English new wave rockers Tears For Fears are bringing their collection of chart-topping songs, accumulated over four decades, to Cincinnati this week on Friday, May 20. Their new album, “The Tipping Point,” shows a nuanced focus on social issues and updates the duo’s sonic palette through contemporary sampling and production while preserving the band’s signature pop sensibility. I recently had the honor of speaking with bassist and vocalist Curt Smith about the band’s evolution and influences, the 21st century sound of “The Tipping Point” and the place of music in a modern social context. .
Q: I’m sure the tours are a blur, but do you have any stories on your way through Cincinnati?
A: My youngest daughter is at Kenyan College. So I spent a lot of time in Ohio – mostly Columbus and Gambier. I have a weakness for it. When we were on tour before, we didn’t see many cities because it was so crazy. You get recognized all the time, or you have interviews all day, and it really wasn’t conducive to touring. Nowadays, we do all the interviews beforehand. And luckily, we’re at an age where people don’t bother us that much. So I can really see the places where we play.
Q: “The Tipping Point” touches on so many new sounds. You have always enjoyed mixing new technologies with analog instruments. Are there any artists, especially newer ones, who have influenced your production process as electronic music has grown over the past few decades?
A: Everyone has pretty much the same samples. You have access to the same palette as everyone else on your laptop. So what took us forever to get sounds in the studio… now it takes us a nanosecond. I would cite Bon Iver, one of the best producers today in the sense of the landscape he creates. I love Rex Orange County – more songwriters than anything. I’ve listened to Cameo records, which I think are wonderfully produced.
Q: You have been influenced by a wide range of English musicians. Was there something in particular about the city of Bath that prompted you to make an all-encompassing sound?
A: We weren’t in a scene. I think the only downside of being in a music scene, which happened in places like London or Manchester, Birmingham, was that they tended to get a bit homogenized. We dragged music from everywhere. Gary Numan was, I think, a bigger influencer when we started.
I remember lying in bed with headphones on, listening to Peter Gabriel’s records, trying to figure out how he did it – trying to locate every track or sample, keyboard or what the bass was doing. Very early on, Roland and I got into production, and that was what interested us more than anything else.
Q: I saw your videos, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” and “Shout”, on MTV during the heyday of that channel. But the first time your music really struck me was on Donnie Darko’s soundtrack with “Head Over Heels” and the cover of “Mad World” at a time when, particularly in the United States, so many things about the world were changing. So, first, how did MTV influence your career?
A: Before MTV, you really only thought about audio, unless you went on TV and performed. But then it’s just the band that’s filmed. So there is no work to do there. MTV came along and videos came in where you really start thinking about visual representation. We were pretty dumb to begin with. We have improved. And these days, we’re really getting into the visuals.
The three videos we’ve done for “Tipping Point” so far… I love them. “Break the Man” is definitely about a male-dominated society, this desire for success, and the fact that women don’t have an equal voice. Then “No Small Thing”, dealing with modern technology and climate change. “The Tipping Point”, which was the first, is about the ghost of Roland’s wife. Caroline passed away in 2017. It’s really to make a visual representation of what you get musically.
Q: During the pandemic, you released an acoustic version of “Mad World”, and I read that it was influenced by “Primal Therapy”. Your new album has a larger social context, especially with regards to women’s rights. What makes your music, and more particularly “Mad World”, a timeless militant anthem?
A: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Diva, my daughter and I did it, which went viral, but I think it was because it was father and daughter locked together. At the time, “Everybody Wants To Rule” was about the Cold War and the Falklands crisis. Now you’re playing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, and we have Russia invading Ukraine – “Mad World”, the pandemic.
We’re not comfortable making music that doesn’t tell us anything or mean anything to us. When we are happy, we generally enjoy being happy. Songwriting is this self-soothing thing where you feel angry or sad about something and you pick up a guitar and write about it, trying to condense it and make sense of it. These types of songs tend to have a long shelf life because those emotions linger.
Tears For Fears – The Tipping Point World Tour, featuring Garbage
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday, May 20.
Or: Riverbend Music Centre, Anderson Township.
Tickets: $29.50 – $49.50.