Robert Smith Interview

Orange County Register
August 9, 1996
Mark Brown

Before The Cure went on its current Wild Mood Swings U.S. tour, lead singer / song writer Robert Smith sat everyone down and gave them marching orders.

We had a big meeting with everyone, I said if I see one sour face, they're going home. Smith said. So I don't know if they're genuinely enjoying it or if they're just smiling when I'm around. As long as they keep smiling, I'm happy.

The concepts of "Robert Smith" and "happiness" are rarely used in the same sentence - particularly by Smith himself. But in four years since The Cure put out a new album, Smith has settled down, got himself a permanent home in London after years of fly-by-night living and actually decided that life isn't so bad after all - despite years of dour songs such as Pictures of You Boys Don't Cry and Disintegration.

Smith got caught up in being the moody loner that came across in his songs.

I'm the person who writes the songs. I'm the person who sings it Smith said. People get into the music on an emotional level and they immediately empathize with someone who they think is me. A lot of the time they're really wide of the mark. I used to spend a lot of my time acceding to their demands of being the person they want me to be. I haven't done that much since the Wish album," he continued. I'm much more myself, much more comfortable with who I really am. It's very disappointing for people. I don't walk around all day thinking about french romantic poetry and writing songs. It's a very small part of my life.


Family, friends and home have become a much bigger part of his life these days.

The main difference is I've got somewhere to live. And I am actually happy. I'd lost touch with everyone. I didn't know anyone outside the group or the group environment, Smith, 37, said from a hotel in Denver. I literally had no friends. I spent the year I took away from the group actually reacquainting myself with my family - nephews and nieces and a lot of old friends. I feel revived by it all. Now I've got this lovely place to live, and I'm going on tour for eight months. It's quite absurd.

That includes dates this weekend in Los Angeles and next weekend at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater.

The pop smart angst that underlies The Cure's moody music has saturated the market in the 90's. Some of Smith's gloomier ruminations stood out from the pack a decade ago, but the rise of alternative music brought such angst front and center in popular music. Consequently, what was once gripping and unique is now boring and common.

Some of the questions and some of the things I've addressed lyrically over the years, I don't think they'll ever go away Smith said. The difference is I'm no longer motivated to write about them. I've discovered that there are so many other people out there who have the same angst that it seems pointless to keep going on about the same things.

Thus the break.

That's the reason I took the time. I was constantly advised that we wouldn't be able to come back. When three years had gone by, I was told 'Just don't bother making the album because no one is interested.

I don't care if we have to start from scratch again. That's never been a reason for me to make records anyway. I don't think Disintegration is better than Seventeen Seconds because it sold more, Smith said.

It's a good thing Smith is so blase about commercial success. Wild Mood Swings recently dropped out of the Top 100 after peaking at No. 12 and didn't produce any big breakout singles such as Friday I'm in Love.

That gives Smith pause.

I think the fact that we've been away for four years was actually a bigger factor than I realized.


And it's frustrating to him, because "Wild Mood Swings" is one of the band's better efforts. It was recorded in an English mansion that the band rented for a year from actress Jane Seymour of "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" fame.

An MTV "unplugged" appearance opened the door to stripping down, but it was the defections of guitarist Porl Thompson and drummer Boris Williams that pushed the concept.

In some ways I was relieved because I couldn't see where else we could go with that lineup. I kind of knew what we were going to sound like, knew what we were playing like. With hindsight it was a good thing. I took a year away from the group anyway to think about whether I wanted to carry on doing it. It actually made me think about every single facet of what The Cure do. And so I stripped away a lot of the things that really used to bug me about the group. A lot of it was the methodology - who did what and why and the responsibilities that people did and didn't take.

Had the band continued as it was and pounded out another album as its record label wanted, it would have been disastrous he said. Now it's been four years. I've discarded 50 times the number of songs that are on the album. And now it's the best thing we've ever done.

Wild Mood Swings was the original sarcastic title Smith gave his never-released 1983 solo album. Rather than any kind of mood swings, the album was all the same song in different keys.

But I always liked the title he recalled. The whole idea is like a roller coaster ride. The album is supposed to lurch you from one side to another.

The new album is more observational. It's about other people and how things happen to them Smith said It did worry me at the time. I'm turning into a (stinkin') songwriter. I'm actually experiencing things and thinking, "Oh this would make a good song.

Not to hear the critics tell it. Wild Mood Swings has lived up to its title with critics, who either hail or condemn it.

Back in England they're saying, 'you're out of step with what's going on', well, we're always out of step with what's going on. I can imagine the jibes if we tried to be modern - the Cure goes jungle or something, he joked. That's completely absurd.


But it also doesn't matter. The Cure has plenty of money and still makes it, as its strong new tour has shown. And anyway, Smith thinks he's had his say. More than 14 years ago.

After Pornography I achieved what I wanted to achieve referring to the 1982 album. That was it for me. I didn't care after that. Everything else since Pornography has been a bonus for me. From the point of me saying, "Here I am, I'm in the world" that was it. That was my big scream.

A big problem he said is keeping the music fresh.

When I look back on the Robert Smith who sang on Pornography I can remember what I felt and how I was like, but it just isn't there anymore. I don't feel like that anymore he conceded.

After nearly 20 years, 20 albums and a handful of band changes, Smith has decided to completely mix up the live show. In 40 shows the band had previewed 70 songs. We'll be playing up to 100 songs by the time we get to Los Angeles Smith said. We're playing for about three hours a night, and we change the set around every night. We're actually playing things we haven't played on stage for more than a decade.

With new band members on board, the Cure is back up to a five-piece, with its usual rules. Even though it is, for all intents and purposes, Smith's band, everyone splits the money five ways. It makes everyone happy. When there was no money, we split it equally. When there's a lot of money we split it equally he said. I believe that money is the root of all evil. I honestly believe that.

Years earlier Smith heard that The Jam was breaking up in a fight over publishing royalties. If everyone get paid equally, then I can say "look my song's better than yours and it's going on the album" Smith said.

Even in such a socialistic system dissent occurs. Smith spent two years in court fighting former Cure member Lol Tolhurst, who wanted a percentage of everything the band made in return for dropping his rights to its name.

I've invested 20 years of my life making this what it is Smith fumed. Some days it feels like 120. Other days it doesn't. I know I've gotten to the point where I have to think about doing something else. There has to come a time when I just attempt something different he said. A lot of the time I look back on what I've written only a year later and can't see what I was trying to say.

So while he's not writing as much about angst, he's still feeling it. It's not like I'm uneasy with getting older or losing my rages. I'm just running out of time to choose to do anything else. My options are being closed down with every year that goes by.

Last Revised: Monday, 15-May-2006 14:59:53 CDT

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