Curt Smith Leaves The Tears Behind

You know the story. Massively popular duo splits up. One appears to be the actual talent who carried them both. The talented one goes on to have a brilliant career. Maybe the other had a good voice, but never had the talent. His career languishes as people forget about the other and focus on the "talented one".

That was almost Curt Smith's story. At the height of Tears For Fear's success in the late '80s he opted to leave the band fed up with the pressures of fame and dealing with the friction between him and Roland Orzabal. A mediocre solo album followed and he was promptly put in a drawer with all the other halves of duos that never got any respect.

But now Smith is back, as Mayfield, with a new album that brilliantly brings to mind the best of Tears For Fears. Lexicon had a chance to talk to him the other day.

The new album sounds more like the old TFF than current TFF does. Was this on purpose, or were you trying avoid that sound?

Curt: To be completely honest, I wasn't aiming for anything. I mean, I have made a very bad solo record already (1991's Soul on Board). I don't talk about it much, mainly because as far as I'm concerned it doesn't exist.

I've never heard it.

Curt: Good. When you leave a band you're kinda confused as to what you want to do. And when you get 50 other people telling you what you should be doing it makes it even worse. You just end up throwing your hands in the air and saying "whatever" and end up with something that is not even vaguely representative of what you're about. This time, because it was completely an independent project, I just went and wrote and did exactly what I wanted. I recorded it the way I wanted to and that's just the way it came out. I think it's going to end up sounding like Tears whatever I do purely because it's my voice.

Who did you work with on it?

Curt: I was writing with a friend of mine in New York called Charlton Pettus, who produced the album with me. The joy of living in New York is that there is an endless source of session musicians and people you can use. Before recording the album proper I actually played a few live gigs, that really helped a lot. I then tried to primarily use the guys who were in the live band. It was all recorded in New York in the East village at Dangerous Music. Then we mixed it at the Hit Factory.

What's the story with Zero Disc?

Curt: Zero Disc is my label, basically. I'm going to try and make a go of it. Zero and another label that will be the parent label will become a going concern. Starting at the end of this year I will be looking for other bands to work with and to sign.

What did you do between the solo album and now? It seems like a long time.

Curt: I did the bad album, which no one heard, thank God. Then I was completely confused with what I wanted to do with myself. I had a syndicated college radio show÷ bands would come in and play live on the show.

Was that in the States or Europe?

Curt: The States. I've been living here since '89. I did some MTV work as a vee-jay for about six months when they were going through some changes. I did it as a favor to a friend of mine there during a time when they were trying to find someone new. Just little side projects to try and clear my head of being the "artist". But I still wanted to be in the middle of music because that was my main passion and that's what I love doing. I decided to take a step away.

You also got married to, right?

Curt: Actually I got married last year. It was the longest engagement, seven years. Our first anniversary is coming up soon.

Let's talk about Roland. Do you still talk to him or see him? Curt: No.

Elemental had some pretty raw songs that seemed to be aimed at you. Are there any songs off of your new album that answer them?

Curt: "Sun King." But having said that I think that a lot of these things get blown out of proportion by other people. It's also our fault as writers. You start a song off with a premise, which in the case of "Sun King," is "I'm going to answer 'Fish out of Water.'" And then the song just takes on a life of its own.

Do you think it's also the press looking for that angle?

Curt: Absolutely. And Fair enough. But the emotion in the song is what carries the song. That's not the way I feel about Roland every day of the week.

Any Chance of a Simon and Garfunkel style reunion?

Curt: No, not right now. Never say never, but I doubt it. I enjoy what I'm doing and I'm sure he enjoys what he's doing. We really have nothing in common; other than our childhood. We grew up together. How many people do you still hang out with that you did when you were 13? I know nobody who does.

Yeah, and I guess to work with them day in and day out for years...

Curt: Exactly. We grew up and went separate ways. Unfortunately we were in a position where because of business, we were forced to stay together. It was a successful business. And because we were forced to stay together when our natural instincts would be to have separated earlier the relationship got very tense.

Well, let me ask you. The official word was that during the tour you guys broke up. But hearing about the recording of Seeds it sounds like there was trouble well before the tour.

Curt: It was earlier than the tour, without a doubt. It was during the Seeds of Love process, which I hated. I hated making the entire album, apart from the title track. It was two years and a couple million dollars of jerkin off. And sure I can listen to it and say, "wow that production's pretty amazing." But nothing is worth what we went through, certainly nothing as transient as an album.

Speaking of the Seeds of Love, what are your influences, apart from the Beatles?

Curt: Well, the Beatles are a kinda influence, but so are XTC, Peter Gabriel, everything I grew up listening to. It would be nice if people just said, "That sounds like you!" At least I have a voice that you can't easily compare.

True, I played the tape for some people and right away they said, "Tears For Fears!"

Curt: It's nice, because it gives me an identity of my own. But I can understand the musical comparisons, too.

What do you listen to today?

Curt: Funny, but I find the more you record the less you listen to because you're doing it all day. The last thing you want to do is come home and listen to more music. But there have been a few things come out of late. I loved the D'Angelo album last year. The new World Party album I think is great. But I don't think Karl Wellenger is capable of making a bad record. There's an old band called Follow For Now , that I was a fan of. Their lead singer has a new album out on 550, David Ryan Harris. That's a great record! The Eels, love that. Of course, dare I leave out Radiohead!

They just played in New York, right?

Curt:Yeah, I went to the show. They were amazing, blew me away.

TFF was never really strictly a duo.

Curt: Well, we were. I mean, we were the only two ever signed and we made the decisions. But we hired other people. We couldn't play all the instruments ourselves.

In the video for "Head over Heels" the "extra" people seem to be playing a larger role than you and Roland.

Curt: "Head over Heels" was the one time where we attempted to do a little story. I think it failed abysmally. We were trying to be amusing. I enjoyed hanging out with Zippy the Chimp, though. That and being refused entrance into the Hotel bar because of the chimp.

In the UK you guys were seen as a teenybopper band. But in the US, a year and an album later, you had this image of being a serious band. Was that an odd juxtaposition?

Curt: We had a mixed reaction in England. Purely because of our age we had the young girls after us. But we also had the semi-suicidal college kids. We had the Men In Black. But that was true in America, too. When you have a number one album, you're going to attract a certain amount of teenybopper fans who just think you have great sing-a-long songs and don't take it any deeper. Which is fine. Nobody has to take it as deep as you believe it to be as an artist. If they just like it because it's a catchy tune, then fine.

What's your favorite Spandau Ballet song?

Curt: I only ever liked one...the first one...first hit...


Curt: I hated True! Actually I lie. I initially hated it, but now I admire it because it's a stupidly catchy song. "To Cut A Long Story Short" was the one I liked. I can tell you my least favorite Spandau Ballet line...[it] was in the horrendous song "Gold", [sings] "It's Indestructible!" I was never a big fan. But they're nice guys, I've met them on numerous occasions.

Did you have much to do with the b-side Johnny Panic?

Curt: No.

The line "kick out the style, bring back the jam" that's in that and "Seeds of Love" Was that aimed at Mr. Weller?

Curt: Yeah.

I take it you guys were Jam fans and not Style Council fans?

Curt: Absolutely. But again, it was just meant to be funny. But people hear it and go, "Oh, that's very cutting." But it wasn't, it just sounded good and it also happened to mean something. That's funny, definitely a product of when you grew up. I love the Style Council and didn't "discover" the Jam until years later. I think the Style Council is awesome, but when I talk to a Jam fan they're like,"No that's crap!" Yeah, don't like the Style Council at all. Of course I can remember Vince Clark when he was in Depeche Mode and I liked him better then.

Did Oletta Adams do anything on the new record?

Curt: No. I haven't spoken to her since the end of the Seeds of Love tour. We didn't have anything in common. And I severed ties after the tour. I didn't want to bring all that with me into the new project. It wouldn't have been moving on. That's what happened in the first record, I literally brought everything and everyone with me. You just don't learn anything that way.

If you hadn't been in a band, what would you be doing now?

Curt: I have no idea. I was training to be a teacher. But when we got signed, I couldn't do both. We were 18 at the time, with another band, and had a hit in Spain. Screaming girls in Spain was my opening to the industry.

How did the worldwide success of TFF change you?

Curt: It's very hard to come to terms with. It's hard to explain. At the time you think everything is pretty amazing to start with. Then it becomes so much pressure. Then you get angry because of the pressure. Then you start shouting at people because you're angry. Then you realize you can shout at people and they do whatever you want and so you get cocky. It's very weird. It put a big strain on any personal relationship.

So it was easy to let that go?

Curt: Absolutely. It's another reason I moved to New York. No one bothers you here. No one recognizes you. At least that's what I think. Then you go to some party and meet these people who say, "Oh yeah, you're Curt Smith, I've seen you in Soho. I just never wanted to talk to you."

What's you favorite film?

Curt: Being There, the Peter Sellers film. Ordinary People, I felt very close to. I had a very weird relationship with my father and mother.

That's the kind of movie people either loved or hated.

Curt: It's whether you can relate to it. Perhaps people who hated it can relate to it too much. Or you could just not like it. I found it incredibly moving. Other films...never been asked that before! Pulp Fiction is the best film over the past couple of years.

Last Book?

Curt: The Theory of Everything by Alicia Grunwuld. I can't put it down. It's a great book.

What's your ABC connection?

Curt: The band?

Yeah, Lexicon started as an ABC fanzine.

Curt: Well, we were on the same label. We saw a lot of them when we first started. I loved the early stuff. We used to listen to it all the time in the studio, back when Trevor Horn was really good.

What's been the reaction to your new album?

Curt: Very good. Of course I just may not hear the bad stuff.

Does the mention of Andrew Ridgley make you mad or just laugh?

Curt: I find it all amusing. Not only am I better than he is musically, but I kicked his ass in the car races as well.

People who haven't heard your album yet tend to think that all you did in TFF was sing.

Curt: Yeah, we were a duo. Roland went on to do what he did. You can't deny...I mean just listen to the music. TFF completely changed when I left, so it couldn't have been just one person. It's like duh...

Any tour plans for the new album?

Curt: Nothing definite. I'd like to. I like the playing bit, but not touring.

Why make a new record?

Curt: No, no, Just cause I wanted to. This whole thing is because it's what I want to do, the label and all. When I'm 50 I want to be running a label.

You can order the new Mayfield album via the inter-net at Music Blvd. or by calling 1-800-99-MUSIC.

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