience,” Orzabal said. “I think it’s our job to share these things. You will never, ever be able to communicate what you really felt. You can never do that. And you never forget.
“But what we can do, what I think we can do, is make a beautiful song. straight to our heart.And then they can get an idea.
“’Please Be Happy’, I can’t listen to it now. I mean, (I can) sing it, because it’s my voice and there’s a barrier. But when Curt sings it, it kills me. It just kills me.
Such is the uncanny energy that traces the circuits of decades-long collaborations. Smith and Orzabal are very different people. When Smith left the band in 1991, it seemed like a familiar story, one we might have recognized in retrospect after watching Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary. There comes a time for many bands that start young, and perhaps most often for those that find success early on, where the partners grow out of youth and become more possessive of their own artistic assets, less willing to do compromises, more invested in opportunities and influences. outside the partnership. “Growing up” is both a mundane and probably perfect way to describe it.
Many of these broken partnerships are permanently broken. Orzabal and Smith were not.
“I would say the journey I was on, after the bereavement, I was with Emily. From Colorado. Culture very different from working-class Britain, where you have to be a bit tough. Sarcasm is the common language. You just get used to not being very nice to each other.
“You can see it in the Beatles documentary,” says Orzabal. “That kind of Liverpool humor where McCartney has absolutely no problem attacking Harrison, even though the person he was really pissed off with was Lennon.
“Emily grew up in a family where there’s just a lot more respect and empathy and kindness. I had to learn that from her. Curt lived in America, he’s an American citizen, so he’s probably already there. I had to learn this new way of communicating, learn a new language and learn not to be so defensive. You had to let go a lot.
“So in terms of collaboration, my first collaboration was with Emily. I trade my freedom for that look in his eyes.
“If you are alone, you are poor. You earn riches by interacting and trading with someone else.
And when it comes to wealth, Orzabal experienced it when he was around 24, when Tears for Fears’ seminal album songs from the big chair, with hits like “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, “Shout” and “Head Over Heels”, completely blew up the pop world. With arrangements, musicianship and durability that would humiliate most contemporaries of the era, it is consistently ranked as one of the best albums of the 1980s – were they ready for the exposure that ensued?
“No, but I think we dealt with it in different ways,” admits Orzabal. “I think Curt was more of a pop star, I was more of a backroom guy, a co-producer. I guess I identified more with the producer and the engineer, and Curt was more on his own And he embraced it more completely than I. He fell for the trappings of this life. The drugs and the blah blah blah. The big house.
“I came out of it pretty unscathed, to be honest. I was fixated on the primal therapy thing, absolutely fixated on it. I remember, and I’ve said this many times, I was talking with [former Tears for Fears keyboardist] Ian Stanley, and since I was the main songwriter, he said to me, ‘Do you realize how much money you’ve made?’ And I said, ‘I didn’t care, I just needed primal therapy.’ I was completely guided by this spiritual need. Money meant nothing.
“And of course we were living in the 60% tax era, so most of the money we made was going to the government anyway.”
Contact [email protected] with questions or comments.