Vol. XXI, No. 24
11/24/97 to 12/7/97
Jeremy M. Helfgot
reprinted without permission
It's been ten years since MC last spoke with Cure front man
Robert Smith, and he was promoting a greatest hits package back
then, as well. But catch up we did, backstage, at the
House Of Blues, during the band's recent stint in town
in support of their latest retrospective, Galore,
which features their new hit single "Wrong Number."
What is "alternative?" In the context of Nineties rock music,
that's a tough question to answer. The musical genre
which once stood for artists who were breaking away
from the rock mold has now become so homogenized
with the mainstream and so widely accepted that
it's difficult to differentiate alternative
artists from their mainstream contemporaries.
As a musical label, "alternative" has been ailed
by acts like R.E.M. and U2 who have crossed over
into the pop world and, in doing so, have list the
musical edge that made them great in the first
places (witness the less-than-impressive sales
figures for both of those groups' last releases).
So what can be done to shake the disease that is
plaguing the world of alternative music?
That's easy. Find the Cure.
It's been 20 years since the formation of Robert
Smith's "lighter side of goth" act in the U.K.,
and, for those two decades, the Cure has remained
one of the few acts to actually retain their
identity as icons in the world of "alternative"
rock music. Despite a slew of lineup changes,
long periods away from the U.S., and a couple
of recent hit-or-miss works, the Cure have
still managed to compile their second album
of alternative hit singles, an impressive
feat for any musical act. Add to that fact
the addition of a brand new single already
climbing the air-play charts, and there is
proof that an act can still be alternative in the
Nineties without sacrificing artistic quality or
Listening to Galore, the group's new ten-year single
retrospective out on Elektra, it becomes clear that
this act-currently comprised of singer/guitarist/songwriter
Smith, keyboardist Roger O'Donnell, bassist Simon Gallup,
guitarist Perry Bamonte and new drummer Jason Cooper-has
evolved without shedding one ounce of its musical identity
"I've never subscribed to the idea of 'what's in,
what's out' when it comes to music or clothes or
hairstyles," the wild-haired Smith says with a
laugh, sitting on a couch in the Foundation Room
at the House Of Blues in Los Angeles, one of a handful
of stops on the group's recent promotional tour of the
States. "I really hate the idea of someone sitting
somewhere deciding what's cool and what isn't.
"It's like trying to make your music sound like someone
else's record just because they've sold a lot of records.
Or trying to sound 'modern.' I've never seen the point in
that. I write and play music that I enjoy."
And apparently Smith is not the only one enjoying the music he
makes, as "Wrong Number," the only new piece on Galore, is
quickly becoming a hit on Alternative radio stations across
"I think 'Wrong Number' just added to [Galore] immeasurably,"
Smith remarks when asked about the new cut. "I think it's
one of the best things we've done in the last ten years-certainly
on of the best three on there-which is good, because it makes
me feel good about what we're doing. If it was just kind of
a token new single, it would have done nothing for the package,
but it looks like it's going to be one of our most successful
songs ever, which validates [us] and [dismisses the notion of]
'it's all over, they're washed up.'"
Interestingly enough, the song actually came a
bout as an after-thought to the project, and was
penned only a few short months before Galore was
"Before 'Wrong Number' was written in the summer,
I had wanted Galore to happen this year," Smith
continues. "I wanted it to come out, and I did
listen to it-I put it together at home, and listened
to it as an album-all 17 songs, and I was thinking,
'what is the one that's going to finish off this record?'
And that sort of stalled the whole project. I knew it had
to be as good as, if not better than, anything else on there.
"So, traditionally what we've one is we've always been very
driven by melody by familiarity; not something that you can
whistle or hum, but something that you remember-there's
something about it. And it's the marriage of melody with
a good set of words," and behold, a new Cure hit is born.
Still, working an album comprised mainly of past material
is different than pushing a collection of all new music.
"It's nice though," keyboardist Roger O'Donnell chimes
into the conversation, as he sits down next to Smith on
the couch. "It's nice to look back at that retrospective
of what we've done over the past ten years and to put it
into perspective. I mean, it's fun to promote a new album
but this is good 'cause it's like looking back. When we
went into master the album, it was great to hear all of
the songs in a row. It's like I can't believe it's been
ten years, because I joined the group in 1987, and the
first song I played on is the first song on the album."
"We were going to call the album Roger, originally,"
remarks Smith, chiding his bandmate. Returning to a
more serious tone, the singer adds: "When we did Standing
On A Beach [the group's first singles compilation,
released in 1986], if someone had told me that in
ten years we'd have this new singles collection,
I honestly wouldn't have thought it [possible]. I
would have not have thought that, at this time, we
would have been able to have done so many hit tunes.
That sounds a bit big-headed, but I mean there have
been a lot of definite singles over the last ten years,
some of them good and some of them not so good. But,
generally, they've been good, and so I felt sort of a
bit proud putting together this album.
"I was really pleased that the last ten years have
been as good as they have been," he continues. "It's
generally been on the up. I mean, we're on the slide
at the moment," he laughs, "but ever since we've
started we've always sold commercially where each
album has done better than the album before. Until
the last one, which did worse than the one before,"
he laughs again.
Of course, as far as the record company accountants
are concerned, an artisit is only as good as their
next record-and the Cure is no exception. When asked
about the word that a new Cure album is underway,
Smith turns to O'Donnell and rolls his eyes. "This
'word' stuff is getting out of hand," the singer
says to his bandmate. "We have started recording
stuff, but it's been very stop/start, because of
this sort of thing-all of the promotion."
"It's still sort of in the stage where it's
going lots of different directions, but it's
very exciting" O'Donnell contributes. "There
are some really good songs. It's just a matter
of what way we're going to approach them. And
it's a great stage to be in, because it's like
we can go an way. We're not committed to anything."
Smith jumps in: "It's all the stage where I've got
to kind of start working in private about how the
songs will turn out, and then we'll do it for real.
And it's probably a bit frustrating for the others,
'cause they have to sort of sit around waiting for
me to make up my mind."
And for how this new album will sound in the context
of modern music, O'Donnell grins and says, "I don't
really know! I mean, we live in our own world."
"Between the five of us, there's an incredible range
of music," Smith is quick to add. "I mean, some of
the stuff that Roger likes I think it awful, and
vice-versa. But we do have common ground. As a band,
if we had to each list out favorite albums of all time,
there would probably be like 25 that at least four out
of the five of us would have in common. There'd be some
very strange albums in there, too-stuff that you would
never believe that somebody in the Cure would like!"
And after twenty years, musical differences have taken
their toll on the group.
"I think, through the years, it's been like if I think
we should be doing something a certain way, everyone
gets into it-or they don't. And if they don't, then they
leave," Smith explains with a laugh.
And leave they have, sometimes returning and sometimes not.
Throughout the group's history, the Cure has had somewhat
of a revolving door for band members, with Smith remaining
the only true constant.
"It's like you've been in five different groups," O'Donnell observes.
"I mean, people obviously want to believe that it's an unchanging
thing in a changed world, because the name has been there for 20
years," Smith says of his band. "They assume that it must have
always worked in the same way, but it's been completely different.
I should have changed the name of the group with each change."
As the interview winds down, the band is preparing to play one
of their two U.S. dates to promote Galore, tonight at the
Hollywood American Legion Hall. When asked about any last
minute thoughts they might have before the performance,
Smith takes a deep breath, and smiles: "I've just hit the
point where I'm starting to get excited."
"You see he can drink on stage-I can't!" O'Donnell interjects.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I've got too much to do."
"I've got to remember thousands of words all mingling in my head!"
"But I have to remember thousands of different places to put my fingers!"
"Naw, that's easy," Smith concludes with a laugh.
"There are only like four basic chords in Cure songs."
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