It’s an unseasonably sunny and hot day in Vancouver, a man in a foam pickle suit wanders down Granville Street for no apparent reason, the waitress at the Japanese restaurant misunderstands my order and brings me a single spot prawn with the head propped up, as my main course, and across from me at lunch is Curt Smith from Tears for Fears. And Curt Smith from Tears for Fears is telling me that fresh Kiwi juice is his secret ingredient in his pear and walnut pancakes.
Lunches don’t get much more surreal than this. It is, quite frankly, AWESOME.
Also at the table with Smith – who is looking amazing for his 51 years, tanned and relaxed from LA living – is his fab manager Arlene, and she’s come bearing gifts from Smith’s side project band Mayfield. (Geddit? CURT-IS-MAYFIELD?) In the grab bag of the fun stuffs that fans got as part of a VIK (Very Important Kook) pack, are signed mini-packs of Skittles, his favourite tour candy. I like a man who comes with sweets.
But nevermind the candy, or how I got here. Nevermind for that matter, how THEY got here (ok, since you asked, Curt was filming a second cameo in the TV series “Psych” because they loved him so much, they offered him a more, errr, meatier role in which he apparently gets attacked by a panther), here we are, strangers united in Twitter and social media love, sitting around at a sushi joint, talking about everything.
Curt’s an affable fellow, a footie fan who checks his phone for the scores (I tease him about calling it soccer) and who is chatty and devoid of bull. Me, I’m trying to employ a skill I am not best friends with – restraint – in order to avoid blubbering on about the fact that THE HURTING is one of the best albums of the 80s.
Because that was so very, very long ago. And while I’m a bit possessive of “Mad World”, one of the things he’s most excited about – you can tell, his eyes almost literally light up – is that via the Donnie Darko/Gary Jules treatment, the Aiden-Grimshaw-on-X-Factor approach and that the song is in the video game Gears of War, his song from an album released in 1981 now brings new, younger faces to his gigs. He expects to see oldies like me, sure, but the yoof of today? Awesome.
So instead of harping on about “Pale Shelter” or some songs wot dun came from the Big Chair, we talk about the world of the musician now – how and why social media is important for bands and how so few of them are using it well or at all, how the industry has changed so fundamentally, the world of self-funding and of course, the now-ubiquitous AmandaPalmerKickstarter conversation that follows these lines.
And he’s GREAT at Twitter and blogging. He sometimes even recognizes fans from Twitter in person, he says with pride. He’d much rather have conversations than sign autographs. He agrees when I tell him that I liken bands not responding (within reason/when they can) to fans on Twitter similar to them turning their backs on one at a gig. So he talks to folks on Twitter when he can, answers Q’s, shares what he’s doing, talks about his family with pride. When folks complain about why TFF aren’t touring their city – as one friend asked me to ask him about – he writes a practical blog explaining why. He doesn’t pander.
Other coolness of Curt you probably didn’t know: he released his solo album Halfway, Pleased under a Creative Commons license. He’s talked at TEDx conferences. He enlisted musicians he’d never met through Twitter (cellist Zoë Keating plays with him on “All is Love”). In fact, he’d really like to work with Kimbra and She & Him’s Zooey Deschanel. At first SHE seemed interested on Twitter, apparently, but then started referring him to her people and such, and the whole idea ground to a halt. It’s a shame, he says. Musicians should really be able to drive their own plans with the help of their managers, not the other way round.
And he’s certainly had experience being part of a bigger machine. Anyone remember “Shout”?
Back then, Smith says, his “people” used to tell him what he could and couldn’t say in interviews. “We don’t want to piss someone off, they’d say,” he scoffs. “But I like to pick fights, especially about politics.” Now, he just says what he wants via whatever delivery method he fancies. And fans appreciate the honesty.
As far as music goes, yes, Tears for Fears is still a THING – they tour on occasion and have patched up past differences – and he’s hoping to self-release a new solo effort this summer, but finds it hard to write when he’s content. “I’m too busy being happy,” he says, with a smile. But t’was not always so. He also recently scored the music to the indie film Meth Head (starring Lukas Haas) but “needed to take a break from all that because it was just too depressing.”
Ultimately, Smith’s busier with more diverse projects than you probably ever thought one half – “is he the cute one?” other friends asked, and yes – of Tears for Fears could be. Looking after his daughters, looking after his career, looking forward and cutting out the middlemen between him and his fans.
It’s the way it should be, we all agree, then trip out into the sunshine. But the past isn’t totally forgotten. Later that night, Curt gets up on stage at a local karaoke bar with the crew of Psych, for fun. What does he sing?
“Everybody Wants To Rule the World.”
He nails it, of course, but I woulda gone for “Mad World”. BECAUSE IT’S FROM ONE OF THE BEST ALBUMS OF THE 80s!