INTERVIEW: Curt Smith on why Tears for Fears avoids 1980s nostalgia tours

Tears for Fears - Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith - break it down with ease. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Tears for Fears - Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith - break it down with ease. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

The band will be at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre with Garbage June 12.

Tears For Fears avoids doing 1980s package tours, the ones that include the likes of A Flock of Seagulls, ABC and Blondie.

“I’m not a big believer in nostalgia,” said 60-year-old Curt Smith, one half of Tears for Fears with childhood friend Roland Orzabal, in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The group, which is stopping at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre June 12 in Alpharetta, is touring with 1990s alt-rock band Garbage.

“They are a very cool group and they are great live,” Smith said, of Garbage. “We try to shy from our era. We’ve always turned down anything that smacks too much of the 1980s and we have been offered them often. As a musician, you don’t want to tie yourself to a specific decade even though that was the height of our fame.”

They still view themselves as viable, active artists and their latest album “The Tipping Point” has gotten rapturous reviews and reaction from fans.

“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” Smith said. “Even Pitchfork gave us a good review, which is shocking. They’re normally particularly harsh toward older musicians.”

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, writing in Pitchfork, said “‘The Tipping Point’ is the work of middle-aged survivors who have absorbed the lessons of therapy and loss; its alternative title could’ve been ‘The Healing.’”

That is a direct reference to Tears for Fears’ debut album “The Hurting” from 1983 and Smith said he’s since used that line in interviews.

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Tears for Fears are at Ameris Ampthitheatre in Alpharetta June 12 with Garbage. PUBLICITY PHOTO

Credit: PUBLICITY PHOTO

Tears for Fears are at Ameris Ampthitheatre in Alpharetta June 12 with Garbage. PUBLICITY PHOTO

Credit: PUBLICITY PHOTO

Combined ShapeCaption
Tears for Fears are at Ameris Ampthitheatre in Alpharetta June 12 with Garbage. PUBLICITY PHOTO

Credit: PUBLICITY PHOTO

Credit: PUBLICITY PHOTO

“The Tipping Point” was seven years in the making. The band in the mid-2010s worked on an album attempting to create radio-friendly pop hits using younger songwriters. While some of the songs turned out okay, Smith said “it just felt completely dishonest. I didn’t feel it represented us.”

So they broke off with the label Warner Brothers and their management company. Orzabal and Smith went back to the studio by themselves, redid a few songs from the scrapped album and added several more.

“We did all this on our own,” he said. “It was just the two of us and a producer in the studio. Once we got rid of outside influence, we knew what we wanted to say. Weirdly, it became easy. I think in the end, we did a valid piece of work.”

Tears for Fears, for all their singles success, conceptually embrace the album. Smith said the one time they tried to just come up with a chart-friendly single in 1983 (”The Way You Are”), it bombed.

“Our strength is creating a story line,” Smith said. “I don’t want to use the word concept. Our albums tend to have a general feel about them.”

This one has overtones of sadness but also hope, redemption and acceptance. Orzabal’s wife Caroline died in 2017 following a long struggle with depression and alcoholism. That pain is evident in some of the songs, including “Please Be Happy” and the title song.

“Caroline’s death was a big thing, a huge trauma in Roland’s life,” said Smith. “I’ve been friends with her since I was 13. We also wanted to address how the world has changed in recent years. The rise of the right wing and Donald Trump. The Black Lives Matter movement. #MeToo. The climate crisis. Then the pandemic started. We touch on all those subjects in the album. I feel like we are at a tipping point. We seem to be being pulled apart by the extreme left and extreme right.”

Indeed, some of their 1980s hits resonate today for that very same reason, especially “Mad World” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Smith mused. “Lyrically, songs like ‘Mad World’ are still relevant. I think that happens when you write something with depth and meaning.”

“The Tipping Point” also features a song that addresses the conflicts with management called “Master Plan.” “The song is basically about how someone else has this master plan of what you should be doing and they never ask you what you want to do.”

He said while business and marketing folks at a record label or management company are a “necessary evil at times, we ― at this advanced stage of our career ― don’t need them. We don’t plan to do a duet with BTS. That’s not what we do.”

Not to say Tears for Fears has no respect for modern music. They have even covered songs by acts like Arcade Fire and Animal Collective.

“The belief that music from a certain era is better than the modern era is not true,” he said. “The good stuff sticks around. We forget the bad stuff. I don’t think the music scene has changed that dramatically. If anything, it’s just easier to find the good stuff.”

Newer acts have returned the favor. Gary Jules in 2001 gave “Mad World” an even darker sheen for the film “Donnie Darko.” Lorde’s haunting cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” landed on the “Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” And Drake, the Weeknd and Kanye West have sampled their songs.

“They all sampled songs from ‘The Hurting,’ which wasn’t even our biggest album,” he said. (”Songs From the Big Chair” from 1985 had their three big hits “Shout,” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Head Over Heels.”)

Yet “The Hurting” connects with Generation Z, he said.

“We played Bonnaroo one year [in 2015] and the audience was 18 to 25 year olds,” Smith said. “They were singing along to all the songs from ‘The Hurting.’ It was fantastic. You realize that was the age when we wrote those songs so it makes complete sense. The emotions, the feelings they’re going through were those we were going through at that point.”

Tears For Fears began its current tour earlier this month in Cincinnati and while nostalgia isn’t their thing, they are happy to service their fans with the big hits. The 19-song set list includes “Woman in Chains,” “Sowing the Seeds of Love” and “Break It Down Again” but intersperses seven of the 10 cuts from “The Tipping Point,” including a peppy cut during the encore appropriately titled “End of Night.”


IF YOU GO

Tears for Fears with Garbage

7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 12. $29.50-$139.50. Ameris Bank Amphitheatre, 2200 Encore Parkway, Alpharetta. livenation.com.