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Curt Smith briefly added another occupation to his Twitter bio. The co-founder of the massively popular ’80s pop group Tears for Fears and solo artist had become a “singer, songwriter, liberal puke.”

“It’s amusing,” he says in his soft British accent, recalling an incident a few weeks prior to our interview, when a Twitter follower flung the intended insult at him after he had made some comments in defense of the U.K.’s public health-care system, the NHS. To date, Smith still has an “I NHS” logo embedded in the corner of his Twitter avatar. He still tweets about politics, too, whether or not people like it.

“What I find ridiculous is that Mr. Liberal Puke guy and one other guy who decided to unfollow me last week or the week before were complaining about me writing about national health care, the NHS, politics,” he says. “I’m not allowed to have an opinion because I’m me? They’re, like, ‘Stick to making music.’ Like my music isn’t political. It makes no sense.”

Smith was part of the first wave of well-known artists to join in the Twitter conversation, just as he was an early adapter to Facebook and, before that, MySpace, little by little chipping away at the barrier between artist and audience.

“I think there are some who want to keep those barriers right where they are,” he says. “I don’t. I don’t see the point.”

Smith came of age in the era of the video star. He signed his first record contract at the age of 18, scored his first major hit album with childhood friend Roland Orzabal as Tears for Fears a few years later. What you knew of him was what was put forth by the record-label machine. He was the guy with the ethereal voice, who stared out a window in the video for “Mad World.” He was the nerd with oversize glasses and a lab coat singing backup in “Head Over Heels,” the driver of a vintage car in “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” His band released singles that no one within the vicinity of a radio or TV in the ’80s could escape. He embarked on massive tours. Smith was famous, but he was known primarily through official stories that were passed down to the public through magazine and TV interviews.

Two decades later, Smith lives a quietly creative life with his family in L.A. He reconvened with Orzabal as Tears for Fears to release the 2004 album Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, and continues to tour with the band. In 2008, he released his third solo album, Halfway, Pleased, on his own label, KOOK. In many ways, Smith has become more relevant now than he was when releasing chart-topping singles. He’s a model musician of the post–rock star, post–major label era, working with the assistance of a manager but little more to release his work, while, at the same time, maintaining a sense of transparency with his fans.

Taking the idea of sharing a fairly open relationship with his fans one step further, Smith opted to release Halfway, Pleased under a Creative Commons license, wherein he creates the parameters with which listeners can use his music. He is one of few established musicians to take this relatively new route (Nine Inch Nails released their last two albums with a Creative Commons, and Yoko Ono recently issued the individual tracks of her song “The Sun Is Down” under a CC for remixing purposes).

Halfway, Pleased is protected under a “noncommercial, attribution, share alike” license, which, Smith explains, means, “as long as people don’t make money off of it, they can use it however they want, as long as I’m credited.

“It seemed to make absolute common sense to me,” he says, adding that it allows people to use his work in projects like school plays or hobbyist remixing without having to jump through hoops to clear the songs for use.

Smith is working on a follow-up and, in the process, continuing to push the boundaries of traditional music-business beliefs. He has been crafting a single song with cellist Zoe Keating, who has worked with Rasputina and Amanda Palmer. The two met through Twitter.

“I was looking for a cello player for a track I’m doing and I looked on Twitter and basically discovered her,” Smith explains. “Then I looked on YouTube to see her play and she was fantastic. So I sent her a message. Those are rather interesting things, connections.”

Once the track is completed, he will release it, begin work on a new song, release that, and so forth.

“It will be interesting to see if a theme shows up. In the end, you can offer it as an album. You can actually do something if it seems to be a cogent body of work,” he notes. “It will be interesting to see if it works out and sounds like an album or if it just sounds like a bunch of individual tracks, in which case you wouldn’t release it as an album. Or, you could, a compilation.”

In the meantime, Smith has been tweeting photos from the studio in between 140-character debates on national health care and gay marriage.

Of music’s future, he says: “It will be more fans embracing being part of your circle and being involved in it, getting to know you better and getting to know you without the filter of the record company or anything else. It’s me talking straight to them. They feel far more involved in what they are doing.”

LA Weekly