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Robert Interview with HLN (May 2012)

Note: Robert says this interview is NOT new. He hasn't done any interviews for Holland and it's all from old interviews and the new stuff is made up. (Thanks Robert & Roger)

Part 1 (as posted here by HLN)

"What would people say if I was to step on stage in a white tux!?"

Soon, at Pinkpop, the Cure kicks off a series of gigs that will see the British band headlining nearly every major European summer festival. This is remarkable if you think that the band has not had a proper hit since 1992. "You'll like him, I'm sure", said a mutual friend who had arranged the interview with Robert Smith, key figure of The Cure "And I'm guessing he'll like you too.” And what happened? Once talking the chat was like a Cure gig: long and good. Today part 1.

Brussels 1982
“That was my dad’s fault” claims Robert Smith.

Come on.

Smith: "Really. In a bar in Stratsbourgh things got so out of hand that I just took the first flight home. For me it was over and out. But when I unexpectedly showed up home, my dad wouldn’t let me in: you have a responsibility as an entertainer, he said. People have bought tickets, get yourself back on tour. And so…”

We are talking about the gig The cure did on Friday 11 June 1982 in the AB. A ticket was 320 Franks. The Cure as a band had no hits yet and after the gig at the Ancienne Belgique it is a miracle they ever got any. “pornography” was released on 03 May that year and had to be promoted by a tour that started 2 days later in Holland and via Belgium, Germany and France would end in Brussels. During the first phase- Grivenee, Turnhout, Berchem, Deinze, Genk,- nothing seemed wrong. But the fact was that things were not working out in the band. There were tensions between Simon Gallup and Smith and that had lots to do with “too many drugs and drink and stuff”. On May 27th, in Stratsbourgh, the bass player and singer got into a fist fight about a bar bill.

Smith rejoined the tour after the scolding by his father and dutifully finished the 9 final shows in France (amongst others at the Olympia in Paris) but something was broken and in Brussels, right before the final gig, the pressure erupted.

Smith:”I remember that we were in the dressing room and I thought in one hour the Cure is finished. So I thought: let’s make it a memorable goodbye.”

So just before the encore, Smith declared backstage that he would play drums. Gallup snatched Smiths guitar and Lol Tolhurst played bass. It sounded awful. To make things worse, Cure roady and Gallup’s drinking buddy, Gary Biddles, came on stage and shouted “Robert Smith is a cunt” in the microphone. Smith reacted by throwing the drum sticks at the back of the head of Gallup, yelled “fuck off” and that appeared to be the end of The Cure. Smith and Gallup would no exchange a word for 18 months.

Smith:”Ah yes. But thanks for reminding me of that, cheers.”

There’s a time and place for everything, even drink.

Smith toasts with orange juice. That used to be different. Seldom has a band existed that could drink like this one, an old tour manager once told me. Legend has it that in the 10 weeks they spent recording Kiss me at the Chateau Miraval ( in 2009 purchased by Pit and Jolie) the cure drank the wine cellar dry of the 400 hectare estate. Not that Smith has sworn off the stuff completely, but:”there’s a time and a place for drinking.”

To be honest, you were never the nicest person to interview when sober.

Smith:”Mmmm. Okay. There was a time where the only way to get through a day of interviews meant that I needed 2 drinks before every talk. As a result I have talked a lot of shit. Especially to journalists who didn’t have a great grasp of English. But hey, as time passes, you know… You tend to worry more… and… euh…”

Smith seems to sink away in his own world, doesn’t get his words out, but then suddenly he straightens up and and says seriously:”yes, and I came here by car”.

In 2012 Robert Smith turns out to be a great interviewee . Erudite, open, playful and even a little naughty. He constantly uses his hands to demonstrate what he is saying. He turned 53 on 21 April but still has the air of a teenager I think. A bit like the Peter Pan of the generation that grew up with thoughts of doom. He claims he only does interviews these days as a favour to friends and that it “isn’t his thing at all” and that he’s not sorry to be recognised less and less in the street.

The Crow and The Penguin

He seems genuine. Smith’s body language reveals shyness and the instinctive tendency to go for corners and walls as if he is trying to camouflage himself away. Also politically I can’t get much out of him “call me moderately left” Let it be clear: this man is not an attention seeker.

But what with that, well yes, dramatically gravity fighting hairdo, the lipstick and the same old black outfit? Smith swears by his traditional look, imitated by an army of loyal fans, till this day. In the UK Goth Juice was all the rage recently. Hair gel, born from a comedy sketch with as sales pitch: The most powerful hairspray known to man. Made from the tears of Robert Smith”.

Smith: “ Yeah, good one, I had to laugh about that. They were actually selling that stuff, it looked like monkey sperm”

But why does he dress and use make up in 2012 as he did in 1984?

Smith:”Well, Why wouldn’t Robert Smith do that I then ask myself. The simple answer is: because I feel good like this”

And what is the more complicated answer?

Smith:”All kinds of reasons. Why are you dressed in black? Why is your hair up?”

Because I feel it slims me down and my hair looks terrible otherwise. And maybe a little because I model myself after the days when comedians like you made an impression with this look. This last bit is what my wife would say.

Smith:”Good one. Okay then: maybe it’s an expression of a life long problem with authority. That’s how it started anyway. It wasn’t allowed in school. A classic case of rebellion, but also: my Mary likes me this way. We need to look after that side too. And so you come to a point where you just want to keep it as you are used to it. It's an identifying process I've kept down the years. It would be quite something if I’d change now. What would people think if I graced the festival stages in a white tux?

He’s lost his mind.

Smith: "Exactly!”

And it would not be a pretty sight with that hair.

Smith:”True! Look! A crow is pooping on a penguin on stage! Ah, no, it’s that guy from The Cure.” (after this follows a lecture on the challenges of he compulsive hair gel user. To be exact: Robert Smith currently uses a mix of L’Oreal Studio Line Indestructible Gel and Alberto VO5 Extreme Style Roughitup Putty. His favourite lipstick is M.A.C. Ruby Red. This last bit I had to ask for my wife. Seriously. Smith does his own make up because ‘I really hate it when strangers touch my face’)

As blind as a Smith.

It’s remarkable how Robert Smith doesn’t mind talking about his eccentricities and not because he thinks they make him interesting. Take this fact: he’s reasonable near sighted, should really wear lenses or glasses but only does so for driving. Why? vanity?

Smith:”It gives me a sense of privacy”

Huh? You can’t see sharp beyond one meter and…

Smith:”the idea that I can’t see people staring is, erm, comfortable.”

So you don’t see the audience when you’re on stage.

Smith:”I see them but not sharp”

I’m not Goth (but written cleverly in Flemish so it also kinda reads as “I’m not God”)

Sobering news for ladies who have been making eyes at the panda of doom and for traditional Robert clones in the first row at the gigs: the ubergoth can’t see it. But don’t call him that!

Smith:” I’ve nothing against goths but it’s just not correct. We have at least 30 songs in our set that makes the average goth run a mile when they hear them.”

Whether they are goths or not, your fans are remarkable: Fanatical, loyal as dogs and spread all over the world. For last years 3 nights with 45 song sets at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, tickets were exchanging hands for 2000 euro on the black market. Not bad for a band who’s last real hit was in 1992.

Smith:”Yes, but no one should pay that for a ticket to see us, I was sad about that, we did try our best to cut out the black market. Recently a guitar of mine was sold on ebay for a ridiculous amount. I reacted to that: don’t do it, it’s madness.”

Tomorrow: The upcoming festivals, why we have to pay for music, mrs Robert Smith and the youth of today

Thanks to Vicky for the English translation.

 Part 2 (as posted here by HLN)

"The Cure let millions pass by sticking to principles"

At Pinkpop later this month, The Cure sets off for a number of concerts as the headliner on almost all important European summer festivals. The second part of our big Robert Smith interview discusses these festivals, the reasons why The Cure seldom plays short sets and the retirement age for rockers. And why the panda bear of doom gets worked up about free music.

Should the Cure ever quit, it's my guess that we'll always regret having underestimated Robert Smith - well, especially the past 20 years. The show they did on August 6, 1986 in Béziers is still one of the best concerts I ever attended. The Cure simply was the best rock band on earth these days. But in the nineties, the world somehow lost attention. Which might in the first place be due to new upcoming styles (like grunge and, later on, britpop). Fact is that after the mediocre Wild Mood Swings, Robert Smith struck back with the excellent records Bloodflowers, The Cure and 4:13 Dream - records that are at least as good and maybe even better than the ones that made them the only alternative band that was able to sell millions of records in the eighties and to claim a place in the hit parades together with Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Prince. It's just that nobody seemed to listen anymore.

12-string Bob

For the record: Smith is one of the most talented, but also one of the most underestimated guitar players of the rock scene. During the rehearsals I attended, he often reaches for a 12-string. We see him excel in a 10-minute version of Same Deep Water As You, a song that will probably not make the setlist "because a lot of the festivals assign us ridiculously short time slots" - but also in A Night Like This in which a Robert Smith solo replaces the sax.

Less is not more

The Cure and long set lists, they are hand in glove. Those who attended the 1981 Werchter concert surely remember the fuck you statement at the end of a largely extended version of A Forest, as a reaction to the crew members of headliner Robert Palmer (yes, those were different days). The Cure played a set of 13 songs that day, five to six below their average back then. At the 1986 Pinkpop festival, where The Cure were headlining a big festival for the first time in their career, they played 18 songs, six less than in Béziers three months later. Those were very long sets at that time, but nowadays a standard Cure concerts lasts for at least two and a half hours in which about 35 songs are performed and the last series of concerts last autumn even contained 45.

One could wonder whether this kind of performance is still relevant on festivals in 2012, where the iPod generation can see four times as many bands on stage. Less is more, Robert Smith?

Smith: "That's another advantage of not seeing very well: when people tend to fall asleep, I just don't notice - haha. No, it probably has to do with a 1974 concert of David Bowie that I attended and which gave me some kind of a trauma. I had really saved up for a Bowie concert for a long time and it was great, but after 40 minutes the show was over and I was really upset. I had looked forward to this concert for months, I was expecting a magical evening and fuck, it only lasted for 40 minutes! Fifteen minutes later I was on the bus back home and the thought struck me that I'd never do such a thing to anyone. This feeling has never left me - call it good work ethics: people pay a lot to see us play, so we'll give them value for their money.

What will the set list be like for the upcoming summer festivals?

"There's no new record and let's face it, there will be a lot of people who weren't even born when we released our first hits. They don't buy a ticket to see The Cure - for them The Cure in 2012 are just part of the weekend. It would be stupid not to play our most popular songs."

So we can expect a greatest hits kind of shows, with songs from the entire back catalogue (although no songs from Wild Mood Swings and Bloodflowers are on the list so far, but songs from 4:13 Dream and The Cure are).

I think you're underestimating the fact that you're playing 18 festivals among which Werchter, Roskilde, Pinkpop and Reading. They don't ask The Cure to headline without a reason. You're hot again - a new generation of bands have declared their love to you; Tim Burton recently said Disintegration is the best record ever and listening to The Cure makes him creative. Win Butler (Arcade Fire) wears his Cure T-shirts and states that "in my childhood, Robert Smith and The Cure made me see there was an alternative, that there exists a world of music that isn't mainstream, but nonetheless relevant."

Smith: "Nice of him."

In the States, you're like the demi-god of alternative music. It turns out The Cure is the second most bootlegged band in the world.

Smith: "Number one being?"

The Grateful Dead.

Smith: "Ouch."

And all this while you've declared yourself to be an opponent of free music?

"Wait a second: I've never demanded to take someone's recording device at a Cure show. I've no problem at all with bootlegs. I do have a problem however with some bands' stupid idea to give away their music for free. If they think they can earn enough money from concerts only, they're wrong. Take it from an old hand. Sooner or later, for one reason or the other, you will not be able to perform anymore. Or maybe they just don't want you to anymore. And then you have nothing to fall back on."

"I believe the music business itself is responsible for its decline. Fans had to pay ludicrous amounts of money for music, that situation simply couldn't last. But that doesn't mean an artist shouldn't ask something for his creations. Not doing so is like saying: "What I do is unimportant, it sucks." That's just not going to work, I really don't get that.

Radiohead tried a middle course. At first, they let people decide what they wanted to pay for 'In Rainbows'. Afterwards, when the record was released the regular way, it still made it to No. 1 in the UK and the US.

"Yes, and I commented on this and people got angry at me."

You were the naughty capitalist. Which can be considered a natural reaction, given the fact that you've always been clever regarding business, everyone knows.

"It's true that I always tried to be pulling the strings and don't let management people interfere - what we could do by ourselves, we did by ourselves. It was just, well, common sense. And yes, I hate record labels, I hate branding, I hate all this corporate shit. We never allowed The Cure's music to be used in commercials. We're talking about a lot of money here, but I still believe it was the right thing to do, such things devalue your music."

The Cure never were "the big rock stars". And you still live together with your wife, your first love, Mary - for 35 years now.

"That helps a lot. We're not 'that kind' of band. We never really had groupies. The point is: if you're sincere, as an artist, you can't let people decide what they pay for your work. That's nonsense. I do expect that people pay a certain, fair amount of money for our creations. If they don't want to, I'll have to live with that. It's part of the deal."

Why can you get so upset about this?

"I don't have to take it to be placed on the same level as, let's say, the bankers of The City because of my opinion regarding all this. The Cure has raised a lot of money in the past for charity, more than Coldplay for instance. Last year, we released a live CD of which some media argued that it was another attempt to get people's money by releasing old shit over and over again, while the entire profit was for charity.

Will you ever retire, Robert?

"That's a tough one. I can't deny that I've never really given it a thought, but as of now: no, I'm still having a good time!"

When is it time to quit?

"Ah. I thought about that. I believe you should quit at the time you have the feeling that being on stage is the only thing left in your life."

By which you mean: there's more to life than The Cure for Robert Smith. Like the woman you met 35 years ago.

"Ha, everyone is making such a big deal about that, while there are many couples living together for their entire life. I was just lucky to meet the right one early in my life, that's all.

"It's very comfortable, you know, having such a hectic life like mine, to be able to fall back to a piece of normal life. I can really enjoy that: to be together with my wife at the same place, our home, where things are where they were before and where all is normal. I live close to the place where I grew up, it's just perfect that way. And although we don't have any children ourselves, there's a lot of nephews and nieces to keep uncle Bob and aunt Mary company. Ha ha." 

Thanks to Jeroen for the English translation.