March 2007 - RAG Magazine - Florida (USA)
Interview with Robert Smith of the Cure
by; Monica Cady Interview
RAG: What are you most excited about right now regarding the Cure
Robert Smith: It's been a strange period, really. This is the first interview I've done in ages. I was thinking that as I was dialing the number. Normally, you kind of get into a groove with these sort of things, and sort of field questions. I've been doing it long enough that I know how to do it. But I haven't really thought about what we do in terms of summing it up in an interview sense. It's quite weird to do it on the fly.
We started recording a new album last summer. We played a one-off show – similar to the one we are doing in Miami – at Royal Albert Hall, last April, for the Teenage Cancer Trust in London. It was just before we were going into the studio because I wanted to remind everyone, you know, part of the reason for doing it was to remind ourselves of why we do it – the main reason was because it was a good cause and it was a great opportunity to play Albert Hall.
We started recording, which kind of went on and off through the summer. We ended up with 33 songs, I think, by August. But interspersed with that were all the re-released stuff. I've been putting together deluxe double packages for all the Cure albums. I had to listen to everything – all the old tapes and get all the extras together, and do the booklets and stuff. It was kind of time consuming.
Alongside that, I started writing a book, kind of like the official history of The Cure book. And then, it was about August, a couple of people approached me, who had been on the crew with us the previous year, when we had been playing festival shows in 2005. They showed me some of the edits they had done on some of the footage they got together, and played me some of the live recordings and I thought, "Oh it would be okay. Why not? Let's go for it and try to get a DVD done by Christmas."
But that was like a huge project. I didn't realize. I thought I would kind of knock it over in a couple of weeks, but we struggled to get it out before Christmas. That went through November and took up pretty much every waking minute for about two months. That knocked me back, because the rest of the band were kind of waiting around for me to do vocals so we could finish the album, because I had only done, sort of, guide vocals.
We're now in the position where Christmas came and went, and we're back in the studio. I'm finishing the vocals and mixing the album, which should really have been done last October. So everything has been sort of pushed back. I think we're on the third push back now from when the album's going to get released. I think people have generally sort of given up putting a date on it. They are just waiting for me to say, "Okay, it's done." And then we'll kind of fix a date.
The Miami show … we get lots of offers all the time, and the others were very surprised that I accepted this, but it's seemed like such an unusual thing to do. Because the one-off at the Albert Hall last year worked really well. It kind of kick-started everyone. I thought that if we set our sights on playing Miami in March, it would give me kind of an [album release] deadline that I had to stick to because we have to be ready to play. We have to finish the new songs. If there is no deadline, I could see myself going into this summer and picking up a couple of projects along the way, and never really quite finishing [the album].
Just the idea of playing specifically a dance festival is something that we've never done before, and I like the band to experience new things – they are few and far between. It's a great lineup. We're all now looking forward to it.
We just started, in fact, this week, thinking about what set list we are going to put together because it's going to be a one-off, it's not going to be a precursor to what we do. Because we will be playing this year, but we won't be starting until kind of late summer, and we'll be playing through until Christmas, but that will be on the back of the new release. And it will be our own show, and it will be something different. This is much more to do with like the Cure's dance side, I suppose. There's been a bit of conflict – actually, just within the last 48 hours – in the band as to how dancey we should go.
There's a view that we've been – it's hard to kind of put into words really – that there are quit a lot of people in the dance community – producers and DJs – who really like the Cure, but who like the Cure because of what we do, and they make us dancey. We have become part of that [dance] culture because of what we do, and I suspect if we try too hard to do what they (DJs, dance music producers) do, then we'll kind of miss the point. It's almost like we're approaching it, in that we're choosing a set list of songs that we think sums up why the Cure appeals to the dance community. But we're not really gonna go all out and try and put on a dance show. So, it's a fine balance. It's nice that we're focusing on something that's this odd. I suppose, in a way, because it's quite a bit of work, just to do a one-off show, it makes the show that much more special, which is the whole point of doing it.
I was really excited to see that you were coming to Miami. The last time I saw you was at Curiosa, which was amazing.
Yeah, that's like a totally different thing. For me, personally, that was probably the best touring experience I've ever had actually, because I loved what went on behind the scenes. I just loved the camaraderie that developed on that tour and the general sort of mayhem. I thought that as a band we sometimes didn't rise to the occasion. I think a couple members of the band were kind of tired of playing at that point. But I, personally, really loved every second of it.
I saw your first show of the tour in West Palm Beach.
I remember it like it was yesterday. (laughs)
Do you think you'll ever do another Curiosa? That must have been a huge project.
Um, we were approached to do one. I said I wouldn't do one the following year in 2005. We were approached to do it last year, but I wanted to do a new record, so we turned it down. It was suggested to us that we could kind of almost continue it as a band kind of thing and get someone else to take the lead slot. I figured that was sort of missing the point really. I mean I wanted to be part of it. (laughs) The idea wasn't to make money. It was for me to have an experience that I would never otherwise have. It was a very selfish reason why it was put together in the first place. It worked really well, you know, commercially people were surprised by how well it did. But that wasn't really the point. And to put another one together, we've toyed with the idea for this year – over Christmas we kind of talked to a few people – but at the end of the day, there's a very strong sort of sense from hardcore Cure fans around the world for us to play our own shows, to play for longer. The one drawback of doing something like Curiosa is that the more bands you put on, the more interesting it becomes generally, but the less time we have specifically [to play]. And so therefore, it's almost like we have a cameo performance, you know like 90 minutes or so, but never more than two hours. For example, at Albert Hall last year we played just over three hours. And it just flashes by because we really enjoyed it. And I would like to do that this year. I would like to play Cure shows, rather than … you know, I think we'll still take a couple of bands with us when we come to America, but it won't be the same thing with the two stages and the whole razzmatazz. But I don't know, I never say, I mean maybe we would do it again. Maybe we'll do it again next year. It's one of those things where, I think if the right bands, sort of are there, the right feeling, I suppose it's one of those things that probably could happen again.
What can you tell me about the new music? What's gotten harder and what's gotten easier with regard to writing songs over the years?
Well, it's always the words [that] are the hardest part for me. The music, we could probably record 100 songs a year, I should think; if we put our minds to it. The music isn't really a problem. It is a lot harder for me to focus this album, or has been, because of the return of Porl on guitar. He's contributing such a different kind of musicality to the group. And because we are all putting songs in the pot and saying, you know, "What does this sound like?" We're trying lots of different things. We've actually got such a breadth of different stuff. I mean, stylistically it's kind of reminiscent of the Kiss Me album, because there are so many different things going on.
At one point, I was thinking maybe [this could be] a double album with some instrumentals, and being really, really artsy. But after I talked it through with the rest of the band, and primarily the record company (laughs), they weren't very thrilled about a double album. [The label] think[s] it's conceptually sound, but in the current climate, probably not commercially viable. So, I'm thinking we'll probably do the album in two stages. We'll have one [released], which is, in and of itself, a thing. Then we'll probably have like another kind of album, which will be a download album, and will complement the main album. That's my thinking at the moment.
So I think the [songs on the] main album will probably be more connected. It's really, really difficult talking about new music. Because it does sound like us, but it doesn't sound like us at any particular time. You can definitely tell that Porl is back in the band, so it kind of reminds me of the period of Kiss Me, Disintegration and Wish – just because the mood within the band [shows that] Porl's character has come back.
We have got a keyboard in the studio, but it's been used very, very sparingly. There are little touches of piano, and little bits of noise here and there. But generally, it's just a four-piece band. It's bass, two guitars and drums. And it's quite stripped down. There's a lot more space in what we're doing, but it's really a lot more powerful, in a funny way. Because we've only been back in the studio for two weeks, it seems like a long time ago that we played these songs. It's almost as though they're old songs because I've been listening to them since last July. It's amazing that they haven't leaked. It's scary isn't it?
That's because I'm the only person in the world that's got a set. (laughs)
Do you write lyrics every day?
Since we released the last album, which was mid-2004, I've got – I don't know how many pages – a box full of words. I write just as a matter of course. I just write thoughts. But I've never made myself kind of think, "Now I'm writing. This could be something." Because I think that would take away [from it]. It's almost like trying too hard to remember your dreams. It becomes somehow a little bit too intellectualized. I'll often read back on what I wrote and just think, "Rubbish!" and tear it up and throw it away. But at the time I'm writing, I know it doesn't have to be good, and so therefore, it's a release. It's like playing guitar when you're drunk. It always sounds bad the next day. (laughs)
But when we start doing a project, I look through this box of words, and I start trying to match up words to music, and sometimes it's very easy. Other times, it's not so easy – particularly after all this time. I'm kind of 300 songs in [at this point in my career]. It's difficult to try and be genuinely excited about what I'm trying to say. I don't see any point, really, in writing words so that we can make a record. It's never made any sense. It was much easier when I was in my 20s, and I had only done like three or four albums. This is like the 13th album along. But I'm not worried about it.
I think I did do an interview in the last six months, and the interviewer took what I was saying [and made it seem like] I was suffering from writer's block. And I thought, "This is so wide off the mark." I've never understood the concept of writer's block because if you haven't got anything to say, then you haven't got anything to say. It has absolutely nothing to do with trying to write.
I've got so many words. But it's one thing to have sheets and sheets of words in front of you, and it's quite another thing putting it together in a song. Unless you try it, I don't think writers – that's basically journalists – struggle to see the difference in just like writing a few words and actually imagining yourself in front of a microphone, performing those words and singing them. It's a totally different thing.
I've got an ongoing book, that's been going on for years, of things that I think are quite good that I've written, but I would never sing. I couldn't dream of singing [them] because the words are wrong. They would sound ridiculous if I sang them. But on paper, and when I read them to myself in my head, I think they work quite well. So at some point, I'll make that into a thing that will be totally separate. It'll probably be about 600 pages long. (laughs) The stories of writer's block will be knocked firmly on the head.
When you write lyrics do you always write as yourself, or do you ever write through the eyes of other characters?
No, well, if I was really honest, I think the best songs that I've written are me singing, because I feel better. They feel right. Probably some of the bigger songs, or the most popular songs, aren't really me singing. I don't limit myself to my own experiences. I try to write from other people's point of view. I try to write from an imaginary point of view. But often, I'll just come back to something much simpler, and something I've written in that particular time when I was feeling strongly about something. And they're usually the songs that mean something to me.
I think it's the difference between writing a song that has a lot of emotional content and writing a song that's just a good song. The trick, I suppose, is making that good song connect with people, and that's really hard. I think any singer who kind of means what they sing – who doesn't just read the words off a piece of paper – is trying to get inside the character. Writing it is one thing; but actually trying to inhabit the character when you perform it, is another. There are things that we do, where I'm singing things that in my real life I wouldn't dream of saying or singing about; but they're more, kind of, performance things. They sometimes are the songs – when I listen back at our albums, which isn't that often, but when we do the remasters – I think, that I meant, and I can think, that one I don't think I was too sure about.
On the Kiss Me album, that was kind the first time I tried to write from another perspective. I think before then, everything I had written was from my point of view. I think the Kiss Me album, in a lot of ways, was me trying out different things and the band tried different styles. I tried different ways of singing and different ways of writing. But with Disintegration, I went back to my own point of view. And then I tried a different thing again with the Wish album. So, I sometimes incorporate it, but I would prefer it if I could write all the songs from a kind of more heartfelt position because I just think they work there – or they last longer, I think.
To what do you attribute your longevity, and even your influence on so many new, younger bands?
It's partly what we were just talking about. I mean, I've met and gotten to know a few of the younger generations of bands. I think that the one thing they all had in common with regard to the Cure was that they enjoy the fact that we've kind of hung around, and we've done what we wanted to do, and we've been successful but we haven't courted that success. We've kind of just forced our own path, and we've meant it. I think it's that the perception is that we have done what we wanted to do, and even if it had gone wrong, we wouldn't have changed what we did. I think it's that any young band that's any good has to aspire to that – anything else is just worthless. If you succeed on someone else's turns, it might be great at that moment, but I suspect it's pretty short lived. I mean the idea of being proud of what you do – whatever you do – is far more important than the end result. The experience of doing it is worth more than the end result, to be honest. [It's] all of those things.
It is difficult to resist the temptation just to become rubbish. So many bands as they grow a bit older, they just get worse. It's a struggle, and, you know, life has a tendency to take over. It's a terrible thing to resist [regular life] entirely. You can't just like keep being in a band. I mean there are a couple of older bands who sort of think all we need to do is be in a band, whereas I like the idea of sort of balancing playing music with other people and integrating into a more kind of rounded life as you get older. I mean it would be awful for me to feel as alienated and disturbed as I did when I was in my 20s, at this stage in my life. I mean, I would be dead if I felt like that. So, at the same time, when the Cure does do something, I get so immersed in it, I feel like I felt when we did the very first album. So nothing's really changed.
What do you do when you are not focusing on music?
I've got a huge extended family, there are almost 40 of them. It's like uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces, and brothers and sisters and stuff. I spend a lot of time doing normal stuff but without the incumbents of a normal job basically. I have the ideal life that people would like, in that my work is probably the thing that I enjoy the most, and I do it when I feel like it. I kind of go for walks, and I am trying to take up astronomy in a more serious way over the last few years. I am trying to catch up on a lot of things that I've missed on film and television over the last few years when I've been on the road. I've been reading books actually. That's been my biggest chore. I think I read about 15 books in the last two months. And [I do] things that seem really dull, but actually just sitting down and thinking, "I can read until I finish this book and no one can interrupt me." It's that kind of luxury that I really value still. It's something that when I was in school I used to dream about – not being interrupted. It's that part of what I do that I enjoy the most.
Do you think people have this misconception that you are sad and gloomy all the time because some of your songs are melancholy?
Um, I think there was a misconception for a long time. I don't think it's probably as bad now because when we're (pauses) – that's a tricky one. (laughs) The Cure still makes some pretty dark music. I mean there are songs on this [next] album, which are among the darkest that we've ever done. They reflect a part of my character that's still there, that will never go away. I still am subject to incredible bouts of depression, I suppose. But it's in the same way as pretty much everyone I know who thinks about what's going on, is subject to those kind of dark thoughts and dark moments.
I've always tried to work [my emotions] out and into songs as music. Sometimes they work so well that other people kind of feel that they're about themselves. It's great when that happens because I think that's the reason why I'm doing it. You know, if I was doing it for just myself, I wouldn't bother recording the vocals. So, it's a wonderful thing when that happens.
But, I suppose if there ever is a downside, it's that then this perception starts to grow that that's who I am. But I've always maintained that I'm just not very good at writing happy songs. (laughs) It's really honestly as simple as that. Occasionally I come up with a really good happy song like "Mint Car" or something, and then I shock myself. I think, "I'm genuinely happy in this song." But most of the time when [the band is chatting, they] will say, "Let's do something a little more upbeat," and I try it, and it just sounds awful. (laughs) It sounds really insincere.
Last summer, when we recorded, it was the best time that I've ever had in the studio - ever - like my whole life. It was just such good fun. And yet, at the end of the day, we would listen back to what we had done, and it would be incredibly doom-laden. So it's a weird sort of dichotomy. The happier we get as a band, kind of the gloomier the music gets. I think it's one of those things where if we were really unhappy with what we were doing, we would try and (pauses) – it's kind of what they say about comedians being really tragic, you know, I suppose we must be pretty happy. That's why we make miserable music.
But, all jokes aside, I think the reason that perception has sort of dissolved a little bit or gone away is because the Cure's work is now seen in a slightly different way. [Especially with the remasters] it's kind of saying, "Well hang on. We do songs like 'Mint Car' and all those pop singles." It's kind of like the Miami show. We're being asked to do that primarily because of the singles, not because of the permanent epics, but that's a side of the band that I really enjoy.
There are so many different sides to the Cure that it's very hard for us to think that everyone thinks, "Ah there's that miserable bloke." There are too many instances where I'm not that miserable bloke. It doesn't really work. I think without that really dark side, I don't think the Cure would be a very interesting group.
Pete Wentz said that he was too intimidated by you to say hello when you two rode an elevator together. You're such an icon and I would imagine a lot of fans might be too intimidated to talk to you. Do fans approach you often?
Um, yeah, I think we've really been accessible. Well, I haven't seen a lot of bands being in close proximity to other bigger bands. I think we're pretty accessible. I mean, certainly as people we are. It's sometimes hard to be as accessible as fans want you to be because fans see you from their point-of-view, whereas I see 500 people. One of those 500 people just sees me. Sometimes you can't probably be as accessible as you would like to be because it's physically impossible. You often see people sort of hanging back, and you're thinking, "Go on, go on, take the step, I'm not going to bite you." The more outgoing people are obviously the ones at the front of the cue, kind of thing. But um, I mean we've always had really good rapport with our fans. I mean, I hate talking about the fans because we've gotten to know so many of them over the years that there are actually a lot of them who are friends really, on first-name terms and I have numbers in my phone of people who I first met backstage or outside. So, you know, whenever I look at people, I don't look at them as fans. I just look at them as people who enjoy the show. I know it seems like a foolish distinction, but it's kind of important. I would hate to kind of take it for granted that people like the Cure just because we're the Cure, you know, that would be in a bad mistake.
So, you know, people being kind of worried about what's going to happen if they say anything [to me] – actually, they should be. (laughs) Be frightened to speak.
Tell me about your experience with South Park. Do you keep in touch with Matt Stone and Trey Parker?
Yeah, I saw them on the Curiosa tour. We don't hang out. (laughs) It's kind of hard living on the other side of the world. I still watch South Park. I still think it's one of the best things on television actually. It's excellent how they keeping pushing. I mean I think they've been trying to get themselves taken off the air for the last three years. They just haven't managed it yet. (laughs) It's refreshing. They deal with subjects in their own way, which a lot of people are kind of reluctant to touch. I think underlying South Park, amidst all the idiot humor, there's always the part where they say, "What have we learned? I've learned something today." I share my enjoyment of it with my nephews and nieces. It's one of those bonding things. Everyone kind of sits around and rolls with laughter. When I was in [the South Park episode], it was a career high for me.
Do you still wear MAC Ruby Woo?
You know, that's a good question. I have no idea. I still wear MAC because they gave me a huge box of stuff. (laughs) I have no reason to change. It doesn't run on stage, which is what I really care about. I'm not wearing make-up at the moment.
You do your own makeup before you go onstage, right? You don't have someone do it for you.
No, I always do it. I hate people touching my face. It drives me mad.
A lot of fans probably wonder whether you check your own MySpace page, or if it's a record-label thing.
Ooooh, it's not a record label thing. The thing about MySpace, last year, when we were in the studio, we had a Cure MySpace page and then Geffen was doing it. It was last spring. And I realized, I had been told by a couple of people, that someone in particular was pretending to be me, and people were being taken in by it. And they were getting e-mails and stuff, and it was all getting a little bit unpleasant. And so I went on to MySpace and created a site. And I said to the other [band members], we should all start our own pages, if for no other reason than to kind of run our own MySpace pages and link them to the Cure, and at the same time take over control of the Cure MySpace site.
So, the Cure MySpace site is run by us, in much the same way as the content of the Cure – the www.thecure.com is run by us. It's really weird because I post on there and my name comes up, and I'm posting in big capital letters and people still think it's the record company. With the Cure MySpace page; that's run by us. With the individual ones, I think Porl's page is quite active, and Simon's as well. I don't think Jason even knows he's got one. And mine, I think I've got five friends at the moment because the Cure page, I think, is much more important. The friends' request is run in a proper way. Mine is just to stop anyone else from pretending they're me.
I suppose I've got a lot of younger nieces and nephews who are on MySpace. I've always been very loathed to go on because I fear that there's something slightly uncomfortable about their Uncle Robert going on MySpace. So I like the idea of me having a page so that no one can pretend to be me, but I don't really think that I should get too heavily involved as an individual. I think the band benefits from being on there. I think it's kind of a good networking thing. But I think it's weird how many people who are kind of my age are on there. It feels a little bit kind of odd, I don't know. But if I say that, people will look at me and say, "What do you mean odd?!" (laughs) It's like a young person's community. That's what we got from it when we were investigating it last spring. It's a great idea. It's a fantastic idea. But it's not really for us. I mean our network takes place in the real world, and we go to Japan and America and meet people. You know, it seems rather strange for us to inhabit this place where people haven't got the means or aren't old enough basically to kind of be out there doing it for real, but hopefully … I think the best thing about it is that it engenders this idea of a global community in a very real sense. In that way, it's a good thing. You know, the marketing side and the advertising side will eventually make it uncool, and people will probably migrate to something else. But the actual concept of it is such a great concept. We have to be involved in it because we are a global band.
I know you said the label wasn't really supportive of the double-album concept for your next release. Considering the challenges in the record industry lately, do you think the label tries to have more control over what you do than they did in earlier years?
No, they don't really. If I wanted a double disc; I would have it. They wouldn't stop it, but they just are advising me that they don't think it's a good idea in commercial terms, which is what they're there for. I mean they're not questioning what I do artistically. They wouldn't dare. Well, actually, they wouldn't want to because we are on the label because they like what we do. There's no point in them trying to second-guess what I do. That's why they signed us. No, I think, I mean it's obvious to me, as well, that the trend is away from albums. [The trend is in] the single downloads.
We're probably on the cusp of a complete paradigm shift with regards to how people listen to music. I realize that we are at the end of a particular era. We grew up with punk and we've kind of gone through to the end of this album-based era. I think it is changing, which is kind of sad in a way because I like the idea of like an hour's worth of music by an artist, but then, maybe that's just because that's what I'm used to. Many people now just like listening to songs rather than albums. I think we don't suffer as much as a lot of people because there's very little filler on a Cure album. That's why it takes so long to do. (laughs) People, generally, with our downloads on the stuff that we've got, it's our albums that are downloaded. It's very, very rare that people download single Cure tracks, when I've looked at the [reports] that comes my way.
With the Festival DVD, we gave it to the label and said, "We want this sold around the world at the lowest possible price. We actually don't want to have any money from this at all. We just want you to sell this double disc for nothing." And they went with that. They were happy. Well, they weren't actually that happy with it. But they understood the concept of it.
It's always difficult to get the balance right when you're dealing with people who essentially, at heart, want to be commercially successful. That's what record companies are. There are people at record companies who are really good people, and who care greatly about the artists, and essentially the music, and understand that is the reason they exist. There are other people at the record companies who find the artists irritating and the music kind of an annoying product, and wish that they were selling something easier so they could make more money.
I've always thought that we control our own destiny, but I've never been too involved with kind of the lacerations of the record industry. It's kind of trite, really, and a lot of the people are so stupid and it's just not worth it.
I guess one of the benefits of getting older – there are a few, but not many (laughs) – is I find myself being older than most of the people now who are telling me what would be best, and kind of dry out my senses because they probably realize that I've seen that and done it. It gives me a certain amount of clout, I suppose.
Definitely. What are your plans while you're in Miami?
We're staying for a week actually. It will give us a nice break in the sun, and will do us good.