The cure news: No Cure without pain, says Robert Smith

The Seeker of Good Songs

Well-Known Member
Keeping his band alive for so long has been a hard slog for Robert Smith, he explains to our correspondent

Robert Smith thinks that the band’s over “every time we make an album”. He grins his tiny, wicked, scarlet-swathed grin, looking for all the world like a cuddlier version of Heath Ledger’s Joker. “Seriously, I do. With The Cure [in 2004], I called it that knowing that that was it.”
Despite their 30 years as alternative rock legends; despite as many millions of albums sold; despite the 13 studio albums and stadium gigs across the globe; despite being about to be declared a Godlike Genius at the NME Shockwaves Awards on Wednesday and playing the huge Big Gig at the O2 Arena the following day, the Cure are the most unstable band in rock. Bar the Fall, obviously.
They’re a rocking recession of a band: their future hangs constantly in the balance, each release may be their last, no member’s job is entirely safe. And as the sole remaining original member, Smith, a man recognisable from three miles away in the thickest of blizzards, is the Cure’s icon, helmsman and executioner.
His axe has swung many times over the ever-shifting Cure line-up since 1980, and as their celebrated Curiosa Festival tour of America wound to a close in 2004 he sharpened his blade once again for the necks of the band’s long-term guitarists Roger O’Donnell and Perry Bamonte. “I knew that was it for Roger and Perry,” he says. “I didn’t spend more than five minutes with either of them on that tour apart from when we were onstage. When it’s gone, it’s gone. I told them both that I wanted to try something with Simon [Gallup, bassist] and Jason [Cooper, drums] and I’d let them know how it went. I felt that was the fairest way of doing it because I thought if it doesn’t work with Simon and Jason then the group will be over. The thing drifts apart. The bigger the group gets the harder it is to hold it together.”

It was a less acrimonious split than that in 1989 with the Cure’s former drummer, founding member and chronic booze-hound Lol Tolhurst, who unsuccessfully sued Smith for unpaid royalties five years later.
Smith giggles ruefully. “The funniest thing about him taking us to court, or taking me to court in particular, was that he couldn’t actually remember all the things that would’ve won him the case at a f***ing stroke. I almost felt obliged morally to stand up and say: ‘Lol, don’t you remember the time that . . .’
“The worst thing we did to Lol was when me and Simon stripped him on the bus. We were pulling up to a hotel in Chicago, it was about five in the morning, we’re saying: ‘We’re going to a health club, Lol, we’re all gonna get a rub-down’. ‘Awloveeelovegreat.’ ‘We’re going to strip now and it’s straight out of the bus door, straight into a hot tub.’ He’s like: ‘Riiightoootherewaaghh’. So we pretend to take our trousers off and he actually takes his trousers off and his pants and at the bottom of the hotel steps there’s a porter with one of those luggage things with wheels. So we put Lol on it and go: ‘Into the hot tub!’ and we push him through reception of the Chicago Hilton. Simon rolls Lol into the lift and goes, ‘You f***ing idiot’ and the lift doors close.”
For 18 months between 2004 and 2006 the Cure teetered on the brink of extinction. Smith, unsure if he ever wanted to make music with a band again, stripped the line-up to a three-piece. Then, finding his muse revived, he re-recruited the early Cure guitarist (and his brother-in-law) Porl Thompson and holed up in Olympic Studios in London for the summer of 2006 to demo a song a day. It was a seemingly impossible task for a band whose moodier songs have been known to take several weeks, but they emerged with 33 songs completed, 13 of which made up, last October, the upbeat and experimental return to form, 4:13 Dream. Most of the rest will form the second, “dark”, half to that record’s lightness. Smith hopes to release it this year.
“It’s the companion piece, the nightmare piece to the dream thing,” he explains. “4:13 Dream ends on a dark minor chord and I feel like there’s an intermission and everyone goes out and goes: ‘Ooh, I wonder what’s going to happen next.’ The next one picks up where the last one ended.”
Smith is a sharp musical observer, constantly questioning his own motives and those of the society around him. He didn’t watch Barack Obama’s inauguration because “it was almost an attempt, because of the current climate, to gee people up. There’s so much manipulation that I feel slightly wary. I just hope he comes through with even half of what he promises.”
He’s intensely critical of his own label’s reluctance to let him put out the Olympic songs as a double set and plain livid when it comes to the download revolution. “It’s staggering the percentage of illegal downloads,” he says. “It’s almost silly in a tragic way. There’s a strange reluctance on the part of the majors [to tackle the issue]. Their artists suffer hugely from illegal downloading: they don’t sell legal units so the label doesn’t really have to pay them. But the label is owned by a parent company some way down the chain that owns the internet service provider. That side of it is very murky.
“The Radiohead experiment of paying what you want — I disagreed violently with that. You can’t allow other people to put a price on what you do, otherwise you don’t consider what you do to have any value at all, and that’s nonsense. If I put a value on my music and no one’s prepared to pay that, then more fool me, but the idea that the value is created by the consumer is an idiot plan, it can’t work.”
Though softly spoken and giggly, Smith displays signs of being the oldest Angry Young Man in music (he will be 50 in April). And who can blame him: he’s credited with inventing a goth scene that he constantly disowns (“Most goth kids look really cool; I think those people would be horrified by the idea of us representing them”), is criticised for retaining his spider hair and make-up well into middle age (“The idea of growing old gracefully is immaterial. I look at myself and I’m kind of on the cusp at the moment. But I’m hanging in there”) and has been the focus of blame for some of his fans’ most violent extremes.
“I’ve been in the unfortunate position of having someone kill themselves onstage just prior to us going on,” he recalls with a shudder. “It was hugely disturbing. We were playing the Kiss Me set [1987-88] and it was an upbeat kind of night, but there was an emotional depth to the stage show that was put in perspective when that happened.
“It’s happened to us a few times. A policeman blew his brains out at the show in Czechoslovakia on that tour and on the Bloodflowers tour [200-2001] someone killed himself. It’s the ultimate theatre I suppose. It’s very difficult to sit on your own thinking about it, let alone get into the kind of mentality to do that public a thing.”
One suicide note sent to him by a fan was made into the lyrics of 4:13 Dream’s deceptively poppy The Reasons Why, including the line: “I won’t try to bring you down about my suicide/ If you promise not to sing about the reasons why.”
With weights like these on his shoulders, it’s no wonder he envisions a brighter retirement. “I have this golden age ahead of me,” he says with a grin. “I imagine I’m at some point going to be lighting a barbecue and kicking back in a deck chair. It will come. My goal when I turned 40 was to get to 50, when the 30th anniversary of the band would happen. That’s my year zero if you like, passing through to the other side.
“We’re doing this DVD History of . . ., going through everything I’ve taped and photographed during the 30 years. It’s like being a drowning man at times, watching this stuff. It’s terrifying how fast life goes.”
And with Smith’s current contract complete with his next album, might it be the Cure’s last? He ponders. “I may have another go at completing my solo album this year. It’s been about ten years since I last tried to finish it. Every time I turn a big-number birthday I look to my solo album, dust off the box, lift out the old cassette tapes. It’s more of an autobiographical growing-up thing.”
He sniggers, still racked with the instability of a teenager. He considers his solo album, his legendary band, his darkly glittering life.
“Maybe I’m scared to finish it.”
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