Lucky bastards. . . The Cure.
When I was at school, what I wanted to do was live in a big house with all my best friends, making music. That was the ideal. Just think. . . I've actually spent the past year doing this!
Robert Smith lives in a house, a very big house in the country. Or at least rents it. Nasty black pieces of roadie-humped equipment coil out all over the posh Brides head Regurgitated rooms of Haremers Hall, where The Cure rehearse for their spring tour. Computer magazines - tech porn - are piled on antique sideboards. It's high on a hill overlooking a two-sheep Sussex town with one poxy news agent and no curry house. This is a wee cottage to Robert, who's been Mr. Country Life throughout rehearsals and production of The Cure's new LP, Wild Mood Swings - their first for four years. Which is, of course, why we're here getting pissed on claret and fruit beer.
This is nothing compared to the one we've been recording in, which was Jane Seymour's pad with 13 bedrooms, laughs Robert. So, the Hello! crew that always seem to be traipsing about at least has a place to kip, then? Yeah! We've even done a pretend Hello! shoot in Jane Seymour's bath!
If the thought of Robert Smith forever blowing bubbles seems somewhat mortifying, bear in mind that The Cure's singer is now 36 and looks well on it. A couple of years 'out of the spotlight' (whatever that means) hasn't shifted the eye pencil or the lipstick traces from Robert's face, but here he sits, a changed - and chilled out - man. Fat Bob? Who he?
Indeed. Just when we thought The Cure had drifted away for good, they're back. Of the team that brought you Wish, only Robert (obviously), Simon Gallup, and ex-tech Perry Bamonte remain, augmented by returning keyboard player Roger O'Donnell and new drummer Jason Cooper. (There is a wipe clean Cure roster card included with all copies of Volume).
Choosing to accept the task of preparing The Cure's tenth studio album instead of disappearing into the mists of time, the group have stepped in with the kind of record that makes old fans happy, while introducing a whole new generation of teenagers to the charms of lipstick and truculence.
Robert, of course, laughs, but extracts seriousness from the heart of the joke. The Cure does mean a lot to certain people, and it shouldn't be dismissed as something which is grown out of. I find it despicable, the idea that you struggle through your adolescence and teenage years and then you arrive, with all your questions answered. Then you have children, get on with choosing your car and getting to work on time, complains Robert (it isn't like that at all, if he's anything to go by). People say our audience is constantly young, and that we don't retain anyone who's older, but at the root of it all, I haven't grown out of it, have I? I mean, I could do anything I wanted and I'd rather do this. I'm still living out there and looking forward to each day. I don't have to miss it and reform. It makes me laugh, getting criticism for never fucking growing up, and there's all these people coming back as if nothing's changed.
If Robert Smith were one of those jerks who rode out the 1980's believing The Kids owed him a living, we might well smack our lips at the thought of an ironic diatribe against Old Farts In The Charts. But Robert doesn't make novelty records, cod-reggae versions of Cecilia, or stage reunions just to stay in the public eye. Additionally he's not a jerk. Despite a few grey hairs in his messy mop, he's just as interested in the idea of credibility as any set of indie-minded, band-forming teenagers. For example, you won't find this mop bobbing up and down to Anarchy in the U.K. at Finsbury Park this summer.
Everyone who asks me about the Sex Pistols just wants their own sense of dismay reinforced. But it's so pathetically predictable, the tabloids will blow it up like Princess Diana's cellulite, he sighs. The most irritating thing is that John Lydon pretends to be ironic about the whole thing, yet he must be so desperate for the limelight. . . it's the only conceivable reason he could do it.
That's more like it. One of the reasons people still love Robert Smith is because he's willing to boldly go forward with vitriol, pouring it all over those pop stars who take themselves far too seriously.
Oh no, I won't be drawn, even though people name today's leading lights and expect the worst. I've spent far too much time in the past being a spoilsport and bad-mouthing people. . . but I am seething inside.
He claims it's not the pop stars that make his blood boil, it's the pretend pop they make. I cannot accept post-modern irony because I think it's absolute bollocks to do things without meaning them. People ask us about our position vis-a-vis Britpop as if we're worried about fitting in. But I wouldn't have found any of the groups attractive when I was 15, or 25, and I don't now that I'm 36, he explains, then relents, Of all the people I could mention, I like Damon Albarn, because I spent a nice evening with him a few years ago, though I have no idea what he's like now. I expect things might have gone to his head, because that happens, apparently.
Not for Robert, then, stories of Oasis punching each other in the tabloids, or the latest News Of The Screws dossier on bimbos shagging Jarvis Cocker.
After all, Robert remembers the days when people listened to bands because of their music and obsessions and not because of their notoriety or irony content. None of that music is aimed at me, and never has been. I'm standing somewhere else. The only real stars out there are Supergrass. Someone like Thom out of Radiohead should be a star, someone who looks like they're going to fall over and die, chuckles Robert.
And I do like quite a bit of what Manic Street Preachers do, although I didn't when they started because there was nothing to back up their mouthiness. James is good because he sings with passion rather than as if he couldn't care less - like others we could mention. If they really don't care, they shouldn't fucking bother! With the Manics, it's funny, because I was thinking earlier about how much it really hurts to carve stuff into your arms like Richey Edwards did when he carved 4REAL - and it is. It fucking hurts, even when you're out of it.
Strangely enough, today's Manics fans - obsessed with things like existentialism, self-abuse, isolation, and lashings of make-up - seem like a modern update of all those earnest young boys and girls who raided mum's dressing table, danced in front of bedroom mirrors to The Lovecats and read Camus for kicks. You all know who you were. . . and who you are.
We do attract a disaffected element, and always have done, says Robert. It's partly to do with the lyrics and partly to do with the music and the overall mood of some of the things we've done, but I also think those who like the group will see that we do things because we want to.
Then, of course, come the nutters. Actually, the view from Robert's window at home is cluttered with lovelorn, obsessed Cure acolytes camping on the beach and living in his driveway.
When I'm not polite, the look of dismay in their faces is just like I've caved their world's in. I used to play up to them and feel I owed it to people to be the person they want me to be, but it's the road to madness.
Besides, whackos in the carport do little to dissuade the casual onlooker that The Cure still cater exclusively for young 'uns of the gothic persuasion. Robert's been thumping the tub about this misconception all evening. There isn't a single photograph or historical record of The Cure being a Goth band! That whole idea of me being a particular, existential type of person who couldn't possibly like football and be a genuine artist - cos you cant do both - is rubbish, he snorts.
And Loaded be damned, this is the fella who spearheaded the pop-football interface at the helm of Team Cure. When I was at school, I played football for the school's team but I did well at English, and enjoyed both. There was never a paradox, because I still love football and I still love to read. I wasn't on the team so I could go out there and be a New Lad, because it hadn't been invented then, but I still like playing football and I'll like it more when it's become less fashionable.
In time. Sometimes it's passage leaves Robert vexed, particularly when people refuse to learn the kind of lessons time should teach us all. Lessons about drugs, for example. My brother-in-law is a policeman. When he dresses in his uniform, he's a figure of authority. But I took him to see Tron when he was seven. Now he asks me about 'street drugs' and invites me to talk to the other policemen about it. Do I? Erm, no. . .
Robert's flirtation with what he terms Very Serious Drugs came to a head in 1983 (no far along from when he took junior cop to the cinema). He and bassist Simon Gallup egged each other along an uber-bender of massive proportions, and Robert didn't think of checking himself until the ambulance came to cart him away.
I thought that I really didn't give a shit, and then it was driven home to me in a very big way that I did. So I clung on. It was actually a big turning point in my life, because I thought, I don't want to die. I learned my lesson. . . and switched drugs. These days, Robert can't decide whether hard drugs are stupid or scary. So he plumps for both options, and has little time for people who are too cool to care. The people who were around me then knew exactly what was happening to me and never stood up to say so, and I kind of resent some of them for it. Since then, when I've tried to tell others that they're slipping, I've learned that it's hard to make them see. You don't stop until you address the underlying reasons for doing these things, because it's just the manifestation of the root problem. In my case, a lot of things were bothering me and it took a year to figure them out. . .
Now whenever doubts linger in Robert Smith's mind, there's this one imaginary boy who pays him a visit. I've got this 15 year-old version of myself who sometimes walks into the room to give me the eye, and he was starting to give me some really horrible looks. When I was 15, I made a passionate and poetic list of what I wanted out of life - what I expected to be, what I expected to do, what I expected to get. Whenever I'm full of self-loathing I always remind myself of what I put on that list.
The list's contents are a secret, but it's probably right to assume that being in The Cure is somewhere near the top.
I would have been very solitary had I not been in the group. I wouldn't have been too bothered about the world or the people in it, concedes Robert. But I also like the idea of having people around me who are of a like mind, and being able to come down in the morning to see people that are pleased to see me as I am to see them.
Well, who wouldn't be?Living in strange stately homes with loads of mates, throwing parties, and having enough fun to forget what hard work you're actually doing is a design for life most of us would kill for. And nobody appreciates that more than Robert.
The time I've had away from the group - three years - means that I've developed a life outside. It might be a bit late in coming, but it makes things more special because I know that I've come back to it because I want to, not because I have to.
Neatly positioned between the outrage of punk and the studied cool of new wave, The Cure's debut LP was recorded and mixed in 3 days. Listening back to the rough and ready qualities of 10:15 Saturday Night and the perennial favorite Boys Don't Cry, it's easy to see the effect The Cure had on groups to follow. Robert, with fellow suburban iconoclasts Lol Tolhurst and Michael Dempsey in tow, wrote sparse, direct, and danceable songs about urban fear, lifting lines and ideas from existential classics. The Cure were miles ahead of their contemporaries. Not bad for thee boys from Crawley, eh?
Robert Smith: It's funny, but I really don't think of that as The Cure, because it grew out of something that was happening at school. On the first night of recording, I distinctly remember thinking, 'this isn't sounding the way I want it to'. Even then, I was very calculating and very aware of what we were doing, but I realized that unless we conceded certain things, we'd never get the record made. Then I actually went outside for a piss, and thought, 'forget it'. . . I could go home now and do the record when I have the chance to do it the way I want. But then my other voice said, 'do it now, then do the next one how you want'. I'm very glad I listened to that voice. When the album got a good reception, I began to think seriously that I could do this for real.
Boys Don't Cry
Seventeen Seconds was The Cure's first foray into the sort of dark, elegiac music which found favor with the raincoat brigade and nascent goths alike (or maybe the goths from Robert's status as occasional Siouxsie and the Banshees guitarist). However, when A Forest rolled it's melancholy way across the Top of the Pops stage, it was clear The Cure appealed to individuals outside the cultish audience the group had gathered.
Robert Smith: To get that us-against-the-world feeling, we actually slept on the studio floor under newspapers!Seventeen Seconds is a very personal record, and it's also when I felt The Cure really started, because we did it on our own and everything about it was exactly what I wanted. I produced it, although they said I wasn't capable. Then we jumped on a plane to New Zealand and Australia, and I realized that the world was a very small place because all the people we met were empathizing with us. It was reassuring at that juncture because I was getting lots of flak for following a melancholy strain after Boys Don't Cry. Since we made that album, the number 17 keeps coming up as an arbitrary figure. Very weird. . .
Robert Smith: I had to! It was perceived as arrogance, but it was more to do with shyness. I couldn't face what we were doing and face and audience at the same time. Also, four of the band's family members died within a two month stretch of time, and we were deeply affected by these deaths. At the same moment in The Funeral Party, everyone on stage went 'Gulp!'.
Anyway, I was probably obsessed with the idea of faith because I thought that if I found something to believe in, it would sort out all my other problems. And it didn't. "
Note: Shake Dog Shake was actually on the Top.
Robert Smith: Yes, I discovered the notion of massive quantities of Very Serious Drugs at the time and had I been older I don't think I would have recovered. Me and Simon just egged each other on to lower and lower depths. Pornography itself was a reaction against Faith, an incredible upswirl of mindless violence and aggression, mixed in with a complete disregard for everything and everyone else, in this world or any other.
Robert Smith: I did actually push myself to the point of a complete breakdown, which I've alluded to in the past. Since I was literally awake for three or four days running, I was hallucinating even without the aid of chemicals. Only (his wife) Mary tried to step in and help me, but if you're close to someone often they're the last person you listen to. I felt dislocated at the time. I missed having a group, had nowhere to live, and I was sleeping on Steve Severin's floor. . . all of which conspired to make me paranoid, jumpy, unsettled and obnoxious. Not at all how I really am.
Robert Smith: You know how there's the sound of a spinning top on that album? Well, I spent over 12 hours trying to get the right sound! Dave took the rough with the smooth, and spent ages waiting because there as the possibility that I might come up with a good song. I did this sat on a studio floor surrounded by toys and instruments, thinking, 'what shall I play next?.
Then Dave would come down and go 'are we going to do something this evening?'. I would say, 'yes. . . and could somebody turn on the lights because I'm dying to go for a piss'!
The Head on the Door
Robert Smith: I felt happy, like I'd got through everything. Before, a lot of my needs were based around being dissatisfied with everything I ever did, and having a good group replaced a lot of what went before. The songs on the Head on the Door fell together and I felt vindicated.
After watching all those other people who were really shit sell bucketloads of records, I couldn't understand how we'd failed to get through for so long. If we hadn't, I might have tried to do something else instead. But the record was a success, and everything we'd done up to that point was re-evaluated. Suddenly, we were an important group.
Staring at the Sea
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me
Robert Smith: Well, I drove my car down a mountainside when we were in France, and nearly killed everyone. There we were, hanging upside-down in a ditch, and I could smell petrol. I thought we were going to blow up because Simon had a lit fag in his hand and I was too shocked and hurt to move! We nearly didn't live to see ourselves become popular in America, which was weird, and I guess J Mascis' version of Just Like Heaven confirmed it. Yes, I really like it - we do that version in sound checks.
Robert Smith: This is an excellent record, even though I was such a perfectionist and so miserable when I was making it. I had a serious mental picture of how I wanted the record to be and I didn't bother to explain myself to anyone else. My mistake. Now I explain, so that others can pick up the thread if I lose my way. I pretend to be a control freak, but retaining total control is like holding mercury - virtually impossible.
Robert sees it as an ending, but a happier one than usual.
Robert Smith: It was the swan song of that particular line-up of The Cure, which had been together for nearly a decade. And things like Show - the live LP we did just after Wish - showed that group at the height of it's powers. Ultimately, when people started to leave, I could tell we were close to that dangerous point where we knew what everyone would play or say, and nothing would be said.
Wild Mood Swings
Robert Smith: I honestly think this is the best and most complete album I've made. Having a new line-up, and having discarded a methodology that I was over-familiar with, I've taken all the elements that I like about being in The Cure and thrown out the ones that I don't. Anyway, I've always thought every last thing we've ever made has been better than the things which came before it. I've just had the best year of my life making this record, so there are happy endings.