- Ciao2001 -
Two leaders, one against the other. Together they founded The Cure and in the end they went their separate ways. Both have new releases. Which one is the real cure?
Lol Tolhurst left The Cure in January 1989. Thirteen years before he had been one of the founders of the band. He wanted to found a band that was "300 times lighter than The Cure." So Tolhurst gathered keyboardist Chris Youdell from Then Jerico, drummer Alan Burgess and singer Gary Biddles, who had been in Fools Dance, the band Simon Gallup formed during his short leave from The Cure.
After two years of hard work and voluntary exile, the last thing you need is someone putting a spoke in your wheel. That's what happened to Tolhurst. Choosing a name for your band isn't always easy. You have to find something good, easy to remember and Presence seemed like the ideal solution. Then, out of the blue, comes the blow, in the form of a German manager who claimed damages for his band, Presence. The story sounds preposterous, given that the plaintiff didn't register its name (in Great Britain you can't do it in the musical field, but you can register an image: see Eddie, Iron Maiden's mascot), never published an album and at its last concert scraped together twenty-five people, ten of whom thought they were going to see Tolhurst's band. It may be incongruous, but this legal trouble has cost money that could be better spent in promotion and put off the release of the first single ("In Wonder"), whose video was removed from MTV and from Chart Show programme schedules. TV interviews that had already been recorded were also cancelled and records were temporary removed from shop shelves. The case is being argued , but we don't have Lawrence's comment on this, because I discovered it only after interviewing him. On his quarrel with Robert Smith and the choice towards self-management for Presence, though, there's much to write.
Lol: "Our second single was published by our independent company. Majors are interested, but they haven't made a move yet. They want to see if things work before making an offer. That's OK with us, it can only strengthen our position and, in the end, we could have the same thing that happened with The Cure, were also Fiction, and not only the band, has a contract with Polydor. I have some experience in the matter, I lived that situation myself. I know how things work and I can manage a lot of this stuff myself."
You were in a limbo for a couple of years. I suppose you came to a point when you couldn't afford to keep waiting for a record company to offer you an interesting contract?
Lol: "We spent a year getting things straight. Once we were done, we looked around and, as I've already said, no one made the first move; we had to do it ourselves. You can't stay out of the limelight for too long."
It's strange how The Cure, despite having been around for 13 years, don't have a numerous and lucky offspring. Those who left, either temporarily like Simon Gallup or permanently, have never produced anything outstanding. It's true that Lawrence used to be Robert Smith's right-hand man before being replaced by Gallup in that role, he wasn't just another toy soldier, so a bigger effort and success are to be expected, at least on paper.
Lol: "For me it's impossible to start a new project and erase the past or pretend The Cure never happened. But I'm sure that if we had taken a definite direction some time ago, we may have been an alternative to The Cure. I was in that band for too long and those who are close to me have the same attitude towards music. Gary worked as Cure roadie and we've known each other for fifteen years."
The easiest comment Presence may get is that they sound terribly like The Cure. There's a new wardrobe, but the new clothes aren't necessarily colliding with the old ones. Being forced into a new role may give this impression, though.
Lol: "I know I'll never be able to break with the past, so I chose to use it. Unfortunately in Britain people are very narrow minded and, if you sound like someone else, you get labeled. We didn't want this to happen and we tried to do something completely different from The Cure. Now they don't know what we're going to do next time; they don't know what we're going to play live because their preconceived ideas have been destroyed. "Soft" is closer to the past, but once again, I can't forget I was one of the creators of the music of The Cure. "In wonder" was quite an understandable choice among the eleven songs we wrote so far. It was an obvious single."
Your first tour comes at the same time as your second single. The delay in live activity is a coincidence or is it an attempt to keep things secret?
Lol: "No, we want people to know our songs. I know there will always be someone asking "A forest" and I'm not thrilled at the idea."
Will there be copyright problems with Robert if you do?
Lol: "No, we wrote nearly everything together. There will be no unpleasant situations. Maybe someday we'll play some songs live in the encore, just for fun."
What have been the reactions from Cure fans?
Lol: "We haven't gone abroad yet; all we know comes from letters we get and we think the reaction was quite positive. People seems loyal towards me and ask me not to forget them, because they didn't forget me. I think it's going to be good. You might find it odd, but it makes you feel relieved. It's been in the air for a long time. I wasn't happy towards the end. Now I feel better than people may think. I can't deny there was a bit of sadness, it's like a divorce... As of today, only two members of the band talk to me, the others can't or don't want to."
Do you consider yourselves an alternative band?
Lol: "We don't want to play Rock Garden for three years or do only alternative festivals. Our horizons are broader. We don't want to be alternative per se. What we have to say is interesting enough to reach a potentially bigger audience. Having a famous past has pros and cons: it can be an advantage, but it's also hampering, because people always expect something from me. Besides, my carrier with The Cure taught me to face up to things and act. In the past I gave up control to Robert and other people too often and that was a mistake. I'd like to do like The Clash, who became famous and then tried to change the system. In the end they gave up, but at least they tried. Being a "professionally independent" band and, as such, refusing to do certain things because they don't fit your image is useless."
This project was born after your split with Robert. Did you try to do things on your own when you were in The Cure?
Lol: "Yes, there were a few things in the air, but they never saw the light of day. The Cure were too important. The ideas are still somewhere on tape, never finished, never published. There wasn't enough time, because life was too intense. In my free time I produced the And Also the Trees album and I worked with a couple of bands in France, just to make experience, to learn how to produce. The Cure were a lifestyle, they were too important. I managed to accomplish most of the things I wanted to do through the band. When finding ways to express myself started to get difficult, then the contrasts began. In the end Robert was too possessive towards what he was doing."
There were a lot of rumors about drugs and alcohol abuse concerning you and Robert. Your turning over a new leaf involves this part of your life too, it seems.
Lol: "Yes, it's a symptom, not the cause of my unhappiness. I thought I had no way out, but it was easy to get out after leaving the band. Some people are still in that situation and taking the consequences."
The Cure decided not to promote much "Entreat", a live album that probably wouldn't have been released if requests from the fans hadn't been so strong and insistent. Because The Cure are already working on a new album, still at an early stage, and because Robert Smith is very focused on the possibility of being one of the headliners at Reading Festival this year, much to the general belief that the last American tour wasn't really the last one in the end. We meet in London and Robert Smith is definitely relaxed. Some time ago the band played at the Town & Country Club under the name of Five Imaginary Boys, to warm up for the Great British Weekend performance at Wembley Arena the following night. The usual existentialism, the usual "Killing an Arab" and the determination to erase any rumor about a possible split. Robert laughs about it.
Robert: "That was a joke" he says. "We thought we'd take people by surprise because we were going to play the next day, but there were two hundreds crazy fans instead. It seems that when people heard we were about to call it quits, they chose not to listen..."
But it's strange to keep saying that the last concert of a tour must be "the" last one.
Roberts continues: "I've never said we would never play again, people keep saying it, but I wasn't the one who said it. Because, you know, being around for a couple of weeks and playing five, six concerts, it's much easier than packing up and staying away from home for three months. The thing is, during the last American tour, at the end of September of two years ago, a lot of conflicts within the band came up, just for that tour... I mean, the concerts were great, but we always had problems. And that depends on the way the group is structured and on the song we play and on our attitude as well... When we tour we always reach extremes. Not in the typical rock'n'roll sense, but concerning feelings, we're always on that stage as if that was our last concert and our last day of life. On a psychological as well as physical level it becomes a distressful situation. And I'm getting old and I need time to get over it... And sometimes I realize all this is sucking most of my life away, when I could be doing something else instead. Last year Roger O'Donnell (keyboards) left, and we replaced him with Perry Bamonte who, in a way or another, has been working with us for seven years. If we had wanted to call it quits, we wouldn't have looked for a substitute. Two summers ago we played in 17 festivals, trying out new songs and new things, but, I repeat, there's a big difference between playing live and going on tour. So I don't know if we're going on tour again, I really don't know... Or if the other would and I'm the only one against it. My position is a difficult one, there's a lot of pressure around me. The band is democratic after all, even if without me they could never go on tour for six months of course."
Promoting "Mixed Up" through the Cure FM pirate radio was an attempt to get away from mainstream stereotypes?
Robert: "Well, the real reason is that we didn't know how to promote the album and we were twiddling our thumbs. We've never been interested in big parties with final buffet. When we release an album, it's out and that's it. Since it was basically a dance and remixes album, the promotion had to be kind of ironic. We thought of a pirate radio. Many people in London had thought of it before: dedicating a whole night to a single band. We're going to continue the sane way, maybe on a difference frequency, but we always let the press know when we're broadcasting. The first time we didn't tell anyone because we were nervous. We didn't know how the authorities would react. But we didn't have any problem..."
And what if you had?
Robert pauses. "Well, we would have said it wasn't our problem and put the blame on our recording company!"
We talk about "Entreat", the live album that was recorded at Wembley Arena in 1989, even if so far Smith's comments on it have been vague, because it wasn't a real release, but rather a gift...
Robert: "Exploiting the live CD wouldn't be fair. In the end it was a bonus CD for those who bought already released CDs of the band. So we met up with the recording company and decided to devote the proceeds to charity, drawing in Amnesty International, Mencap, Cot Death Research, NSPCC and so on. It was a humanitarian task. The only difference was that in the beginning it was only on CD, while now it's on vinyl too."
Your relationship with your recording company has always been has always allowed you total independence...
Robert: "We always do whatever we want. We're totally free. From our second album on, we've always reinvested the money we earned. This way we've never had to bow our head to the recording company. There haven't been any losses so far. We've always sold a lot of albums and it would be stupid of them to interfere. Bands usually don't act like this for two simple reasons. First of all, between taking compromises and being successful, bands usually choose the former. Personally, I prefer not to take compromises and be successful. If I had to choose, I wouldn't take compromises. Another reason is that many bands aren't really interested in making music. They're in it for a series of reasons and don't want to wait for the final recompense. I can play at the Town & Country Club and face thousands of people at Dodger Stadium at the same time..."
Nonetheless you're still labeled as an "image band"...
Robert: "Well, we've become an image band because at one point you get beyond the musical field and the world notices you. This happens especially in the USA. Your audience grows so much and turns into a phenomenon. People need to identify and pinpoint you and your image plays a crucial role. The thing is, out look is the same when we do the shopping and I don't thing that's very common. And people notice."
But you can't deny that your gothic image is very often combined with a very relaxing rhythm.
Robert: "You're the first to say something like that. It's not quite true, even if 99.9% of the people think our sound is depressing. We're not really interested in categorizations. The band's music goes from scat jazz to gothic sound. I think country'n'western is the only genre we haven't taken into consideration yet..."
Have you ever thought of writing a film soundtrack?
Robert: "We've been asked a few times, but we never have time. We'd need six or eight months to do it and we would have to give up something else. Maybe we should just stop making music for a while. I would like to write short stories, mainly for my nephews and nieces, I'm surrounded by thirteen children at the moment... and seven siblings. And Christmas Eve is the perfect opportunity to play. Luckily I still don't have children of my own... Perhaps I'm too selfish at the moment..."
Last month you played MTV USA "Unplugged" with an acoustic show...
Robert laughs. "I'd like to forget it. It was stressful. Before us other bands had performed: Hall & Oates, Don Henley, Church... You have to play without electric instruments. Maybe we exaggerated. There was a harp, a violin, cushions all around... Very exotic. The xylophone in The Caterpillar intro was fun."
Among the ten songs the band performed there was "A Letter to Elise", an unreleased track that may or may not be used in the future. In the meantime we're waiting for a confirmation for Reading... If they don't call it quits again...
THANKS to: Alex for the TRANSLATION.