Tears for Fears - Biography
By Scott Feemster
Tears For Fears are a British band mainly made up of two members, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith. The duo gained international fame in the 1980’s for combining moody post-punk rock with synth-pop, and then steadily moved on to a more lush, wide-screen vision of pop as their career progressed.
Both Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal hail from the city of Bath, in southwestern England. Both came from broken homes, and by the time they met each other when they were thirteen, had developed a keen interest in music. The two made their first recording, a version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds Of Silence” when they were fifteen, and for the next few years experimented around with various musical styles. The two formed the band Neon with fellow Bath residents Rob Fisher and Pete Byrne, who would later go on to find fame as the duo Naked Eyes, along with drummer Manny Elias. The group released two independent singles before breaking up. From there, Orzabal and Smith formed the Mod Revival/power-pop band Graduate in 1979, and released the album Acting My Age (Precision) and the single “Elvis Should Play Ska”. Both the single and the album sold moderately well in the U.K., and the band even toured in mainland Europe before breaking up in 1981. By that time, both Smith and Orzabal were undergoing changes and were becoming interested in new subjects. Both were becoming interested in therapist Arthur Janov's primal scream therapy as a way to work through emotional scarring and pain from childhood. At the same time, both were expanding their horizons musically, as well, and started becoming interested in synthesizers and the works of artists such as Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel. After Graduate broke up, they decided to form a band consisting of just themselves plus whatever musicians they needed to flesh out their ideas. After first calling themselves History Of Headaches, they instead settled on Tears For Fears in tribute to Janov's work. With the help of former Neon drummer Elias and former Graduate keyboardist Ian Stanley, the group recorded some demos of their new synthesizer-based songs and were soon signed to Phonogram Records in 1981.
The group released their first single as Tears For Fears, “Suffer The Children” in late 1981, and followed that up with a second single, “Pale Shelter”, later in 1982. Both singles climbed into the British Top Ten, as did their third single, “Mad World”, released at the end of 1982. The group's debut album, The Hurting (Phonogram/Mercury) was released in March of 1983 and became an immediate success, eventually reaching the #1 spot on the album charts in the U.K.and staying on the charts for an amazing 65 weeks. The album and singles were also a success around the world, including the U.S. where they were played on college radio stations and in new wave dance clubs. The group, including Orzabal, Smith, Elias and Stanley, toured to promote the album, and recorded a follow-up single, “The Way You Are”, released at the end of 1983. “The Way You Are” had a slightly different sound than the songs on The Hurting, and made indications that the band was already expanding it's horizons. The group's next single, “Mother's Talk”, released in August of 1984, was a further departure from their earlier sound, but it was the single released after that, “Shout”, released in November of 1984, that not only showcased the band's more polished and forceful pop sound, but also became one of their biggest international hits and paved the way for the release of their second album, Songs From The Big Chair (Phonogram/Mercury), released in February of 1985. Crafted mainly by producer Chris Hughes, Orzabal and Stanley, the album had a much more expansive sound than the synth-pop of their first album, relying more on guitar, piano, percussion and more traditional building blocks to build up their wide-screen sound. The album became a huge success all over the world, eventually earning triple-platinum status in the U.K., and quintuple-platinum status in the U.S. Songs From The Big Chair spent an amazing five weeks at the #1 spot on the U.S. album charts, and spawned five worldwide hit singles; “Mothers Talk”, “Shout”, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”, “Head Over Heels”, and “I Believe (A Soulful Re-Recording)”. The group, along with backing musicians guitarist Andrew Saunders, keyboardist Nicky Holland, and saxophonist Will Gregory, set out on an extensive worldwide tour that lasted the better part of a year. The group were also slated to appear at one of the Live Aid concerts in Philadelphia during the summer of 1985, but had to cancel the day of the show because some of their backing musicians quit because of a contract dispute. During the tour, the pair met an American singer/pianist in a bar in Kansas City, Oleta Adams, and were so impressed with her, that they asked if she could appear and collaborate with them on their next album. (Orzabal later would help Adams to go on to a successful solo career.) After the tour was over, drummer Elias left the group.
After the massive success of Songs From The Big Chair, Tears For Fears took their time in crafting their next album. The Seeds Of Love (Phonogram/Mercury), released in 1989. Recorded at a great cost and using many different producers and studios, much of the initial recordings for the album were scrapped in favor of later recordings produced by the band themselves, where they used the method of jamming on longer pieces and then editing them down to size as regular pop songs. Most of the songs were written mainly by Orzabal, along with Nicky Holland and Oleta Adams. The Seeds Of Love carried on the “classic” Tears For Fears sound, but also expanded that sound out even more to take in elements of blues, jazz and Beatle-esque elements that their music hadn't featured before. The album was another worldwide success, though not quit on par with their previous album, and went on to spawn four charting singles; “Sowing The Seeds Of Love”, “Woman In Chains”,(which featured co-lead vocals from Adams), “Famous Last Words” and “Advice For The Young At Heart”. The group, faced with huge debts incurred from recording the album, set out on a world tour to try and recoup that debt, and also released a book, Tears For Fears – The Seeds Of Love, which documented the writing and recording process the band went through to produce the album. After the tour was over, tensions between Smith and Orzabal came to a head, and Smith exited the band acrimoniously in 1991. Smith moved to New York City and released a solo album, Soul On Board (Phonogram/Mercury) in 1993, but the album sold so poorly in the U.K., that his record company decided not to release it in any other territories. Orzabal decided to continue using the band name, even though Tears For Fears was essentially him, and recorded and released a new single, “Laid So Low (Tears Roll Down)” in 1992 for inclusion on the band's greatest hits collection Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82-92)(Phonogram/Mercury).
Orzabal went on to use the Tears For Fears name for his next album, Elemental (Phonogram/Mercury), released in 1993. The album was a moderate hit in the U.K. and Europe, but failed to make much of a showing in the United States, even though Orzabal and company embarked on a smaller scale tour of the U.S. and had a minor hit single with the song “Break It Down Again”. Along with new collaborators Alan Griffiths and co-producer Tim Palmer, Orzabal returned again in 1995 with the Tears For Fears album Raoul And The Kings Of Spain (Epic), a quieter album that utilized Spanish influence and explored Orzabal's Spanish heritage. Though the album was a much more personal work for Orzabal, it failed to catch on with the general public, though it did produce two minor U.K. hits in the songs “Raoul And The Kings Of Spain” and “God's Mistake”. Orzabal again toured supporting the album, including well-received stops in Latin America, but after the tour was complete, Epic informed him they would not be extending the recording contract for Tears For Fears. The group’s former label, Phonogram/Mercury, released a collection of B-sides and rare tracks, titled Saturnine Martial & Lunatic in 1996. This was followed by remastered reissues of all of the groups albums on Phonogram/Mercury in 1999 that included remixes, extended versions and B-sides taken from singles released in support of the individual albums.
Orzabal abandoned Tears For Fears for a time to concentrate on production work for singer/songwriter Emiliana Torrini, and then collaborated again with Alan Griffiths on the album Tomcats Outside Screaming, released under his own name in 2001 on the Eagle Records label. The album received some critical praise, but failed to sell well. At around the same time, Orzabal had to meet with Smith at Smith’s home in Los Angeles to go over paperwork involving Tears For Fears, (the first time the pair had met face-to-face in almost ten years), and, to both of their surprises, they patched up their differences and agreed to try and work together again. Along with Smith’s collaborator Charlton Pettus, the pair wrote and recorded fourteen songs in a fairly short period of time, and twelve of the songs were included on the 2004 reunited Tears For Fears album Everybody Loves A Happy Ending (New Door). (Foreign editions of the album included all fourteen tracks from the original sessions.) The sound of the album was similar to the last album the pair had completed together, Sowing The Seeds Of Love, in that it was a further expansion on their “classic” sound with eclectic elements of jazz and an almost symphonic take on classic pop. The group toured extensively around the world in support of the album, and scored a minor hit in the U.K. with the single “Closest Thing To Heaven”. A 2005 performance in Paris, France was recorded and released as a CD and DVD in June of 2005 titled Secret World Live In Paris (XIII Bis). Released in just France and the Benelux countries, the album became a bestseller, and both members were impressed enough with the job the label did that Smith issued a 2007 solo album, Halfway, Pleased, on the same label. Since that time, Tears For Fears have played selective dates in Europe and the United States. There is no word on if Smith and Orzabal are set to work on more new material in the future as of yet.