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Interview

Engineer Dave Bascombe on Tears For Fears’ Songs From The Big Chair

Photo © Mike Prior

Tears For Fears‘ 1985 album Songs From The Big Chair is reissued today as a super deluxe edition box set. As part of SDE’s ongoing TFF coverage we present a brand new interview with the man who engineered that album, Dave Bascombe.

Bascombe was there, in the room, helping to shape the sound of the album and those enormous hits like ‘Shout’ and ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’. Read on as Dave lets us into a few secrets regarding who played on what and what those sessions were actually like…

SDE: Roland says he was keen to break this Chris Hughes / Ross Cullum ‘axis’[Chris and Ross had produced/engineered The Hurting]


DB: Looking back now, I was Roland’s ally because when you got down to the nitty-gritty, I agreed with Roland a lot of the time. Obviously Chris [Hughes] was steering us in this commercial direction, which I wasn’t that keen on and I don’t think Roland really was, but it really was an axis. I don’t think [keyboard player] Ian Stanley was involved in the first album, but he kind of took Ross’ place, certainly him and Chris would pushing Roland all the time and of course people push back against that sort of thing. But you have to acknowledge with ‘Shout’ and ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ that worked really well. Curt was more into the overview of things, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of really, because the process is bloody boring… but his contributions were really good, as I’ve always said.

SDE: How were you approached, originally? 


DB: I’d done a few jobs for Max Hole, who was Chris’ manager, he was head of A&R at WEA, I think. So I’d done a few things for him, which had gone quite well, and Tears For Fears ended up in Trident Studios without an engineer. I think they’d just got back with Chris, and I don’t know how the conversation had gone, in terms of not wanting Ross Cullum there, but obviously no provision had been made, because I got a call from Max saying, “Are you doing anything today? Because Tears For Fears need an engineer.” So that was a no-brainer, so literally I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. So I went up there and we started working on ‘Mothers Talk’, working on the version they’d already recorded. 

SDE: Yes, because they’d recorded that first version with Jeremy Green. That had followed the single ‘The Way You Are’ which it sounds like no one was particularly happy with.


DB: You could tell that first version of ‘Mothers Talk’ came out of the same place as ‘The Way You Are’. ‘The Way You Are’ is basically like Japan, isn’t it? I quite like it, actually. But I remember at the time, seeing them do it on Top of the Pops and thinking “wow, this is really weird.” Brave! Anyway, Chris is really good and it needed him to steer ‘Mothers Talk’ back in a vaguely more poppy direction… not as much as the American version we did later, but I don’t know how much work they’d done on that song with Chris before I started. It might have been the first day, I just don’t know. Anyway, we were in the studio with Alan Moulder as the tape op., I do remember. 

SDE: ‘Mothers Talk’ used a Drumulator, I believe. Tell me about that, what does a Drumulator actually do?


DB: Back then it was so primitive. To change sounds on any device, like the LinnDrum you’d have to physically take the chips out you’d get some other chips and put them in. But what the Drumulator had was these rock chips, that we think were taken from [Led Zeppelin’s] ‘When The Levee Breaks’, but I’m not absolutely sure. We used them in ‘Shout’ eventually but we also used them in the break on ‘Mothers Talk’. So it had lots of lo-fi rock character, but it was only in the drum break on ‘Mothers Talk’, the rest of its all LinnDrum and parts we made ourselves.

SDE: Roland has a problem with ‘Mothers Talk’, I think he prefers the American version


DB: I hate that version, and much prefer the original. It’s more to the original vision on the album version, while that US version is just a bastard attempt to have a hit in America. 

SDE: The original 12-inch mixes of ‘Mothers Talk’ are impressive. To me they almost define the sound of Songs From The Big Chair.


DB: It does, yeah. But the rest of the album felt like a separate thing to me, from that, because when we finished ‘Mothers Talk’ I didn’t hear from them for weeks and weeks. And I really thought, they’ve gone somewhere else and they’ve got someone else in. 

SDE: Possibly that coincided with this month off that Roland had to write. There weren’t enough songs – there aren’t many songs on the album, anyway – but he took three or four weeks off to write songs, and came up with bits of ‘Shout’, bits of ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’…


DB: That’s right. It’s unimaginable isn’t it, what the album would be like without those songs. And at that stage ‘Listen’ was probably only a vague possibility… but it was similar with The Seeds of Love. Chris said “you haven’t got enough songs” and Roland went away and wrote some more and came up with ‘Woman in Chains’ and ‘Sowing The Seeds of Love’! 

SDE: Roland can often talk quite negatively, especially regarding The Hurting era, about endless debates about the music, and how the songs should sound and develop, but with Songs From The Big Chair it seems that everything Chris Hughes and Ian Stanley suggested was inspired…


DB: No, they were really on it. But there was still this torturous process; I’d never been involved in anything like it, where everything would be debated. And mixing as well, something would take four days to mix. It wouldn’t be mixing, it would be a half-hour discussion at every little point. I remember once with one of these interminable discussions, and I would be asleep over the newspaper [laughs] or whatever… twiddling my thumbs, and eventually in frustration I just pressed ‘play’ and just did what I thought we should do and everyone looked and went “Hmm, that’s alright, isn’t it?” Moments like that happened a few times, and usually Roland would be happy. I was in tune with Roland on day-to-day stuff. We had the same kind of outlook on sounds and the like. I certainly didn’t have the vision that Chris and Ian had, but I was probably on Roland’s ‘team’ and I think he appreciated that. 

SDE: With ‘Shout’ I know that Roland was deeply impressed with how Ian and Chris developed that.


DB: Yes, I wasn’t there for that. That was the demo, they did a big long demo and that was when I wasn’t really sure what was going on. That happened quite a few times. With ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, they were off doing a video and we did Neil [Taylor’s] solo on the end, while they weren’t there and Roland came back and said, to all of us,  “wow, I’m amazed you managed to get a good sound without me!” [laughs]. 

SDE: There must have been a fair amount of excitement in the studio about how good these songs were?


DB: Not really… I don’t think so. I don’t know if you do feel that. It didn’t take as long as the next album, but it was still a drawn out process. It was quite a methodical process, but I quite like that. 

SDE: Roland seemed relatively happy to go with the flow, to a degree, with this album. More guitars, and embracing a more commercial outlook. He didn’t put his foot down and say “I want to do The Hurting part 2”


DB: I think inherently he did [want to do a Hurting part 2] and so did I, which may be another reason why I was on his team. We did have some discussions and I do remember Chris saying “this album is going to make you an international star” and Roland saying “I don’t want to be an international star, I just want to be doing what we’re doing in England.” But he could see the way it was going and he wasn’t going to fight it, because he could see the results were great. I think if it had been a real artistic sell-out and compromise, then he would have fought back, but he hadn’t yet got to that point where during the Songs tour he got sick of playing live to tape machines. That hadn’t happened yet. He was still in the zeitgeist of what was going on – okay, it wasn’t The Hurting part 2, but it was still incredibly modern and relevant. And while it wasn’t necessarily where he would have gone himself, he was prepared to be carried along.

SDE: Post The Hurting Roland seemed to thrive bouncing off of other people and co-writing much more


DB:  Yeah, but basically ‘Shout’ was still his own song…yes there was a huge amount of embellishment going on, but basically those were his songs. I much prefer it when he’s doing that because it’s HIM. Same with ‘Sowing The Seeds of Love’ and ‘Woman in Chains’ – highlights off The Seeds of Love which weren’t co-written. I wish he would go back to writing by himself. Obviously it’s a lot easier writing with someone else; everyone likes someone to bounce off, especially when you’ve got a bit of pressure on. 

SDE: What do you remember about the construction of ‘Broken/Head Over Heels/Broken (live)’?


DB: To be honest much of that was done before I got there, I think. I seem to remember Chris wasn’t that keen on ‘Broken’ being on there at all, but we obviously needed it. It works as an intro to ‘Head Over Heels’ very nicely. I don’t know who came up with the concept of the live version at the end, but again, that works well. ‘Head Over Heels’ was done as far as the arrangement goes, when I got there. I know we went through a few attempts with real drums. We tried Manny [Elias], and it didn’t really work and eventually we ended up just programming the drums.  

SDE: Roland wanted real drums on the first album, but clearly rather embraced more programmed sounds on Songs From The Big Chair. Maybe ‘The Working Hour’ is the exception, where Manny even gets a songwriting credit…


DB: That’s a fantastic part Manny wrote for that. We tried using him on that…. live Manny is great, but it needed something extra in the studio, so that’s why we got Jerry Marotta in. Although Manny is actually playing the drums on the intro – on Jerry’s kit! When the song comes in, it edits to Jerry playing. So the whole intro section with Ian’s piano there are some drum fills and Manny’s feel was much better than Jerry’s for that. I have to say, I loved the way we mixed and matched things, same with the sax on ‘The Working Hour’. I can’t remember what order we did it in, but Mel Collins, who’s a brilliant sax player, he came in and did the melodic lines for the beginning and the end, and then we asked him to do some freeform soloing and it just didn’t work, I think he wasn’t used to doing it, and so then Will [Gregory] came in and vice versa. So there’s two sax players on that track. 

SDE: So Jerry plays on most of a song that Manny got a songwriting credit for his drumming contribution. That’s somewhat ironic. 


DB: Yeah. The whole bulk of ‘The Working Hour’ is Jerry playing Manny’s part. I don’t think Manny was that pleased about it, but there you go.

SDE: ‘Listen’ was originally an Ian Stanley demo and Roland says it was torturous trying to recreate that in the studio…


DB: I don’t remember it being that bad, because we were developing it as we went along. I think the demo was quite crude. We did spend ages doing those synth drums that come in at one point. It was Chris’ idea to put that bend in the melodic line, which was primitive programming on midi. Chris had got what I think was the first midi sequencer ever, on an old BBC micro, which we used extensively. It’s a fantastic last track, being so lush and quite dreamy. I have to day the running order is incredibly good on the album. It really, really helps. I remember it was Ian’s idea to put ‘The Working Hour’ second, because we were really struggling with what should go second. On the face of it, that’s an odd choice, because it’s more of a ‘side two’ track, if you like, and I always thought maybe it was because he wrote that beginning section and he wanted it further up the album [laughs], but I think it’s an inspired choice, anyway. The whole thing hangs together so well and it really is a fantastic journey.

SDE: The record company rather milked the album for singles, didn’t it? ‘I Believe’ was the fifth single in the UK from an eight-track album.


DB: That version for the single was based on a live recording we did out in L.A. It’s dedicated to Robert Wyatt and his wife rang up and said ‘it’s all very well dedicating it to him, but why don’t you make him some fucking money”. So that’s why they did ‘A Sea Song’ on the B-side of that single, which is just absolutely one of the best songs ever.

SDE: When you listen back to Songs From The Big Chair now do you think about working in the studio or all subsequent success?


DB: I’ve got great memories of those days actually. Very anal-retentive memories of everything in those years. That was such a massive thing for me, obviously. But I can remember so much detail about it and it does take me back very much to what my life was like at that stage. And the great thing about it was we were the same kind of age, we’d be hanging out. I was basically staying at Curt’s most of the time. 

SDE: The studio at Ian Stanley’s place in Bath sounds like a homely set-up


DB: Very much. They liked to work comfortably, and why not? Probably as a reaction to the hours they were doing on The Hurting in a costly environment, this was a much more relaxed process, in that sense. It was very civilised. That’s the best way to put it. Discussions could get a bit fraught, but we’d have nice meals, sometime’s we’d eat at Ian’s. We were doing sensible hours and it was relaxed, methodical and focussed. And if there was a technical job to do, I was left to get on with it – they weren’t hanging over me. 

SDE: Was [A&R man] Dave Bates around a lot?


DB: He popped in a bit, yeah. Quite a bit. Chris was dealing with him directly – I wouldn’t say he was ‘hands on’ but Dave would pop down.

SDE: What impact did Songs From The Big Chair have on your professional life?


DB: It was huge. It was a spinball to everything, really. It lead to working with Depeche Mode on Music For The Masses [Bascombe produced that album] because Dave Gahan had heard ‘Shout’. I met my wife while making it and I actually had a connection with Bath because my Grandparents had lived there and I’d been there for Christmas and family dos in the 1970s when it was a bit of a grim place, full of old people, as far as I was concerned! I hadn’t been there for a few years after they died, but to go back there working with cool, young people was fantastic and I had a great, great time.

Thanks to Dave Bascombe who was talking to Paul Sinclair for SDE.

This interview features in the SDE booklet How Songs From The Big Chair Ruled The World, along with the recent interview with Roland Orzabal, an SDE track-by-track commentary, and more. You can order exclusively via this link or using the button below (these are now in stock and ready to ship).

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The Hurting - super deluxe edition box set

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Tears For Fears / The Hurting four-disc box set

CD 1 – The Hurting

  1. The Hurting
  2. Mad World
  3. Pale Shelter (You Don’t Give Me Love)
  4. Ideas As Opiates
  5. Memories Fade
  6. Suffer The Children
  7. Watch Me Bleed
  8. Change
  9. The Prisoner
  10. Start Of The Breakdown

CD 2 – B-sides and Remixes

  1. Suffer The Children (7″ Version)
  2. Pale Shelter (You Don’t Give Me Love)
  3. The Prisoner (B-side)
  4. Ideas As Opiates (B-side)
  5. Change (New Version)
  6. Suffer The Children (Remix)
  7. Pale Shelter (You Don’t Give Me Love) (Extended Version)
  8. Mad World (World Remix)
  9. Change (Extended Version)
  10. Pale Shelter (Extended Version)
  11. Suffer The Children (Instrumental)
  12. Change (7″ Edit)
  13. Wino (B-Side)
  14. The Conflict (B-Side)
  15. We Are Broken (B-Side)
  16. Suffer The Children (Promo CD Version)

CD 3 – Live Sessions

Peel Session 01.09.1982

  • 1. Ideas As Opiates
  • 2. Suffer The Children
  • 3. The Prisoner
  • 4. The Hurting

Jensen Session 20.10.1982

  • 5. Memories Fade
  • 6. The Prisoner
  • 7. The Start Of The Breakdown
  • 8. The Hurting

From ‘The Way You Are’ single

  • 9. Start Of The Breakdown (Live)
  • 10. Change (Live)

CD 4 – DVD – In My Mind’s Eye – Live At Hammersmith Odeon

  1. Start Of The Breakdown
  2. Mothers Talk
  3. Pale Shelter
  4. The Working Hour
  5. The Prisoner
  6. Ideas As Opiates
  7. Mad World
  8. We Are Broken
  9. Head Over Heels
  10. Suffer The Children
  11. The Hurting
  12. Memories Fade
  13. Change

Songs From The Big Chair – 4CD+DVD super deluxe edition

DISC ONE – Album with special cassette-only bonus tracks recreated

01. SHOUT : 6:31
02. THE WORKING HOUR : 6:29
03. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD : 4:09
04. MOTHERS TALK : 5:04
05. I BELIEVE : 4:54
06. BROKEN : 2:38
07. HEAD OVER HEELS : 5:02
08. LISTEN : 6:54

Bonus tracks

09. THE BIG CHAIR : 3:20
10. EMPIRE BUILDING : 2:41
11. THE MARAUDERS : 4:13
12. BROKEN REVISITED : 5:15
13. THE CONFLICT : 4:02
14. THE WORKING HOUR – Piano Version : 2:08
15. PHARAOHS : 03:42
16. WHEN IN LOVE WITH A BLIND MAN : 2:22
17. SEA SONG : 3:51

DISC TWO – Edited Songs From The Big Chair

01. THE WAY YOU ARE : 4:49
02. MOTHERS TALK – Single Version : 3:53
03. SHOUT – Single Version : 5:58
04. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD – Single Version : 4:14
05. HEAD OVER HEELS – Remix : 4:15
06. I BELIEVE (A Soulful Re-Recording) : 4:39
07. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RUN THE WORLD : 4:30
08. THE WAY YOU ARE – Short Version : 4:21
09. MOTHERS TALK – U.S. Remix : 4:14
10. SHOUT – U.S. Single Version : 4:51
11. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RUN THE WORLD – Running Version : 4:30
12. HEAD OVER HEELS – Radio Version : 4.20
13. MOTHERS TALK – Video Version : 4:14
14. SHOUT – Short Version : 4:03
15. LISTEN – Clean Intro : 6:52
15. INTERVIEW WITH CURT & ROLAND : 7:35

DISC THREE – Remixed Songs From The Big Chair (exclusive to box)

01. THE WAY YOU ARE – Extended Version : 7:37
02. MOTHERS TALK – Extended Version : 6:18
03. SHOUT – Extended Remix Version : 7:40
04. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD – Extended Version : 5:40
05. BROKEN / HEAD OVER HEELS / BROKEN – Preacher Mix : 8:00
06. MOTHERS TALK – Beat Of The Drum Mix : 8:54
07. SHOUT – U.S. Remix : 8:02
08. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD – Urban Mix : 6:06
09. MOTHERS TALK – U.S. Remix alternate : 4:12
10. SHOUT – Dub : 6:49
11. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD – Instrumental : 4:21
12. SHOUT – Acappella : 5:02

DISC FOUR – Unreleased Songs From The Big Chair (exclusive to box)

01. HEAD OVER HEELS : 4:14 Richard Skinner Session
02. THE WORKING HOUR : 6:06 Richard Skinner Session
03. BROKEN : 3:19 Richard Skinner Session
04. MOTHERS TALK : 4:05 Live At Massey Hall
05. BROKEN / HEAD OVER HEELS : 5:01 Live At Massey Hall
06. MEMORIES FADE : 6:50 Live At Massey Hall
07. THE WORKING HOUR : 7:31 Live At Massey Hall
08. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD : 4:19 Live At Massey Hall
09. SHOUT : 7:50 Live At Massey Hall
10. MOTHERS TALK – Early Mix / Instrumental : 4:39
11. THE WAY YOU ARE – Early Mix : 4:25
12. BROKEN – Early Mix : 5:38
13. SHOUT – Early Mix : 5:08
14. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD – Alternate Single Version: 4.20

DISC FIVE (DVD)

5.1 and Stereo mix

SHOUT : 6:32
THE WORKING HOUR : 6:31
EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD : 4:11
MOTHERS TALK : 5:10
I BELIEVE : 4:54
BROKEN : 2:38
HEAD OVER HEELS : 5:20
LISTEN : 6:49

DISC SIX (DVD)

Documentary

01. SCENES FROM THE BIG CHAIR – Documentary : 1:14:43
02. INTERVIEW WITH PRODUCER CHRIS HUGHES : 35:00
Promos

03. THE WAY YOU ARE – Music Video : 3:57
04. MOTHERS TALK – Alternative UK Video : 4:00
05..MOTHERS TALK – Music Video : 4.49
06. SHOUT – Music Video : 6:31
07. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD – Music Video : 4:52
08. HEAD OVER HEELS – Music Video : 4:26
09. I BELIEVE – Music Video : 4:45
10. MOTHERS TALK – US Mix – Music Video : 4:52
11. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RUN THE WORLD – Music Video : 4:52
BBC TV Appearances

03. THE WAY YOU ARE : 4:11 Top Of The Pops
04. MOTHERS TALK : 3:48 Top Of The Pops
05. MOTHERS TALK : 3:51 Top Of The Pops
06. SHOUT : 4:20 Top Of The Pops
07. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD : 4:08 Wogan
08. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD : 3.35 Top Of The Pops
09. EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD : 3.45 Top Of The Pops
10. THE WORKING HOUR : 4:28 Wogan

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