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Once Sparring Partners, Tears for Fears Play Together to Stay Together

Who said you can't go home again? Certainly not Tears for Fears. The band's trajectory has technically been intact for the past 28 years — although its two principals, Roland Orzabel and Curt Smith, parted after peaking in the early '90s. While Orzabel carried on with the band's branding, Smith took a hiatus for about a dozen years. When they reconvened for 2004's Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, the band began a second chapter in its career, one that's yet to yield further studio offerings but still finds it continuing to tour.

The duo's hits, fashioned from a stylish sound, imaginative arrangements, and hook-heavy, synthesized melodies — "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," "Shout," "Head Over Heels," "Sowing the Seeds of Love," chief among them — still sound as engaging now as they did when they found regular rotation on radio and MTV. "It's much better now," Smith insists. "We play and perform together much better than we ever have. We're much better at what we do."

New Times spoke to Smith from his home in Los Angeles a week before their impending tour.

New Times: It's been awhile since you've toured in these parts.

Curt Smith: Well, it's been awhile since we toured the East Coast. We probably do two four- to six-week tours a year, and that's the limit of our capabilities.

You've been carrying on in this new incarnation since the middle of the last decade, right?

To a certain degree. I mean, obviously we're sort of carrying on from where we left off and still trying to improve. I don't think we'd be touring if we didn't think there was still room for improvement. We feel we're getting better, and we look back to the way the band used to be 15 or 20 years ago, and the improvement that's happened in that amount of time is very gratifying. So now we really enjoy playing live. We're very confident in ourselves now. We never used to be.

It's been six years since your last studio album. Why the hiatus?

There are many reasons for that. I think the prime reason is because geographically we're so far apart. The band lives in L.A., and Roland still lives in England. And then too, the music industry has changed. For us to record a new album now would involve some financial investment by someone, and that doesn't happen in the music industry anymore. So we're playing live. We're still doing dribs and drabs of writing while we're on the road, and maybe at some point we'll record and release that. But it won't be for a while.

So what drove the wedge between you and Roland for that 12 years or so?

I left the band in 1990 because I just sort of had enough. We weren't agreeing on much, and if we're not agreeing on things and there are only two of us, it seems pointless to carry on. I never really understood these bands where everyone knows they hate each other and yet they stay together. It really makes no sense to me, because life's too short for that. I'd rather spend my time with people I do get on with and like. Also, for me, I didn't really like the invasion of privacy, the fact that you didn't have a private life anymore. So I moved to New York, which is sort of a great place to disappear, and got myself a life.

It always seems to be more difficult with duos rather than full bands.

Because if there's an entire band, there's probably a peacemaker and everyone has different roles, so there's always someone you can bounce ideas off of. There's other people you can bitch to and complain to, but when there's only two of you, that's it. If you're not getting on, there's nothing you can do about it, and there's nowhere else for you to go and blow off steam.

And what brought you back to the band?

I started playing again after a bunch of years. After I moved to L.A., I got a phone call from Roland's manager asking me if at that point in time I'd be interested in doing another album with Roland. I didn't want to sort of flippantly go, "Well, no!" Obviously we have a history, so it's something you have to think about seriously. He was living in Bath, where my family still lives, and I said, "Well, look, next time I'm back there visiting my family, we'll go out and have dinner and see if it's weird or not." So we did, and it wasn't weird; it was fine. So we agreed to go into the studio and record one or two songs and see if there was anything creative there that we both thought was good. And we did, and the rest is kind of history. We've been playing together ever since and enjoying it again.

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Lee Zimmerman

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