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2/23/2000  HUMO Belgian magazine
The Bats in the head of Robert 'THE CURE' Smith are ok

'All those fucking bands with their hits! A conspiracy of bad taste, that's what it is!'

When I did this interview in november '99, I thought Robert Smith was just rumbling when he said he had a weakness for Belgium, but since two thousand lucky ones have seen the intimate show case of The Cure last thursday in the AB, we know he meant it. The official world tour starts in two months, but in the meanwhile 'Bloodflowers' has come out, the excellent new album. Mad Bob can be satisfied. But he isn't.

HUMO Last time we spoke, you were recording 'Wild Mood Swings' in Saint Catherine's court, the ghost house in Bath.

RS We've also recorded part of 'Bloodflowers' there. But now we only camped there for three months, not for a whole year like back then. Then we really *lived* in that house; the house and way of living were more important as the recording and you can hear that when you listen to 'Wild Mood Swings'. Also, if it's possible, I avoid recording twice at the same spot, because your memory will unconciously suck upwards echo's of the last time and then you get the inclination of making the same record. By the way, the house has become very popular since Wild Mood Swings: Radiohead has recorded a large part of 'OK Computer' and their new one there.

HUMO I'm imagining myself your house is a deserted lighthouse, a 'gothic folly', or a restored castle ruin. Something with an Addams Family air at least.

RS I was in New York recently to record a tv-special for VH-1, and the director had this idea to do the filming in 'The Cloisters', a cloister of the middle ages in Manhattan, brought there stone by stone from Spain by an American multimillionaire. He whispered with a lot of awe: 'I bet you live in a house like this...' Fuckin' hell! He couldn't have been further from the truth. Cloisters is an enormous labyrinth; a gothic open air museum, a cross between a fortress and a cathedral. I live in a modern, minimalistic house from the twenties. It's user-friendly, but pomp and circumstance, or tragedy, is not to be found there. I have bats flittering in my head, I don't need them in my house. My nightmares are gothic, but during daytime I have need of simplicity and clarity. Although it is an ambition of myself to go and live in an old, stately house once, because I think that fits with the final phase of my life. It has to be a very romantic, half fallen into disrepair ruin, which I will restore with a lot of care and passion. I regard it an honour and a duty to save a piece of history that way. It's better to spend your money like that instead of splashing it around.

HUMO Your fine colleague Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones just received an award from the British organisation of archeologists because he took good care of the abbey ruins under his house.

RS Really? What a many-sided human being that Wyman is, isn't he? I must have judged him too severe... the jerk (laughs). But I really mean what I said about privacy. I'm very annoyed at pop stars or movie stars, saying to be attached to their privacy, but in the meanwhile, posing for gutter press journalists in their own house. The last twenty years I never posed with my wife; nobody knows what she looks like. Maybe that's the main reason Mary and I are still together after all these years: from the beginning I've drawn a clear line inbetween the Cure and our private life.

Naked for nothing

HUMO Why do you wait till the end of your life before buying that ruin? You can't live forever and the advantage of being rich is you can create your own Cure-land; some kind of Miracle Land, a nice place to be.

RS I only want to move when I've withdrawn from making music, if it's of no importance whatsoever for anybody who I am or where I live. Now my address is on the net and a lot of fans are passing by. I try to be friendly and spend some time with them, but I don't want my family to suffer from that. And it's hard to understand that there are fans out there who don't understand what The Cure is about: I don't want any form of idolization and I don't want fans loosing time with a pilgrimage to our house. Sometimes I feel like Brian in 'The Life of Brian' of Monty Python. At a certain stage he's sick of people thinking he is Jesus and following him blindly. He screams 'Fuck off!' to his followers and John Cleese, their leader, asks humbly 'How shall we fuck off, oh lord?' (laughs) At summertimes each day there are fans camping on the rocks so they can see our garden. They start small fires and play Cure songs. Very flattering, but annoying for the neighbours. And I can't get anything done that way! Now and then I go to talk with those fans, and mostly it ends up with me giving them a ride to the station. Recently I once thought:'Shit, who knows, maybe these ain't Cure fans and they just pretend to get a ride' (laughs)

HUMO My beautiful girlfriend is a huge Cure-fan and...

RS Those two always go hand in hand with each other: beautiful and Cure-fan...

HUMO ...and her favourite song is 'Trust'. Once she listened to it during a parachute jump. Are you amazed by some personal memories fans use to have with one song or another?

RS I've always thought it one of the most beautiful side-effects of being succesul to see people link crucial moments in their lives with my music. That's why I thought it terrible to appear in the list of 'The Hundred Most Rich Pop Stars' in Q Magazine. I never think about money, and I don't want people to think all the sudden that we think money makes the world go round while listening to our music. Among my acquaintances, people were shocked when they saw I made it in that list. Before they thought of me as a cult artist, part of the underground, and now all the sudden I stood there, next to Elton fucking John. I get sick of the word 'rich'. I'm no ambitional empire builder like Mick Jagger. I can live with the fact that the Cure is 'that weirdo with his red lips and his mushroom hair cut' for some people, but *not* that they're associating us with money. The good thing about the Cure is that we've never done things because of the money. Never! We've always played the game contrary to all the rules: if someone was looking for the recepy of a very commercial pop group, the result surely wouldn't have been the Cure. Who could have predicted we would have a number one hit with a child's song about caterpillars? Or an idiot, childishly naive une about 'The Lovecats' becoming a hit? And I can give twenty examples like that. I've always made the music that I heard in my head, and coincidentally this has made me rich. I also never tried to make 'The Lovecats, part two' or 'Close to me, again'. I'm proud of our eccentricity and I'm convinced that I wouldn't have come this far without being this stubborn. And the other way around I'm convinced The Cure would have ceased to exist for a long time already, when I had tried to do constructive carreer moves. I *know* for instance Bloodflowers is not a commercial album. The record company kept nagging for one more song, 'a *real* single', but I think the album is well-rounded as it is now. If I'd add that one song, it would be like at the last moment adding some banal nude scenes to a beautiful, subtle, emotional movie.

HUMO You don't notice potential hits by yourself?

RS No. I'm like Keith Richards who thought Satisfaction was just good enough to be a b-side. When 'Wrong Number' of 'Galore' came out on single, I heard it once by accident while I was refueling. People sang along, somewhat later they recognised me, asked for an autograph... Funny atmosphere and my song seemed to be the sound track that went along with it. And the whole time 'Wrong Number' was playing I thought:'All good signs... this is going to be a hit'. Why, it was the last time I heard the song on the radio and it was our worst selling single ever.

The Cure in Center Parks

HUMO While making a new album, do you think about what the fans like to hear?

RS No, that wouldn't make sense: I don't want to soft-soap, but I think I can say that Cure-fans are in the average very special people. For sure they're no banal characterless grey mouses, walking nicely in line. I just make the music I hear in my head. My own favourite Cure albums aren't the best selling ones. I only like Pornography, Disintegration, Wish, WMS and Bloodflowers. I think WMS is way better than for instance 17 seconds, even if that's probably the record that even Cure-haters have in their collection. Maybe Pornography is my all times favourite, and it's that record that was said to be commercial suicide.

HUMO During concerts you do take care of what the people want to hear. No other rock group plays that many encores, sometimes six or seven, and always with the hits everyone wants to hear: 10.15, Forest, Lovecats, Play For Today, Primary, Boys don't cry, Let's go to bed',... Are there any songs you just play for yourself?

RS Sometimes I choose to play very old, unknown songs when we have a new line-up, to see what the new ones make out of the song. This tour for instance we'll play All cats are grey from Faith, because this line-up should be able to bring alive that ghostly, mysterious atmosphere of that song.

HUMO Do you have a ritual; something you always do when a new record is finished?

RS Yes, if you can call it a ritual: the evening of the final mix, I send everybody home, I turn off all the lights and I listen to the result in complete darkness. If that, like with Bloodflowers, is an overwhelming sensation, I know we've made a good record.

HUMO People tend to associate all that is dark, doom-thinking and eccentric with you. What was the last time you felt good without expecting it, in a place where you thought not to fit there?

RS My youngest sister is married with our ex-guitar player Porl Thompson and we've been to Longleat at the end of last year with them and their kids - it's a Center Parks settlement near Bath. When I was learning my youngest niece how to swim in the subtropic swimming pool, standing there in my swimming trunks, I suddenly thought 'I hope nobody recognizes me', but right after that I was ashamed for that thought, because learning your little niece how to swim is all in all something good. But there was no need to worry: all parents were way too busy with their own kids and there were no Cure fans, because it wasn't during school holidays. And after some days being ill at ease, I devoted myself to activities of which I had forgotten the existence since my childhood: archery, petanque, waterpolo... and to my own astonishment, I had a great time. A couple of years ago, we also went to Eurodisney. That too was bearable, although it was a bit weird when Mickey Mouse came to ask for an autograph.

HUMO When you listen to Pornography, Disintegration or Wish nowadays, you're not able to deduce from that music what kind of music was popular in the times these albums were made. You sound both oldfashioned and timeless. Is that a consequence of that stubbornness of you, or are you just afraid that trendy arrangements would date your songs?

RS Both. I try to make songs who can stand the test of time, and things that sound hip today, become forgotten tomorrow. Music trends are like SF in literarture: there's nothing that ages more quickly. '1984' by Orwell, a book once thought of as visionary, is now hopelessly dated. Recently we listened to all Cure-albums again and I became aware that I've been so lucky having lived as a hermit for such a long time. If you don't know what's in the hit parade, you can't get influenced by it. Except for one subtle breakbeat in 'The Loudest Sound' and a far echo of discotheque feeling in 'Out of this world', there's no trace whatsoever of techno, hiphop, rap or ambient on Bloodflowers. But that's also a consequence of how our songs are being made. From the ten songs of which I make a demo version at home, only one will finally make it on the album. And even if there was a song with a lot of hiphop arrangements, even then there would be not much left of them after all the repetitions and test mixes. But I'm not a purist. At home, for instance, I use the computer program Planet Phatt which is also very popular in dance milieus. I've experimented with a lot of loops and sounds of Phatt, but only the breakbeat in The Loudes Sound survived the repetitions. Also, Bloodflowers is the first record since Disintegration of which I knew exactly how it had to sound before we went to the studio. Watch out, this does not mean that I have prejudices, I try everything, but I've just come to a conclusion that our music is not suited for extreme experiments. There's a lot of examples of groups who thought wrongly that their records were renewing, only because it sounded new to *them* - while for the rest of the world those records were sounding forced and dated. I'll never try to force the Cure to become trendy in the techno or hiphop milieu. Besides, I know from my nephews what their opinion is about bands trying to do so...

HUMO And what do your nephews think about the Cure?

RS They think we're totally worthless (laughs). They're hardcore Tombraider and techno freaks. The only thing that found mercy in their eyes, was my appearance in South Park. They found it great. Ever since, uncle Bob is hip.

HUMO How did you get into South Park?

RS Someone of SP had decided to make a cartoon-version of Robert Smith and to let it fight with a cartoon version of Barbra Streisand, a fight in which South Park itself was at stake. During the fight, Streisand changed into a Godzilla-like monster, and I got wings and became kind of a superman, 'Mothra'. I won, saved South Park, and while I was happily leaving South Park at sunset, like cowboys used to do, Stan is saying: 'Bye Robert! Thanks a lot! Disintegration is the best album ever.' When my nephews had seen that, they worshipped me, but asking: What is a disintegration, uncle Bob? I simply answered it was something I had made a long time ago. Still funny how everything I do - travel, experience so many things, having interesting meetings, making good-selling records - means nothing to them while since my appearance in SP I'm immortal and famous to them. While for me only my work and the songs are important; not the person. Bastards.

The conspiracy of bad taste

HUMO I don't know if you'll see this as a compliment or an insult, but I think there's a lot of parallels between Oasis and The Cure. You share that heavy wall of sound in some songs. The difference is that Oasis only seems to be one of the colors of the rainbow of the Cure.

RS I think the group sound of Oasis is great, but I dislike most of their songs. I saw them live and I was impressed by their sound and Liam's voice, but all that bullshit around, like the whole feud with Blur... I'm happy we didn't waste time and energy with such nonsense... If there is a connection between The Cure and Oasis, it's that we're both huge Beatles fans. The difference is that taht doesn't show in The Cure's music. My biggest problem with Oasis is that they belong to the lads culture in England, and that is very restricting: it's only about beer, soccer and having a big mouth. Now, that's three things that I like too, but the difference is that I know there's other fun things in the world. I predict Noel will soon tear loose from these supporters, and start a solo carreer, like Paul weller blew up The Jam.

HUMO A lot of Oasis-songs are based on Beatles songs and Noel Gallagher doesn't make a secret of that fact. Have you ever purposefully stolen from your heroes?

RS Almost never, since all that sampling stuff seems really weak to me: I have enough ideas myself. But sometimes there's a wink towards another song in my songs. Like the intro of Wrong Number having the same chords as Push up on the Easy Rider sound track. And if someone listens to the records of My Bloody Valentine, he'll notice a resemblance in the guitar sounding of them and on Bloodflowers. There's also a link in our guitar sound to the Cocteau Twins. But it's not plagiarism. Do you know what is strange? That I've had all the commercial succes, while I always was a fan of great groups that remarkably never really broke through. I think My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins have some really catchy songs, but still they never had a hit and you never hear them on the radio. I think it's one big conspiracy - or how do you explain that so many bullshit groups have one hit after the other and get one platinum cd after the other? A conspiracy of bad taste, that's what it is.

HUMO Based on your image, one would think you're related to ghosts like Marilyn Manson. But who do you really feel affinity for?

RS I met Billy Corgan a few times and that clicked immediately. I also got along pretty well with David Bowie, when I was at the concert for his fiftieth birthday. Of the younger people, I like the guys of Mogwai, but probably that's partially because they said Robert Smith is their favourite guitar player. I, like a puber, have mailed them immediately to tell them 'I think yo're really good too' (laughs) I know I like a group when I think:'In that group I'd like to play for a week or so.' I had that recently with Supergrass. I'm sure they're having lots of fun, and I like their freshness and spontaneity. But mostly I don't feel related with well-known bands, because their motivation is so different. I started making music because I wanted to create, to bring some order in the chaos that was in my head. Too many pop bands give the impression to just want to become rich and famous, and expressing seems a side issue.

HUMO So fame doesn't interest you? And other one's fame? Do some of the Cure members ask for autographs of other people sometimes?

RS Yes, I do (laughs). I asked David Bowie for an autograph when I first met him and I also have one of the famous ballet danser Rudolf Nurejev. During his last tour I was able to go backstage because I knew the manager. I'm not really a ballet fan, but I've always been an admirer of Nurejev because I thought he embodied an unreachable physical ideal. Certainly for someone who looks like me (laughs). My mother took my sister and me to a Nurejev ballet performance once and that impressed me a lot. And I also have the autograph of Tommy Cooper, the legendary comic who died on stage in the middle of a sketch. And Alex Harvey once signed my T-shirt. And I have Janet Jackson's autograph, and that of Liz of the Cocteau Twins... You see, I'm really a nerd (laughs).

Afraid of forty

HUMO The Cure has always had a lot of look-a-likes: during concerts it's full of Robert-Smith-clones. Didn't cause it confusion sometimes backstage?

RS Yes. Sometimes people think it's me while it's not, but also the other way around: sometimes the real members are not recognized. It happened recently in Seattle where they had organised a huge party for us in a discotheque. Not only was this place very snobby, where people were selected at the entrance, but in America they're also very strict when it comes down to drinking: you can't get in if you can't proove you're over 21, even if you look 70. Anyway, to make a long story short: we were not allowed to enter our own party. Why, to be honest, I got in, the rest didn't.. Great. A wonderful evening (laughs).

HUMO One song on Bloodflowers is simply called '39'. Centimeters?

RS Years. I wrote that song on my birthday, just before entering the studio. I had the texts of all songs then, except the one that fitted with the melody of what would become '39'. I had decided not to celebrate my birthday, so I was just sitting in the garden with Mary, and I though about all the years that had passed and about how time flies by... and I became totally depressed. I figured, looking back, that I hadn't reached what I wanted...

HUMO Twelve good records, seventeen hits, fifty million sold albums...

RS Still I felt like a failure. And I had the feeling that I was becoming less good. That I had stood still. And that's when I decided to write down honestly what I felt: out of that moment of weakness, I created a good song. I started to sing that text across the loop you hear in the beginning and the sentence that turned out to be the core of the story was 'The fire's almost out and there's nothing left to burn.'

HUMO Related to Blur's 'No distance left to run'...

RS Yes, but Damon Albarn sings about the end of a relation, while I'm talking about the creative process. And after a while I thought: Jesus, I'm singing here about the fact that there's nothing left to sing about. This is wrong. I also thought: 'Shit, The Cure is the only thing I have in my life, I'm putting all my time in the band instead of doing adventurous things.' While others would say all we've reached with the Cure is one big adventure. So I can't complain. And besides, what should I do when I wasn't in The Cure?

HUMO Like Frank Zappa said when they asked him if he had missed somethinh in his life: 'No. What's there to miss if you're really busy with something in a passionate way?'

RS: Exactly. Very well answered, but it neglects one aspect of human nature - an aspect that is very important when it comes down to me: unrest. I'm very well aware that if I choose A, I exclude B, because there's no time for both A and B. It frustrates me I'll never know the answers to questions like 'What would my life have looked like when I had chosen for a solo-carreer back then in 1977?' or 'What if I had made one record every ten years instead of every two years?' or 'What if I hadn't drunk that much, I would remember more great experiences and I wouldn't have hurt so many people...' So I don't think 'I've taken the wrong decision', but I think 'How would it have been if I had chosen another way?'

HUMO If you're in a happy mood, do you play hard feast music or do you rather play that kind of music when you're tired or down?

RS Both. Sometimes I listen to swinging music to get rid off a gloomy feeling, but sometimes I play very melancholic music when I'm in a melancholic mood. Some records, like Aladdin Sane by Bowie, always have the remarkable effect of making me happy, even when I'm in a horrible mood. That also counts for the songs of The Human League, although in fact I can't stand that band. And there are also CD's, like the beautiful adagio by Samuel Barber (see also the movie Platoon), that I only play at night. And when I sit in the garden and I'm overwhelmed by the landscape or by a tempest, I play Elgar, because that music fits wonderfully at those occasions. I also tempt to use music to regain my innocence. For instance, if I have to make ten business phone calls in the morning, there's always this moment that I think:'I look like a fuckin' business man; that's not why I'm living.' And then I play a record by one of my youth heroes, like Alex Harvey, not because that's the kind of music that has stood the test of time - it's a pity, but it hasn't - but because it reminds me of when I was fourteen and carefree and free and my only worry was whether there was enough beer and condoms in the house. The agressive part of the Jimi Hendrickx repertoire has the same effect on me. Anyway, I always set great store by playing the right music at the right moment. I'm not the morbid man some take me for, but nevertheless I've already determined what music will be played at my funeral.

Dead legends

HUMO The death of whom impressed you very much recently?

RS The stupid thing is that the spirit of this time leads us to think people never die: legends like Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe are seen in commercials by the wonder of computer simulations. On television, all kinds of old programs are repeated over and over. And virtual reality will one day become that perfect that it will raise the dead.Last week we went to the Blue Note in NY, the legendary jazz club, and a huge banner was attached at the entrance announcing 'This week live on stage: DIZZY GILLESPIE!' We were very glad to be able to see that living legend, until Simon said: 'Hold on... Dizzy Gillespie, isn't he dead already? I'm sure, he died a few years ago.' Then it turned out that on the banner, in tiny letters, was written 'Dizzy Gillespie's all star alumni': the nephews and acquaintances of people who once played with Dizzy Gillespie, were performing. So now I know that in 50 years or so, there will be a place somewhere that announces 'The Cure!!!' and in little 'are dead for a long time, but tonight we hired some idiots who look a bit like them' So enjoy the real Cure as long as it's still possible.

HUMO Which will be not that long, apparently, since rumours go in America this is your last record.

RS Oh God, no, that's bullshit. I know I'm saying to my musicians 'it will be our last album' ever since Disintegration, but then I mean for that line-up of the group. The Cure changed it's line-up almost on every CD, which is the reason we've such a varied and broad repertoire. Saying 'This is the last time' all the time, also keeps me alert. The problem is that record companies always start to panic when they hear such things. To them, the Cure is a good milch cow and they don't want to see it slaughtered. Recently in NY I got a message from the record company:'The Cure will give a press conference the day after tomorrow to make a special statement.' So I called them to know what that 'special statement' could be. 'Why, you're going to tell the world Bloodflowers is the final Cure-album', they said. I told them that I wasn't going to say that and that I was very curious about who would. The only thing of the whole story that's right is that I'm going to record a solo album next year - finally - that I'm willing to make for about 15 years, so the next Cure-cd will certainly not appear before 2002. I've already asked Dizzy Gillespie for the trumpet solo's.

- Serge Simonart

 

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