Smith met Roland Orzabal when both were teenagers. They first formed a band in their teens, for which Smith taught himself to play bass guitar. They next formed the ska influenced band Graduate, who released their only album in 1980 achieving minor success in Europe. Around this time, Smith and Orzabal also became session musicians for the band Neon. Fellow band members included Pete Byrne and Rob Fisher who went on to become the duo Naked Eyes.
Tears for Fears
After Graduate and Neon disbanded, Smith and Orzabal founded Tears for Fears in 1981. Their debut album, 1983’s The Hurting, reached no.1 in the UK and produced three international hit singles – “Mad World”, “Change”, and “Pale Shelter” – each with lead vocals performed by Smith.
Their 1985 album Songs from the Big Chair was even more successful, yielding hits including “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (with Smith again on lead vocals), “Shout,” and “Head Over Heels” (which Smith co-wrote).
The duo spent the next several years recording their 1989 album The Seeds of Love, which proved to be another international best-seller. Smith’s last single as a lead vocalist with the group (and his only lead vocal track on the album) was “Advice for the Young at Heart”. Following another world tour, increasing tensions between himself and Orzabal prompted Smith to leave the band in 1991 and he moved to New York.
In 2000, routine legal paperwork obligations led to Orzabal and Smith’s first conversation in nearly a decade. The two patched up their differences and, along with Smith’s associate Charlton Pettus, began writing a new album – Everybody Loves a Happy Ending – released in 2004. Prior to this, “Mad World” was covered by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules for the soundtrack of film Donnie Darko. It was released as a single and reached no.1 in the UK during Christmas 2003. The single re-ignited interest in the group’s earlier work and their 1992 Greatest Hits album was re-released and re-entered the UK Top 10 for several weeks, garnering its second UK platinum disc.
Soul on Board
After leaving Tears for Fears, Smith released his first solo album, Soul on Board, in 1993. The album was unsuccessful in the UK, and was not released at all in the U.S.
Smith later claimed that he made the album purely to fulfil his record contract with Phonogram/Mercury.
After moving to New York, Smith formed the band Mayfield with guitarist-producer Charlton Pettus and which also featured Russ Irwin. According to Smith, the name of the band was a play on words (Curt is Mayfield) based on the name of the legendary American soul singer Curtis Mayfield. The band was mostly a live act but did release a self-titled album in 1997, which met with little success. Smith later released the album Aeroplane under his own name. In the U.S., this was a six song EP, but in Canada and elsewhere, it was essentially the earlier Mayfield album combined with additional songs from the U.S. EP.
In October 2011, Smith announced on his website that he will re-release the Mayfield album on 15 November 2011. The new release, on his KOOK Media label, will include a bonus version of the song “Trees” featuring Janice Whaley.
During 2000, Smith began work on what was to become Halfway, Pleased, but the project was put on hold when he re-established contact with Orzabal again after almost a decade of silence. Their conversations culminated in Tears for Fears reforming for 2004’s Everybody Loves a Happy Endingwhich led to a worldwide tour, so it wasn’t until 2006 that Smith resumed work on Halfway, Pleased. The semi-autobiographical album explores Smith’s relationships with his children, parents and friends.
In April 2007, French record label XIII Bis Records released Halfway, Pleased in France. Its 14 tracks included the original version of “Who You Are” (which was recorded by Tears for Fears on Everybody Loves a Happy Ending); a live version of “Snow Hill” from the 2005 Tears for Fears UK tour; the single version of “Seven of Sundays” (also recorded as a duet with French singer SO); and a cover of “On Ira Tous au Paradis” (also available on A Tribute to Polnareff). Two music videos were made for “Seven of Sundays” – one as a solo track, and one as the duet with SO.
All the songs except “Seven of Sundays” were co-written by Smith and Pettus. The solo version of “Seven of Sundays” was co-written by Pettus and Chesney Hawkes; Smith and Sophie Saillet helped adapt the song for the duet version.
Smith finally released the album in the U.S. and the rest of the world in May 2008 via his own KOOK Media label. The KOOK release features a slightly different track listing, eliminating the Polnareff tribute and adding two new acoustic tracks (“Coming Out” and “Seven of Sundays”). It was released under a Creative Commons license which allows fans to distribute, perform and use the songs so long as the uses are non-commercial and attributed to Smith.
Smith has made limited live concert appearances in the Los Angeles area to support Halfway, pleased. In January 2009, he announced that he will perform a weekly residency at The Standard Hollywood in West Hollywood, CA during the month of February 2009. He announced in mid-February that The Standard had asked him to extend through March 2009 and he agreed. He played a similar residency there in October 2008.
In July 2013 it was announced that Smith would release his fourth solo album, his first since 2008. The album was released on 16 July 2013.
“The Social Media Project”
In January 2010, Smith released the standalone single “All Is Love (featuring Zoë Keating),” the first track in what he says will be an album-length project of collaborations with artists he meets via social media. Smith met Keating, an avant-garde cellist, via Twitter. The second track in the series, “Perfectly…Still (featuring Universal Hall Pass)” was released in August 2010. A fan of Smith’s suggested the collaboration via Twitter; Smith contacted UHP (aka Melissa R. Kaplan) via the MySpace service. As of January 2012 Smith’s site lacks any specific details but claims “More tracks coming in 2011!”.
Smith occasionally collaborates with other artists. He worked with the French singer So (Sophie Saillet) providing vocals on her track “Les Autres”, and the pair worked together again on Smith’s track “Seven of Sundays” (Saillet also appeared in both videos for the song). Smith is also featured on The Shadow Bureau’s 2011 track “Don’t Give Yourself Away” with artist Linda Strawberry,inspired by the 2010 Australian film Griff the Invisible. In May 2011, Smith tweeted that he was working on a track with JunkieXL which features on JXL’s album Synthesized.He also recorded a vocal track for the American punk band American Eyes on their song entitled The Day We Died on their album Never Trust Anything That Bleeds.
Smith and longtime collaborator Charlton Pettus composed and recorded the score for the 2011 film Meth Head, starring Lukas Haas. Smith contributed an original song, “This Is Christmas”, to an episode of the fifth season of the USA Network series Psych
Stripped Down Live With Curt Smith
In August 2010, Smith debuted a live music web series, “Stripped Down Live With Curt Smith”, which he produces along with his manager Arlene Wszalek and Streamin’ Garage CEO Mike Rotman. Each episode is devoted to a single featured artist. The band or musician plays acoustic versions of their songs (the show is streamed live via UStream); Smith interviews them between sets, as well as taking viewer questions via Skype and the show’s chat room. Smith’s guests have included Hypnogaja, Carina Round, Chris Pierce, Peter Himmelman, Common Rotation, Gary Jules, All Day Sucker, The Daylights, Matthew Sweet, The Fallen Stars, Nightmare & The Cat, Whiskey Saints, Fitz & The Tantrums and Friendly Indians. As of January 2011, Smith has said that he won’t do another season of the series.
In 1988, Smith appeared at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute performing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, with accompanying musicians Phil Collins, Midge Ure, and Mark Brzezicki on stage.
In 1989, Smith appeared onstage with various other performers at Stevie Wonder’s birthday concert at London’s Wembley Arena.
Smith is an avid user and advocate of social media. Since 2008, he has been asked to speak at a variety of social media, technology and creative conferences, including 140TC, the Creative Commons Los Angeles Salon, the 2010 ITV Fest, TEDxHollywood, and TEDxSF. He has also guest-lectured at the USC Annenberg School’s graduate Online Communities program.
Smith has also tried his hand at acting. He had a minor role as a desk clerk in The Dead Connection(1994), had a more significant role as a professor in 2000’s The Private Public. Smith made a surprise appearance to open Psych’s 2010 Comic Con panel, where he sang onstage with Psych co-stars James Roday and Dulé Hill. Roday’s character Shawn Spencer makes several proclamations throughout the series about his admiration for Tears for Fears, especially Smith. He then appeared, as himself, in the “Psych” episode “Shawn 2.0”, an episode for which he also wrote a variation of the opening theme. His single “This is Christmas” later appeared in the episode “The Polarizing Express”. He again appeared as himself in the show’s 100th episode, “100 Clues”, in March 2013. He also appeared in the episode “A Nightmare on State Street” as himself.
In May 2009, Smith performed at the Artist for the Arts Foundation benefit at Barnum Hall, Santa Monica High School, Santa Monica, California. Performing live, alongside Colin Hay (Men at Work), Fee Waybill (The Tubes) & Venice (Crazy on You) and over 70 members of the Santa Monica High School (SaMoHi) Orchestra and Girls Choir, the benefit helped to provide funds for the continuation of Music Education in public schools.
In 2014, Smith appeared in the horror film Crazy Bitches as a Police Detective. The song “Mannequin”, from the album Deceptively Heavy, was used as the theme song for the movie.
In September 2016, Curt and his drummer Jamie Wollam appeared in the “Orchard” with Ted Yoder to accompany him on a re-recording of his popular rendition of Everybody Wants to Rule the Worldplayed on the hammered dulcimer.
Smith grew up in Bath, England, and lived on the Snow Hill council estate (subject of the track “Snow Hill”). He attended the Beechen Cliff School.
Smith has been married twice. His first wife was Lynda “Lynne” Altman, whom he married in 1982. They divorced in 1988, and he then began a relationship with marketing executive Laura “Frances” Pennington. They married in 1996 and now live in Los Angeles with their two daughters, Diva and Wilder, born in 1999 and 2001. Smith became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2007. He is a supporter of Manchester United and Los Angeles Galaxy.
- Soul on Board (1993)
- Mayfield (1997)
- Aeroplane (1999)
- Halfway, Pleased (2008)
- Deceptively Heavy (2013)