ROBERT SMITHÖ AND THE CURE FOR ďWILD MOOD SWINGSĒ

By Paul Freeman [1996 Interview]

Thereís a lot more to Robert Smith than hair and makeup. Heís proven himself to be an extraordinary creative force. The U.K.ís Smith, who also played in the band Siouxsie and the Banshees, co-founded The Cure in 1976, in West Sussex. The band began writing and demoing their own songs in 1977. He became the groupís lead vocalist, guitarist and primary songwriter. Wending their way through Goth, post-punk, new wave and alternative elements, The Cure established themselves as a modern rock sensation, recording such enduring songs as ďBoys Donít Cry,Ē ďPornography,Ē ďThe Perfect Girl,Ē ďClose To Me,Ē ďPictures of You,Ē ďLovesong,Ē ďNever Enough,Ē ďFriday Iím In LoveĒ and ďThe End of the World.Ē

We spoke with Smith upon the release of ďWild Mood Swings.Ē The Cureís 10th studio album, it turned out to be not nearly as commercially successful as the bandís previous record, 1992ís massive hit ďWish.Ē But Robert Smith has said it remains one of his favouriteís of the groupís creations. Twenty years after our interview, the band, still vibrant and tantalizing fans, is currently on tour, summer of 2016. For the latest news, visit www.thecure.com.

POP CULTURE CLASSICS:
With ďWild Mood Swings,Ē were you trying to shake listeners up a little bit? Or were these just the songs you felt compelled to record?

ROBERT SMITH:
I suppose whenever we make an album, we donít think about the consequences. Itís only after itís made, once it goes out there. Strangely enough, I have been surprised at the differences of opinion with regards to ĎWild Mood Swings,í because I think itís really good. [Chuckles] I would say that, but with each record that weíve made, the reason why we make it is a sort of internal drive, a need to make it, and also a desire to create something that people will enjoy.

But this one, I knew as we were making it that it was really good. And in the past, Iíve never been quite sure until itís finished. The first reactions we got to the album were from the British pressÖ but theyíre a bit down on us anyway. So it kind of startled me, people saying that this wasnít a good record. I thought, ďHang on, it is a good record.Ē

PCC:
What seemed to be the complaint?

SMITH:
Well, that it sounds like The Cure [laughs], which seems like an absurd kind of critique of a group called The Cure. I suppose it took me by surprise, really, because the people that heard it, we were living in this house and kind of made friends with a lot of people, locally, and theyíd come down, and without exception everyone who heard what we were doing thought it was good. I suppose itís just in the nature of criticism to run things down.

PCC:
Within that context of The Cure, thereís really a lot of diversity in this album.

SMITH:
Yeah, but I suppose if I sang over a bunch of nuns, they would say it sounded like The Cure. I mean, basically, just because itís me. Thatís why I think itís the best thing weíve done - because there is a lot of diversity. Thatís why itís called ďWild Mood Swings.Ē Lyrically and musically, we cover more stuff than we have done in the past.

PCC:
Were you not ready to do something like this musically until now?

SMITH:
The gap after ĎWish,í which had been kind of an enforced gap, in a lot of respects, because itís about people leaving and I had a court case that dragged on, that was kind of a good thing, because it gave me time to think about what I wanted to do next. And I think the pressure was really on the group that made the ďWishĒ album to quickly capitalize on that and get something else out there. And I think, if we had done that, it would have been a substandard record, because I donít think we were really ready to make it.

And I also think the group that did the ďWishĒ album, the core of that group, weíd really done as much as we could. In some ways, in the back of my mind, I was slightly unsure as to what we could achieve, because we all knew each other so well. So the fact that it all kind of fell apart was a good thing. It was one of those haphazard, serendipitous things that worked in our favour.

PCC:
There have been a number of changes in personnel over the years. Is that something that may be difficult at the time, but tends to keep things fresh, as you go along?

SMITH:
Well, on paper, it looks like there have been a lot of people that have gone. But a lot of people have come back. And the core of the group, like Boris [Williams, drummer], Porl [Thompson, lead guitar, keys, sax], me and Simon [Gallup, bass], were together from 1984 through to 1992. Eight years, thatís longer than most bands exist, full-stop. There have been probably three or four different lineups over the years. There have been peripheral members who have come and gone. Others have gone and come back. Roger [OíDonnell, keyboards] joined the band in í87, left in 1990, heís come back in 1995. Simon left and came back. Porl was originally in, left and came back.

So itís not so much that people just disappear. The lineup changes. There are have been times in the past where what I wanted do has necessitated people leaving. But theyíre few and far between. Most people leave, because they want to do something else. Like Porl left, because he wanted to go and play with Page and Plant. Boris left, because he wanted to play with his girlfriend. But it doesnít really bother me, because anyone whoís in The Cure has to really, really want to be in it. And you have to want to do what everyone else wants to do. And thereís never been a lineup of the group where anyone hasnít wanted to do it. So it doesnít worry me that there are occasionally lineup changes. And it actually does keep me fresh.

The whole way we worked on the new album was completely different from the way we did ďWish.Ē Itís like dinner conversations are different, because different people are there. Theyíve got different experiences. We are able to tell the same old stories and they listen. And something new results from that.

PCC:
But were you worried that the gap between records might mean that the world had gone by you in the meantime?

SMITH:
Well, again, I think I probably, if I was being honest, Iíve been surprised by how much this has made. But on the other hand, I felt, and still do feel, that if it was our first album, I wouldnít have anything to worry about. So I kind of look at it in that perspective.

The Cure has got quite a lot of history. And Iím proud of a lot of it, but Iím aware that there is a media perspective thatís kind of foisted on the public, that, oh, you wonít like this group, because theyíre this, they sound like this. And I thought, well, if this is the first album, people might think, ďThe Cure, maybe Iíve heard of them, Iím not quite sure, but maybe itís the first thing theyíve done.Ē Why not start out from that frame of mind? Thatís how we did our first album. So that didnít really bother me. I think that bothers other people more.

Certainly, again, in the British press, it bothers them immensely. Weíre again criticized because it sounded like us and we havenít got a clue as to what was going on, which kind of makes me smile, because Iím a consumer, as well. I buy records. I listen to music. I know very well whatís going on. But the hilarity is, had we come back and released a jungle album, and tried to be very 90s, it would have been completely absurd. I mean, we listen to jungle backstage, but I canít really see us playing it. To me, itís like Iíve never felt that weíre in competition with other people. Iíve always thought they we just offer another choice. So the gap didnít really come into it.

PCC:
But having grown musically, is your whole perspective on The Cureís music different from what it was 20 years ago, when you were starting out?

SMITH:
Yeah, I think the biggest difference is that I donít sort of screen as much, for want of a better word. I think certainly the first four albums, the first five albums, there was much more of a mentality with what we did that it was us against the world. And that is probably true for most bands, when you start out, because youíre kind of fighting to be heard. And probably ever since the ďHead on the DoorĒ album, everything weíve done, Iíve had a different feeling as to what weíve done. Iím much more intent on creating something that Iím happy with. In some ways, itís weird, because I havenít cared as much about what other people think and yet, the album ďThe Head on the DoorĒ has been the most popular one. So thatís weird.

PCC:
Do you worry much about image, how people are perceiving you?

SMITH:
Again, thereís not very much I can do about it. We can release a single like ďFriday Iím In LoveĒ and weíll still get reviews that say weíre doom and gloom and say weíre the kings of mope rock and stuff. Itís just one of those things. There was a period in the early 80s when we were exploring a darker side of things and I was incredibly miserable and I was really fed up with everything. And I suppose thatís just stuck. It doesnít seem to make any difference what we do. I think the people who people who like this group, fans of ours, realize there is a diversity in what we do.

The sets that weíre playing on this tour so far, weíre kind of covering just about everything. Weíre playing for three hours. We play about 35 songs a night. And itís kind of bringing it home to me - I think weíve done about 75 songs already, in about 15 shows - that we can put together sets that are incredibly morose or we can put together this like stream of idiot pop single after idiot pop single. So it really depends on whether you like the band or not. I think people who donít, it doesnít really matter what we do, because theyíll always think of us dressed in black, living by candlelight.

PCC:
But what about personally, Iím sure a lot of people approach you and assume you are the king of darkness and gloom. That must be kind of a burden, isnít it?

SMITH:
In the past, I used to kind of play along with it. I donít know whether I didnít want to disappoint people or whether I was just like so flattered, that I would play up to their preconceptions. But I havenít done that since, I donít know, certainly since ďDisintegration.Ē Iím aware, when people come up to me, they do walk away disappointed, because they want me to somehow illuminate their lives. And I canít. I canít illuminate my own most of the time.

I donít know, the only thing that ever really gets to me is if I feel that thereís a potential audience that has been put off the group, because of what they think weíre like. And they donít really give us a chance. Thatís the side of the media criticism of us that I donít like.

I mean, on the personal side, there is a bunch of incredibly obsessive fans who read a lot more into what we do than sometimes is there. But the thing about it is, Iím really kind of loathe to criticize it, because theyíre getting something out of what weíre doing, on an emotional level, which I canít criticize, because I get that from it, as well. Itís just in a different way. So if people sometimes misinterpretÖ

The thing about it is, people forget that the songs come out of like a small part of life. About one percent of my time is to do with that side of creating things and the other 99 percent of my life is pretty normal in most regards. I shop. I cook. I wash up. I do normal things. But there is a small part of me that wants to create something. I think itís that that people latch onto. But unfortunately, they think that is me. And it isnít.

PCC:
But people, young people especially, when theyíre depressed and they hear something they can relate to and identify with, it can create a bond, where they at least feel theyíre not alone.

SMITH:
Yeah, Iíve done that myself in the past. I did it myself, when I was younger. And through being in The Cure, Iíve been to a lot of different places and met a lot of different people. And a lot of people, Iíve really got on with, a lot of people I empathize with. So I can really understand. It does make a difference knowing that someone else understands what you mean, particularly meeting people who are stuck in communities where they just donít fit. And so their only recourse is a group like us. They kind of feel, ďWell, thereís another world out there.Ē

When I was at home, growing up, living in Crawley, which is like a suburb, south of London, I used to listen to Jimi Hendrix. He used to make me think there is a f-cking brilliant world out there that this man lives in. And I used to want to live in it, as well. So I can understand it.

PCC:
So you felt like an outsider yourself, growing up?

SMITH:
Yeah. Half of me did.The weird thing is, I used to, well, still do occasionally play football. So I had a weird growing up. Iíd play for the school football team, but then Iíd also be one of the weirdos who was in a band. But Iíve always enjoyed both sides of life [laughs]. The thing is, itís become very fashionable in England now to like soccer. Yet, through most of the last 20 years, people look at me incredulously when I say I like football. And I read books. Like you canít possibly do both.

PCC:
The things that you want to explore in the music, does it tend to be less of the upbeat, happy things that inspire you lyrically?

SMITH:
Yeah, Iíve always found it much more difficult to write happy songs. And I think itís probably because, when Iím happy, which I am a lot more of the time now, I donít really write a song. I donít feel motivated. My songwriting, originated out of, when I was very young, my Dad used to tell me, if there was anything bothering me, I should write it down. Externalizing it would solve half the problem, if I could look at it, look at what was bothering me. And it just grew out of that.

So itís kind of something I developed, if things were bothering me, I would write them down and that turned into songwriting. So being happy doesnít bother me [chuckles]. So a song like ďMint Car,Ē in some sense, is more contrived than the more miserable songs, the more downbeat songs, because I had to think how I feel when Iím happy and write it down, because when I am really happy, the last thing I want to do is sit down and get involved in writing a song, because Iím usually happy doing something else.

PCC:
But when youíre in a relationship thatís working well and everything seems great, do you have to worry about whether itís going to have a negative effect creatively?

SMITH:
No, no [laughs]. The biggest difference in ďWild Mood SwingsĒ and all the other albums is even a lot of the first-person songs are not me. Iíve been observing people a lot more. And thereís a lot of bad stuff that goes on without me having to be the focus of it. Thereís also a degree of what I presume is still called ďpoetic license,Ē which people kind of miss. If I only wrote about what I really did, there would be very little subject matter. I mean, I do do a lot of things that, I suppose are out of the ordinarily, particularly when weíre on tour. But a lot of the songs are make-believe, just my way of entering a fantasy world. Because I am really happy.

Iíve got a home now, which Iíve never had before. And doing this tour is the first time Iíve really had to wrench myself away from somewhere that I can call home. And so the concert has to make it more worthwhile, so everyone has to pitch in and do a bit more. So I think thatís why the shows on this tour, I think, have been the best we have ever done, because I need them to be the best ones that weíve ever done, because otherwise, Iíd rather be at home.

PCC:
And home is in the country?

SMITH:
The seaside in England. By the beach.

PCC:
Are you married now?

SMITH:
Yeah, Iíve been married for eight years.

PCC:
That doesnít turn out to be a problem with all the touring?

SMITH:
I havenít found it does. But Iím married to somehow who loves me for what I am, for what Iím like. Otherwise it doesnít work.

PCC:
Any kids?

SMITH:
No. And I donít really think Iíll ever have them. Iíve got a lot of nephews and nieces though - 17 - and I much prefer the role of uncle to father.

PCC:
What do you enjoy about the role of uncle?

SMITH:
Well, it allows me to have very little responsibility and teach them all the bad things [laughs].

PCC:
Such as?

SMITH:
Like how to spit well. And why you can piss in car parks. No, it just means we can have them through a weekend and it just gives me an excuse to be really childishÖ and then hand them back over. Itís a bit selfish really. But itís good. I had an uncle when I was very young and he was pretty weird and I really used to enjoy spending time with him. And I wanted to be an uncle like that, who they would look forward to come and see.

The age range is one-month old, to, my oldest nephew is 21 this year. So they all want different things. The older ones want my life experience. They want to ask me questions. They want to get the real answers, the proper answers to things that are going on in the playground. The younger ones just want to be taken out.

The thing about it is, in the time that Iíve had off, in the gaps that Iíve had, it also allowed me to re-establish ties with my family and also with friends that I havenít seen in years. Because one of the things about being in a touring band, a band that doesnít just work in the studio, you get cut off an awful lot from the outside world. Itís very difficult to maintain friendships and ties. And that has changed my perspective on a lot of things.

That has also added to my general happiness, because itís made me less self-centered, having children around. I mean, Simon in the groupís got children and it does have an amazing difference on adultsÖ sometimes not as much as it should, because a lot of people are frightened to let go. They do when theyíre at home, but when they step outside and theyíve got kids, they become adults again. And I think itís good to just kind of let go.

PCC:
Thereís always the danger of letting the music become your whole world.

SMITH:
Yeah, well, it has. Thatís why I needed to take a break. I realized at the end of the week that I didnít have any other friends that werenít part of the group, which I had needed. I felt quite scared by it. It felt unnatural.

PCC:
Is your wife involved in music?

SMITH:
She plays piano, but she doesnít do it for a living.

PCC:
Are there any darker themes that you wanted to explore, maybe touching on aging and mortality?

SMITH:
I donít know really. I found it quite difficult to arrive at the result that I wanted. It took me a lot of time to get the words right. And I think that probably the next thing we do would be instrumental. Iíd like to do a film soundtrack, because I worry that I will start going on about getting older, like thereís anything I can do about it. There isnít. And Iím never going to be resolved to the fact. I know that Iím not going to get any wiser. But I donít really feel like I should delve into that. It isnít the kind of thing people want to hear - certainly not the kind of thing I want to hear from anyone else.

I can get away with it like with the song ďWant,Ē which in some ways does kind of reflect that. But it doesnít matter what age you are - anyone who sits down and thinks, realizes that you make choices, you take options, you cut off all the other choices and you reduce all your other options. You choose a path and thatís it. You canít go back and wish youíd done something different. And ďWantĒ is a song basically around that theme.

But I donít really want to be in a position where Iím either like self-congratulatory or Iím feeling sorry for myself. And the middle ground is becoming increasingly more difficult for me to get excited about, to write songs where I feel I can illuminate a subjects, that I can actually give something to other people to think about. In that respect, Iíve got back into reading a lot and Iím realizing that there are other people out there who can say things better. I would like just to do something that musically conveys emotion, rather than relying on me singing. And also, people wouldnít be able to say, ďOh, that sounds like The CureĒ [laughs]. They wouldnít know.

PCC:
Would this be something along the lines of ambient music?

SMITH:
Weíve been talking with some people in London about getting involved in a film project, from the start, the inception, and actually following the whole thing through, getting involved in the production of it and actually helping with the financing and stuff. And doing the music. And that kind of project would be a challenge. Iím not really sure that Iíd like to just go back into the studio and make another Cure album. I just donít feel motivated. The gap, the four years in some ways, was because I didnít feel like making a record. And I donít ever want to go into the studio and think like, ďWell, this is what I do for a living,Ē because it would just be wrong.

PCC:
Would The Cure be on camera, as well?

SMITH:
UhÖ like a cameo, idiot, walk-on part [laughs]. Yeah, maybe. I donít know. Iím just certainly to the point where Iíd like to try something different.

PCC:
What sort of films do you tend to like, as an audience member?

SMITH:
Iím very diverse in my taste. But I have noticed, being over here, Iíve watched quite a lot of films I wouldnít normally watch. And so many of them are bad. Most films are so obvious. You know how the film is going to end, five minutes into it. The only film that really interested me that Iíve seen in the last month was ďTwelve Monkeys,Ē and that was only purely because I wasnít sure, because it was Terry Gilliam, if it was going to have a happy ending. Heís one of the few people in cinema today, on a bigger scale, who will make a film where it isnít a feel-good film, where it isnít necessarily going to be a happy ending. And thatís whatís wrong with most films.

If you know how itís going to finish up, itís either going to be like this sickly, sentimental, maudlin, ďOh, isnít that sad?Ē Or ďLetís go out of the cinema and feel really happy.Ē Thereís seems to be very little real experimenting going on. Itís funny, we talked on the bus yesterday, we recently saw ďJacobís Ladder.Ē I had no expectations and I remember watching it and as it went on, I thought, ďThis is a brilliant idea, really, really well executed.Ē And itís that kind of film, the film that makes you think, where youíre not quite sure whatís going on, thatís the kind of film I find worth seeing.

PCC:
Doing ďSaturday Night Live,Ē was that a big decision - doing American live TV?

SMITH:
In the past Iíve always felt rather uncomfortable with the notion of doing that sort of show. But I really wanted us to come back and effectively say, ďThis is us. This is The Cure. This is what we look like. This is what we do.Ē It was just like an easy, three-minute hit. Although it didnít really work. It was a very uncomfortable atmosphere and I felt very ill at ease.

PCC:
Why was it so uncomfortable?

SMITH:
I donít know. I was just in a very weird frame of mind that day. I donít know. It was one of those things.

PCC:
You met with Jerry Seinfeld after the show. Were you familiar with his work?

SMITH:
Yeah, I think heís really funny. I also met Dennis Rodman, which was even more of a thrill [laughs].

PCC:
You follow the NBA?

SMITH:
Not really, but I like him. I think heís a good personality. It was funny. No one dared make any jibes about me wearing makeup, because he had full makeup on, as well, and he didnít get any shit for it.

PCC:
And youíre into hockey?

SMITH:
Not really. Iím just wearing an NHL shirt each night. Itís sort of a mixture of saves me having to think about what Iím going to wear and a kind of creepiness, when I walk out on stage and people cheer just because of the fact that Iím wearing a shirt. Some of them are quite appealing. I havenít worn one every night, because some of the teamsí colours are so hideous, I refuse to wear them. I think Philadelphia was about the worst so far. But some of them are really good. Like the Penguins one is excellent, really good shirt. Tonightís one is a bit weird, itís got a big picture of an Indian on the front [Portland]. Iím not sure if Iím going to pull it off tonight.

I donít even know who the team is until I get there, apart from the Penguins, because when they won the Stanley Cup, I actually went for a drink with them. I think that was í92, the ďWishĒ tour. They were throwing a party. We were playing in PIttsburgh and the local promoter got us an invite. We didnít know who they were or what the Stanley Cup was. We just went along and sat ourselves in this roomful of these incredibly big, drunken blokes. And there was kind of tense atmosphere for about half a minute. And I think it was Lemieux, Mario Lemieux, came up and bought me a beer and the ice melted. And we got on very well. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I just pretended that I did. I havenít seen a hockey game yet, but I intend to go to one before we leave, seriously. I feel duty bound.

PCC:
Are you going to do something big for the 20th anniversary of the band?

SMITH:
Iím not sure. The last anniversary thing we did was probably marking 10 years. So weíre probably due. And weíll probably do some kind of video - 20 years of The Cure. Weíve got a couple ideas, kind of more unusual things - my Top 10 Cure songs reinterpreted, played on different instrumentsÖ or acoustically or something. And weíre doing a book and we might tie that in with an interactive CD-Rom that will interact with our website and all that.

There are a million and one ideas. Weíve drawn up a list, practical and impractical suggestions. The best impractical one was to get all the ex-members of The Cure together and do an L.A. show, a New York show and a London show and a Paris show and do five nights in each place, with five different lineups, same songs from that period. The likelihood of that happening is pretty remote [laughs]. But you never know.

PCC:
The number 20, does that have a special significance to you, just having survived that long as a band?

SMITH:
Yeah, I think itís a combination of things that kind of tells me that next year should mark a change in what we do, certainly in what I do, because I just feel that Iím getting to an age, as well, where I am running out of time to learn how to do something different. I need to explore other avenues. Itíll be good. I just donít want to keep going on with The Cure for no good reason.

I mean, itís always there. Even if we celebrate 20 years and we donít do anything for another 10, if I ever want to sort of like dig it back up, not for like a reunion thing, but like the nameís still there. I think there would be a tacit understanding between everybody that we have reached a point where thatís it, that we have already done what we wanted to do as The Cure. And we can still work together, but maybe do it under a different name. And have a clean start. Because Iím really proud of the history, like I said earlier on, it does carry with it a certain amount of baggage.

PCC:
So the 20th year will probably bring some sort of halt to The Cure?

SMITH:
Yes, I think so. I mean, the others kind of nervously laugh, when I say it. But I think they all, somewhere inside, realize that thereís something right about it. It feels right. I would like us, as a group, to survive this year and do something next year. But I donít really want to just like carry on in the same way and celebrate 25 years of The Cure, because it just doesnít feel right.

PCC:
When you talk about it being time to learn to do something else, is that an exciting proposition or a scary one?

SMITH:
A mixture of both, really. I know that I can do this. Iíve always played music and it seems like Iíve always written songs. To attempt to do something else, whether it be involved with film or even actually just sitting down and giving myself a year to write something with more substance to it, I know I might not be able to do it. So there is a mixture of both those things.

But the thing is, Iím aware that I can fall into complacency, because I know that what we do can be really good and I know that I can create something that other people will find appealing. But there has to be an element where Iím pushing myself and finding something out about myself - otherwise, it doesnít mean anything. And I think with this new lineup, with Jason [Cooper, drums] coming into the group, it has given me a spark and Iím determined that this will be the best tour weíve done and theyíre going to be the best concerts.

And Iíve told everyone, if I see anyone with a long face, if I hear anyone moaning about the stuff that weíre doing, then they can just go, because, if Iím doing it, and Iím happy, then everyone should be.Thatís the way it works [laughs]. So I donít want to just keep doing it because itís my job, because itís never been like that.

PCC:
Do you think maybe several years down the line, in retrospect, people will have a more favorable reaction to ďWild Mood SwingsĒ?

SMITH:
Well, thatís what I always think about, and especially this time. Because the reaction was kind of muted, I thought, give us a year. And I think when itís compared to other albums that have been released this year, it will be up there. Well, I think it is, anyway. Of course, if I put it out and I thought it was rubbish, I would be an idiot.