Riding The Silver Wave
The move from fashion model to pop starlet is many a young girl's dream but Lizzie Tear is already over halfway there. David Bradwell counts the remixes.
Lizzie Tear has already appeared in The Face and Vogue as a model; now she has her sights set on pop stardom. But there may be more to pop than a pretty face.
LIZZIE TEAR IS a singer who craves credibility. Despite just having her third single released by EMI (with its credits looking like a Who's Who of dance music), she freely admits people think she is a bimbo. At 22 she has already seen a successful career as a model come and go, having appeared in magazines as prestigious as The Face, i-D and Vogue. Given that Samantha Fox and Mandy Smith have done little to gain musical credibility for former models, Tear's record company even went as far as to mail out unnamed promo copies of her last single, 'Turbo Charged', to disguise its origins.
"In the end everybody hated it anyway, so it didn't really make any difference...", she laments.
As the press releases are only too ready to point out, Tear is the daughter of respected opera singer Robert Tear. The classical training she received as she was growing up earned her a distinction in her grade eight opera exam and helped her through eight grades in piano. A career in the opera seemed likely until, at the age of 17, she decided to pursue fame and fortune in the world of pop music. However, the classical training is not viewed as wasted effort.
"I can read music, which not many people can, and I find that really helpful", she begins. "I don't play keyboards now as much as I used to, which is why I left it up to Dave Clayton on the album, although I do all the demos myself. I played Bach, Purcell, Handel, Beethoven and Mozart for seven years, but maybe I don't know the keyboard as well as I should these days."
Despite her spectacular success as a model, Tear was never willing to discard music in favour of a career in front of the camera lens.
"I always wanted to go into music and I only did modelling for a bit to earn some dosh after I left school - to fund my demos and keep me in nice sneakers while I was making them. I did it for about nine months and it was good fun. I did the magazines and loads of catwalk stuff. You just get pissed behind stage before you start and then go out and dance."
At home, Tear writes all of her songs on a Yamaha PSR70 - a MIDI-equipped, programmable home keyboard, with onboard PCM drum sounds - but she's not a big spender as far as equipment is concerned.
"I wanted lots of different sounds on something not too sophisticated because I was still learning", she says. "1 went down to Chappells in Bond Street, had a look at what was on offer, and the Yamaha is what I came away with. In the studio I've been using a DX7 and Minimoog, and the TR808. That's my favourite drum machine, because you can get a real good bass drum quality with it, it drones to give a hip hop-type of sound."
Sampling isn't too high on Tear's list of priorities, although she has used the Publison Infernal Machine for certain of her records.
"I haven't used anybody else's music. I've just used words, like samples from Apocalypse Now, or for a song called 'TV Temple' we got a really good sample from The Price Is Right of Leslie Crowther going 'Come on down'. That's as far as I've got with sampling really although I don't think there's anything wrong in nicking other records if you can make a new song out of lots of old ones.
"My favourite instrument of all is the Roland vocoder which I used for the first time on 'Turbo Charged'. It looks really old-fashioned, but we had good fun playing with that."
Working from home, Tear always begins the song-writing process with the words.
"When the song is finished lyrically I think of a tune and put the basic chords with it. I program it on the keyboard and put in a rough drum pattern. Then I take it down to the demo studio where I recreate it with an engineer and start arranging it with my band, my posse. We did a lot of pre-production in ABC's studio, and the album only took 42 days to record - we got all the drum programming done and most of the sequencing as well as a guide vocal, which saved a lot of time and money."
THE LINK WITH ABC extends far beyond the use of their studio. With self-produced albums such as Alphabet City, Martin Fry and Mark White have been establishing a reputation as a high-calibre production team. Lizzie Tear was the first artist they worked with outside ABC, producing her debut album Barfly Girl, due for release in April. The attraction to the project was shared by both parties, as Tear explains.
"I don't agree with the idea of the three-minute pop song anyway - we should all write seven-minute pop songs as far as I'm concerned."
"I kept on meeting them in clubs and they were interested in what I was doing. I had been looking for a producer for ages, and they'd never produced anyone except themselves so I offered a challenge and they were up for it. I love their sound, it's got such a brilliant quality. Their first two albums were brilliant, mind you Trevor Horn did the first one.
"I was a bit worried at first because I thought I was going to come out sounding like ABC. But it's how much effort and how much of myself I've put in, that's why it sounds different. If I went in and said 'You program everything, you choose all the sounds, you decide on the arrangement', then it would have sounded like ABC. I don't know what exactly I add, it's like two brains instead of one - instead of getting half as much you get twice as much."
The ABC production on the three singles so far, 'Life Won't Be The Same', 'Turbo Charged' and 'Silver Surfer', has been enhanced further by the remixing skills of Pascal Gabriel, Nellee Hooper and Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass, and Francois Kevorkian. Even Tear seems unsure of the number of mixes available.
"You're asking the wrong person there, I just lose track. There were quite a few. Francois Kevorkian did 'Silver Surfer', and a really brilliant mix of my first single, and he's just completely def. The bass and the drums are where his head is coming from, rather than melodies. He goes for the bottom end, and gets a real New York feel."
The mixes done by the different producers are often completely different, with different instrumentation and even different tempos. It would almost seem possible for each version to be released as a separate single, although Tear disagrees: "I think there is something running through them which links them up and which tells you they are the same song. What's the point of having four different versions of the same thing? You want to make them different. 'Silver Surfer' had three mixes and they're all totally different. From a marketing point of view, there's one for the discos, which Tim Simenon did, and the one Francois Kevorkian did will be a club record. And then there's a dub which is intense, which is really really heavy, which Francois did as well. I think there should only be two, which there are in my mind. And then there's the ABC one, which is different again, variety is the spice of life, dude."
Tear doesn't agree with the view that extensive remixing of records is killing the art of writing classic three-minute pop songs.
"I wrote the song in the first place so I can mess it around as much as I want", she asserts. "I don't agree with the idea of the three-minute pop song anyway, it's bullshit. We should all write seven-minute pop songs as far as I'm concerned. I'm aiming really for radio and clubs, which is why I do two mixes on two 12"s. Radio is very important to make me into a pop star - if people don't play it then people won't buy it. That's where the three-minute pop song comes in. I compromise myself by making a version for radio, and that's why it's so much fun making 12"s, because you can just go crazy and do it for the clubs."
The remixes of her songs may soon outnumber the proverbial grains of sand on the beach, but Tear retains full control over the creative process of remixing.
"I choose who does them", she confirms. "Pascal Gabriel is a great mixer, Francois Kevorkian is the best. I'm not precious about what I do at all, and I have the right of veto if something goes wrong. I'm generally always there in the studio, because I'm very interested in what other people are doing, just to learn from them."
Meanwhile the confusion over which mix is which even extends to Tear's record company.
"EMI are useless when it comes to putting things on vinyl. I'm sorry, but they are. I'm not saying EMI are useless, but where they get their records pressed are. We've got three 12"s of 'Silver Surfer', which we sent off to be put on plastic and they just got it all confused, so now we've got to get them all re-pressed before they come out, which is ridiculous. It drives me mental."
Despite the big name associations, and the fact that all her producers are currently enjoying chart success elsewhere, Tear seems unconcerned about her own lack of chart action.
"For a song called 'TV Temple' we got a really good sample from The Price Is Right of Leslie Crowther going 'Come on down'."
"I think that's quite a good sign because I'm not riding on the backs of other people. I think it's going to take a long time to be successful, and if you are a success overnight I don't think it lasts very long. It's a building process, and I've got the foundations. I've got my album. This is my career, and this is what I'm going to be until I'm 50, so I'm not going to stop. If people don't buy my records it won't stop me from making them."
TEAR HAS SOMETHING of a cavalier attitude when it comes to discussing her record company and cash. On being told the price of her first-class single sleeper rail fare for a forthcoming promotional tour of Scotland, she replies with a prompt "That's alright, EMI are paying, that's what they're there for". Is she worried that all the money EMI spend on her behalf will have to be paid back before she sees any record royalties?
"You don't know how much money I owe EMI", she declares, "it's horrendous. It is costing a lot of dosh, but I'm glad, because I intend on earning a lot of money at some point, and I don't care how long it takes. As soon as I do I'll pay them back. Then I'll start buying properties all over the world and nice big expensive cars. I'll probably get myself a Fairlight actually, with my first mill. They started out really expensive, but they're not that bad any more. £60,000? Well, yeah, piss in the ocean mate.
"If 'Silver Surfer' isn't a hit I'll have my next single out, which is called 'Barfly Girl', and if that isn't a hit they may start getting worried, but fuck 'em. They believe in me 110%, they're behind me. Persistence overcomes resistance, and I think that's the way EMI look at it as well."
Optimistic words indeed. But major record companies are notorious for not understanding dance music, hence the rise of independent labels. Why did Tear sign to EMI rather than a specialist dance label? Tear is on the defensive:
"My A&R man really understands dance music, he's really hip. EMI don't really have a dance segment, but I'm trying to make them understand. I can try and teach them what I know and expand their horizons as well as mine. It's kind of like the old boy network, and you do have trouble with it, but I can try to change that."
Tear's enthusiasm for technology hasn't been lessened by a recent 'exploding Minimoog' incident at Marcus Studios, caused by a leaking roof. She rarely has cause to question the march of progress.
"I don't think technology and machines are a hindrance", she declares. "They're really progressive - get rid of musicians! I don't think technology makes things sound too clinical, it can be quite soulful as long as you know how to do it. I love music like Philip Glass which is all sequenced, I'm well into that. I can't wait for the year 2030, rockets and everything. It's not just music. That's obviously what we're talking about but there's the whole thing about it, like I just can't wait to go to the moon. That's progress. I can't see how people could see it negatively, because to me it's such a good thing. Technology helps me, and I'm learning how to produce records with it. I'd like to be producing myself by the time it comes to the third album. That's going to be called Queen Elizabeth III."
Indeed, Tear seems to be about to change her musical direction.
"I'm being regressive, actually. It'll definitely be much rockier, still danceable, but modern rock 'n' roll. Like heavy metal with a modern angle, like Bladerunner. At least I don't sound like Kylie Minogue, I'm really happy about that. I can't see the point of people like that. What does she get out of it apart from dosh? Music is what I do and it'll be what I do forever; there's so much pleasure involved. I write the song, I write the words, I write the tune, I sing it and I play as much as I can and I get so much satisfaction out of doing that. And then if my records sell it'll be even better. There'll just be so much satisfaction derived from beginning to end of the whole process."
So what does the future hold in store for the ex-model and hopeful pop star? Next, it seems, Tear is looking to get into films: "Everybody makes movies, all these pop stars. Prince, Madonna, Mick Jagger, David Bowie. None of them are any good, except possibly Prince. I think I would be a kind of Cher figure. The only good write-up my records got was in Billboard in New York, which is hopefully a prediction for the future, because I'd like to be big in America. I like it there a lot. I like London a lot, and I'll always have a place in London, but I really love the States. I like the way they think, they're really positive. When people are successful here they get slagged off the whole time, but if you're successful in America, people love you for it. It's a different way of thinking out there."
In the immediate future, Tear's thoughts are closer to home, with an impending club PA tour offering the opportunity to relive former triumphs. Particular highlights will be Glasgow and Newcastle.
"Scotland is such a hip place. Glasgow is like the New York of Britain, it's brilliant there. They call it the Silver City because it's always raining and it's shiny. I had a brilliant time in Newcastle, when I got flown up there to do the pictures at the beginning of The Tube. Malcolm Gerrie took me out to this brilliant club called Walkers. We had such a good time and I got lagging drunk. Where else are we going? Oh no, not Bradford, I hate Bradford, it's so boring."
Lizzy Tear is a cheerful person to meet and chat to, putting on a brave face when confronted with pain ("My neck is so sore, I was headbanging last night"). She may become the "credible" musician she so desperately wants to be, but there again, there's no guarantee. Ultimately, she has no regrets.
"I don't even regret the songs that I don't use because you can learn how bad they are and resolve never to do that again - learning from your mistakes. There you go, my life story. I wear a size five shoe..."
Interview by David Bradwell
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