Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Tears for Fears
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Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Tears for Fears

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Curt Smith takes the ultimate test

By Gary Ryan

Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! - Tears for Fears - NME interview
Tears for Fears’ Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal. CREDIT: Frank W. Ockenfels 3

1Which band replaced Tears for Fears when you pulled out of Live Aid in 1985?

“I knew we didn’t do it, but I wasn’t aware there was a replacement.”

WRONG. Apparently you were replaced at JFK Stadium Philadelphia by blues group George Thorogood and the Destroyers.

“My wife worked with George Thorogood before I met her because they were on her record label, so it’s weird I did not know that.”

Why didn’t you play Live Aid?

“Initially, I was pissed off because Bob [Geldof, organiser] had announced we were doing it without even asking us and it was smack in the middle of a year-long tour. It was the first week off we had. We kissed and made up with Bob and did ‘Everybody Wants to Run the World’ for him [for Sport Aid] afterwards, but we didn’t think us not performing would affect the amount of money they were raising in any way, so we didn’t do it so we could have that break.”

Did you ever regret missing such an iconic event?

“No, because we were exhausted. I realised we’d pulled out of his huge event, and there was this amusing moment where we were in Hawaii on the day it was happening, and there was a local cover band playing ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ in this little bar. I’m like: this or Live Aid? I don’t know!”

People might not realise that Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ samples Tears for Fears…

“It uses a slowed-down version of the drum intro to our song ‘The Hurting’.  That was great, and I thought the charity side was wonderful. It’s just that Live Aid was bad timing for us.”

2Which rapper sampled Tears for Fears after hearing Kanye West’s ‘Memories Fade’ sample on Ye’s 2008 song ‘Coldest Winter’?

“Wow, I wasn’t aware another rapper sampled us after that!  I knew Nas sampled ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ [on his 2011 track ‘Rule’], and I know Kanye’s version. I’m really failing at this!”

WRONG. Influenced by ‘Coldest Winter’, Drake sampled the 1983 Tears for Fears song ‘Ideas as Opiates’ for his 2009 track ‘Lust for Life’. Do you get a kick out of hearing those samples?

“Yes, but only when the song turns into something else. We had issues with the Kanye one, because he thought he deserved 80 per cent of the publishing when all he did was steal the entire song and change the lyric. But the Nas version I liked. I don’t know the Drake song. I would have thought my children would have played that to me, but clearly they’re not on the ball!”

3Which American psychologist wanted you to write a musical for him?

“[Laughs] That’s an easy one – Arthur Janov.”

CORRECT. The Tears for Fears band-name was inspired by the primal therapist’s work.

“He came to a London show knowing we were big followers of primal therapy early in our career, and asked us to lunch with him the next day. We thought it would be this big eye-opening experience and we’d learn so much, but he just wanted us to write a musical about primal therapy and it was a little soul-destroying.”

How big a deal was it for you to meet him?

“For myself and Roland [Orzabal, Tears for Fears bandmate] it was like God coming to see us, but he just turned out to be a regular human being. But his work certainly helped me through my difficult childhood and teen years.”

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4Tears For Fears won a ‘Best British Single’ BRIT Award for ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ in 1986. Name any two acts you beat.

“Whew! Phil Collins? God, I’m trying to think of any other acts that would have been out in ’85 …Nope!”

WRONG. Impressively, you beat: ‘Dancing In The Street’ by David Bowie and Mick Jagger, ‘Running Up That Hill’ by Kate Bush, Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothing’ and ‘19’ by Paul Hardcastle.

“Gah! Dire Straits was the one I was trying to think of. Out of those, Kate Bush is the one I’m most impressed with!”

Talking of Bowie: Tears for Fears covered ‘Ashes to Ashes’ for NME’s ‘Ruby Trax’ compilation in 1992. Ever meet him?

“I did. We went to dinner once in France and he was an incredibly nice, normal person, which is shocking considering how huge he was. [Paul] McCartney was the same. I’ve met him on numerous occasions and he’s just a sweet man.”

What did you think of Lorde’s version of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’?

“On our last tour, we played that as our intro music and came out and played our version directly out of it. I loved it. I’m a big Lorde fan.”

5In the US detective TV series Psych, the characters of Shawn Spencer and Burton “Gus” Guster performed Tears for Fears’ ‘Shout’ on the fictional talent show American Duos dressed as which two pop stars?

“Michael Jackson and Roland Orzabal.”

CORRECT. You’ve made several guest appearances playing yourself in Psych over the years….

“It’s fun! I’m in the recent Psych movie as well. The cast are the funniest and nicest bunch of people, and all incredibly good friends. Once you’re accepted into their little group of Psychos, you’re there. James Roday, the actor who plays Shawn, came to see us play and originally reeled me into the show, and I thought I was only going to make one appearance. But they keep asking me back to abuse me more and more! It’s become a thing now: how low can they go to abuse me in an episode?!”

There’s footage of you at a Comic-Con in 2010 performing ‘Shout’ with the cast…

“They’re all big karaoke singers, and dragged me along one time. I said: ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if I got up and sang one of our songs?’. So in the middle of a full karaoke bar, I went up and sang ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ and no-one in there paid me any attention. No-one realised it was me and it was hilarious!”

6Name both the 1993 diss-track Tears for Fears recorded about you after you left the band in 1991, and your own 1998 solo response-track.

“The diss-track was called ‘Fish Out of Water’ and then mine was ‘Sun King’.”

CORRECT.

“It was supposed to be slightly tongue-in-cheek and like: how can I really abuse someone? ‘Fish Out of Water’ amused me at the time because I had left that behind and it didn’t bother me that much. I was happy doing my own thing, so I found it amusing that a few years later, someone was still harking back to then and I’d forgotten about. It was an amusing back-and-forth that we now laugh about.”

Do you joke about it together then?

“It’s definitely come up in various conversations in a facetious way. Here’s the joy of growing older: we know we’ve abused each other in worse ways than that in the past to each other’s faces [laughs], so it doesn’t matter in a song, other than a lot of people get to hear it!”

You didn’t talk to each other for ten years after you exited the band in 1991. What was the most stupid and trivial thing you argued about? 

“It’s more we’re a band of just two people and have to find common ground in what we do, which is difficult. Normally each member of a band has their set thing they do – that’s the drummer, songwriter, singer, etc. With us, we both do a lot of things and we both sing which is the difficult bit. We’re a band of two frontmen, and both have relatively strong egos, so it’s inevitable you’ll end up fighting. It’s just the nature of the beast, so we’ve learnt to deal with it, and in retrospect, learnt to joke about it.”

7Who were your two teammates when you appeared on BBC1’s Pop Quiz in 1984?

“Our team captain was George Michael – I remember him mussing my hair up. But I can’t remember who the other one was. You’ll have to tell me!”

WRONG. It was George Michael and Home-for-Christmas-Driver Chris Rea.

“That I wouldn’t have remembered probably! The one thing I learnt quickly about George was he had a good sense of humour and was very self-deprecating, which I always enjoy.”

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8In 2015, which mouthy Manchester musician listed Tears for Fears as his “guilty pleasure”?

“One of the Gallagher brothers? Noel?”

CORRECT.

“Because I guess Liam would never admit to liking us probably! It’s a very big guilty pleasure because myself and Roland are Man United fans [the Gallaghers are famously Man City supporters] so that makes it even worse!”

It’s fair to say few regard Tears for Fears as guilty pleasures now?

“If you just stay alive long enough, people end up saying: ‘OK, alright, we get it, fine, we appreciate you. Good – stop playing’ [laughs]. Because a lot of younger musicians cite us as an influence or have covered our music – like The Weeknd [whose 2017 song ‘Secrets’ samples Tears for Fears’ ‘Pale Shelter’], Kanye, Lorde, and even Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’ version of ‘Mad World’, we’ve become hipper as we’ve gotten older. Thank God for that because my kids don’t think I’m as square as they used to! Meeting Matty [Healy] from The 1975 at Coachella was the coolest thing in their eyes, because Matty thought we were cool [Laughs] – which in their eyes, meant I was cool as fuck!”

What did you talk about with Matty?

“Music and touring. We’ve met on a few occasions afterwards and stayed in touch. We’ve become friends since then.”

9What is the chimpanzee wearing in the ‘Head Over Heels’ video?

“Was he wearing a raincoat? No, that was me! These are little things you just don’t notice at all! Is he wearing a football jersey of some sort?”

WRONG. He’s sporting a Boston Red Sox baseball team jersey.

“His name was Zippy the chimpanzee. He actually came onstage with us at Radio City in New York – he roller-skated across the stage. Zippy became a good friend of mine. He remembered me from the video shoot; at Radio City, I heard all this noise outside the dressing room door and called him – and he skated right up to me and jumped into my arms. It was very cute!”

10Complete the following lyrics: ‘I always comb my hair the other way / And I’m always obscure in the things I say’.

“I mean, it’s from the Graduate song ‘Acting My Age’, but it’s been so long since I’ve sung that….Nope!”

WRONG. It is indeed from Roland and your pre-Tears for Fears new wave band Graduate song ‘Acting My Age’, but the next lyrics are: ‘There’s a pile of opinions in my brain / They’re so different but they sound the same’. Which topped the charts in 1980… Albeit in Spain!

“At least I got the song! [Laughs] Graduate was vacuous pop music to a certain degree – although when you listen to that lyric, I guess not! We were being screamed at by young girls when we were 18 – but only in Spain. No-one anywhere else knew about us.”

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