The Guru of Gloom...NOT!
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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