BRIAN MOLKO : It’s interesting to be the other side, it’s the first time I play the role of the journalist. When I was a kid, I used to watch you on tv, to read your interviews. Now I ask you some questions. What is your oldest memory ?
ROBERT SMITH : My father had a video camera super-8 and he used to film us a lot, my mother, my sister, and I. And I saw all the films. I am born in 1959 and I grew up in Blackpool, in North East England and, at the border of the sea. There are a lot of films where I can be seen running like a crazy man, with some asses in the back. My first memory is : seeing my sister eating worms, and to be honest, I dig them up and she ate them.Ii was about 3 and she 2. And my mother punished me. It must be one of the few times I had been hit. I remember also the smell of the asses. One of my first memories is bound to the noise of the sea. When I left London, ten years ago, I was ready to go anywhere but somewhere near the sea. I wanted to be able to wake up and hear the sea. It’s bound to my childhood, to pure happiness, to innocence. I love the music and the perfume of the sea. so I moved in the south of england and I feel myself completely different. In london I had a feeling of hate against the whole world.
BRIAN : As asphyxiated ?
ROBERT : Yes, and now I breathe. The noise of the sea comfort me. I have lived in London for ten years, and at the end I was wasted, a human rags. I lived in a basement, like in a Roman Polanski’s film, the walls crumbling, yelling in the 3rd floor, I was always tense. After a year spent far away from london, I was completely transformed. because I left the past behind me, I left the temptations. I live in a lost place, neart Brighton. Brighton became a in-place, but it’s still a pleasant town.
BRIAN : What frightens you most ? For me, I’d say to get imprisoned because of a drug affair. Because of my size, some would abuse of me, as they would be bored. I couldn’t stand being raped in a cell.
ROBERT : i hope you don’t think about that too often! I don’t like flying. Each time I get in a plane, unless I’m completely drunk, I wonder if it’s gonna be ok. I did a lot of stuff in my life, to push away my limits, to test myself, but I don’t know if I could parachuting. Actually, I’m afraid to die. You are afraid to suffer on a long time. I’m scared that everything stops. During the 80’s I was afraid to become crazy, because I burned my neurones. I was afraid to wake up one morning and don’t recognise anybody anymore.
BRIAN : Musically and visually, is david bowie also a part of your first memories?
ROBERT : I was immediately fascinated by the character, like a lot of people of my generation. I discovered him with “Starman”, at the end of 72 – early 73, I was about 13-14 years. Each of my friends who were interested in music, were talking :”have you seen the weird guy yesterday night on tv ?” he personified another world. When you are 14 you feel a frustration. Bowie showed us that a fanciful world existed. I have been obsessed during 2 or 3 years. And then, I bought “Heroes” and I criticised it because I began to have my own opinion. it was weird, like to question his own parents. But I turned away from david bowie. The punk movement began in 1975-76 and that’s what attracted me. But when I heard “Earthling” in 1997, I went back to bowie. I was really moved to play with him for his 50th birthday in New York. He left a message on my answering machine. As my phone number is not listed, nobody knows it, I thought it was a joke from a friend. I left a message on his answering machine: “I’ll call you back, I’m not sure”. but deeply in myself , I was euphoric.
BRIAN : Do you share his fascination for internet ?
ROBERT : Concerning the downloadable music, I think the debates are far away from the essential, that is to say that the artist have to be always paid for his work. Otherwise, he can’t live. The problem is that music is too expensive. It’s a naive vision to think that internet is free: there’s always somebody who pays, somebody who get the money, somebody who owns the infrastructure. Offering your own music freely is playing the game of the big business groups. the money gets to those groups. Internet is simply a new way to distribution. In the States, some artists don’t even own their own work.
BRIAN : Would you be ready to be in the stock exchange, like Bowie ?
ROBERT : No. When I talked about it with him, we disagreed on almost every point. Actually I had drunk too much and I was quite aggressive. But I’m not naive. Cure at the beginning hadn’t any manager, so I learnt to analyse the contracts, to discover how people would try to cheat on us. That’s why we decided not to sign another contract with a major company after this “Greatest Hits”.
BRIAN : Chris Parry has never been your manager, but with his label “Fiction Records” he did a great job with and for you.
ROBERT : At the beginning, he was the only one believing in us. I think the first song on the cassette was “10:15”, and in the 10 first seconds he wanted to sing us. He was incredibly enthusiastic. at this time, we couldn’t ask for more. Even if our friend believed in us, it was hard to let us be known. I wanted a small label,Ii wanted a only one interlocutor I didn’t want to be said : “This one doesn’t work here anymore”. We had no written engagement. We knew that if something went wrong, we could shake our hands and go away. So, the end has been a little disappointing. Our new album “bloodflowers” had no hit and some found it wasn’t that good. It’s hard to know that your label isn’t enthusiastic anymore. I had already suffered from the critiques about “Galore”, three years before. The single “Wrong number” didn’t get the success it deserved, except in the USA, no radio played it in UK. I even wondered if it wasn’t a conspiracy ! That’s what killed the band as a pop band. So I decided to give up this part of the band. When we re-recorded “Just say yes”, I wasn’t able to sing, that’s why I ask Saffron (singer of Republica) to do it. I wasn’ t able, I had tears in my voice.
BRIAN : People tend to think that somebody like you doesn’t have any stage fright.
ROBERT : In the studio, everything is based on the emotional. In general, I don’t sing on the demos. Sometimes, I’m really a crap in the studio. If I drank too much, I can’t articulate and when I’m in a bad mood, or when I’m tired, I sing like Serge Gainsbourg ! The first take is rarely good. For “Bloodflowers”, it’s one of the rare times it worked quickly.
BRIAN : Most of your videos have been directed by Tim Pope. Did he have a special vision, a visual interpretation in harmony with your universe ?
ROBERT : When we met, we had the feeling we’ve have known each other for a long time. He succeeded to bring to evidence he human side we tended to hide. He did a great job for Cure.
BRIAN :At the beginning you had an image of darkness, of obscurity, of decadence, of perversion, of despair, and then you wrote love songs, more pop, with a certain sense of humour. Is there something in particular in the origin of this evolution ?
ROBERT : The first album doesn’t enter in this logic. It was born during we were at school, I don’t consider it like a personal album, but like an album made in community. Until “Pornography”, I was in a vicious circle. The inspiration was endless we were about 20, we were at full tilt. During the tour we were wondering who would die first, we abused of everything. Weirdly, I was happy to live in the excess, it was an obsession, I had forgotten everything else. But at the end, we couldn’t stand each other anymore, it was really violent, we didn’t see each other during a year and a half. Then I went on holiday with my wife Mary to a walk ride on the North of England and then I realised, while suffering because of the physic efforts, that I didn’t want to abandon everything. Chris Parry, the boss of our label, Fiction, had been very important in that matter as well. I had written the demo of “Let’s go to bed” which could have been in “Pornography” with its very slow gimmick. And Chris said : “Come on, do a pop song”. And I answered, “Ok, but not under the name of Cure”. But he refused it. He said that a posteriori, in ten years time, I would understand why. He was ten years older than us, he had a real clear global vision. Then I worked with Siouxsie and the Banshees and I developed that pop thing, with “Lovecats” and “The walk”. Without it, I wouldn’t have dared it. The problem is, that with “Pornography”, we were stuck into this image and people around us wanted to see in me that very dark person. It was a horrible period of my life.
BRIAN : Do you feel responsible for the gothic movement and all those ridiculous aspects ? I often laugh at this trend, because we have been sometimes reproached of being Goths and that really gets to my nerves. We are not crows !!!
ROBERT : That’s weird, we’ve never been a gothic band, in the sense that there are no pictures of us with a crucifix or anything else. We were instead a band in raincoats ! The Banshees are gothic, in the real meaning of the word. I don’t have any gothic album. I hate The Sisters of Mercy. During the first interview I made for this “Greatest Hits”, the journalist questioned me about that gothic side. I went crazy; “With songs like Lovecats, Let’s go to bed, show me what’s gothic in it, listen to Friday I’m in love ! A gothic band wouldn’t do songs like that !”. But anyway, I like the Goths, they’re lovely. If you forget their morbid fantasies, their belief that they’re gonna die if they stay too long under the sun, they can be really funny. Have you ever been in Mexico ? the best Goths can be found there. When you see them from the stage, you think they wear Goths clothes; all in black, and when you meet them, you realise they wear shorts of every colour.
BRIAN : What do you think of the neo-metal ? Slipknot, Limp Biscuit, Linkin Park ….
ROBERT : I like some part of guitars. The problem is that, with this kind of bands, I don’t like the voices. It’s like with the gothic band they believe they have to conform into an aesthetic, to scream the same way. It’s a kind of rebellion which is normalised, mainstream. The real rebellion is the one which doesn’t fit in definite form, which goes off the stray of the beaten tacks, individually, not collectively. And I got the feel that the neo-metal is horribly cynical. I suppose that those guys live for their bands, they really believe in it, but they must be too dumb to understand they’re victims of a huge marketing plan. I know a little of that because my nephew makes me listen to some stuff. “Fuck you, motherfucker, blablabla”. and I say : “Ok, do you have the t-shirt?” Slipknot, they look like Alice Cooper, but they can’t hold a candle to him. That sense of theatrality, cult of pain, of degradation….. and then they go back home and everything is alright.
BRIAN : So, what do you listen to for the moment ?
ROBERT : My favourite band, this last few years, except yours, of course, is Mogwai. I had a small correspondence with their leader, Steward. I said him that “Young Team” was one of the best debut album ever, he thanked me, etc. And one day I talked about them to NME, the journalist interpreted my words and put them on their site. I try to explain to Steward that was a mistake, but he stopped writing me. They have energy, spirit, you can hear it in their music. It’s full of power, a band that believes in those values.
BRIAN : Thanks to the cartoon “South Park” you won some goods points with your nephews. You saved the planet !
ROBERT : And Stan at the end says : “Disintegration, is the best album ever !” I didn’t know how it would be. They send me a video cassette, the one where they discuss whether the dog is gay or not. I really laughed, but at the same time I found it ignoble. They sent me something to read, I trusted them. I had the script, but there were some blank spaces to keep the surprise. They didn’t want anybody to know, they wanted to shock. When I saw myself, I found it surrealistic. I would have liked to be more implicated in the project.
BRIAN : For the “Greatest Hits” how did you manage to select the songs ? Did you set a poll or a vote among the fans ?
ROBERT : That’s what the label wanted, but I only accepted to promote this album if I could chose the songs and if a second CD could be offered with the best of. They agreed, because to add up two songs isn’t enough. The idea to make an acoustic album came after. I thought that, as a fan, I would like to hear the songs played differently. I was the only one who really wanted that acoustic album. We are the first band which had required a free CD with a greatest hits. The majors hate us because now, people will want a free CD with every best of. Artists will also hate us because they will have to create something more. Until now, the ‘best of’ were only for the money. I know that in the States, they wonder how we manage, financially speaking : they don’t know what the word “free” means. That was the only way so I could look at the fans directly in the eyes. Then we met, the 5 members of the band. We had 10 songs in common. I wanted that this “Greatest Hits” was a commercial success, but I didn’t want to put away what we did in the beginning. “A Forest” has never been a hit, but it would have been a pity to let it aside, if this song could please the fans and the band. So I abandoned to impose some of my favourite songs, like “A Letter to Elise”, “Charlotte Sometimes” and “Hot Hot Hot”. I wanted that this CD would make a “whole”, something complete. A lot of people asked me why we didn’t choose “Killing an Arab” of the first album. What I don’t like is that they think we didn’t dare after the September 11 events. This song is pursuing me because of its title. The gulf war, the terrorist attacks in the States…. that’s the number one of the anti arab songs. If I could change only one thing, I would go back in the past, that day at school, when I chose the title and I’d change it. But I’d keep the song.
BRIAN : How many times did you think to stop ?
ROBERT : The band formed in school had exploded. The next trio, the one that made “Pornography” split up. After the tour of “Disintegration”, i was truly wanting to give up everything. I was on my knees, I thought I had to take the distance of all. So I stayed at home for a few months. After “Galore”, in 1997, I thought it was over. But I feel better with the band today than ten years ago.
BRIAN : There are some artists for whom the music is as much essential as to breathe or eat, they create constantly, they can’t help it. I think you are one of those persons.
ROBERT : It’s not always easy to accept, I realize I’m still with Mary only because she has ever been incredibly tolerant towards that fire in me. I only live for the music, the rest has no importance.
© Les Inrockuptibles