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Friday, July 27, 2007

Playing their last show, again

The Cure return to Japan after 20 years


Special to The Japan Times

"This year is 30 years since I first went onstage with a band called The Cure and 2009 will be 30 years since our first album," says proto-goth Robert Smith, speaking via telephone on a suitably ghoulish Friday the 13th.

News photo
Robert Smith (second from left) finally brings his long-running band The Cure back to Japan to headline Fuji Rock Festival '07 on Friday night.

Headlining this weekend's Fuji Rock Festival '07 will be the first time The Cure have played in Japan since 1984. Focusing on his past has given Smith time to reflect on his band's legacy.

"I've been involved in the reissues and, listening back to things like (The Cure's 1979 debut album) 'Three Imaginary Boys,' it feels like I'm listening to a different person," he muses. "It's totally different to singing the old songs onstage. I really get a sense of how long I've been doing it."

For a band that has been renowned for its lineup changes — there are, in total, a dozen musicians who have been members at one time or another — the current lineup is fairly true to the original Cure, with original members Smith and drummer Porl Thompson, as well as bassist Simon Gallup, who first joined the band in 1980. Smith disagrees with the perception of The Cure as a band in constant flux.

"If you look at the lineup changes and don't take into account that this is over a 30-year period, it seems like a lot, but most of those changes were over the first seven or eight years," he says. "The last lineup was together for 10 years, which is longer than most bands are together in total, so it's a long time since I've thought of the band as a volatile entity."

If there were any doubts about the scope of The Cure's influence, then the recent raft of bands who owe a debt to their sound must surely have put an end to them. Smith — who invited The Rapture, Muse and Interpol to support the 2004 "Curiosa" tour of the United States — is enthusiastic about his band's status as an inspiration for young bands.

"Take Interpol — when we played with them they were fantastic. I mean, Mogwai were playing, they're my favorite band in the world ever," says Smith, "but on that tour I felt Interpol were the band that just beat all the other bands off stage."

While he likes some Cure-influenced bands more than others, he is most gratified by bands who "try to forge their own way in their own terms."

The Cure's last, self-titled, album was released in 2004, and the long wait for new material to emerge has led to rumors that Smith has been suffering from writer's block. According to Smith, the delay has been the result of the opposite problem.

"It was really relaxed and it worked brilliantly — we ended up with more than 30 songs. I had words for about a dozen but there was far too much so I decided to take some time off," he says.

Since then, Smith has been involved in mixing a Cure live DVD as well as working on the reissues. The extra space this has given him has allowed the new album to grow still further in scope.

"We could make this into a double album, where we can use the bridges from some songs to make a coherent whole," Smith says. "If it works, it'll be the best thing we've ever done, but if it doesn't, we'll still have a good single album. I want to take this opportunity to do something big."

This constant, self-imposed pressure to top the band's previous output lies behind the frequent claim that each new album would be the last, a claim that accompanied the release of most Cure albums up to and including 2000's "Bloodflowers."

" 'Bloodflowers' was conceived and executed as the final word, but in the end, we just enjoyed doing it so much. 'The Cure,' as you can imagine from the title, was made as our last album as well, and it really was the final album with that band," he says. "I always encourage the band to think of each album as our last one. I think this one should be as well."

The Cure don't limit this approach to their recordings though. Smith says that "when we play live, I tell them to treat it as if it's the last gig we'll ever play. I don't do the dramatic pronouncements any more, but I still say it to myself: 'It has to be the best thing we've ever done.' "

With Fuji Rock being The Cure's first appearance in Japan for more than 20 years, Smith is still deciding on the band's approach.

"Festivals can go one of two ways. If we're playing on quite a mixed bill, we'll try to play something that's more accessible, because we don't want to be bludgeoning them over the head with 15-minute epics," Smith says. "With festivals, what you have to remember is that they're not about the band — they're about the festival itself."

For a man with such a fearsome reputation for gloominess, Smith talks wistfully about the "communal" feeling of some festivals and criticizes others where "so much of the music is kind of the same that by the time you get on, you want to do something different."

At the heart of The Cure, there has always been a desire to please, which Smith puts down to the tunes: "If you take an album like 'Pornography' and strip away the production, there are still tunes. I know there are some bands who don't want to make music that's accessible, which always seems strange to me. I don't think that makes art more viable in any way."

The Cure play the Green Stage at Fuji Rock Festival '07 on July 27, 9:30 p.m. Tickets are still available through Pia at t.pia.co.jp.


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