Paint It Black

Rolling Stone
October 1990
Lauren Spencer
reproduced without permission

A band that hates dance music is about to release an album of dance remixes. Welcome to the wacky world of the Cure.

An exclusive report from London by Lauren Spencer.

Somewhere outside of London, 1:30 A.M. About a half-dozen kids, mostly girls are waiting in front if a seven-foot-high metal gate to catch a glimpse of --- or even better, a word with their favorite band. Meanwhile, the objects of their affection sit upstairs discussion murder. Robert Smith --- singer, guitarist, and conceptualist for the Cure -- is shaking his head in disbelief as bassist Simon Gallup tries to convince him that one of their acquaintances actually did her boyfriend in with a shovel.

"Wait a minute --- you expect me to believe she hit him over the head, dragged him out and buried him in a shallow grave? Who told you that?" Smith asks, while kicking back on the couch in a T-shirt and boxer shorts.

Perry Bamonte, the Cure's new keyboardist is called out from the dressing room to confirm the story. "It's true," he says, "she told us while we were in the pub."

Somehow this explanation doesn't carry a lot of impact coming out of the mouth of a guy who bears more than a slight resemblance to Eddie Munster, complete with wolfman makeup and velvet suit. Robert --- who only moments before had black eyeliner and lipstick smeared on his pale face, his trademark black hair teased to perfection --- doesn't look convinced, but the debate is good way to pass the time before he is forced to mutate into a Siamese twin. Not to worry, the Cure haven't joined the circus. They're just shooting a video (almost the same thing), and despite all the rumors they haven't broken up.

In fact, there is quite a lot of Cure material waiting to be born: A live album from last year's Prayer tour is in the can; a Robert Smith solo album, which has been an ongoing project for a while, is close to completion; and Rough Trade has just put out Blue Sunshine by the Glove, a duo consisting of Steve Severin and Robert that was made in 1983 when Robert did a brief stint with Siouxsie and the Banshees.

But the real band news is their latest album, Mixed-Up, a collection of Cure classics remixed by four of London's hottest DJ/producers: Mark Saunders, Paul Oakenfold, Bryan "Chuck" New, and William Orbit. (Among them, they are responsible for such dance faves as Neneh Cherry, Happy Mondays, Lisa Stansfield and Nitzer Ebb.) Mixed Up will definitely have clubs across the continent vibrating to ditties such as a six-minute-plus Inbetween Days (Shiver Mix) But the weird thing is Robert hates to dance and thinks the whole Happy Mondays/Manchester rave craze is "a load of dross. I always hated disco. I like to watch other people dance -- if they do it well -- but I myself can't."

So how did this album come to be?

"Well, this didn't start off to be a dance record," Robert explains. It started because people were trying to get a hold of old remixes and 12-inches and I saw this record collectors magazine that had the prices of singles and albums. I was having a look at what our singles were going for and I was stunned by how much they were on the market for. So, I thought the [master] tapes are with us, why not put them out again. Then the idea started growing into more and more of a remix album. As it turned out they aren't that many of the ones I originally wanted to do on here," he laughs.

In the process of going through the tapes, it was discovered that the masters of The Walk EP and Seventeen Seconds had disappeared. "They actually used to keep them at our record company in the back hallway," says Robert, "and people would just walk in and see them sitting there. I never realized just how important those tapes are to us." Rumor has it that a fan contacted the record company some time after the loss was discovered and offered some kind of deal in return for the tapes. When said person was informed that the authorities would look into it, the masters mysteriously reappeared. But in the interim, both "The Walk," and A Forest (from Seventeen Seconds) had to be re-recorded.

The album also contains a new single written and recorded last summer, 'Never Enough." With a screaming Hendrix-like guitar sound that hits hard, it's the most in-your-face rock-n-roll to come out of the Cure since their early days of Killing An Arab.

"Yeah," says Perry. "It's surprising rally because people get used to a certain Cure sound and with this song you hear a really loud guitar riff, and it's not until Robert's voice comes in that you realize it's the Cure."

Guitarist Porl Thompson adds, with a sidelong glance at Robert, "Hendrix was an influence on one member of this band."

The video for Never Enough is what brought them

to Magic Eye Studio in London, where they are wrapping up the last of a two-day-and-into-the-night shoot for 'Never Enough."

The idea for the video came from the 1932 cult-horror movie Freaks, and the set is replete with a fun house and all manner of visual illusions created for a full-on-trompe l'oeil effect. The song title appears apt, given the amount of costume changes and apparent deterioration the band has gone through within this 48-hour period. "We decay through seven levels of freakishness," says Robert. "We start off normal and then gradually get taken over by these characters. It works well because by the end you really feel like you're falling apart."

Tim Pope, who's been the Cure's only video director since 1982, still bears the black eye-makeup smudges from his role earlier as Turban Tim, the fortune teller. This is a family affair, and you can tell as you watch the band work with Pope that their relationship is based on mutual respect. Robert waits patiently while he is instructed to dangle from the waist through an open trap door, suspended six feet off the ground over a pan of water while lip-synching. It looks painful, but he does it over and over again on Tim's instructions. "The last video we did with Tim, I almost froze out in the snow," says Robert. "But we really work well with him. He likes to make you spot the clues. We'll film something and watch it later on and he'll just step back and wait for you to discover things. This is the first one we've done with storyboards, but," he adds with a laugh, "the boards you see downstairs really have little to do with what actually happens on the screen."

The Cure's current lineup has changed only slightly since the last album, Disintegration, in 1989 Simon on bass, Porl on guitar, Boris on drums; most of the changes in this band seem to revolve around the keyboards. After the fairly well-publicized departure of founding member Lol Tolhurst, due to a very real bout with personal Disintegration Roger O'Donnell became the keys man. He isn't with the band any longer and has since been replaced by longtime roadie Perry. (The official line on the split with Roger was "musical differences," but the band's sentiments indicate there were personal differences as well.)

The decision to promote Perry from roadie to full-fledged band member came pretty easily. "We could have hired a professional to take his place on the keyboards, but why not use someone who knows all the songs," Robert says. "Besides, I don't play all that well myself "

"Back when I started with the Cure, six years ago," says Perry, "they needed someone to be a guitar tech, but I'd usually end up doing all kinds of things. I still haven't really had time to put into words what it feels like to be on stage with them. When we were in Paris we did this concert outdoors, and it was my first time playing live with them. It was an unannounced show -- people found out about it only a couple of hours before we went on. That was the best thing for me, because it wasn't like going and having the hall filled up with Cure fans -- that would have been more nerve-racking."

The Cure will be putting in studio time for a new album next year, and although Robert has said before that they would not tour again, he may reconsider once the record is complete. Robert was fairly adamant about not going on the road, but it was good fun doing the festivals," Perry says. "First, we weren't the main attraction -- people were there for the whole concert. We actually all had fun on this tour, but it makes sense to wait for a new album before we start planning another one."

Forecasting the future of the Cure sometimes seems to be a favorite pastime of the music media. No Cure tour? yes Cure tour? Band breaking up? Band back together? But Robert does not seem overly concerned with their reputation in rock 'n' roll press circles. What seems to matter most is that the fans,. are behind them, because in the 12 years the Cure have been putting out records, they've flourished without any real chart-climbing success. The band has never had a No. I single in the U.K. (and only recently made the American charts with Standing On A Beach, a best-hits collection released in 1986), yet their popularity is hard to ignore. Fan appreciation is expressed by scores of kids sporting black hair, heavy eyeliner, and shapeless black clothing. This fandom also knows no geography. When the Berlin wall came down last year, one of the pictures seen round the world was a section broken through with a graffiti scrawled next to it that read "The Cure".

The moody, often dark, brand of music the band writes lends itself quite well to candles, incense, and deep thought about the meaning of life. Stickers reading "Not for the Suicide-Prone" might be more

appropriate stamped on their albums than those reading 'Explicit Lyrics." But it isn't all doom and gloom: In 1983, on the single Let's Go To Bed, Robert sounded playful. ("I'm not really such a depressed guy," Robert says. He is, in fact, a very funny guy.) And the inner sleeve of 1989's Disintegration contained the following recommendation: "This music has been mixed to be played loud, so turn it up -- not because it"s kick-ass rock 'n' roll, but, because the Cure's music has always hit a chord of such overwhelming, emotion that it's best experienced at top volume.

"I just love his lyrics," says Amy, a 17-year-old fan. "He's a poet."

Do you like to dance?


If the Cure put out a dance record, would you think it was weird?

Not if you could still hear his words.

The Cure's fans also know the band for their occasional pirating of radio frequencies, which was the case early one morning before Mixed Up was due to be released. a location in Central London had been scoped out and two American DJs from KROQ Los Angeles and 91X San Diego were flown over especially for the pleasure of pinning the band down for on-air interviews. Estimated transmission time: 12:00 midnight.

The band, looking a bit worn out from their earlier video-making marathon, sit on a couch surrounded by family and friends. Robert is relating a grooming idea he had for the video: "I was thinking of shaving my head, little by little, up the sides , so that by the time the video was done, I'd end up with just a little bit on the top." He pauses. "But that idea didn't go over well on the domestic front." The domestic front is a place that includes his lover of 15 years -- now his wife -- Mary. To see the two of them together is to witness a force field that seems almost impenetrable. No conversation needed. The track Lovesong off Disintegration (it has also been remixed for the new album) was a wedding present to her and is, he said, "one of the most difficult songs I've had to sing ... It's an open show of emotion." She remains sitting quietly on the couch chatting with friends as Robert is dragged away to join the other band members at the radio console. The clock ticks over to 2:00 A.M. and the Cure-FM is on the air.

Although 20,000 leaflets were handed out to potential listeners, probably only the hard-core fans have stuck by the radio for the two-hour delay. As Mixed Up makes its debut, strains of the Beach Boys muddy the frequency. It seems Radio BBC-2 is mounting a straight-on AOR attack, with Frank Sinatra being used as heavy artillery. No one in the makeshift studio seems to care--they are all too busy arguing over their favorite songs. The next single on the turn table is a 20 - minute long Cure remake of the Door's Hello, I Love You for an upcoming 40th anniversary Elektra album.

"I don't really like the Doors," says Robert, "but we listened to everything that was offered and the stuff we liked we couldn't do. When I heard Hello, I Love You it was quite a shocker because it reminded me more of the Kinks' 'You Really Got Me."' As they sing a few bars of the Kinks classic, the studio breaks up with laughter. And even if only a few stalwart listeners heard this impromptu performance, it doesn't seem to matter, because as Robert announces, "This band knows, how to have a good time." But then he adds, "Can't I go home now?"

Last Revised: Monday, 15-May-2006 15:00:01 CDT

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