Interview Home

1/1/1996  The Big Takeover #40
How 17 Seconds Of Fame Turned Into Two Decades Of Stardom
An Interview With Robert Smith

"Would you like to interview Robert Smith?" asked Angela Tribelli, my editor, at Paper Magazine Online. "Hell yes," said I!

The Cure have to be the most unlikely, perhaps most artistically unique, consistently platinum-selling act in "modern rock" history. They sometimes seem to have their own loyal, secret audience (the biggest "cult" rock band in history?), largely unrecognized by the industry outside of some godawful, misappropriated "goth" tag (there can't be that many goths), a fan base often derided by other "alternative" music fans ("teenyboppers who dress like Smith").

It could be said that The Cure's mass popularity has resulted in the opposite perception from most acts who have made the crossover from underground to arenas, without changing their sound or stance much. Instead of the respect accorded to such contemporaries as R.E.M., New Order, and so on, The Cure are often written off in print as a "spent force" (especially in the oh-so-trendy, despicable british music press, as Smith notes below) or worse, ignored as inconsequential (!), like some innocuous bubblegum alterna-act like Depeche Mode, no matter how many albums they sell.

What short memories we all have! Oh, sure we all feel such hushed reverece for the seminal, early works of such late-'70's/early 80's british knockouts as Joy Division, Siouxsie and The Banshees, Magazine, Echo and The Bunnymen, and the simultaneous, more ambitious works of '79-'80 Buzzcocks and Wire, commonly acknowledged as some of the most challenging music ever made. But make any such list you want, and if the second, third, and fourth Cure LPs aren't on it, you might be just kidding yourself with revisionist history.

For that matter, if you own those albums, when was the last time you played them? 1980's disquieting 17 Seconds, 1981's withering Faith, and 1982's harrowing Pornography have a surprise waiting for you: they've held up even better than most of the above. How many records have you ever heard that come anywhere near the turf there works stake out?

In particular, Joy Division seems to be the consensus pick for the band that made the scariest music of that period, perhaps ever. No question that the short-lived Manchester group's two LPs, the dimly lit, stark tones of Unknown Pleasures and the strangely elegant choking sounds of Closer, deserve the reputation they've garnered. But I submit to you that if Robert Smith had hung himself after Pornography- I'm not suggesting that I wish he had- instead of Ian Curtis, it would be The Cure that would have terrified the bejesus out of young people then and today with the silent scream treatment. The early Cure sound is even that much more suffocating. In fact, compared to Curtis's cool, J.D. Salinger-like resignation to impending breakdown, the young Smith's voice often shakes with fear, shock and bitter dismay over his own personal disintegration. It can hurt.

Even the less challenging first LP, 1979's import Three Imaginary Boys, released in the United States in a butchered fashion (with some tracks deleted and replaced with singles, and a different cover) as Boys Don't Cry, has lasted well as a less-impressionistic period piece, the terse minimalism and existential lyrics in addition to the trio's bizarrely economical playing already in place. But 17 Seconds blew that away with its own frozen, silent, paranoiac space- an album riddled with understated angst and unfulfilled frustration and the derisive, distaste of self-loathing and solitude in "Play For Today" and the minor hit "The Forest".

And then Faith delved even further: as dark and black as night, as painful as bad sunburn, and as emotionally scarring and heart-pumping as a bad helplessness nightmare. It's filled with cheerless, yet ultimately affecting, cathartic gloomers such as "The Funeral Party", along with the bloodless rush of "Doubt" and the insistent single "Primary". Faith? Or lack thereof?

And if that wasn't all, Pornography might be the most claustrophobic, frenzied, tense, and constricted album ever, a study in self-immolation. Smith's opening lyric, "Doesn't matter if we all die" ("100 Years") hardly "eases into" the tone, and others, such as "You mean nothing" ("The Figurehead"), reflect a man emotionally frozen, barren, blown away, and staggered into catatonia. The forest-fire production just adds layers of this man-eating sickness on to form one that is still hard to listen to without being shaken by its tone.

All in all, they comprise a trio of visionary, doomy, almost morbid, yet supremely intelligent, Sartre- and Genet- like emotional works, not for the timid or suicidal. And no, that's not overstatement, trust me.

Although none of the six studio albums The Cure have released in the 14 years since then have been in this extraordinary league, each has had some merit, and each has a track or three that revisits this original genius, this place we all dread, right up to the current LP Wild Mood Swings, as mentioned near the end of the interview.

The Cure has attained this track record despite the added scrutiny and big-bucks pressure of hitting the big time with their breakthrough single and LP, "Inbetween Days" off 1985's Head On The Door, followed by the release of their first million seller, the fabulously consistent singles album (Feb. '79- Oct. '85), 1986's Standing On A Beach (On CD, Staring At The Sea). As their production (but not band sound) stretched to match the ampitheaters and basketball arenas, they lost a bit of their personal, one-to-one impact but still continued to challenge, as evidenced by familiar tunes such as 1987's Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me blockbuster "Just Like Heaven" (covered later by the venerable Dinosaur Jr.), their first U.S. Top 40 Hit.

And as if recovering his old demons for one last time, Smith summoned up the ghosts that haunt us all and launched an LP almost as dour and alarming, and certainly as harsh, constricted, nervous, and desolate as his earliest efforts. Somehow, this album, 1989's Disintegration, became The Cure's biggest commercial success, despite its unforgiving tones!

Rare in our times has the Top 40 been infiltrated by such an uncompromising LP, in no way accomodating the mass tastes that yearn for happy endings for even the most depressing, bleak movies! One listen to the defiant, teeth-gnashing "Fascination Street" makes your hair stand up. And the moody, disconsolate "Love Song" even hit number 2 in the charts here.

Since 1989, The Cure all but disappeared in the new album department, giving us only the flawed, somewhat overdone Wish in 1992 and the new LP. And, seemingly they've lost their commercial momentum as a result.

But who cares? If there's a post-punk hall of fame, I'm electing Smith and Company on the first ballot. And like the the recently departed Banshees, with whom Smith sat in on twice as a fill in guitarist (and who, unlike The Cure, made one LP worth totally despising out of their ten, Superstition), Smith has carried on with his original muse, his original idiosyncratic niche, for close to 20 years without ever going bland or soulless and processed on us, even on those occasions when he has dabbled in self-indulgence. A few misfires can't change that, more to the point, what good works he has done since Pornography have only added to his total worth in the respect department. I was proud to put Smith on the cover issue 18 in 1984, and it's equally sweet to actually question the man himself in 1996.

Accordingly, I was amazed at how forthcoming and congenial Smith was in the interview, held , oddly enough, on two stools in a nondescript, tiny, take-out bagel shop next door to The Paramount Hotel, where no one recognized him. Smith seemed amused and extremely pleased to be interviewed by someone who'd followed his career since its older days. Stopping to think about it, I forget sometimes that when you hit the charts consistently, the interviews get less informed (no longer the province of music writer "experts" only) and less focused on the music itself. Instead, your celebrity status means you become paper-selling, newsworthy, star-mongering focus material, searching for scandal, controversy, debauchery, and a hot "angle" instead of letting the artist speak for his or her work. As Michael Stipe sometime.

In fact, Smith was enjoying the interview so much, I'm amused myself to note that not once, but twice, he waved away his PR man when he was being summoned to attend the next interview on the schedule, commanding deliberatly, "Five minutes more." We were both really enjoying deliberating over The Cure's musical history and legacy, and neither of us wanted it to end it prematurely. In the end, I can say this was one of the most pleasant surprises of any interview I have ever been a party to, an opinion shared by my super transcriber Paul Regelbrugge, who describes the contents as "a real pleasure." See for yourself below.


Jack Rabid (JR): A fellow I was talking to said that MTV aked you what you would do for a "hobby" album, which was kind of a ludicrous question, 'cause obviously you do what you please anyway.

Robert Smith (RS): Yeah, that's why we play. It irritates me a bit the idea of , "Oh, it's not our proper album." It's almost like a cop-out, you know, like, "If you don't like it, it's not the real thing." And I think, surely if you've made a record it is the real think; that's why you're doing it. If we want people to listen to it, it doesn't matter what it's called. If people are buying and listening to it, then it is complete; it's out there, so it is a record. It's weird for me to understand what the difference would be between a real album and a "not real" album.

JR: It's new-speak (George Orwell 1984 reference).

RS: If we individually made albums, they would be very different to a Cure album. I mean, the common ground that we have musically is what makes up The Cure. Individually, we like very disparate forms of music. (new drummer) Jason's (Cooper) solo album would really be quite freakish, I would imagine.

JR: Does he play anything other than drums?

RS: He writes- he actually did a film score with a man called Oliver Krause for a black-and-white animated film a couple of years ago, which I'd seen; it's really really good. And Jason did this really very grand orchestral music for it. It's quite weird, but that's what I like about him. Boris (former drummer Williams) had the same kind of sense toward music- not just from a drummer's point of view, which is good. I like having a musical drummer.

JR: You seem to attract drummers who can play other instruments, don't you (referring to original drummer, later keyboardist Lol Tolhurst- ed.)?

RS: Yeah, it's weird, because Boris was there the other night as well, and that's the first time he had ever seen us play without him. it was kind of an emotional night, really. He was quite tearful at the end.

JR: (laughs) "Give me those sticks!"

RS: Yeah, it was almost like that. I think he was biting his lip a bit and wondering, "Why did I leave?" Because the stuff that he's done since hasn't really worked, at least not commercially. He doesn't seem to have gotten much satisfaction out of it. I might be wrong; I don't know. He was with his girlfriend, so I don't think he'd be able to say either way. (laughs) JR: Was he tired of touring? And leaving her behind? 'Cause I was in a band that toured until two years ago, and I got to the point where I'd wake up in Las Vegas or Houston or something, and I would think, "You know, I don't really want to be out here anymore. I'd really just like to be home with my girlfriend." Whereas you guys are on the road for a solid year or two! Whereas I think we only did like seven weeks.

RS: Well, I take (wife) Mary with me most of the time. We try to make it an environment which is very couple friendly. 'Cause when we're on stage, that's what we do; when we're recording, that's what we do, but there is kind of an unspoken "code" as to when everyone backs off and leaves us all on our own. It would drive me almost insane, that side of touring- it has in the past- that kind of isolation and constant travel. It really is no fun, as you know. But it's been a while since I felt that way, but I just close down completely, just become like an idiot, basically. But we've had much more of a say in how we're doing this tour, like the routine and days off. It's very economically unsound, but I think the experience of doing it will be much better, 'cause I've decided that anything I do is going to be exactly how I want to do it, as opposed to somebody from the outside. And it does take a lot of effort, retaining that kind of control, but it is worth it in the end.

JR: One of the things that I think is misunderstood about pop history is groups such as The Beatles, or R.E.M. more recently, got to a point where they were selling enough records that they no longer had to answer any artistic questions to anyone, particularly at their record labels; they could just do what they wanted whenever they wanted to. And they actually used that freedom to make something unique that they personally liked- used it as a challenge for them, as opposed to worrying how their music might be commercially accepted. And it almost seems like- just by persistence- your group sort of landed in that place maybe 12 years after you started.

RS: Yeah. There are very few things that I would go back and change. They've all been for my own personal reasons. Some of the reasons have sort of been suspect, I think, at the time. There is an element to what we've done, to be very flattering, there's a very seductive side to being in our group. and I've fallen over a few times, but it's to be expected, I think. I carry around in my head a very definite idea of what the group shoud represent, what the group should represent, what the group does. But within that, it's like we can do anything. So that whole notion, to answer a question of why we're doing something a certain way, is peculiar. The Beatles, I don't think, had to contend with the same kind of media that we have to in Britain. They achieved a sort of distance, a respect. English journalists are never really sure they're questioning the right thing. Being an English group today, we've had some really tough stick from the English media, who don't applaud longevity at all, unlike those days. They just kind of think we should crawl away and die somewhere.

JR: The bands they like best are the ones that haven't even made any records, which is disgusting to me.

RS: Yeah, it is kind of elite, isn't it? Musical snobbery. The thing is, I admit, a lot of times it's true. There are a lot of people who continue to make records who shouldn't. You know, people that I've admired have at some point kind of lost the spark. And in a lot of instances I think it's because they're scared to change the way that they work. It surprises me about R.E.M.- although I'm not really a big R.E.M. fan, I do like the kind of ethic that's behind that group. I'm not really into the music very much. I met him for the first time, actually, last year. I was really rude to him; I was quite drunk and belligerent...(Jack laughs)

JR: Which one, Michael Stipe?

RS: Yeah. I got on with him eventually, but I was a bit of a loudmouth, which is very unusual, 'couse I'm not really like that, but I was kind of dragged in to meeting him, and I felt very affronted that there was this air of reverence in the bar, which really got my back up. For Christ's sake, it's only a band! To his credit, I think he realized why I was a bit touchy. I suppose in some ways I thought it should have been me- I didn't really.

JR: Let's go through some of the gigs that you've done here, starting with your U.S. debut at (the small club) Hurrah! as a trio in November 1979. There was the Ritz shows in the early '80s, up through the Beacon Theater, then Radio City Music Hall a few years later, up to Madison Square Garden and Giants Stadium. it seems like the group played a bigger place every time you came through, slowly but steadily. Do you have any particular favorite, from all these years, that you recall with real fondness?

RS: My favorite American show was actually at Texas Stadium.

JR: Where the Cowboys play.

RS: Yeah. It was just the most surreal concert that we've ever done. We were changing in the Cowgirls' dressing room, and Emmitt Smith (Dallas Cowboys' star running back) had signed his shirt and left it for me, and I wore it out onto the stage for the encores... which was a really cheesy thing to do. But the whole evening was just completely weird! I couldn't really accept that we were there. Although we did quite a few other stadiums in the last two years- we did Giants Stadium here, as you say- they didn't really have the same surrealism... there was just something about that night. Dinosaur Jr. played with us, and Curve as well. It was just a really, really good night. As for New York, I don't know, actually. I quite liked the Ritz one that we did at the end of the tour, 'cause it was very wild. I felt very liberated.

JR: I thought you would say that. The end of your shows are often very intensely emotional, and that one was no exception.

RS: A lot of the concerts I do kind of blur. There's a whole tour I don't remember doing! (Jack laughs) Seriously, it was a West Coast tour in 1983, and if there weren't photos to prove that I was there, I would really swear that I had never done that tour. I have no recollection of it at all.

JR: I have one such picture right here from around that time, taken at the Beacon Theater. (Jack shows photo from issue 18, from 1984, to Robert.)

RS: That's it- that's the tour.

JR: That's the tour you can't remember? But this is from 1984.

RS: 'Cause these are the suits. I honestly don't remember any of it; it's really weird. 'Cause I could forget concerts, but I usually can remember a whole tour!

JR: What do you suppose accounts for that?

RS: I was doing The Glove album with The Banshees, and we suddenly became very popular in England, and I was thus a bit frazzled. I wasn't really sure. I was unsteady on my feet a lot of the time. (in hushed voice) Actually, I was taking too many drugs, I think...

JR: Uh-huh, I suspected. That's what usually accounts for such things.

RS: (combs through pages of issue 18) It's strange because when we were making this new record, it's been driven home to me; a lot of the questions since that I've fielded have been about having had a break and having been around so long; you know, "How did it influence the record?" And it's very difficult to make people believe that it has no impact at all. That the actual process of making a record is identical in a lot of respects. Because you never bear in mind who's going to listen to it and what they'll think about it.

JR: Why should you?

RS: It's only since it's come out, and it's been hammered home about, "Oh, you've been doing this for 20 years next year," and all this, and I just think, "There's been seven distinct lineups of the Cure." There have been very different bands; that band you see in this picture is totally different with different ideas, and I've been very different with the various lineups of the group. The group's lineup has kind of reflected my state of mind a lot of the time. I'ts a weird perception that I've just sort of traveled through... unchanged, unmarked.

JR: That just doesn't really jive with human experience in general.

RS: No. That's what I mean. People just think that I'm somehow living in suspended animation, that I have no concept of how the outside world is, that I don't really live. The Cure have been away for four years, and what have I been doing? I didn't exist in the public eye. I don't think of myself like that. There was a period after the Wish album, when I was busy editing the film, where I realized that I was falling into this notion that I was more real in the Cure than I was outside of it! That's actually what made me stop and take some time away from the group, because that's the worst thing that can happen. It starts the road to madness, really. Your real life becomes lessened because of the hyped reality of being in a successful group. And it is, as I've said, seductive. But it's not a healthy state of mind to be in: just for public consumpiton. Because I don't have that much, really. And it's like, one album every four years- it's because there isn't anything else.

JR: Hell, I think you should only make an album every four years in general after all you've recorded. Make one when you want to, when you have something you're burning to make and release.

RS: Yeah, I don't understand what the obsession is with banging out records as if the world is holding its breath waiting for the next Cure album- it isn't! I mean, I'd be the one that would have been deleted if I felt that, "Well, we have to follow up the Wish album with another album quick, otherwise people are going to forget about us." That would have been such a fucking stupid attitude. Because the whole reason people like us is that when we do something, it's good.

JR: For me, part of the greatness of having the chance to do what you please, unlike a young band with no leverage in their dealings with their label and the radio and TV, is you can make a record when you feel like it, and you wouldn't really want to make one until you had one to make.

RS: Hmm. I think that in some respects this album is really much more like a Cure album than I imagined it would be when we first started. There are lot of resonances in it that remind me of other things we've done. But I do feel that it's the most complete record that we've made for a long, long time.

JR: Well, it certainly lives up to its title.

RS: (laughs) Yeah. It was the most fun I've ever had making a record, actually; it was brilliant. And that's why it took quite a long time, 'cause no one wanted it to stop. It was really good fun. We were paying for ourselves to live together in a house and make music, so why should we stop? Why should we go home? I hope we all survive this next six months of touring, because it would be a shame not to kind of use the experience to not make an album that's very different to anything that's on this record.

JR: I was intruiged to have read in another interview that your new drummer Jason is a lifelong Cure fan. I can imagine you don't have to teach him much of the material!

RS: No. That was one of the benefits. But he was really coy, actually, 'cause he didn't really let on until after he got the job, and then he suddenly started playing all the old songs. And I was like, "Fucking hell!" He knows songs that I don't even remember. So it's pretty weird, but it's also refreshing, actually, because he's only 28, I think, so he brings a very different spectrum to the group. 'Cause that's the biggest age gap there has ever been in the band. And it does bring like fresh blood in a very real sense, but the downside is that he does make me feel quite old sometimes. (Jack laughs) I say things, and he'll go, "I wasn't even born then!"

JR: I like the idea that he could yell out something like "Play For Today" (from 1980's immortal 17 Seconds) or something like that, and make you play it!

RS: Yeah. Well then he started asking me questions about some of the lyrics to Faith, and that's when I really tweaked that he was a fan. He'd been to see us play and everything, and he covered it up quite well, 'cause I was trying to imagine that that would be a really weird thing to do.

JR: I guess when he answered the advert it didn't say "Cure" in the text, right?"

RS: No. He's admitted he was incredibly intimidated about the whold thing, but he did cover it up rather well. But apparently he was relly drunk when he came to the first audition, 'cause he was in a pub, and he realized that he had actually drunk too much, and he was really nervous again that he wasn't going to be able to play. No, it's good, he fits in really well! (laughs)

JR: What does it do for a group's disposition to have someone that enthusiastic joining your ranks? Whereas maybe you could feel like, "Seen it all, been there, done that."

RS: I don't think there's ever been too much complacency in the group. But you're right, I think maybe we were taking things for granted- pretty strange things, acutally. The first concert Jason did with us, last summer in Athens, when we came off, he was really amazed that the audience really wanted to listen to us. He had never been in a band that the audience was like really, really seriously into what the band were doing. (Jack laughs) And I kind of thought, "I've always taken for granted, for years and years." And its just things like that, that he has a very different take on what we do. And he has actually made a difference on the way I look at what we do, that's true. I think having Roger (O'Donnell, keyboardist) back in the group has also reintroduced a kind of sensiblility that was in the group anround the time of Disintegration. He's had five yars away from the band, and I think he's been unsatisfied with what he's been doing. he made a solo album, but it didn't really work for him. And he's determined that this is going to work, that this is the best thing that we've ever done, so that if people remember the Cure, they remember this lineup and this album. There's a really good atmosphere in the band at the moment. But I know that it's pre-tour optimism. I just hope that it doesn't kind of dissipate, because it has in the past.

JR: Well, maybe the current amalgamation you have now will be a little more into it for the joy of doing it.

RS: Yeah, it's weird, because like Jason, this is his first trip to America. On the taxi from the airport, he was like, "Look, look, look!" (laughs) "Yellow cabs!"

JR: Whereas that was 17 years ago for you! But you have to try and summon that up in yourself too. Because obviously when your group first started, you didn't step right up on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall. You were once unknown, hungry, and determined.

RS: Yeah, I suppose that is the difference. Because when we started we were struggling. It was kind of us against the world, and so I did have a different mentality anyway, that when we first came to New York to play Hurrah! we weren't besieged by people who wanted to meet us and see us. We were just the same as anyone else. And so I suppose it's more difficult for Jason, in a way, because he's walking into something. He has to kind of live up to expectations. Whereas an older lineup of The Cure, the expectations weren't really there.

JR: It must seem strange to you now to look back. Can you remember that far, to 17 years ago? You would have had no idea that you'd still be coming to America and playing in the same group now.

RS: No! It's a strange mixture of feeling kind of comforable doing it, and I feel slightly unsure as to why I'm doing it. Doing a promotional trip like this now, I haven't done one in a long time, an by the time I get used to it I'll be on my way home. I think when we've done the show on Sunday, I'll feel like we've actually done something, so people can hear the new songs, what the new lineup sounds like. It will kind of reintroduce the group, which is primarily why we're doing it. Beut it's still a bit weird, jus the thought of what I do for a living. 'Cause I still feel, in a way, the way I always have felt about it; I still am very excited about a lot of it, and yet I feel I shouldn't. i kind of hide a lot of it. I'm really excited about Sunday though.

JR: Well, I hope some publicity interviews are more fun than others!

RS: Yeah, this is actually great! I've been a lot more selective about what I've done. We get a lot of requests, and certain ones I say no, which is gratifying, saying no to those publications I fucking loathe. And in the old days there wasn't a choice for us. You could do this, or not. A lot of the times we just turned things down, because I'd just rather be doing something else. I didn't really have any concept abut promotion, because I felt we lived and died by the music. I think we had to address the other side of what we do. Because if I didn't, I felt that everyone would run away from us.

JR: Do you ever do something like I would do and just fan out with your old records; pick a track or two from each. Like off The Top, I would take "Give Me It" and if I were you, I'd just go: "Wow, I forgot about this song I'm glad I made this; this is really good.

RS: Actually, every New Year's Eve I listen to an old Cure album. It's a part of my ritual before I go out.

JR: As long as it isn't Pornography! (Jack laughs)

RS: About three years ago it was.

JR: Oh God!

RS: I was in Mexico, and I was going to a festival, and I listened to Pornography and... I had a very bad New Year's Eve. (both laugh)

JR: I should have warned you.

RS: I got through the end, and then I went out in the worst state of mind I had been in years.

JR: I could have told you that!

RS: But I've been listening to some of the older ones, yes. When we were in rehearsals I wanted to rework some of the older songs so that we're still doing things that people are familiar with but not in the same way. So I've listened to some of the lesser-known old songs to see what we could do with them, such as (Disintegration's) "Prayers For Rain." It sounds big-headed, but some of them are really good, and we kind of forget. We do them for a tour when the album they're on comes out, and we kind of forget them and never do them again. There's "Like Cockatoos" from Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, we're going to be doing that. I'd forgotten how much I like that song. It's a really weird song- one of the few songs that Porl (former guitarist Thompson) wrote for the group. But I tend not to listen very much to the older songs. They kind of make me sad, sometimes. it doesn't make me like sad sad, it's more like a reflective, melancholy sort of mind, and it's quite a nice feeling, but... . On my last birthday, last year, I listened to (1979's debut) Three Imaginary Boys album, The Top, and Disintegration.

JR: Wow! Three Imaginary Boys must seem to you like looking at shots of you in diapers or something. "Grinding Halt" and the bizarre, almost unrecognizable cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady."

RS: Yeah, that's probably the only album that I don't really like actually. It never really worked, even at the time I never thought it quite worked. I wish we could have waited, because we did it in like three days, and it shows in some of the lyrics, because I was writing some of them as I was singing them!

JR: Well, you still do songs from that LP such "Fire In Cairo" in concert... .

RS: Yeah, there are some good songs on it. I think "Accuracy" is a really good one. That's one of the ones I want to do this time around, because it's got a really nice feel to it. The way this lineup plays it, it's kind of a real groovy song. That one I really want to play that no Cure lineup can play is "The Lovecats."

JR: I saw you do that once, 12 years ago.

RS: I think we only ever did it three times ever.

JR: No, I'm almost positive that you did it at that Beacon Theater show, but I can't remember such minute details well, and you can't even remember being there!

RS: Ha, you're right there, I think. We had played it a bit; that was why we were doing a tour of that; it was promoting that single. (laughs)

JR: I think I mentioned in the review of that, in the issue you're looking at, that it was a rare version of it. In fact that night you did "Forever" (from Curiosity, a collection of Cure outtakes and unreleased songs, found only on the cassette version of the Concert LP in 1984, yet it's a bonanza for fans, one of their finest collections!) as well, as a final, sort of climactic encore, which was even more bizarre; so few people knew it.

RS: Wow, you know that song? Yeah, we haven't done that in a long, long time.

JR: Probably 12 years! (laughs) I really love that Curiosity stuff, especially "Heroin Face" (the only documentation of their brief "punk rock" phase in 1977, a raspy, churning, nasty, piece of beautiful blie). God, that's so hot.

RS: We're doing something like that (Curiosity) for next year. Because w know that there's going to be this slew of back catalogue- you know, 20 years and all of the bollocks that go with it- so I'm putting together sort of another Curiosity CD.

JR: Out of your own personal collection again?

RS: Yeah! To actually make sense of 20 years rather than like, "Here're all the old albums, go and buy them!" To actually have something from each particular period and lineup, 'cause I've got so much stuff! That tape was just a small sample. But this time it will be a bit more demo-based rather than live-based.

JR: Yeah, the original (May 197) demo "Boys Don't Cry" from Curiosity I remember I like better than the one you released (which was recorded a year later), that was such a big cult hit for you in 1979.

RS: Yeah, so did I! That's probably what I didn't like about the first album, because the songs were changed by (producer and label head) Chris Parry, a bit more than to my liking, but he was paying the bills so... And ever since I've been paying the bills, so... (much laughter)

JR: You must have a big laugh when you hear "Heroin Face" now though. (Jack laughs)

RS: Yeah! Pretty young then. But I think (Three Imaginary Boys's) "World War" is the worst song the Cure ever did.

JR: "World War?" No way! That's not so bad. I don't have a worst song from that LP, maybe "Meathook." But even that's not a bad one. Well, I hope that you look back at the work that you've done with some sort of pride, that at least you always had integrity, even when you've been a "stadium rock act," there haven't been many in our time I feel any respect for. A lot of people sold out the first chance they got!

RS: Yeah, I do. I mean, there have been occasions- and that tour (the 1983 West Coast tour) was actually one of the turning points of the group, and that's probably why I don't remember it, because I was so out of it all the time. I was barely coherent a lot of the time, and that's probably what saved me. I upset a lot of people around that time, not necessarily on purpose, but I think subconsciously I did because I felt it was the only way to escape being pushed into doing somehting that I didn't really want to do. And yet, I really loved the idea of us doing "Let's Go To Bed" and "The Lovecats" then. It's really appealing, but what went with it was really unappealing, the idea of me turning myself into this kind of teen idol was really weird. And to combat it, I just used to get really out of it all the time. And then at the end, when we kind of finished all that, and we did The Top album, which is sort of patchy but there are some good songs on it, as you say, I sort of recovered after that and thought about what I was doing again. Because what we were doing at the time was a bit unusual for us, but we retained all the fans who liked that side of the group. And there have been a couple of other instances. Around the time we did Head On The Door- you know "Close To Me" and all that stuff- we were presented with, "This is your chance to capitalize and really go for it, boys." And I suppose it's just my nature to say no to it. It's kind of strange just how successful we've been, considering how much I've turned down. Saturday Night Live this week is going to be the first TV show we've ever done in America, and that's really because I've just said no to everything, because it hasn't felt right. They were so shocked when I said to them that I'd do it. They actually thought that I was taking the piss. They said, "Oh yeah, right." And I said, "No, we'll do it." "Really?" And then I get, "Well, why? Why are you doing it now?" (Jack laughs) So you can't win.

JR: Did you ever hear the Cure tribute album that just came out?

RS: From Washington? Yeah, yeah, I've got it! I wrote to them actually. They sent ten to us, and we sent five back signed and with a note saying who I liked and what I didn't like, which I thought afterwards was probably pretty curel. But I'm not sure I put who I didn't like; I think we all wrote who we did like, and when I realized that we all like the same five or six I thought, well, that's unfair, because to do it, the bands must have liked us; you'd imagine they would.

JR: I got the feeling Jawbox really liked you. That's (their cover of "Meathook," strangely) my favorite on it.

RS: There are one or two that are really... mmm... (looks impish, like a boy caught stealing cookies)

JR: Bad! Some kind of tribute, huh?

RS: They were trying to sound like us, which I thought was quite odd. When we went to Australia a couple of years ago, we met the Cure Tribute Band there, who have been making a living out of the fact we haven't been to Australia for like ten years. (both laugh) And they came to the show, and they were really nice but the singer! It was really weird meeting him 'cause he didn't really look like me, and he didn't sound like me either. But he came up and said, "I really liked the show, but, um, I hate to tell you this, but we sound more like you than you do." (uproarious laughter) And we were going through this stupid argument with him, and he honestly couldn't see that it was impossible, that he was doing something that was his idea of what we sound like, but we were the Cure. He was really demented. He said, "You ask anyone, man, anyone that's seen us and seen you, they'll say we sound more like you than you." (more laughter) And I said, "But this is what we sound like..." . He just wouldn't see it.

JR: God. That's hysterical. That's like a scene out of The Rutles. Talk about delusions. Oh, I wanted to ask you about "Club America." What would inspire a song like that? It's my second favorite song on the album.

RS: What's your favorite?

JR: "Want." Hands down the sort of song that makes me glad you still make records, contrary to the wishes of the insipid British press or all the other idiot hipsters. The kind that reminds me why I liked your oldest records so much and some of the later ones like Disintegration.

RS: It's interesting that a New Yorker would ask. I came over here to New York in the summer of '94 with Perry (guitarist Bamonte), 'cause I wanted to watch the football matches, the World Cup. So Depeche Mode were playing, and Perry's brother Daryl, who now works for us, but who was working for them at the time, and I just went out with them in New York... .

JR: To all the places with velvet ropes, huh? Judging from the song.

RS: Well, yeah, it's really weird how they do it. It's so different to how we do it. The stretch limos and the VIP'- you don't have any fun in VIP rooms. We're going to a club; that's the whole point. But we were going to various places and getting really seriously a lot of attention, and I don't get that at home if I go out. i just don't get any attention at all. 'Cause I'm really just sort of left alone. "Oh yeah, there's that bloke with the funny haircut." (loudest laughter yet) But um, I played up to it then and awful lot more than I should have, and on the plane home, I wrote the song, because I was trying to, like, explain it away to myself. It's ironic, you know. I've had this photo taken with these celebrities, and I was there, and I did that, and I was full of self loathing! And that song is not anti-the girl in the "canary feather dress," it's actually anti-me because I was part of it.

JR: We corrupted you for a short trance-like time. Even after all your experience, you let New York glitz-trip bullshit sucker you in.

RS: For a week, yeah. Never again!

- Jack Rabid

 

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Founded April 7, 1997
This page was last updated on April 16, 2009
Dayna Karas 1997-
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