Over the phone from Los Angeles, Curt Smith, surprisingly, wants to talk American Idol. ‘There were a few good performances I saw in the first hour. We’re actually going [to American Idol] tomorrow – I’m taking my kids,’ says one half of the pop-rock duo Tears for Fears, speaking from his adopted city. ‘They’re not impressed with what I do for a living, other than for the fact that I can get them into American Idol.’
With huge hits like ‘Shout’, ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’, ‘Mad World’, ‘Head Over Heels’, and ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’, Smith and Roland Orzabal ruled the 1980s as Tears for Fears; propelled to household-name status worldwide. Everywhere, that is, except in Smith’s own home.
Nearly 30 years on, his own progeny don’t quite get it. But as Smith tells it, the band’s music – with its heart-on-the-sleeve subjects, big hooks, and synth-driven beats – is still speaking to the kids. ‘We have a big younger audience. We get a whole bunch of 18- to 20-year-olds that love The Hurting, even though it was released before they were born,’ says Smith. ‘It’s sort of fascinating.’
No doubt many were brought to Tears for Fears’s decades-old music by Gary Jules’s 2003 cover of ‘Mad World’, which appeared on the Donnie Darko soundtrack and rocketed to the top of the UK charts. ‘How typical of England to have a No. 1 single at Christmas that was so depressing,’ laughs the affable Smith. Jules’ huge hit might have played a part in introducing the band’s music to a younger crowd.
But in addition there’s the small fact that the ’80s sound is, well, kinda cool again. From obscure sampling avant garde work to pure, unadulterated pop, modern artists have latched onto retro synths, new-wave influences and canned drums – elements of the equally derided and celebrated decade that pervade many of today’s new releases, as well as Tears for Fears’s hit ’80s tunes.
Smith, though, is quick to point out that Tears for Fears is not just a band of the ’80s. ‘Even though I’m sort of used to [the ’80s music title] now, we were playing music in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and now 2000s,’ he says. ‘I don’t consider us trapped in a decade. We’ve been making music a lot longer than that.’
All's well that ends well
Of course, there was also the long period when they weren’t making music together at all. In 1991, the pair split rather acrimoniously, hardly speaking to each other for a decade. But rather than harbouring regret about having parted ways at the height of their fame, Smith now looks back on it philosophically. ‘At the time, it was sort of an angry break up, but I think we just needed a break from each other. It was very healthy, I think, in retrospect,’ he says.
In the noughties, however, the two would eventually reconcile and reunite, venturing back into the studio and discovering that the spark was still there.
‘We went in, and thought we’d just have a go at doing one song, and we were like, “Oh my God, this is good.” So we continued and made an album that we both love and still enjoy.’
That album was 2004’s Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, an album aligned not so much with their new-wave synth pop days, but with a Beatles-esque atmosphere they had touched upon in ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’.
‘That kind of music is in us, but we never finished it. So we felt it was a completion of that body of work. Hence Everybody Loves a Happy Ending,’ he says. ‘Musically, personally and emotionally, we had unfinished business.’
With such a poetic ending, it seems fair to ask whether or not there’ll be another album after the happy ending. ‘We may well do another record once the music industry sorts itself out,’ he says, later adding several further provisos, such as, ‘Should we be together, spend a prolonged time together writing, which may or may not happen.’
With that many ‘ifs’, it’s possible that the pair’s show in São Paulo will be your only chance to catch them. If you miss out, there might just be, well, tears.