Since starting The Cure at 17, Robert Smith's jet black fright-wig, mascaraed eyes and funereal get-ups have inspired legions of alienated youth on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite the fact that Smith and childhood friend Laurence "lol" Tolhurst (the only other original member of the band) have been around for ten years, they are only now beginning to succeed commercially in the U.S.
The Cure's sound started out as stark, taut pop, then moved into doomy synth-rock, then crunching guitar onslaughts, through psychedelia, and into the current amalgam of all of the above. The Cure's latest album, The Head On The Door, sold a very respectable 250,000 copies, a lot more than the 40-50,000 they'd averaged on their previous records. Seeming to capitalize on this new-found popularity, The Cure have simultaneously released a compilation album of their singles, entitled Standing On The Beach, and a home video compilation of "archival footage" and clips, Staring At The Sea.
Smith sounds sincere when he says that he is acutely concerned with the danger of The Cure's impending success, and is determined to retain his precious artistic in- tegrity. It may prove difficult: the band plays larger and larger venues each year, and them is now a sizable teeny-bopper contingent who regard this erstwhile prophet of gloom is the cuddliest thing since the Quantas koala bear. He is cute, in a Pillsbury doughboy sort of way, and very talkative. We spoke sitting cross-legged on an orie- ntal carpet set up on the roof of a building in the photo district. Smith had just finished some promotional clips for the Rockamerica video pool, part of a grueling four-day press tour. As an antidote to the sticky heat, Smith sipped a curious malt mimosa of o.j. and Heineken. The sun beat down fiercely, threatening to do away with his formidable moon-tan.
EYE: The Cure have been around for ten years now. and you've seen a lot of bands come and go. How does it feel to be a veteran?
SMITH: I don't feel old... groups like A-HA are new because they just started, but physically. They're as old as I am.
I don't really feel like I've actually been doing this for ten years. I still get the same excitement from the idea that we're going into the studio to make a new record - that's all I want, to do.
EYE: What's it like playing the huge halls? It must have been a blast to play Radio City Music Hall...
SMITH: I'm starting to get slightly uncomfortable playing to more than 6,000 people. It's very difficult to have a really intense concert with more than 6,000 people, and I'm surprised that I picked even that figure. I can see 6,000 people. We're starting to play places with 15,000 people and they're not, really there - it's like those things in California - they're just there for a day out, really. They don't feel close to the group anymore. It's a whole different mentality. I've very concerned about The Cure getting absorbed into the music industry. It's sort of paradoxical that I'm here on my first-ever PR trip and I'm explaining how I don't want The Cure to be the next Simple Minds. You lose all power when you get, into that rut, and you can never recapture it.
EYE: You're treading on thin ice by going on a PR tour...
SMITH: Yes, absolutely, and the fact that I'm here saying it is also undermining what I'm saying. At least I'm aware of it. There's very little else I can do - if I don't come here and say it, then people will say I'm obstinate and snobbish, and that I don't want The Cure to be listened to by the people who listen to Huey Lewis and the News I would like us to get more exposure in America, because if people aren't presented with an alternative, then they won't ever be aware that one exists. This is the first PR tour I've done, and it's also my last - it's really driving me mad. I've insisted that I get back by Saturday, because the World Cup starts then end they're not going to show it here!
EYE: What's going on with the U K music scene? It seems like things have been pretty stagnant over there recently
SMITH: I think it's been really ludicrous for the past four years - it's not jog, recently The same groups keep making the most interesting music. There's nobody new who has confronted everyone. I'm now what is considered old guard, and I never thought I would ever be in this position. But I look around and we're still doing things which are more interesting than the people who are trying to replace us - but there is no one who is trying to confront us and replace us. When we started, we had this goal, which was to knock people out of the way, an artistic thing. But now the emphasis is so much on chart success, particularly in England. It's gotten to such a point that, the industry is able to say to artists, "Well, if you don't like this, then fuck off, we'll get someone else who does." Now, there's a paranoia that exists - if you sign a group, your job sort of depends on it. If they make a wrong decision, they may be out of a job. There's no art, or creativity involved - there never was very much of it. to begin with, but now you might as well drop the "music" out of "music business."
Now, everything is so manufactured - you go to Europe and they ask you what you think of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and it's a real joke. There's nothing there. you can tell right away. It's a completely manufactured thing - it might as well be invented by 55- year-old businessmen.
EYE: So what's new that's any good?
SMITH: There are a few groups who show promise. The most obvious to me is The Jesus And Mary Chain, just because they're so funny. But I think they may back themselves into a corner. Other ones are That Petrol Emotion and Half Man Half Biscuit. I loathe groups like The Blow Monkeys - they're just replacing Nik Kershaw, as far as I'm concerned. But there is supposedly an obscure movement bubbling up in London, so I suppose this summer I'll sneak in and see what the opposition is up to.
EYE: The Cure have a lot of retrospective material coming out. Do you mean to signal the end of an era?
SMITH: No, it's just that, all the retrospective stuff simply conspired to come together at this very arbitrary ten-year point. I've just finished writing the Cure biography with this bloke back in England. Also, our Polydor contract we have in Europe is finished, and if we were not to re-sign, they would immediately put out what they would call a greatest hits album and package it very badly. So that made me think maybe we should do it now. rather than wait for them to do it. And if we're going to do the book and the singles album, then we should release a video, because all the ones before "Let's Go To Bed" have rarely, if ever, been shown anywhere.
EYE: Why not?
SMITH: Well, because they're fuckin' awful! Actually, there was no real outlet for young or unknown groups to show videos, and there still isn't really. Here especially...
We just put it together documentary- style. I think it's one of the best things we've ever done, because it's really self-deflating. There's no preening or glamour in it. We look completely foolish. If I was at all concerned with the image of The Cure it would never have been made, in fact, it's so much truer to what being in the group is like.
It's just interesting to show people how we've metamorphosed over the years. It's incredible how our faces change really uncanny, it's not just like I m fatter - I look like a completely different person. My face was so hard and angry around the time of "Seven- teen Seconds." What you really feel inside shows in your face, because I have since be- come far more balanced, and my face is much more normal, more accommodating to the people who live inside my mouth.
EYE: One can tell that from your music,
SMITH: Yeah, I'm enjoying myself more than I used to. I don't, think that goes hand- in-hand with complacency, because I'm not complacent. Possibly because I'm getting older, I want to try to make the most of things.
EYE: I would like to mention to you a four letter word that is actually a five letter word, or vice-versa: "drugs."
SMITH: The G1ove [a one-off band with Ban- shees' bassist Severin which made an album with the acidic title Blue Sunshine] was the most, ah, induced kind of mania, I honestly don't remember making a lot off that record. We spent like six weeks in a semi-delirious state, I mean, it's great fun, but I could never exist like that - I know of people who do.
Around the time of Pornography and The Top [two middle-period albums], I was pretty muddled, but The Head On The Door was readily only influenced by an immense consumption of beer. We actually wanted to make a drug-free album.
SMITH: I just wanted to see what it would be like... I don't know... well, we had never made an album without drugs. We don't go wandering into walls, but if you become incompetent, then everyone gets very ratty, and you get your head pushed into a sink full of cold water and beaten up in toilets. Eveyone is very responsible to the others, but there's none of this; (whiney voice) "if you use drugs you're out," as with certain bands. It makes me laugh that there's this image that's been portrayed of me as someone who goes stumbling about. I'd be completely incapable of doing anything if I did half as much as they say I do. It's just part of the myth-making process that goes-on if you're in a group. I don't encourage it - on the other hand, if I actually try to discourage it, it'll only make things worse.
I don't know anyone who hasn't experimented with drugs, but then I live in a funny world. On the other hand, I don't know anyone who uses drugs regularly - I find that as tedious as any other habit. I much prefer drinking and drugs in the social sense - kind of a soma holiday with friends. Once we went to see Reanimator, completely out of it. and sat there screaming, all thirteen of us in the front row of the cinema. That was a really good night out. If you did that all the time, though, everything would take on quite a dulled aspect, everything would become quite drab.
EYE: How do you like New York?
SMITH: I must say that I don't really care for New York much. Every time I go here, it's very hot and very dirty. I just had entree to ABC Land - it's so filthy I can't imagine why anyone would want to live there.
I've been here once a year since 1980, so this is my sixth visit and I still know next to nothing about New York. I see the same few buildings and faces.
Whenever we're on tour and we've got a day off, I either sleep or roam about the hotel, and then go out in the evening. The difficulty is that, since my girlfriend Mary doesn't go on tour, I'd rather go back to London to see her, since she won't fly, I'd rather not run about a city without someone to really share it with, it's frustrating.
EYE: Laurence Tolhurst: ["Lol." childhood friend and long time member of the band seems like the most hilarious guy - do you think he'll get into comedy once the Cure quits?
SMITH: Actually Severin and I have a career picked out for him as a Japanese disco star - you know, the kind with the ridiculous hand movements and facial expressions. We're quite convinced he would be a hit.
Lol and I often sit around and look at each other and wonder what we're going to do when we grow up. I think I'll just, sort of disappear, really... I'll become very cultured in my later years. I'll probably take up pipe smoking or something...