Clad in a bulky black suit, shuffling on ridiculously oversized sandshoes, an unthreatening figure approaches the microphone. Smiling sheepishly, he pauses. He's too overawed for this to be some kind of act. "Hello," he mumbles from behind his teased hair, thick eyeliner and painted lips (the longest surviving fashion gimmicks in pop!). He flees from the !spotlight and finds safety in the shadows. Thousands scream. The loudest of them were stumbling around their mother's knees when the Cure began in 1976. Now they're cheering their hero of youth alienation - Robert Smith. A hand, covered by a sloppy sleeve, picks a simple melody line on the guitar. It's The Doors' Hello I Love You. Smith hints at a smile, then gives the slightest nod and Inbetween Days crashes in. It's all so understated but a glimpse at the crowd suggests that everyone is being lured into the Cure vortex. These scenes from Show (the Cure's new feature film, video, CD recorded in Michigan, Detroit, on last year's Wish world tour) are not typical stadium rock histrionics. Putting it bluntly, you're either asleep within minutes or hooked for the two-hour journey.
Were you tense or nervous when Show was being filmed and recorded?
We were very worried about that. It did have some effect because there were 18 cameras there, so the lights had to be slightly brighter than normal, and the smoke was less dense.
I was worried that it was going to make everyone tighten up in the wrong way and be very nervous about the fact that this was our one big chance for posterity. But it had the opposite effect. Everyone was really keyed up for it and played to the utmost of their abilities. I'd rate it as one of the ten best performances of the year.
It encapsulates what we were trying to achieve last year - the scale of what we were doing. We were immense some nights. That sounds really big headed but it's not meant to.
We were striving to create something that was larger than life. I don't think we'll do it again.
It was a pretty mammoth tour then?
It was huge! It was nine months out of 12. For us,! it was the biggest tour we've ever undertaken. It was strange because the year before I had vehemently denied any rumours of a tour at all [laughs].
One thing I noticed was you still don't talk much on stage. Why don't you talk to the audience more?
It sounds funny, but I've never felt that comfortable doing that. I don't mind when I'm involved in the performance side of it - I get very lost in a lot of what we do and I really enjoy that. But in the gaps between songs, I actually feel excruciatingly embarrassed. I can never think of anything to say. I often look out, and just as I'm about to say something, I think "no, please don't say that, it's going to sound stupid". So I end up saying nothing.
Sometimes I've gone over the top and I start rabbiting on and I really regret it afterwards. The others in the band look at me like I'm an alien.
Have you ever practised? Thought up funny things you could've said on stage?
[Laughs] No - I don't live like that. I think contrived patter is one of the most excruciating things you can experience. When I see people play, I don't really care if they talk to me or not. I don't feel they're ignoring me if they don't. But I do know what you mean. I have been criticized though the years for not communicating with the audience. It's just something I'm not very good at. I prefer to sing.
What about watching the film? What goes through your mind when you watch yourself on stage?
Well, when the director's cut came back it was awful. I was really disappointed and I couldn't believe someone could make is look that boring and bad on stage. So as soon as we finished the tour, I went in during the first week in January and I was editing from then until April. I'm horribly over familiar with every aspect of the Cure on stage!
I did go to the premiere and had a few drinks and sat back and watched it. I think it's good, but I would say that anyway.
Sometimes you can be your own harshest critic...
I am, without question! I question every single thing I do in regards to the group. And with the film I was torn between a certain amount of vanity - you want the best shot of yourself - but the most powerful shot might not be the one that shows you in the best possible light. In those instances, I would always go for the more dynamic shot - under duress a lot of times!
We've obviously seen ourselves on stage before. At the start of a new tour, we film ourselves on a home video, watch it on the back of the bus, and talk about how we can improve things.
Prince supposedly videos every performance and as soon as he's off stage, he's watching it.
Oh no! No - that's insanity! It doesn't leave you any real life! In Australia, as soon as we were off stage, we went out watching other people. It's much more fun!
Who have you seen on stage that's impressed you?
Last year we saw a few bands while we were on tour. Ride were still particularly powerful. My Bloody Valentine were excellent. And I saw the Jesus and Mary Chain for the first time in years and I thought they were absolutely brilliant!
It was difficult last year seeing bands. If we were in a town with a night off and we went and saw someone play, there was usually someone in the audience who would've been going to see the Cure play as well. Sometimes it's quite uncomfortable because you almost become part of the show.
It must be a bit like that every time you step out of your house?
Well, I've cut my hair off, so it's easier now. It's about an inch long.
You're back to what it was like in '84 and '85?
Yeah. Although about every three or four years I chop it all off. It gives me a fresh perspective on things.
You're back to the Robert Smith of 1977 as well?
Errr....I don't think I can turn the clock back that far somehow.
You said recently : "I hate my peers. They have nothing to say and their music is shit". Who were you referring to ?
I was talking about people who are currently in groups who started off around the same time as us. I don't feel I have anything in common with those people.
I see a group like Ned's Atomic Dustbin and I just think they're really good. They're full of life and what they're doing is genuine. It's fuelled by youth. Then I see some of the people that I grew up with, still pretending that they've got that, and it's so patently obvious that they haven't! It just makes me laugh. I just despair at some of the people I see now who are older than me, doddering about pretending they're teenagers, holding onto something that's long gone. I particularly don't like it when it's happening to groups I used to admire.
We've always tried to stay true to how we feel as individuals. If we don't feel strongly enough about something, then we don't attempt it. We know it's not going to work. But some people don't want to let go because they're terrified of what it's going to be like having a normal life without being in a group. I've never really worried about that. I've never been wrapped up in that notion of being famous or being in a group and ergo being greater than everyone else. And, unfortunately, having met a lot of my peers over the past couple of years, they've just completely lost it - mentally, more than anything else!
How old do you feel? As old as you are?
No, I'm 34 and I don't feel 34. I don't know what it feels like to be 34! I don't feel like I've aged since I was 17. I've experienced a great deal and hopefully I know a bit more, but I still feel passionately about the same things. I still get angry about the same things and I still get pleasure from the same things.
I seem to be the only person in pop who actually ages, or at least admits to it! There's nothing worse than people who are trying to stay young. !You shouldn't have to try; you either do or you don't.
So growing older has been easy?
Yeah! The only way I gauge my mental aging is dealing with much younger people like my nephews and nieces - of which there seems to be hundreds now! I don't actually think of them as children. So if I can communicate with them on a basic level whereby they treat me in a different way than they do their mums and dads, I know I haven't aged that much.
You haven't had kids yourself yet?
No [pauses]. I feel it's too much of a responsibility for me at the moment, particularly because I'm still not sure what I'm going to be doing.
Would you like to one day though?
[Pause] I don't know. Contrary to most people, I think it's quite a big step having children. It's not a snap decision. I've thought about it for a long time, but ultimately I don't think I will have them because I'm too selfish [laughs a little].
I just think it brings responsibility.! I see the down side probably more than I see the up side of it. A lot of people I know are fathers, and there are obviously huge benefits to it - but there are also huge disadvantages.
Doing the Unstuck is an 'act now' song. You're telling someone to get into life now 'cause it's never too late. Do you practice what you preach in that song?
I try to. It was the first song we wrote in the studio when we were recording Wish. We pinned the words up on the inside of the studio door so everyone would feel like they had to make the most of that day. Obviously you can't do that every day. You'd be unbearably chirpy if you were full of that credo!
Whatever I'm doing and whatever mood I'm in, I always at least try to experience something new. It doesn't always have to be a happy thing, but I hate the idea of just coasting. It's an anathema to me.
Sad thoughts still seem to be your main motivation in terms of writing songs. Is that a fair thing to say?
Yeah. My more reflective side. I've always written things down to try to sort them out.
Does that actually help?
Yeah, a lot! Ninety five percent of what I write never makes it as songs. Very rarely is anything I write written as a song. Doing the Unstuck and Friday I'm in Love were, but everything else on Wish were things I'd written in the preceding two years. I'd made songs out of them.
Are you interested in doing a book of your writings?
Not seriously. I do read poetry. I find it helps me think. But the stuff I read, I don't think I could ever come near.
The classic Lake Poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and I've just been given Shelley's complete works.
My favorite place in the world is the Lake District [the English lakes in Cumbria and I'll often go there to recharge as they say. You can get very involved in poetry there. A lot of people say that classical poetry is dead, but I think that's only because it's not read in the right environment.
That must've been my problem with Wordsworth at Uni. I could never get into it.
What, were you on the beach reading it?
No, that would've been okay! It was a dingy room with a flickering fluorescent light.
No, no - that's Sylvia Plath territory!
Well, if poetry's out, are there other things besides music you'd like to try in the future?
Unfortunately it's become very populist because of Jurassic Park, but me and Perry (Bamonte - the Cure's guitarist / keyboardist) have been getting into archaeology over the last 18 months. It's not a new career but it's just an interest that's been with me since I was very young. I've decided to take some time out to explore it more fully. I'm going on a dig in the north of England at the end of November. There's medieval ruins very near the Scottish border.
Have you seen Jurassic Park?
I did actually. I took seven children to see it on it's first week of release.
Yeah. In my capacity as part-time child minder and insane uncle.
And you're worried about the responsibility of having one?
[Laughs] Well, I could take them home afterwards and it's not my home!
What did you think of the film?
I liked it when the tyrannosaurus picked the man up off the toilet. That was the highlight of the film.
With the Cure now a four-piece, what's the plan for the future?
We're all meeting up again in a few weeks. We'll be having a drunken dinner because we haven't been together socially for about eight or nine weeks now. We'll talk then about! what we want to do. I have a feeling we'll be back in the studio probably this side of Christmas.
It's really a case of everyone either agreeing on what we're going to do next or disagreeing to the point where we do something individually. I really don't know. I have to feel what we're going to do and I don't feel it yet. I don't think I've had enough of a break to feel excited about throwing myself back in the pool, so to speak.
Does that worry you?
Not at all. It's never worried me.
In the past there's always been a morning when I've woken and gone, "Ahhh, this is what I want to do". So I just wait for that wake up call, really. If it doesn't come, it doesn't come. It doesn't bother me like that. Like I said before, I would hate to force it.
We'll talk about what we want to do, but if there's no real need to do it - if we don't actually feel that as a group we want to do something - we won't do it! It'd be absolutely pointless!. Particularly after the reputation that the Cure's built up and what it means to us. The record companies would like us to follow up this live album with a new studio album as fast as possible but it doesn't work like that. We might have an album out by next April but it's just as likely we won't have anything out at all next year.
Let's see how that dinner goes then...
The trouble is not actually how the dinner goes but it's whether anyone remembers what was said the next day!
What will you be eating that night?
Indian. We always take our big decisions over an Indian meal!
Finally, which Cure album do you feel most proud of?
It's difficult to narrow it down to one. Or even two. There's three basically that come to mind. Before the Wish album, I would've instantly said Disintegration, followed closely by Pornography. Disintegration was the most accomplished Cure album to that point. It captured perfectly a period of the group and my life in particular. I'm unable to listen to that album out of all the Cure albums. It's still too recent even though it's five years old. If all but one was going to be erased from memory, I'd pick Wish though. It's my favourite album because it has more variety and depth.
That must be incredibly satisfying to think that about your last work?
I am really pleased about that. But it would be very strange to me if it weren't the best thing we'd done. There doesn't have to be that trade off between learning your craft and losing sight of why you initially wanted to do it...that spark of invention. I don't know if there's a secret to holding the two. I think you just have to not practise too much!
A lot of people also hit a point and that's their moment. An obvious example is the Happy Mondays. Suddenly things clicked and that summer belonged to them.
For me, it's much more satisfying to keep going off on tangents and not to be too mainstream. That's what I've always thought the mainstream means...to be associated with a certain time. It's death, really, for a group to be identified too easily with one particular period of time.