Tears For Fears Hit Portland And We Talk With Curt Smith

The second stop on the Tears For Fears 2009 summer tour was Portland, Oregon on July 11th. The show was pretty fantastic, complete with all the songs you would expect to hear, plus some surprises. The band consisted of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, of course, and they were joined by Nick D’Virgilio on drums, Charlton Pettus on guitars and Doug Petty on keyboards. From the opening chords of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” to the final line of “Shout” Tears For Fears rocked the Washington Park Zoo and a sold out crowd. Recognizing their musical lives outside of the band, both Roland and Curt got in a couple of their solo songs, including one from Roland that has never been released before. Starting things off was Michael Wainwright with just his guitar and a voice that would grab your attention even without a high-tech sound system. All in all, it was a terrific show and I highly recommend you catch them on one of their last west coast dates.

Before the show and after the sound check, Joe went back stage to chat with Curt Smith for a few minutes. Check out the interview below along with a few photos courtesy of Melanie from Black Trillium Fibre Studios.

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PCZ: How are things going with this summer tour so far?

CS: Well, we’ve only done one show so far, last night [in Seattle], and it went great. As a first show goes it was pretty smooth sailing. We had a couple of issues, but normally first shows are a lot worse than that. A lot of the time the pacing doesn’t work, which is a major thing because then you’ve got to change the set around. But the pacing worked fine so we’re not going to mess with the set. It’s really rather if Charlton [Pettus] remembers his guitar parts tonight or not (laughs).

PCZ: Are you guys doing a mixture of Tears For Fears and solo songs?

“But new stuff, not yet, but who knows what might happen the next time we get together…”

CS: A little bit, only a couple of solo things. Primarily it’s the stuff we’ve done together. We do a couple of solo things, but it works in the pace of the set. Like, mine brings it all the way down and Roland takes it all the way up. (laughs)

PCZ: Is it a little easier doing tours like this instead of album/tour, album/tour like in the past?

CS: Much easier. I mean, we’re luckily at that nice stage of our lives and careers where we just tour when we feel like it, which is great. Roland was coming back to LA for the summer and just said, “Well, should we go do a few dates?” and we are. As long as it’s not too far away so that we’re too far away from our families.

27a-smPCZ: This all kind of begs the question are you guys going to do some more songs together soon?

CS: Not right now. It’s a limited amount of time we’re spending together because it’s really taken up with rehearsals and doing the shows. We’ve been working on a live record, it’s not quite coming together yet, but that may happen at some point. But new stuff, not yet, but who knows what might happen the next time we get together or the time after. We really don’t make plans, which is nice.

PCZ: Enjoying playing the old stuff…

CS: Exactly.

PCZ: Was it at all tough learning the old songs again?

CS: Well, me and Roland have done a lot of touring in Europe as well with a full orchestra and a full choir, so we’ve actually been playing every year. The last tour we did with this band was 2005.

PCZ: So you fell right back into the songs.

CS: Yeah, you know, the muscle memory kicks back in pretty quickly. You think you’re not going to remember everything and then you do. We didn’t really need much rehearsal time. We had five days put aside and I think we worked about three hours a day for those five days and we were done.

015-smPCZ: Has Nick [D’Virgilio, also the frontman for Spock’s Beard] toured with you before?

CS: Yeah, Nick’s toured with us since Everybody Loves A Happy Ending and he was on tour with Roland prior to that and Charlton and Doug [Petty] played with me for nearly fifteen years. So, we’re all familiar with each other.

PCZ: You obviously enjoy playing live. Is that something you try to do regularly?

CS: In LA I think it’s a good things to do. What happens musically for me is the pop side is when I’m doing Tears For Fears and when I’m doing things on my own it tends to be a lot more laid back and low key. I try and pick venues where that suits and where it’s like being in someone’s living room. They’re never too big and are pretty intimate and I think it’s musically a good balance for me. This is where you’re doing the biggest stuff and that’s where I’m sort of being self indulgent, for want of a better description.

PCZ: And speaking of your solo material, I understand you had started halfway, pleased and then put it aside for Everybody Loves A Happy Ending. How was it coming back to those songs?

CS: It was fantastic, actually, I think the break really worked for the songs and for the production process. I think when I was initially starting I was wondering how to make the production big and more Tears For Fears-like for whatever reason, but then, of course, once I’ve done a Tears For Fears album that’s the last thing I want to do. The way I ended up doing it was quite the opposite to the way I work with Roland, so that actually made for a really pleasant change.

“What happens musically for me is the pop side is when I’m doing Tears For Fears and when I’m doing things on my own it tends to be a lot more laid back and low key.”

PCZ: Listening to the album I was really struck by how for the first listen they are really enjoyable songs, but then on subsequent listenings there is the whole other layer to the tracks.

CS: They are many-layered, yeah. Even lyrically, many layers. I think most lyrics I’ve written on that album have to have at least two meanings, some of them three. I enjoy working with language, so you can dig into it as deep as you want to dig into it, but there’s certainly a bunch of depth there should you wish to explore it.

PCZ: Do you know when you’re putting a song together that it’s going to end up like that?

CS: Well, the tune normally comes first and then I spend an inordinate amount of time with the lyrics, purely because they do need to be multi-layered. I’m a big crossword freak, cryptic crosswords, so that’s where the whole sort of double-meanings come form. For example, on [the song] “halfway pleased” I wrote “You’re bathed and crowned”, this is someone being born, but it also sounds like a King. You’re the King, the prince, the baby being born, the head crowns first, so, you see, it’s got so many different things going on in my head.

023-smPCZ: Does it really help you, especially when you’ve completed a song that has a lot of personal meaning, let you put that aside and say “Ok, I’ve worked through that”?

CS: Yeah, it is cathartic I think. Especially on halfway, pleased there’s a song about my father, a song about my mother, a song about struggling with fatherhood, which is not that much of a struggle, but it always is somewhat. I do get into explaining it when I play because sometimes people expect me to be quite maudlin, I think, and dark and I’m personally quite the opposite. That’s just how I use music. For me, music is a means to express emotions that I’m not used to feeling everyday. That’s what I use it for, so that allows me to get it out of my system to sort of enjoy everyday life.

PCZ: I found it interesting that even as far back as the early Tears For fears albums the complexity has always been there. You seemed to have skirted around being really pressured by a label to produce pop songs.

CS: Well, no, we were pressured to a certain degree, but we managed to fight against it and we managed to get our way primarily in the end. We would literally refuse to do things and we were always very sure of what we wanted to do. We made some compromises along the way, but that’s the nature of the beast. Put it this way, there’s no compromises if I look back now listening to the body of work we’ve done as Tears For Fears that I feel particularly bad about.

” I’m actually doing it differently this time and just getting one track and finishing it, releasing it and then the next one…”

PCZ: So, you released halfway, pleased under a Creative Commons license. What’s the license you’ve released it under mean?

CS: Well, Creative Commons is a way of just letting people know how they can use your music. If you only knew the amount of emails we get about wanting to use our songs for a documentary or for this and that, or even for doing a school play, or whatever it may be. Technically, they have to get permission or they could get sued. Creative Commons allows you to immediately tell people exactly the boundaries of how they can use this music. In my case, my Creative Commons license just states that you can use it, share it, do whatever you want, but as long as there is no financial gain and you credit the artist. You’ve got to give due credit and you can’t be making money from it, [other than that] knock yourself out.

025a-smPCZ: It seems more and more that bands have their own labels and are releasing their music through the Internet. Seeing that be more prevalent, do you see the label system as something that seems to be going away?

CS: Certainly for established artists there’s no real point to have a record label because you have a following already. Record labels used to be used for cutting you through and getting you played on the radio, but who the hell listens to radio, who watches MTV…well, there’s no music on MTV anymore. No, I think record labels are pretty defunct now. I don’t think that they’re much use to anyone other than for cookie cutter music. I think that’s slowly dying out as people find out they have a lot more choices out there. The cookie cutter music worked when radio was a thing and then you had to pay the radio stations to get your music on the radio even though we claim we didn’t, we just gave away prizes, honest! (laughs) Now, radio doesn’t really matter that much and people are really turning to the Internet and that’s free. It’s leveling the playing field somewhat and I think it will come back to the fact that the better music will now rise to the top as opposed to what someone in an office somewhere is telling you that you should be buying.

PCZ: Yeah, the Internet seems better for word of mouth. Instead of waiting to hear a song on the radio you can point right to it.

“No, I think record labels are pretty defunct now. I don’t think that they’re much use to anyone other than for cookie cutter music.”

CS: Yeah, especially Twitter, which is a fantastic chalice with half a million followers.

PCZ: Have you thought about doing more with the Internet like streaming shows?

CS: I haven’t yet. I do play a couple of places in LA and Burbank that do that. I haven’t really got into it yet. Now I’m sort of enjoying trying to find other music on the Internet. One track I’m working on now Zoe Keating is actually gonna put cellos on for me. She’s a fan and I sent her this song, she loves it and this is all down to Twitter. I just sent her a direct message saying “Do you want to do some cello work on this song because orchestrally I think the verses would be fantastic.” She listened to it, loved it and she’s actually doing some work on that. We’re going to meet, finally, on Tuesday.

PCZ: So, not only can you find new music, but you can find musicians to contribute to your own songs. Twitter is fantastic in that regard. I saw Michael Wainwright [opening act] sending tweets looking for a female singer for tonight’s show.

CS: I don’t know if he’s actually found one, but more importantly I have been using Twitter to follow Wainwright’s love escapades, which I’m twittering about too.

020-smPCZ: I saw those, that is excellent (laughs).

CS: After last night he is 0-5. It’s pitiful, pitiful! We’ll see how he gets on tonight. [ed note: after the Portland show that changed to 0-9, for those keeping track at home]

PCZ: Did you get out at all to see Seattle yesterday?

CS: I got out to Pike’s Place and did all of that, sat by the water…had a hot dog. Not going to get a chance to see Portland, unfortunately, as I leave early in the morning and we only just got here literally an hour before sound check. I did go to Pioneer Square and look at the electric vehicles they had on display, which was kind of interesting. But I leave early in the morning to go home because we have two days off. I’m going back to see the kids…and my wife. I always say that and my wife Frances always complains “You never say you’re coming to see me, why is it always the kids?” I think everyone presumes I’m going to see her as well. (much laughter)

PCZ: Where else do you guys go from here?

CS: We play outside Santa Rosa on Tuesday, then Saratoga and then we go back to Orange County, Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix and that’s it. Tour, day off, holiday.

PCZ: Vacation should be fun.

CS: Yeah, England and Italy. At least the Italy part. England involves family, but we have to do these things. (much laughter) We can’t really go all the way to Italy and have a vacation and our families are just an hour or two away. They’d get a bit pissed at us.

024-smPCZ: And musically after that?

CS: Musically I’m going to keep working on my solo stuff now. I’m working with Charlton. We’ve done one track that I said that Zoe is going to work on and we’ve got a couple of other things going. I’m actually doing it differently this time and just getting one track and finishing it, releasing it and then the next one, finish it, release it. I think that albums are not something people really care that much about anymore. And then in the end you always have the option of making an album, make a physical thing, with a package of all of the tracks together. I think I’m just going to make it and release it.

PCZ: That seems to be how it’s going, digital downloads and then perhaps later a CD released with extra tracks or whatever.

CS: Yeah, I think what I’ll do is just continue my relationship with iTunes and everyone digitally that I have a relationship with and just release them all digitally and then the CD copy will just come at the end.

PCZ: Has the feedback on halfway, pleased been satisfying?

CS: It’s been great, yeah. My favorite was the other week I was in San Fransisco doing a Cisco event and Howard Jones was doing it and Howard comes up and says “I tell ya, halfway, pleased is such a fucking great album!” and I go “Woah, Howard listened to it? Cool!” And I’m a big Howard fan. The reactions been good, for the people who have heard it, it’s been fantastic.

Thank you very much to Curt Smith for taking the time to talk with me and to Tears For Fears and the Washington Park Zoo for a great show!

About Joseph Dilworth Jr.

Joseph Dilworth Jr. has been writing since he could hold a pencil (back then it was one of those big, fat red pencils, the Faber-Castell GOLIATH. Remember those? Now that was a pencil!). As editor-in-chief and instigator of this here website he takes full responsibility for any wacky hi-jinks that ensue. He appreciates you taking the time to read his articles and asks that you direct any feedback, criticisms, questions about life directly to him by clicking here.

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