I’m stretching this TV and radio blog a bit by interviewing Curt Smith of Tears of Fears, which is making its first appearance in Atlanta with Smith and his band mate Roland Orzabel in 20 years.
But here are my justifications: Though Tears For Fears hasn’t had a hit in 17 years, the British band was played on Dave FM and B98.5 a combined 27 times this past week, or nearly four times a day. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Shout” and “Head Over Heels” are staple 1980s songs. The band’s “Mad World” was sung by Adam Lambert last year on “American Idol.” And Curt Smith plays a farcical version of himself on an upcoming episode of “Psych” on USA Network.
I also managed to get Smith to sing a snippet of Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” (And no, I didn’t ask. He just did it!) And he was actually interviewed to be an “Idol” judge though he doubts he will be seriously considered.
Here are excerpts from my Q & A with Smith, 49, earlier this month by phone while he was on the road before a date in Detroit. The British native has lived in the Los Angeles area since the early 1990s with his wife Frances Pennington. He’s now a U.S. citizen and has two daughters:
Q: When was the last time you toured in Atlanta?
A: It was that 1990 tour. It wasn’t the best one. [Roland] and I weren’t getting on at the time. To be honest, I’ve been back to Atlanta a couple of times, I can’t remember what for. One for a big conference, a radio conference. I feel like it’s a vibrant place. It has a vibrant music scene.
Q: I read in the West Australian newspaper that you have actually met Justin Bieber, who lives here.
A: I have not. Well, yes and no. I went to the recent Justin Bieber show here a couple weeks ago. My daughters, specifically my eldest daughter is about to turn 11. She’s a big fan. I get into meet and greets. She got to say hello. I just stood in the corner and watched her face. That’s the joy I get out of it. Looking at the kids enjoying it.
Q: So you know all the songs, eh?
A: I have no choice but to listen. I know every song unfortunately. [He starts singing: "Baby, baby, baby ooh, like baby baby baby ooh."]
Q: Wow! I didn’t mean to have you sing Justin Bieber!
A: You’ll be the first — and the last. Trust me!
Q: You’ve been an early adapter of social media. Do you enjoy Facebook and Twitter?
A: I do. I actually enjoy it a lot for a multitude of reasons. I enjoy the fact there are no barriers anymore. Having a publicist and recording and touring. You have people arranging your life on tour. [Social media, in comparsion] normalizes us, me specifically. Whereas people will often look to you as some idol, I’m able to talk directly to them. It makes me more normal.
Q: Do you Tweet mostly observations or use it just as a promotional tool?
A: Generally observations, I guess. Obviously, I’m imparting news of what I’m up to, music I may be in to. If I were to go through my last couple of Tweets, last night I was in a hotel hallway. My Tweet was, ‘I’ve forgotten the joys of touring.’ It was a hallway that could be anywhere. It was hideously generic and boring. Those are things that hit me.
Q: Are you a fan of “American Idol”?
A: I actually am a fan. My kids watch it all the time. I think it’s gone downhill a bit. Weirdly, I was interviewed two months ago about being a judge, which was peculiar. Where did they get my name from?
Q: Would you say yes?
A: I think I would enjoy it. I would have been good at it. But I don’t think I’m the kind of person they’re looking for if the rumors of the people mentioned in the press are true. I don’t really see a lot of commonality [between him and the likes of Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez.]
Q: Did you enjoy Adam Lambert’s version of “Mad World”?
A: He did the Gary Jules version. I liked it a lot. My kids and I got to see him sing it at the finale. When he first sang it, I was at an L.A. Galaxy game. Someone sent me an instant message from New York. The thing I liked about him, he made every song his own. Even though it was the Gary Jules version, he did a particularly good version of it. It was cool until I heard the theme of the week: songs that were released the year you were born.
Q: You instantly felt old, eh?
Here’s Lambert’s version that Smith watched live in the audience:
And the original version by Tears For Fears from 1982 on “Top of the Pops”:
Q: I just saw “Donnie Darko” a few months ago. Are you a fan of the movie given how important your songs were in the soundtrack?
A: I liked it a lot. It took me awhile to get into it. It’s very dark and peculiar. Artistically, it was very cool.
Q: How different do you feel your solo work is vs. Tears For Fears?
A: It’s certainly different. Sometimes you feel it’s better. Sometimes, it’s not as good. Why I continued to do it and will continue to do it, it’s time where I can go and make no compromise and do what I want. No one’s there to disagree. Naturally, in a band or duo, it’s really about compromise which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Tears for Fears is me and Roland.
Q: Do you do any songs really differently now than in the past?
A: We’re not angry young men anymore. We’re crotchety middle-aged men now. We tend to do a different “Shout.” It starts off at a low key. That’s the way we are now. Emotionally, if we feel emotionally slightly different, we change the arrangement to suit us now.
Q: You two had a tough breakup in 1990. How are things since you got back together in 2000?
A: We’re getting along the best since we were teenagers. This was our first band when we were 13…
Q: Who has aged better?
A: Oh, me! What else am I going to say?
Q: What concessions have you made touring now that you are crotchety middle-aged men compared to angry young men?
A: We’re just a lot more relaxed. The great thing is we’re much better players and singers than we were. That makes the playing aspect much easier and more enjoyable. The musicians we work with are a league above the musicians we worked with then. This is a strange day for me. I normally don’t do interviews on the road. Now when we tour, I make sure I give myself time to see the cities. And there are not a whole bunch of rabid fans outside not allowing me to go out. It’s far better now.
Q: When’s the last time that happened?
A: Actually, to be honest, not that long ago. In Manila. It was nuts. If you were to go on YouTube and type in Tears for Fears and Manila. The homemade videos. During “Mad World,” you can’t even hear us play. It’s one big karaoke contest. [See a sample below]
Q: I read one news account compared your visit to that of Michael Jackson. [Tears For Fears coincidentally has been doing a cover of "Billie Jean" in concerts.] Why do the Filipinos love you so much?
A: We had never played there. After 25 years, we finally came to the Philippines. It was a huge party.
Q: Doing research, I found this hilarious literal version of your “Head Over Heels” video. Did you get a kick out of it?
A: I couldn’t stop laughing either. I loved it. When someone Tweeted the link to me a year and a half ago, I put it on my website. I think my favorite line is when he sings, “Here’s the keyboard.” When you look back at those videos, it’s hard not to notice how stupid the effects were. Everyone was doing tacky stuff. I liked the fact they picked up the fact we stole a bit from “Ghostbusters.” That was true!
Q: You are doing a fun Web show called “Stripped Down Live.”
A: We’ve only taped two episodes. We are still ironing out the kinks. We’ll stock up in September. I was doing this chat show with Kevin Pollack. I was saying to him that there are no more good music shows where people talk about music and showcase newer acts. We talk about lyrics and music. We’re doing small acoustic sets.
Here’s one of the episodes:
Q: One last question: how did the whole “Psych” Comic-Con visit come about?
A: I met James Roday [the lead] at our show in Los Angeles. He and Tim [not sure if he's referencing fellow "Psych" actor Timothy Omundson but probably] somehow managed to get backstage. James was like a big fluttery fan girl.
Q: As bad as I’ve been in this interview?
A: Far worse! He asked if I would come and be on an episode playing myself. As far as acting, I could do that. I think it comes out next month on Sept. 1.
Q: What’s the plot line?
A: There’s a very rich man who’s suspected of some murder. He’s so rich, he can afford to fly me in and play in his house. We just hang out. I’m his paid friend.
Q: Ever have that happen to you in real life?
A: No. But I’m open to offers!
Q: What happened at Comic Con?
A: We did this funny movie just to show at Comic Con, a trailer I was in. Then I walk out on stage. And we sang “Shout.”
Q: I said that’d be my last question but I lied. I forgot to ask why [Atlanta-based] Arrested Development is opening for you. That’s an unusual choice.
A: My wife used to work on their label. I actually requested them for the show.
Tears For Fears, with Arrested Development and Wainwright opening
7:30 p.m. Aug. 26. $28.50-$48.50
Chastain Park Amphitheatre, 4469 Stella Drive N.W., Atlanta
Buy tickets here