He’s the leader of The Cure. He’s been one half of The Glove and a part-time Banshee. And he’s a lazy sod – or that’s what he says. Robert Smith takes a hard look at himself and his records and tries to explain how he manages to keep 15 musical balls in the air and still spend 12 hours a day in bed.
I’ve never really seen myself as a singer. In the early days I never cared about giving a performance, I’d just work myself up into the state of mind needed for the song and that’d be it. Some of the things I sang were pretty good, but a lot of it was out of tune.
There was one point when I thought I was starting to get too predictable, so ever since I’ve tried to sing in different voices. I find it especially difficult to sing in a voice which is far removed from the way I talk; it sounds contrived when people do that.
I’ve improved since The Cure started, but I don’t reckon there’s much scope for me to improve on how I am now. Given the choice, I’d probably listen to Billy Mackenzie – but I can’t imagine anyone other than me singing Cure songs.
I think I’ve written some completely brilliant songs in my time – and some completely awful ones. Overall I write better songs than 99 per cent of what’s in the chart at the moment. I could write songs as bad as Wham’s if I really felt the urge to, but what’s the point? So many songs these days are very shallow.
I hate the idea some bands have of refining songwriting. I can sit down and write a single pretty easily – it’s like a pretend exercise. Most of our so-called “songs” are really pieces of music – there’s a difference in the way you approach writing them.
I honestly don’t class myself as a songwriter. I’ve got “musician” written on my passport: that’s even funnier.
Again I’ve never really bothered to apply myself totally. I’m not technically a good player but at least I don’t sound like anyone else. For me the idea of being a musician has nothing to do with technical ability, but I suppose you have to have a certain amount to be able to put ideas into music.
I think it’s important to get past the stage of being comfortable with an instrument. You need the capacity to learn – most people tend to stay at the same level, which is boring to listen to.
I don’t think I’ve ever sat on my own with a guitar just playing for enjoyment. I’d do that with the piano, which is so much more exciting for me as I’ve only just mastered the basics.
I can safely say I’ve never had the desire to be the drummer or the bassist in a band. That must be the worst occupation ever.
Five years ago I used to be completely immobile onstage because the music was so intense. I feel a lot more comfortable now, but I’m still not totally natural. I need to lose myself in what’s going on. Sometimes I’ll get to the end of a song, open my eyes and there’s all these faces peering at me. It’s quite horrifying.
There’s no hope of my becoming “completely” relaxed on stage. If I did, I’d sit down and doze off.
Playing live is probably how we built up such a strong following – I always thought we were pretty good. Now our repertoire is so vast, it’s much easier; we aren’t under any pressure to sell ourselves.
If I was young I’d only want to be in either one of three groups in this country and we’d be one of them. That’s the only justification I can give for what I do and why I carry on doing it.
I suppose videos are quite fun but I still hate making them. The last one we did for In Between Days was exhausting because I had to wear the camera strapped to me for five hours.
We also did one for another single – it was about claustrophobia and Tim Pope (the director) suggested that we illustrate being trapped inside a wardrobe. It was the most uncomfortable 12 hours that I’ve ever spent. He ended up dropping the wardrobe – with us still in it – into a huge tank filled with 1000 gallons of water. Watching it you’d think is was fun, but all I could think about was dying a slow, painful death.
We did Lovecats during the night in this old house which we got into on the pretext of wanting to buy it. We took a film crew and had a party and at some point made the video. We were sat outside the estate agents at six the next morning waiting to return his key.
That’s what I hate about videos – having to be on call from first thing in the morning. If I had to go to Heaven at nine in the morning I think I’d be quite unhappy.
You also have to put so much into them so it looks like you’re having a good time, when really you’re in a semi-coma wishing you were home in bed.
I can walk out of the record company and wonder why have I just done an interview and had my photograph taken. When I go to the news agents and pick up a music paper I see why. They’re full of fools.
I don’t understand why people look up to me but I can understand their desire to emulate me or get my autograph. I never used to go chasing anybody famous, but I remember I once faked Cyril Smith’s autograph and made up all these tall stories about how I met him. That was much better.
It makes me feel very awkward if you meet fans who expect you to react in a certain way just because you’re in a band. All I do is write songs and sing them.
I only wear what I feel like that day.
Once we bought a pile of suits that were all the same. It was great because you didn’t have to think about what you were wearing and no one could single you out.
When I used to wear leathers and boots it was much more of a reactionary stance. I don’t think that way anymore because you only appeal to people who think and dress the same way and the rest just ridicule you.
I’ve been putting on make-up since I was at school, again to inspire a reaction – which was usually against me. It became more gruesome as the band progressed so I decided to tone it down. I need to wear it onstage because if I didn’t no one would know where my mouth was.
I hardly ever listen to any of our old stuff now. Once the songs have been recorded and put onto vinyl they are someone else’s entertainment, not mine.
I suppose we’ve changed but not in a very logical way. We started off making pop records, for example Boys Don’t Cry – in a perfect world, that would have been No. 1.
At that time we didn’t want to be successful because we’d only be remembered as the group that did such and such. The last time we went to America the audience was made up of teenage girls who thought Lovecats was our first single. That doesn’t really bother me though. I always wanted the audience to change: I can’t imagine anything worse than growing old with the same audience.
Many of the people who liked us from the start didn’t buy Lovecats on a point of principle. Yet it sold more than any other single we’d done.
I think we work in a more honest way than others, because we don’t worry about following it up with something similar or that has the same appeal. Ours is a very selfish way of working – we make records for our own enjoyment.
The idea of being famous at all costs doesn’t interest me at all. I tried really hard to kill the success of Lovecats before it got too big because it would’ve dominated everything we did before and everything we did in the future.
As a band The Cure don’t perpetuate the rock ‘n’ roll myth that everything is fab, etc. Being in a band is good fun if you’re doing it for the right reasons. If I found myself in the Top Ten I’d stop doing interviews and disappear for a while. I’d never allow us to be a `big group’ – I’d break us up if that ever happened.
Siouxsie and the Banshees
I look back on the Banshees period with mixed feelings. I enjoyed it (playing guitar with Siouxsie) but it got a bit messy towards the end.
The reason why I joined the, for a while was because I got fed up with being the singer in The Cure and nothing else. But eventually I became frustrated because I couldn’t have the same control over what they were doing.
Being a naturally disordered person, I didn’t find it hard to cross over between the two bands. But I don’t think I was the right guitarist for them. My involvement was mostly based on my friendship with Steve Severin (the Banshees bass player), although I’d always been a fan of theirs.
Steve and I decided to make a record when I first joined The Banshees as some kind of “art experiment”. Although we had a great time making it, it was completely debilitating and aged me about ten years. I think it was due to us bringing out the worst in each other – the most excessive ideas.
We spent 12 weeks in the studio but actually recorded for about five days. The rest of the time was spent having an endless party to which we invited a succession of people. It was like a station – once they got really out of it, they’d be moved on and the next batch brought in. In between all this we’d record a piece of piano or drum.
After that period with Steve, I was physically incapable of cleaning my teeth. The whole thing was unreal – a dream – and not something I’m likely to repeat in a hurry.
Most of the time I’m a professional idiot. I really don’t care about what other people think, which can be a bad thing.
The only “new” member to our line-up is Boris, who suffered three years with The Thompson Twins and is now reveling in the freedom of The Cure. The best thing about the band is that everyone is really funny, there’s all this sharp humour and you never know whether they’re being serious or not.
The others tend to get annoyed when I’m always late, but I become so muddled at times – although I try extremely hard not to make people wait. We don’t seem to have a social life outside of the band, probably because we all live within a square mile of each other and have the same local.
When we go abroad doing festivals we do try to retain a degree of culture and decorum even in our worst moments. We throw each other out of the hotel windows rather than the furniture. A lot of the time I slag off the other bands which we play with but it’s something which I quite enjoy, especially when we all glower at each other in the hotel foyer.
The worst thing that can happed, in any band, is not to say what you’re really thinking. With us, everyone’s so close that you know if they’re holding back for some reason. It’s so dull trying to get secrets out of somebody unless you get them on the floor for a punch-up!
Everything we do is planned in six-month blocks – otherwise it’d be horrible. At least if I get fed up tomorrow I know it’s not long before I can get out of our obligations.
Two years ago I didn’t think we’d still be going strong now, but I feel that we’re capable of releasing some of the best records that come out each year.
September 21, 1985
© Ro Newton