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What Ails Him? online exclusive 

The Cure's Robert Smith reveals the man behind the makeup

Wednesday, Feb 23 2000
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RW: Do you make music for the same reasons you did when you started this band?

RS: "There's two threads running through what I do. There's a part of it that's just the creation of music from nothing, just sitting down and writing songs. It's something I did a long time before The Cure and something I will do a long time after The Cure. I enjoy doing that more than anything else in my life. That's the reason I started, because I kind of wanted to share that with other people. I really enjoy playing music with other people. Writing music is just sort of what I do, and I find it to be the most natural thing in the world. I've never, ever had a problem with writing music. It's something I do, and I can't do anything else. I'm no good at painting or sculpture; I'm not artistic in the slightest. But I am able to write music. I'm always thinking of things and having pictures in my head when I'm writing, and I jot them down and develop them. It's something I need to get out of my system, and that's always a natural thing, something I've always done. Putting those two things together, making a song that's going to be heard by other people, that's what The Cure exists for. This particular band exists for me to fill that need.

"We're getting into kind of weird territory, because why do I want other people to hear what I do? The simplest reason, which is probably the most honest one, is I still hugely enjoy hearing new music that makes me feel something. It only happens with one CD every couple of months, and I will put it on and think it's fantastic, and it makes me feel really, really good, and I've got one more thing to listen to in my life. And I always wanted to add to that pool so that someone somewhere with the same sensibilities as me would listen to what I did and think, 'That's really good.' I figured if no one was making new music, there'd be nothing for me to listen to, so I found it very natural to join it. That was basically it.

"Obviously, beyond that, there are a number of other psychological reasons" -- he laughs just slightly -- "which I have attempted to come to terms with over the years. Some of them are because of my upbringing, because of who I wanted to be; I find some of those reasons very ugly. There's the desire to be heard, and in a strange way, I feel like there's a lack in me somewhere, that I need that to be filled with something, and it's...uh...What it comes down to is as a public performer and someone who's done this thing for a long time, when I'm at home, I find it incredible that I do what I do. I really find it weird. When I'm on stage, I find it really exciting, and I feel ultra-alive. But I miss that side less and less as I get older. I still enjoy it much, but I don't feel the need to do it, so I suspect at some point, the need to make albums and the need for other people to hear what I am doing will probably fade. It has kind of diminished over the years. Obviously, it's going to happen when I die, but I wonder whether it happens before that and I have a period of public inactivity before my demise. Then, it might never happen. I might always feel this little itch. And I think the Internet is there for me to use as an artist. If I do want people to hear what I'm doing, I don't have to make a big deal about it. I can just upload onto our Web site, and it's there if people want to hear what I'm doing as a musician or as a songwriter. I'm lucky in that I don't need to make money out of it anymore and I've got a brand name, if you like, that people will expect to hear something of a certain quality. I can see how I can move away from being out of the public eye as much and as someone people see as being Robert Smith of The Cure."

RW: The thing that fascinates me about bands with loyal, almost cult-like audiences isn't the audience so much as the impact it has upon the performer. What is it like to create that audience, to amass such a diverse group of people who need to hear the same thing, who find the same thing from a stranger? Was there a moment when you realized you were someone to whom an audience would gravitate?

RS: "I know this sounds strange, but I remember signing my first autograph really, really vividly. I remember thinking, 'This is the start. I should remember this moment. It's the start.' We were backstage in Newport in 1978. The next defining moment for me actually was the Pornography tour that we did of Europe where we had an army of people following us around from show to show. It was a ragtag army, and I thought then, 'These people see me as their leader,' and I remember feeling really, really uncomfortable with that. Even now, I must admit, my own self-image is not someone who is at the center of things or who is leading this ragtag army. I feel part of something, but I don't really feel responsible for it. I don't know if that's me tricking myself.

"There's a kind of warmth that exists in the Cure audience, a genuine affection for the band, and I find that's a really great thing to be part of. Even though we're seen as gloom-and-doom a lot of the time, Cure fans get a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction from what we do, and that makes me feel good in turn. But then we get back to the psychological reasons why it makes me feel good, and I don't know. Because I'm not lacking in confidence. Normally, people make a loud noise because they need the approbation of the people, they need the audience to validate what they do, and I've never really felt that. When we've done something for public consumption, I always feel it's worthwhile for me to do it, because I enjoy the process and great satisfaction from making something. But when you do anything for other people and you see other people smile, it makes you feel good. It's a simple human thing."

About The Author

Robert Wilonsky

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