On the Trail of Lovecats

University of British Columbia Student Radio Society
November 1984
Dean Pelkey

The Cure are doing an autograph session at Odyssey Records at 4:00, you can talk to them when they finish, I was told. That sounded easy enough. There’ll probably be about 20 to 50 people there for autographs and I should be able to have a long chat with Smith, Tolhurst and co. afterwards. That was my first wrong assumption of the day. I arrive at Odyssey and am greeted by a line of over 200 people, mostly young girls, all waiting for a glimpse of The Cure. Do they know something I don’t? Is this the beginning of Curemania?

Inside the store everyone is tense. The Cure aren’t here. A reliable source informs me that their plane is two hours late. Seems that the were flying into Vancouver from Japan via Los Angeles. Oh well, nothing to do but wait and watch the crowd grow surly.

By 5:30 what was an orderly line has now become an impatient mass halfway into the store. I feel like leaving but I decide to stay, wondering if I might get a story when this unruly mob of Cure groupies have had enough and decide to trash the store. All is saved however, by the eventual appearance of Robert Smith and Laurence Tolhurst at 5:53. They are instantly mobbed, besieged for autographs, presented with banners, stuffed toys, and smothered in kisses. Serious journalism and common sense dictate that I stay far away. After watching the spectacle for several minutes I decide that a wiser idea would be to retreat and attempt an interview after the show. Slipping out the back way I find more fans waiting, they’ve cased the joint well, and it makes me wonder if the boys in Duran Duran had not better start worrying a bit.

A sweaty Commodore crowd has just departed, burly men are wheeling equipment around, and after much begging and patient waiting I’m ushered into the presence of Laurence Tolhurst. Looking a bit tired, he nevertheless is prepared to play genial host with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other (the English gentleman as a rock star?).

Right away it’s obvious that Tolhurst wants to talk, barely giving me time to get my tape rolling. Apologies are made for the shortness and raggedness of the set. Apparently the original drummer on the tour had been called back to England under mysterious circumstances and the replacement, Vince Ely, formerly with the Psychedelic Furs, had only about 6 hours of practice with the band. Although the present show the band is doing usually works better in a theatre type of setting, the club like setting of the Commodore helped cover up the rough edges of the band, who in turn treated Vancouver to some rockier versions of certain songs.

Tolhurst comes across as a very earnest fellow who really has no pretensions about what he’s doing. Having grown up just south of London in a middle class family, he left college after three years because I’d rather do something I can do, and formed The Cure with long time school friend, Robert Smith.

Although Smith is usually seen as being the Cure by himself, Tolhurst plays an equal part in the band.

The thing about it is, The Cure’s myself and Robert, but the nature of most people’s idea of a group is one central figure of three. But when we first started we said that to each other, one person’s got to go for that. We won’t sort of worry about different roles and things, like you’re the guitarist and I’m the drummer and you can’t do anything else. We’ll swap them around so it’s interesting. We’re very similar people, it’s like a sort of jigsaw. When we’re in the studio we have similar ideas but some things he can do I can’t and some things he can’t do I can, so it’s like a perfect kind of duet, There’s an equal contribution but I leave the final decision to him. Say I write some lyrics and we put them all together—he has to be happy to sing them because you can’t sing something you don’t believe in. Also, you can’t sing certain words.

Tolhurst gives one the impression that neither Smith nor himself are really concerned with who does what on a song. They work towards a guitar line or a title (as in A Forest) and draw from loads of words in patches and for one song often have about ten different sheets of words, some mine, some of his, and take little bits out. The emphasis is on the atmosphere, idea, and execution of things. In his case it appears that a Cure song is more than merely the sum of all its parts.

The band itself has gone through a series of strange musical and stylistic permutations. Tolhurst describes their early attitude as pretentious with the name The Cure being chosen to evoke images of a musical cure to what they perceived to be musical rubbish. Starting off as a pop band with Boys Don’t Cry; by the time Pornography (their fourth album) was issued they were working in a musical vein described alternately as somber and dense or dirge-like funeral songs.

This, it seems, was the result of a number of factors coming into play over time, both personal and personnel-wise. During the recording of Faith, Smith and Tolhurst each experienced personal losses what with Smith’s grandmother and Tolhurst’s mother both dying. As a result, what had been intended as more of an up album subsequently became more subdued. This feeling carried over and spilled out again in the making of Pornography.

That was because at the time with the people involved, it was a very, very intense personal relationship between the three of us that made and album like that. That is it had to be that hard, because it was very much a fire and water thing with the band. It was very intense at that time. The album had to reflect what we were like. Tolhurst sighs and drags on his cigarette, reflecting on those days. The music came from the feeling between us and it was quite hard. We stopped then considering ourselves as a band for a while because it became so mentally crazy, a lot of it. I mean, like all our records are always like a diary almost of what’s happening to us at the time.

During the tour in support of Pornography the band became fed up with being on the road and to a certain extent, with each other. At the end of the tour it was agreed that a holiday of sorts was needed.

I think a lot of bands are very stupid to be quite honest, because how otherwise can you tolerate something which becomes like, a complete manual grind kind of existence? You know, you play for months on end, the same songs, the same people, the same thing, and then when you stop that you’ve got to make a record of the same thing and do it all again.

Diversification became the order of the day. Tolhurst decided to step behind the controls of a studio, producing the band And Also the Trees and Baroque Bordello from France. Robert Smith on the other hand, remained more in the light working on The Glove with Steve Severin and filling in on guitar with Siouxsie and the Banshees. He appears on their live album and Hyaena.

Through all this Tolhurst and Smith remained in contact and began to release a series of Cure singles starting with Lets Go To Bed, which began a virtual renaissance for the band. The fact that they had worked on other projects kept their interest going and when they were ready to resume the identity of The Cure it was with and excitement and feeling of newness that Tolhurst describes as being similar to when the first started.

And though at the present Smith has left the Banshees to devote his energy to The Cure, this, cautions Tolhurst, doesn’t mean they won’t continue to pursue outside interests. He adds that he recently had a phone call from Baroque Bordello and will be producing a new single for them shortly. As well, he’s of the opinion that The Glove may have a new project in the works. These outside projects he insists, are half the reason why The Cure are still around after six years. For us, we’re in the group to enjoy ourselves but we do other things outside the group and that keeps it all interesting.

One of the more obvious products of the new found excitement of Smith and Tolhurst for The Cure was Lovecats. It was the first single recorded by the band outside of London, in Paris to be exact, and found the band quite cheerful and toying with what appeared to be jazz influences. Tolhurst agrees and smiles at the reference to jazz but calls it fake jazz. The song was done in a studio with a lot of people amidst a party atmosphere and the revelation that it, and the accompanying video, were partially inspired by the Disney movie The Aristocats draws a delighted response from the crowd gathered in the room. Following up on the idea that the band’s records are a diary of what is happening to them it must be safe to say that they enjoyed their stay in Paris. Tolhurst sips his scotch and nods knowingly.

This brings us to The Top, an album recorded after a two-year layoff. It has some of the openness of Lovecats yet also contains darker, brooding songs such as Shake Dog Shake. Although Tolhurst claims that the band has been a lot happier in the last year, with The Top it was like, 50-50, you know, there were some days when we did things where they felt very sad and very sort of claustrophobic, and then some days it was like happy and up. So that accounts for the variation. Purely that reason, just to sort of experiment and try and see if people would believe it was us. I suppose we like to confuse people really, we’re a bit mischievous.

I find it a bit fruitless for a band to preach politically when a band is never going to change the world basically, ever. An old actor might change things a bit but I can’t see the day, I may be talking rubbish, but generally music doesn’t change the political attitudes of the world. It might change young people’s ideas about things a little bit and make people think about thing more, but in general it doesn’t. I think the way to change things for us, is more a sort of personal politics you know, like your relationship with everybody. This attitude is best summed up with the expression each man is an island, and Tolhurst sees The Cure as attempting to build bridges between the islands. Although they have touched on subjects such as the obscenity of war in songs such as 100 Years on Pornography, The Cure generally try to stay away from blatant sloganeering. Jello Biafra may disagree with this approach but Tolhurst says, We can only express what we feel ourselves. I find it bad that people talk about something they aren’t really involved in.

Tolhurst goes on to tell about working in Crass’ studio where he was basically the antithesis of all that Crass stands for. And while he does admire a lot of things they’ve done, he finds a lot of it too naïve and too simple. This is black and this is white and there’s nothing in-between. Maybe we work in that area that’s in-between—which is where most people are I suppose. Aha, here perhaps lay some of the basic roots of the Curemania observed outside the record store; appeal to the middle classes, the people in-between. When this is put to Tolhurst he dismisses it and attributes their new-found popularity to more people having simply heard Lets Go To Bed and Lovecats. Famous people now, I guess.

So what does the future hold for The Cure? Well, to start off with they have another month in North America before heading back to England for a two month vacation. Remember, this tour started in Europe back in April and has literally taken them around the world. After that its off to Germany to start work on a new album, and the name Conny Plank gets thrown about. Does this mean more experimentation? Attempts to confuse the audience further? A go at stirring things up? Visions of a teutonic sounding Cure buried in synthesizers come to mind. Tolhurst shrugs, finishes his scotch, and flashes one of those mischievous smiles. Lovecats or Cheshire cats? Can these guys be trusted? Who knows—perhaps the answer will be in their next vinyl diary.

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

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