The Cure's Simon Gallup discusses the Curiosa Festival and the latest album
Currently on the road supporting their self-titled new album, The Cure have put together the “Curiosa” tour, which might prove to be one of the most exciting package tours in this otherwise ho-hum summer concert season. With several up-and-coming opening acts on two different stages including The Rapture, Auf Der Maur, Head Automatica, The Cooper-Temple Clause, as well as already established (but not huge) acts like Interpol, Muse, and Mogwai, the show is sure to have something for everyone, especially those dressed in from head-to-toe in black. Bassist Simon Gallup, who has been in the band for the better part of 25 years, has seen it all from members coming and going to leader Robert Smith’s well-publicized extreme highs and lows. Always a great interview, the self-described most volatile member of the band discusses the tour, the impending end of the band, the new album, and why he wants to kick producer Ross Robinson “severely” in the teeth.
Dallas Music Guide: How’s the tour going so far?
Simon Gallup: It’s going well so far – I suppose the older you get, the longer it seems to be away from home, although we’re staying in great hotels and everything like that, it’s the comforts that you miss and the reassurances of your surroundings and things like that. The shows have been great – we’re putting one hundred percent into it, and having the other bands around fires us up as well, and it’s a great atmosphere. The concerts have been great, and the audiences have been fantastic as well.
DMG: The new album has kind of a darker mood to it, which makes it feel like the band has come full circle – do you see it the same way?
SG: When we’re doing the album, we don’t see it as an overview, like ‘We’re going to direct it this way this time.’ Originally when we started it a few years ago, when we were doing demos, we demoed a lot of songs, about sixty, I would say. It just evolved from there. While we were doing the album, we got twenty tracks done with vocals. We just do a lot of backing tracks, and we usually do a hell of a lot of backing tracks, then Robert chooses the ones he’s got lyrics to, the ones he wants to apply those lyrics to. For this, Robert changed it where we had music, but Robert concurrently wrote lyrics, as well. It was the first time we had been in the studio with Robert singing while we recorded. The tracklisting wasn’t decided by committee this time, it was basically Robert and Ross’ tracklisting, so not all of us agree on it. I think there were better songs, personally, that were left off – more personal songs, I think. It’s a subjective thing. They’ll all end up somewhere; they’ll be on B-Sides and things like that. There’s a track that we only know as “Song Five,” which will still be called “Song Five,” actually, which is really really nice, and I thought it was some of Robert’s best lyrics. It had a good, haunting melody to it, as well. It’s really short, but I really liked it.
DMG: You said this was the first time you had been there when Robert has been singing – on his part, was that kind of nerves or more of a personal preference?
SG: It was just a personal preference. We’ve always done it that way. What usually happens is we just go in and work it until we’ve got a skeleton of a song together, and that’s edited down, and things are layered on top of that. We do that with every piece of music – it’s too early to call them songs then – and then Robert takes them away – he writes lyrics all the time – and he will put the lyrics he has into suitable pieces of music, which has been a very traumatic process for him in the past. I know he loves it once it’s finished, but as it’s going on, he absolutely hates it. We all find writing the music easy. A long time ago, we used to help him with lyrics, but we gave up because it’s a very personal thing to him. We no longer put sheets of paper under his door. He used to, literally, lock himself away for weeks on end, which is a shame, because we all find the music so easy and we’re quite prolific musically. We could probably release an instrumental album every two months. With this, it was just a different process of working, because he just wanted to try a different approach so it wasn’t so traumatic for him.
DMG: There’s been reports that you weren’t too terribly happy, yourself, about working with Ross or the way it turned out, is that the case?
SG: Robert was, I wasn’t. I personally don’t like Ross. I find him trite. I’m old enough to form my opinion where I think someone is contriving to be eccentric, and I think he was. I’ve met enough genuine people and honest people, and I personally don’t think Ross was one of them. I thought he tried to do things so everybody thought he was eccentric where true eccentrics don’t try to create a persona around them. He would just do, to my mind, things that were unnecessary. He’d say, ‘Oh, I’m trying to get a sound like, so it sounds like…’ for example, he would pick up my bass, and I’d say, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ and he’d say, ‘I’m just trying to get the sound so it sounds like your bass,’ and I said, ‘Well, I know how to get that sound.’ There’s more convoluted ways of doing it than trying to create a sound, why not just ask the person who’s playing it?
DMG: That’s kind of frustrating, you’ve been in the band long enough to know.
SG: It’s also quite interesting. During this tour, I’ve talked to certain people who know bands that have worked with Ross. It pretty much seems that every band he works with, there have been members that haven’t gotten on with him. Some members do, some members don’t. I think I’m a bit more volatile than the other members of The Cure. Ross would like to open debates and discussions; I’d just like to kick him severely in the teeth.
DMG: So it’s safe to say that the next album won’t be with him, right?
SG: No, I think it probably will be. Robert found working with him inspiring. Ultimately, because Robert’s the singer, it doesn’t have anything to do with him being the leader of the group, but ultimately it’s got to be an atmosphere in the studio that evokes a good singing environment for Robert. I think that’s more important than than me not getting on with someone. I’ll just do what I did this time, if we work with Ross again. If I can get out of the studio, I just get out and go and punch things. I was always walking to the next studio and punching the wall. It’s just like shouting at the sky, it’s fine.
DMG: Did that cause any strain between you and Robert?
SG: No, because that’s the strange thing…Robert and I have known each other long enough. I think Robert was mystified why I didn’t like him, but concurrently, I was mystified why Robert did like him. But we’ve known each other long enough now to where we accept each other’s views, we won’t try and argue. We don’t say, ‘You’re wrong and I’m right,’ we respect each other’s opinions.
DMG: Besides yourself and Robert, it’s been sort of a revolving door of members. Do you think that will continue?
SG: Well, not really, no, because Roger, the keyboard player, was in for “Disintegration,” and he joined again about ten years ago, and Perry’s been in since “Wish,” and Jason’s been in ten years. So when you think about it, it’s longer than most bands last. I was going to say we’ve outstayed our welcome…[laughs] What would be quite an old member for us, it seems like we’re always having members come in. As I said, Perry’s been in for ten…no, twelve years, which is a long time. Then you think that Robert and I have been in this together for twenty-five years, and you go back and look at what that is – twelve years is a long time to be doing anything.
DMG: You left the band yourself for a little while, correct?
SG: I’m always leaving the band, I leave every other week. (Laughs)
DMG: What keeps you coming back?
SG: Robert. I do get on with him. I’m not in this band for my musicianship, but there is a good friendship between Robert and I even if we don’t always see eye to eye, it’s a healthy sort of friendship.
DMG: Do you see him outside of the band, when you’re not touring and recording?
SG: Not so much now, I have a family and things like that. Robert will still stay out late at night, whereas I go to bed at one or two in the morning so I can get up at a decent time and go do normal things. Because we’re working with each other so much, I know the month we have off a year, we tend to go off and do other things and catch up with family and relationships and things like that.
DMG: On this you’re, you have a bunch of bands that grew up listening to you and are obviously influenced by you? Is it an honor – are you kind of getting your due in such a manner by doing your own tour?
SG: It’s not a point of us getting our due. When these bands started to say they were influenced by us and cited us for that, we obviously felt quite pleased, because we like these bands. The thing about this tour is, I swear with my hand on my heart, that the atmosphere is very good. I was very trepidatious, personally, about getting so many bands together and mixing them up and getting a ‘B’ stage involved, and there could be tantrums and things like that. But there have been get-togethers every night, all the bands just mingle, and there haven’t been any arguments. It’s been a really good social event, and it’s great for us. It’s like gathering a traveling circus, I suppose, where everyone mingles and gets on with each other.
DMG: Something about this tour is that you’ve been playing relatively short sets, whereas previously, you’d been playing sets that were almost three hours long.
SG: Yeah, which again, is a strange thing, because it does feel short to us. We used to come off stage feeling absolutely knackered, but now we come off and we’re still rearing to go. Saying that, we’re still playing two hours. It’s a lot longer than some bands play, and it’s a great feeling. I personally prefer coming off the strange that the audience wants more and that we want to do more. I think it’s a better way to leave things than actually…I think not giving quite…so the audience is overwhelmed, it’s best leaving them wanting a little bit more and us wanting to play a bit more, which is a great thing, because it makes you look forward to the next show. Some tours we’ve been doing, and into the third week of doing three and three-and-a-half hour sets, we’ve been so physically shattered, that the thought of the next show…it’s fine once you’re on, but the thought during the day, you think, ‘Oh god, I’ve got to go on again,’ but now the thought of the show, each member of the band, it drives us on. We’ve made it so that two hours of the day, even though we don’t like the traveling and being away from home, that two hours is the most important part of the day, everything else is just nothing.
DMG: Do you get a chance to see any of these other bands on the tour? Are there any in particular that you enjoy?
SG: Yeah, but it changes all the time. When you’re looking at one band, you say, ‘Oh they’re really good at this,’ but then you look at this other band…it’s like having a traveling CD collection. It’s the same as when you put on a CD – you think, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever heard,’ and then you change it over, and you say, ‘No, I was wrong, this is the best thing I’ve ever heard.’ Each band has a different aspect that appeals to certain emotions. It’s quite funny, Mogwai being there and having loads and loads of feedback and fiddling with their effects pedals, and then you have this all-out rock aspect like Melissa Auf Der Maur or something like that.
DMG: Did you guys choose all the bands on there yourselves?
SG: Yes, yes we did.
DMG: Your touring has been somewhat sporadic so far, but would you consider another “Curiosa” tour after this?
SG: It’s a bit too early to say that yet. You never know how long the touring is going to last or even how long The Cure is going to last. In the past when we’ve said, ‘This is the last tour,’ or ‘This is the last album,’ we’ve generally meant it. There will come a time when The Cure no longer exists. The gap between us doing things is getting longer and longer. It’s not that we’re being less productive, but the recording process gets longer, and from demo time to release gets longer and longer. The downtime in which we catch up with families and normal life is also getting longer and longer.
DMG: Do you guys sometimes talk about it and say, ‘Well, if we don’t do this again…’?
SG: When we go onstage – this sounds cliché – Robert always says, “This is the last time you’re ever going to play such-and-such,” like “This is the last time we’re going to play in Washington,” or “This is the last time we’re going to play in Cleveland.”
DMG: How do you pick a setlist from such a big catalogue – do you switch it up a lot?
SG: It’s one of those things that…we were touring in Europe, doing festivals before we started in America. We started having problems with the setlist, as we were trying to squeeze in new songs, and Robert and I always have animated discussions about what the set should be. My thing was that in the festivals that people come to have a good time, not to get too intense, and we played a couple of intense sets, and I said, ‘It’s not going to work.’ But obviously with this being a Cure show, there has to be light and shade. So we try to balance between getting enough new songs in, enough of the pop element in, even though a lot of people say, ‘I don’t like the pop stuff,’ but I believe there are a lot of people that do like the pop stuff, and I do as well. It’s good fun to play stuff like that, it feels a bit more energetic onstage. Doing the setlist is probably one of the hardest things we have to do all day, and gauging it just right. We end up taking one song that doesn’t fit in with the previous songs or the next song, and it just puts it all out of sync.
DMG: Are there any songs that are ever shut out for good?
SG: No song is ever shut out for good. We’ve even done “Lovecats” a couple of times, which I personally bloody hate. It’s good fun to do it.
DMG: Are there any songs in particular that you really look forward to?
SG: I always look forward to playing “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea,” and I always look forward to playing “A Hundred Years,” and I still like playing “In Between Days,” I think it’s a good pop song.
DMG: If The Cure were to end after this tour, would you keep making music or would you focus on family life?
SG: I always play…when The Cure isn’t doing anything, I’m still playing music. It’s one of those things that you get in the habit of doing…when you’re playing television, you’re playing guitar, getting little melodies going through your head and things like that. I’ll always do it.