The Guru of Gloom...NOT!

BAM magazine
June 14, 1996
(c) 1996 JonMatsumoto

The Cure's Robert Smith has been called the Messiah of Melancholy and the Guru of Gloom. It's a perception that's grounded in his dark sartorial sense, ghostly pallor, tousled mop of black hair, and, most notably, the several stunningly sullen albums he made with the band in the early '80s, especially 1982's dungeon-like Pornography.

But today, the 37-year-old Englishman's macabre image is basically just that--an image. In reality, the leader and co-founder of one of England's most enduring and popular post-punk bands isn't at all the depressed, morose figure some picture him to be. From 1985's hooky confection In Between Days to his new single "The 13th," Smith's songs over the past 10 years are just as likely to have been ebullient or playful as they have been reflective or melancholy.

The chatty Smith is very much an individualist who doesn't appear at all to have the self-destructive or hedonistic tendencies of some other '80s-era goth-rock figures, most of whom have long since sailed into the doom-rock sunset. He seems to live quite a normal and happy life back home in England with his long-time companion and wife, Mary, a social worker who helps the mentally handicapped. A voracious reader (he's currently tackling the complete works of Dickens), an astronomy buff, and a devout fan of English football, Smith comes across as an unpretentious and intelligent bloke. Recently, he was answering questions in support of the Cure's first album in four years, Wild Mood Swings, and appearing with the band on Saturday Night Live. During a telephone interview, the singer- guitarist spoke enthusiastically about his new songs, which touch on a variety of different styles, including jazz, Latin, Indian, and waltz musical elements. This summer, the group embark on an American tour that includes a date at the Great Western Forum on August 10th.

Was there any concern about how the public would react to the band after such a long absence?

I really didn't think about it that much because I just wanted to make another record. In some ways, the gap being as long as it has been is probably better because it's allowed people to forget what we did before. When we first made a record, no one knew who we were; we made a record, and it was judged on its own merits. I feel the same about this one. To a lot of people, they may have heard of the Cure, but they aren't quite sure what we do. It could effectively be our first album.

Siouxsie & the Banshees recently broke up. How does it feel to be one of the last remaining British bands from that late '70s era?

I think we're the only ones now, although the good news is that the Sex Pistols have reformed. But I don't think that really counts. The strange thing is I've been in a group who've been called the Cure all this time. It's been almost 20 years. But there have been several different groups who have been called the Cure, and they've each been very distinct groups. I've been a very different person in each one of those lineups. So, I don't feel like I've been doing the same thing the whole time. I was in the Banshees for a while, and I've done other projects outside the Cure. I don't think, "I'm still doing this after all this time." I do this because it's what I really, really enjoy doing. I derive a huge amount of satisfaction from doing it and I still get very excited about it, so I don't see any reason why I should stop. When we come to play concerts for people, you don't get the idea that they want us to stop, either. They seem to really like it. More importantly, I think we're making music that's different. We haven't followed a formula. We're still a traditional band, but within that framework, I think we make some quite weird music.

What do you think about the Sex Pistols coming back?

[Laughs] It's quite disheartening, to be honest. I don't think it will work. I think they'll just fall apart. It's just a scam. It' pretty sad. John Lydon doesn't need the money. It's more that he's just missing the spotlight. Some of what PiL did was really, really good, but it never seemed to be really appreciated in the way that it should have.

You've said this album is more of a group album than some previous Cure albums, which were more directly reflecting your personality.

Yeah. I think there was much more of a sense of the group making this record because of the way we recorded it. We all lived together for a year [at two different manor houses in the English countryside]. There's much more of a communal feeling about the whole project. On this one, everyone got involved from the beginning.

How did all these different musical influences creep into Wild Mood Swings?

When we were living together, we found it difficult to agree on what artist or artists [to listen to], particularly when eating. So, we went into ethnic music. We bought loads and loads of CDs, like music from around the world and we had themed dinners. That's where it all came from because we recorded some really weird stuff. We'd listen to a tape of Russian music, and then we'd try to do a song in a Russian style. Most of it was just rubbish. It was laughable. But some of the combination of sounds, particularly on "The 13th," that kind of slightly out-of-tune trumpet sound, I found it really appealing and I wanted to incorporate it into a song.

I noticed the songwriting credits usually list most if not all the other band members. But the perception is that the Cure is your artistic vision that's being presented.

I mean it still is in the main. The songwriting credits thing is really just because I never wanted to argue about money. The truth is that 95 percent of Cure songs are written by me. But I never wanted to be in a position where people in the band thought I was choosing the songs I had written at the expense of their one or two songs because I wanted to get all the credit. So, everyone gets the credit. Also, it's true that once a song is written, it's only the first step. It then has to be made into a song--played and recorded and made into something that's tangible and entertaining. I think everyone contributes to that. I'm not the Cure, but the Cure wouldn't exist without me. There is a subtlety of difference in that. The group really depends on who's in it. I would never call anything I did on my own "the Cure."

How do you feel about that perception of you as a purveyor of gloom?

It's a very kind of lazy media-led thing that kind of reinforces the idea that the Cure is a certain kind of group. When we started, we were an out and out pop band, and we did "Boys Don't Cry" and things like that. It was three minutes of very upbeat stuff. Occasionally, we would do something that was a little bit somber. Then we kind of mutated into a group where the extent of what we were doing was very downbeat and dark. I was meant to be very troubled at that age, and the group reflected that. But it was a phase of the group that lasted maybe two-and-a-half years. But it's still kind of dusted off and dragged back out every time we do something. If you listen to the new record, there's no way in the world you can say this is a gloomy group. Faith, Seventeen Seconds, and Pornography were three albums that dealt with a very kind of dark, somber side of life. But I got it out of my system. Ever since then, which was 1982, we've never made an album that's been of one mood.

From the clothes to the hair, there are usually a lot of kids who dress and look like you at the Cure shows. Are you flattered by that or does it annoy you?

I do find it flattering, but I think that's often misunderstood. It's not really because they want to look like me or look like the group. They're saying, "This is what we like." That kind of tribal idea; it's there for everyone. I used to do that. There was a singer called Alex Harvey when I was about 14 or 15, and he used to wear a black-and-white striped T-shirt, and so I used to wear a black-and-white striped T-shirt for about a year-and-a-half. So I do understand that. He was like very underground. Nobody really knew who he was outside of England. People like the idea of a group like us existing and that's just a visual representation. It's just a way of saying, "We like this group."

I do remember when you toured with Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me in 1987 that you cut your hair short, which seemed to cause something of a stir among some fans.

I'm going to do that again on this tour. I've actually shaved my head three times in the last 10 years. But on only one of those occasions have I immediately gone out and done something in public. When we finished the Wish tour the first thing I did was shave my head. Then I didn't do anything for like two years.

I heard that you wore velvet dresses to school when you were a teenager. Is that true, and were you very much the misfit growing up?

A bit. I wasn't a great respecter of authority. I'm not really now. It was a healthy attitude. I wasn't trying to be awkward. I just didn't understand why I should go along with things because that's how they've always been done. I still feel like that to this day. I always question why something has to be done a certain way if I don't agree with it.

You've said that you went home to a very "deranged" mother and father who were very supportive. Were your parents kind of eccentric?

They were and still are. We did a show in London last week. It was like a large TV show. They came along to that. They dominated the room. It's quite bizarre, actually. I actually take a back seat when they're around. It's good. They really enjoy themselves hugely, which I like. I like people who get the most out of things. I hate people who just kind of mooch about and think everything is miserable. Which is why I laugh that I've had this image attached to me that I'm one of those types of people because I have never been.

Last Revised: Monday, 15-May-2006 14:59:58 CDT

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