“There are so many misconceptions about The Cure”: an exclusive interview with Robert Smith

Here’s part two of our exclusive interview with the iconic frontman, along with a world-first look at new DVD 'THE CURE 40 LIVE – CURÆTION-25 + ANNIVERSARY'

The Cure’s Robert Smith is in reflective mood, keen to take stock of the many twists in the road that led the band from dingy Crawley pubs in the late ‘70s to June’s stately headline set at Glastonbury 2019.

That Pyramid Stage performance capped off a year of 40th anniversary celebrations for The Cure that began with Smith curating 2018’s Meltdown Festival at London’s Southbank – at which the band delivered a special “‘CURÆTION-25” show, journeying through their back catalogue with one song per album in chronological order for one set, and then an alternate set in reverse order. Things then got a little more grandiose when the band played to 65,000 fans at Hyde Park.

Both of those shows were captured and will be released on the new double DVD, THE CURE 40 LIVE – CURÆTION-25 + ANNIVERSARY this month. The Hyde Park film was directed by long-time collaborator Tim Pope (who made 37 of their iconic music videos as well as the now legendary The Cure In Orange live film). CURÆTION-25, meanwhile, was helmed by Nick Wickham, who shot their 2002 ‘Trilogy’ shows).

To celebrate the release, NME is premiering the lush performance of ‘Want’ from Meltdown (which you can check out below) and can now share part two of our exclusive interview with frontman Robert Smith. We published the exclusive first part back in July, when discussed his legacy, friendship in the band, and what to expect from The Cure’s “merciless” new album.

Part one of our interview for the NME Big Read saw Smith tell us of a rare but prolonged joyous harmonious period within the band. That, and the giddy hit parade they’ve been touring of late, seem somewhat at odds with the “merciless” new record they have on the horizon. Under the working title of ‘Live From The Moon’ and inspired by the recent loss of Smith’s mother, father and brother, their first album in over a decade is said to lurk in the darker shadows of The Cure’s sound. That will all be a part of an extensive history of The Cure that Smith and collaborators are currently working on.

Check out the next instalment of our interview with Smith below, as he tells us of how taking stock and looking to younger artists has inspired their next chapter.

You’re about to release this 40th anniversary DVD. Will it feature the documentary that Tim Pope said he was making about The Cure last year?

“No, that was going to be part of it but when we watched the film back it didn’t hang together or make much sense. It was like a preamble to the show. But Tim [Pope] and I have been working on a history of The Cure. Everything that we’ve done has been digitised; all of the performances, everywhere we’ve played and everything that I’ve got. It’s really just a question of going through all that.”

So that’s still a work in progress?

“I’m doing some sit-down-to-camera interviews and some narration, but we haven’t yet decided what format it’s going to take. At the moment in my mind it is split into four decades. Although in my mind it’s kind of heavily weighted musically with the ‘70s and ‘80s having a lot more albums, I’m still slightly unclear as to what it’ll be. I think after we’ve finished touring, I shall get my mind back around it because I also wanted the new thing we’re doing to be a part of it – that’s why I put a stop to it. I thought, ‘Oh, hang on, this is like the end’, and it isn’t the end. I wanted to incorporate what we do next into the story of The Cure.”

Do you feel that there are any myths about The Cure that you need to dispel?

“I think that would be impossible! They’re too deeply ingrained. There are so many misconceptions about the band. They’re misconceptions from my point of view, and I suppose that’s what I’m getting at. When we do it, it will be The Cure from my perspective. It will be what I think the band has been, what we’ve done, what my role has been in it, how I’ve done it and why I’ve done it.”

“There are so many misconceptions about this band”

A definitive history of the band, then?

“There is no such thing as a ‘definitive’ history of a band. There are facts and figures, but each one of us has completely different memories just about what’s happened this summer alone. We were talking about a show from last week and each one of us had a completely different version of events. None of them are invalid. Obviously to me, there’s only one true story and that’s mine but I’m taking it that it will be a perspective. But, I don’t want to look back on something until I’ve finished doing it and I don’t quite feel ready to do that yet.”

Speaking of laying things to rest, did you see that Morrissey apologised earlier this year over his part in your past feud?

“It was brought to my attention, yeah. It was slightly odd as I haven’t really had it at the forefront of my consciousness over the last 20 or 30 years. I don’t know. Even at the time I never quite understood what the problem was. It’s far from important now.”

The Cure’s Robert Smith, credit: Fryderyk Gabowicz/Picture Alliance/Photoshot; courtesy of Avalon

Tim Pope has made 37 of your music videos. What is it about him that makes such a good match for The Cure?

“That’s quite a difficult question, actually. I think he just has a sort of visual sensibility that seems to work at that end of what we do. Apart from ‘The Cure In Orange’, because even that was slightly quirky because I’d shaved my head the week before – unbeknownst to him. When I turned up he was like ‘What the fuck?’ I wear a wig at the beginning and then pull it off on stage. There was that element of slapstick about the whole thing. Although the show itself was pretty full on, we were young and it was funny. I think Hyde Park is the first thing we’ve done together that’s been serious.”

“Everything we’ve done has been kind of laced with a slightly dark and off-kilter humour”

So there’s a silliness you share?

“Pretty much everything we’ve done has been kind of laced with a slightly dark and off-kilter humour. We both find that funny. His visual references and the way that he does things make me smile. I don’t know how or why he’s doing it. His work, like our songs, is kind of superficially joyful – then you start listening to the words and go, ‘Hold on, he shouldn’t be singing those words to this tune’. I think he was drawn to that side of the band.”

Then ‘CURÆTION-25’ is the opposite of the hit parade. You played one song from each album in chronological order, then went back through your catalogue in reverse.

“Yes, I kind of insisted on it. The two complement each other. Hyde Park was a showy Cure and Meltdown was far more intimate after 10 days of watching great number of my favourite ever bands. I was in a completely different mindset and the band were in a completely different zone too. We played some very obscure stuff.”

And you teamed up with Nick Wickham to direct that. He directed ‘Trilogy’ and your Sydney Opera House shows. What does he bring to the table?

“Nick understood that this needed to be the complete opposite of Hyde Park. With the scale, it’s tiny and all about detail. It’s also very psychedelic by comparison. Hyde Park is very ‘cinema verite’, as they call it, which means ‘dead real’. When we walk on in the sunlight you can see everything and it’s like, ‘ooo’. I’d never seen 4K before and mine was the first face I’d seen close-up so I thought, ‘Oh my God!’”

“I’d never seen 4K before and mine was the first face I’d seen close-up. I thought, ‘Oh my God!’”

Whereas ‘Meltdown’ was more…

“Meltdown is much more ‘arty’. It runs together, there’s a reason behind it, it shows how the band developed, and the thread through the band is there. To me, it’s there even through some songs that you wouldn’t normally like together. It was a concept, which is why I called it ‘CUREATION 25’ instead of The Cure. I thought, ‘Let’s go full hog, this will probably be the only conceptual thing I ever do in my life’. It was really good and completely different to Hyde Park, but also a lot more difficult. I was a lot more worried about it too, funnily enough. An intimate audience is as intimidating as a large audience, just for different reasons. You can hear individual people in between songs and you have the heckling factor, which you don’t really get with a 65,000 crowd.”

The Cure live at Mad Cool 2019

It was quite a line-up you curated for Meltdown (from Nine Inch Nails to The Libertines). What do you think it the thread that connects them all in your mind?

“That is difficult. When they asked me if I could curate Meltdown, my first thought was, ‘Oh, I’m going to make every day different. I’m going to have a different theme each day’. You know like world music one day, then something else and be super arty about the whole thing. Then I kind of sketched it out and thought, ‘This doesn’t work at all’. So I thought ‘What would I like to go and see for 10 days in a row?’ and I just got hold of all of my favourite bands to see which ones would say yes.”

“Obviously to me, there’s only one true story of The Cure and that’s mine”

And they all said yes?

“I approached The Rolling Stones first because I thought if I could get them then I could get anyone, but they said that they were playing Twickenham. So I suggested that they play this as a warm-up and they said no. I also asked Paul McCartney at the same time but he was playing North America. I asked Neil Young the same day as well but he had no intention to come over to England to play a theatre. So then I thought I’d get hold of more contemporary artists and people that I knew. The thread that runs through them all, apart from that I love them all, is that they’re all very unique live.”

On Meltdown: “I spent months watching bands, which in turn led me to want to make new music because they were having so much fun.”

They all have a character?

“They all have a very fantastic presence on stage. What’s the similarity between Mogwai and The Libertines? It’s hard to make a connection in a way, but they both have character. They both walk on stage and it’s something you’ve never seen before. I could probably make a list of words that link them all, but I don’t know. They’re bands that I’ve seen over the years and thought, ‘Wow’. It was about how you perform, I didn’t really care about recorded albums or catalog or influence. That went right through down to the bands that played in the Purcell Room and all the support bands.”

How was it, absorbing yourself with so much new music?

“I spent months watching bands, which in turn led me to want to make new music because they were having so much fun. It had a really energising effect on me. Not just as a musician and a writer, but just as a person – being around a lot of younger people who were incredibly enthused by what they were doing. I’d just lost that a little bit and needed something to bring it back.”

A lot of the bands covered The Cure during Meltdown. Did you record any of them?

“I’ve got them all, yeah. I haven’t got rights to anything and don’t think anyone would want to release them but I was really touched. It’s a weird thing because, like with anyone who grows old, you don’t feel like you’re growing old. Then all of these things happen and you think, ‘Oh God, I’m getting old’. That was the flipside of being surrounded by all these younger artists. When you’re singing some of these songs that are almost 40 years old, you don’t think of them as old songs because you’re inside it and singing it like you first wrote it, but sometimes you’re put into an environment like that and you go, ‘Maybe I really am becoming the Godfather’.”

“You think: ‘Maybe I really am becoming the Godfather’. You just have to manage it. The art of growing old is just how you respond to youth.”

Have you experienced that a lot?

“You walk into a room and people go, ‘Oooh’. You think ‘That’s not me’. I remember going to see Bowie’s Meltdown. I walked into a room and then he walked in behind me and everyone went, ‘Oooh’. For a brief moment I thought, ‘What the fuck?’, before I realised that they were doing it for him. I got a ghost of that at times when I walked in. I go, ‘I’m not that person – I’m not this kind of Godfather person’. It’s inevitable, really. You just have to manage it. The art of growing old is just how you respond to youth.”

The Cure’s Robert Smith and David Bowie. Credit: KMazur/WireImage

You played the new songs ‘It Can Never Be The Same’ and ‘Step Into The Light’ at Meltdown. Will they be on your next album?

“No, there is a second album that accompanies the ‘4:13 Dream’ album, which I was trying to get ready for the 10th anniversary last year, but I never managed it because things got in the way.  But it’s virtually done. It’s another 13 songs that were left over from the sessions. That will come out, probably for its 13th anniversary, because that seems obvious. Those were two of the leftover songs. Although I do really like them and we did discuss re-recording them with this line-up, everyone agreed that we’d rather just do songs that we’d written with this line-up. They’re both on the DVD, although I got one of the lines wrong in ‘It Can Never Be The Same’, which really pissed me off, but there we are.”

You’ve also been playing ‘Disintegration’ in full this year. Are there any plans to play it in the UK?

“It’s unlikely. The reason I agreed to do the livestream on the fifth night of the Sydney Opera House was because if we decided that we weren’t going to do it anywhere else, then everyone would have had the chance to see it. Nick Wickham’s going to cut it together, re-edit it and then put it online later in the year. We were going to do a London show, but honestly I’d rather that the next thing we do is something based around new stuff. I think that would be much more exciting.”

THE CURE 40 LIVE – CURÆTION-25 + ANNIVERSARY will be released on October 18. Pre-order it here.

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