5 Albums I Can’t Live Without: Curt Smith of Tears for Fears

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  • Curt Smith
    English musician and current member of Tears for Fears

Name Curt Smith

Best known for Here’s the thing about being in a band, normally people don’t call you by your name: “You’re that guy from Tears for Fears.” My wife was in the record industry. At MTV, they literally used to call me Mr. Pennington, because my wife is Francis Pennington, who was a big publicist at the time. Everyone at MTV knew her more than they knew me.

Then you get to where you meet young people and they’re saying, “Aren’t you Diva’s dad? Aren’t you Wilder’s dad?” So, you become known as a dad.

Now younger people refer to me as “That guy from Psych,” because I’ve been on this TV show a bunch of times. I get recognized a lot for that.

Current city Los Angeles, CA

Really want to be in Well, there’s two places. Tuscany, I just feel at home. We normally are there every year. So, Tuscany and then New York City.

Excited about I have to say the new album because I am excited about it [The Tipping Point, February 2022]. It’s been a long time coming and I’m glad it’s done. And actually playing live again, which, obviously, during the pandemic, no one’s been able to do. Not only getting on the stage again, but also playing new songs, which we haven’t been able to do for a long time. To actually change a set and put new songs in is going to be a joy. It’s going to be a breath of fresh air.

My current music collection has a lot of If I look at my playlists, especially stuff I listened to growing up, there was a little Blue Oyster Cult in there, I was a big Blue Oyster Cult fan when I was like 12, 13. Also, there was stuff that was just really good songwriters. It’s interesting to look when I look at playlists of mine of songs. There are people like The Carpenters in there, and Bread, and Gilberto O’Sullivan. They were all great songs. They weren’t particularly groundbreaking, it was just good songwriting.

And a little bit of A lot of stuff I listen to in the car is actually my kids’ because we share a Spotify, so I end up listening to their playlists, which I love.

It’s how I discover a lot of new music. Diva has very eclectic tastes, just as Wilder. Wilder is more into the dark shoegazing introspective. That’s my younger daughter. Although she’s a huge Rex Orange County fan, who I’ve come to love, Diva is the biggest St. Vincent fan, all-female singer/songwriter, because that’s what she is. She’s in the Clive Davis Music School in New York at NYU. She listens to a lot of St. Vincent, Holly Humberstone, new artist. She listens to Billie Eilish, she’s a big fan also, so it’s a mixture of stuff.

Preferred format I listen to mostly stuff through streaming now. It’s just more convenience than anything else. If I really want to listen to an album on big speakers, like in the studio at home, then obviously a CD or album would be preferable because the sound quality is better.

5 Albums I Can’t Live Without

1

Welcome to My Nightmare

Alice Cooper

Because it was an album. It was a concept album. It was the first time I really sat down and realized what an album could be. When I was younger…you would go buy a single and then you might get the album later. You really were listening to 45s more than 33s, things that only people of a certain age would know what that means.

Albums…you would get, and sometimes they would disappoint you, but then Welcome to My Nightmare was the first album I bought and got into. Actually, even looking back on it now, I think a precursor to “Woman in Chains”, which was “Only Women Bleed” from Welcome to My Nightmare, which is a genius song. I think a lot of it was down to the production probably but I don’t think I realized that at the time because I was, what, 13 when it came out 13, 14. I was just attracted to it as a story, and how an album told a longer story and a bigger story than one four-minute song could do.

2

3

Peter Gabriel

This was a hard one to choose, because there were three albums that came out around the same time. This is the time when we started recording. Tears for Fears, it really just started to exist. We had this band called Graduate, and it was a live band and fun, but we would just go in the studio and play live, and that was it. We hadn’t learned the concept of overdubbing and building a track and layering instruments and things like that.

Listening to Peter Gabriel’s third album was the first time I really listened. We were in the process of going in and recording and realizing how an album could be put together sonically. It’s an amazing sounding record, on top of the musicianship and the songwriting, “Family Snapshot” is my favorite track on the album, actually, one of my favorite tracks ever done. Again, that has a journey. It goes from a softer part to a harder part, to a really intimate part of him as a child. The melody of it was just fantastic. I’m a bass player so John Giblin bass playing at the end of family snapshots… A bass part didn’t have to just be holding down what the bass drum is doing, it was playing a tune. All those things I think were influential. “Biko” was a big influence…the fact that you could be overtly political in song and be that emotional. “Biko” was just such a fantastic track. People always back then, especially at our age, would tell us that you really got to keep politics and even personal politics and emotions out of songwriting. That’s not the way we work. Watching someone as big as Peter Gabriel do it was reassuring.

Around the same time, Remain in Light by Talking Heads came in and Scary Monsters by David Bowie. I’m going to lump them in quietly because those three albums were the biggest influence on learning how to produce records.

3

A Walk Across the Rooftops

The Blue Nile

I remember hearing the first track, “A Walk Across the Rooftops”. I was actually laying in the bath in my home. I just thought, “Whoa, this sounds so different and interesting.” I literally actually got up out of the bathroom, grabbed a pen and a piece of paper to write down who it was before I forgot. The whole album is fantastic. Also, they did it all at home. The production was so different, but clearly not expensive.

When you listen to Peter Gabriel’s albums or even Remain in Light, David Bowie certainly, they’re all done in big studios and they have time and money, but to get something that was this intimate and different and interesting with probably next to no money, was what made it so good. And also, Paul Buchanan’s voice…to this day he’s still one of my favorite singers. It’s so intimate and sad. On the whole album, just they managed to capture this feeling of melancholy and drabness…it just gives you a certain feeling.

“Stay” is my favorite track on the album. Lyrical content is a very powerful thing to me. I like the refrain on“Stay” as “stay and I will understand you,” which is such a different plea to I’ll love you, I’ll do this for you, I’ll do that for you, but no, I’ll understand you, I won’t make you happy. I’ll just understand you and you won’t get that from anyone else. I just thought that was a really powerful lyric.

4

Swoon

Prefab Sprout

They are an acquired taste. Musically, a little jamming. They were trying to be poppy, but musically, they were more in line with Steely Dan than anything pop, even though they were attempting to be pop, just chord-wise and musical transitions, it was always stuff that was like, “Really they went there”. In some structure chords lyrics, those were things that no one else was using in pop music at the time. I think that with Prefab Sprout, it was always the lyrical content that hit me the most. If I’m thinking of songs from Swoon.

I was listening to “Don’t Sing” this morning, which to me sounds incredibly current purely because of the lyrics, “Oh, no, don’t blame Mexico” and “Denial doesn’t change facts.” I think most of Prefab Sprout was poetry.

5

A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships

The 1975

I was torn between this and i,i by Bon Iver. Those are my two favorite albums over the last bunch of years. I listen to both albums a lot, but I went with A Brief Inquiry….it’s more of a journey than the Bon Iver record, and lyrically it’s stronger. I don’t know what Justin’s singing, and I feel I’m not alone there.

I’m a big 1975 fan. I find a lot of parallels between them and us when we were young, and they’re trying to do things that are slightly different. They have pop songs on their records, but the records really are a journey and A Brief Inquiry is definitely a journey. It’s a complete album from the poppiness of “Give Yourself A Try”, which is a very personal story. “Love It If We Made It” is a perfect plea for today, and talks about climate crisis and politics in America, again, all in a pop song which is fantastic. My favorite, which obviously says something about me, is “I Always Want to Die (Sometimes)”. I always go for the melancholic, but they have some self-deprecation to them, which that does.

Honorable Mention:

Wish You Were Here

Pink Floyd

Wish You Were Here is one record I think every young musician should listen to. Purely because…you are encouraged to go and write the hits or do this or fit into that genre or do whatever. One, Pink Floyd have never done that. Two, I’ve gone through endless discussions with record companies, especially radio people, “it’s too long until the vocal comes in”, “too long until we get the hook line”. Then you go listen to Wish You Were Here, which was a huge album.

I think the reason that I would love to throw it in, it’s the prime example of why you don’t have to listen to an industry because you can do whatever you want, as long as you do it really well. Pink Floyd always did it really well and they didn’t give a fuck.

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