Wild Mood Swings, their 18th recording released earlier this year (including the live albums) runs the gamut from the danceable tale of long distance obsession in Strange Attraction to the utter hopelessness in Numb, providing mood swings as wild as the history of the band itself. Sometimes labeled as pop and much maligned as Goth, the Cure has survived almost twenty years of trends, labels and red lipstick often in spite of themselves.
The first incarnation of the band was Easy Cure in 1978 by Robert Smith, ex drummer and keyboardist Laurence Tolhurst and ex bassist Michael Dempsey. Their first recording, Killing an Arab (which was for an independent label) was based on The Stranger by Albert Camus and is to this day known as one of their best. Their succeding album, Three Imaginary Boys (1979), though strongly influenced by the punk scene they inhabited, had a very strong pop flavor that would become their signature later.
Simon Gallup (sigh) who replaced Dempsey, was introduced to Smith through a mutual acquaintance of their brothers. Both heavy participants in the punk scene, the two frequently played the same clubs. According to Gallup, these shows usually ended up with him and Smith drunk in a corner discussing their mutual interests and the possibility of someday being in a band together. Gallup ended up joining the band in 1979, rounding out what would be the core of the Cure for the next 10 years despite the various comings and goings of several different guitarists, keyboardists, drummers and bassists. Now with a new drummer, Jason Cooper, who grew up on Cure music himself - and was a session musician for the British Film Institute and member of My Life Story before joining the Cure - the band has recorded Wild Mood Swings and started a world tour.
I spoke to Gallup and Cooper from England a couple of weeks before they kicked off the North American Tour in July to talk about the music, the image and just how the Goth myth started.
Were you looking forward to touring the States even with the mixed reviews Wild Mood Swings have (sic) received?
SG: Reviews really don't bother us. We feel very much at home now that the British press hate us once again. We found it a bit disconcerting when we released Wish and we were suddenly the British journalists' favorite band.
It seems when it comes to the Cure, people either love you or hate you.
SG: We tend to draw a lot of hatred out of people and that's a strange thing because there is a certain fan base that the Cure has got and the fans are really steadfast. But equally there's a lot of people that hate our guts and that's fine. We'd rather be that way than run of the mill and mildly liked.
Robert has said this album was much more of a group record. Do you feel that way?
SG: I think that Disintegration, Wish and this album were a group effort: Perry, Robert and I wrote the tunes. It has been like that for quite a while. basically, Robert, Perry and I write songs at home and record them on demos and then we meet up and play with the songs. We rehearse them as a band and then Robert writes the lyrics on top of them. It has worked that way for ten years.
How did you guys end up picking The 13th as your first single? The horns at the beginning sound so pleasingly odd.
SG: That was one of Robert's songs, initially called The 2 Chords Corp. (sic) because it was just two chords strummed on a guitar. It was one of the songs we had recorded; we kept adding bits of percussion and then we'd put it away and then add more to it. We ended up liking it so much and in some ways, it's quite tacky.
SG: We did a TV program a few months back and there was a sort of proper Latin American band on there. We could see how well they played. So it is us doing an impression of a Latin American band, but we're not good enough musicians to do it. It just sounds like a dodgy nightclubbish band. We just thought it was so tongue in cheek.
A lot of people didn't get the joke because it was mildly received.
SG: We knew that it wouldn't be. There were people from the record company saying I think it's a wrong move to put that out.
Jason Cooper: Something like The 13th is equally kind of different. I suppose on the radio some songs are more immediate and some aren't. I think the story and the video are quite strange. There's that definite element of of something slightly uncomfortable there, even though it's done in a Latin sort of way. I think it's a groovy song, I can dance to it. I mean, I dance to anything (laughs.)
The Goth myth was just that? A myth?
SG: We never were a Goth band. We never wore black lipstick and black nails. We've been perceived as a Goth band because of some of the more atmospheric tracks we've done. We've never sung about graveyards and bats and things like that.
Where did the cover art come from? That clown is really creepy.
SG: Robert had this catalogue of toys from Germany. He sent away for these different types of metal toys. They're actually really sharp on the edges and bizarre things like these cars you wind up. The clown is really quite frightening. When we were recording , we had all these toys put over our amps and things. We thought they were such bizarre images that we tried to incorporate them into the record sleeve.
What has it been like with a new drummer? It must have been hard for Jason to join the band at this point because you are so well known.
SG: I think Jason was over-awed at how normal we were. I think he thought we were all going to sit around in dark rooms with black candles burning and be really depressed. He found it a bit odd, I think. He thought that we wouldn't drink and wouldn't have a laugh. We did spend a lot of time with each other. But we're sort of used to it. In this way, we were in a big house, so it was like a communal breakfast room. The only time we didn't spend with each other were the four or five hours that we went to bed. That's the nice thing about being in The Cure. We all do get on. Unlimately we tend to get along with each other really, really well.
Were you freaking out when you realized it was The Cure?
JC: Of course I was! You heard the song once and then you had to play it. So obviously it was kind of rusty in the sense that you couldn't really hear the form of the song. You just sort of improvised with it. And then I played a couple of songs off Disintegration with the band. And then the next thing was recording a few songs and seeing how you get along with everyone, which is an important factor.
So the story is that you answered an ad in a magazine...
JC: Melody Maker. It would have been harder if I had any idea who it was. I had this inkling when I sent it back because it was a stamped and addressed envelope, it said Charlotte Street or something like that. I knew that was Fiction Records' address and there weren't that many famous bands from there. Then they film you playing in a room. You don't actually meet the band. You went in and played along to two of the new songs.
Were you a Cure fan before you started playing with them?
JC: I was and Robert hates me saying this... but it was my uncle that introduced me to them when I was about 12 or 13. He had 17 Seconds and I heard that and got really into it. It would be kind of intermittent... I mean Faith I was *really* into. I was really into the bass playing and the drumming on Faith and 17 Seconds. I mean not really the complexity of it; it isn't, it's very simple. But just the sound and feeling the record had... you put them on and this mood is sustained to the end. And that was kind of really strong with me through my teenage years.
Simon, do you sometimes worry that the image of the Cure outweighs the music? Especially Robert's image, he seems to be the one everyone concentrates on.
SG: The rest of us are quite lazy bastards, really (laughs). We don't really want high profiles as such. Robert probably feels quite rewarded in a sense. He's quite at ease talking and being the frontman. The rest of us are quite happy to let him do it. Once we're onstage, we feel like a band and honestly Robert is the frontman because he sings. I think there's only problems within groups when the people within the group don't feel satisfied with their role. We're quite satisfied and don't feel like we've got anything to prove.
How do you keep such a camaraderie going with all the line-up changes The Cure has seen over the years? It must seem like a new band every year.
SG: For ten years it was Porl Thompson, Boris Williams, Robert and myself. And that didn't change at all. And Perry joined like seven years ago. There's been pretty much a stable nucleus of the group.
But you left the band for a period back in 1982, returning in 1984. What prompted this departure?
SG: Well, we were touring with Pornography and it was a very intense record to play every night. And Robert and I were very young and experimenting with all sorts of weird things. It took its toll on us and both of our personalities changed and we ended up fighting. But when I left the group, Robert and I started socializing again. Then he used to come back from touring and he'd come down to the pub with me and drink. And he'd say You know why don't you come and record on the next record? And then he'd say Well, why don't you come and tour with us? And it hasn't stopped since then.
Jason, where did your interest in drums begin?
JC: I think I was given a Hendrix record when I was really young, about eight and also PinUps by David Bowie. I would drum along to that. And there was Manic Depression by Hendrix and that's what I was kind of playing along to. I did try other instruments but they weren't working out. I definitely needed to play the drums. I just enjoyed their sound. There are drawbacks to playing the drums though... like getting them in your car (laughs)!
Did you feel "part" of the band as you were recording the album? Or will it take a tour or two?
JC: I felt a part of it pretty early on. I guess I've been in the band officially for two years in January. I've known everyone intermittently for quite a long time and very intensely for about a year and a half. So I do feel a part of it and I feel very protective of the band if somebody critisizes it. So in that sense I feel I've put in my creative input and I've, hopefully, done as well as I could in the circumstances. And I like everyone in the band.