Just weeks before the Cure are set to release their quite excellent thirteenth studio album, simply titled The Cure, Robert Smith is still tweaking it. "I got up at about nine in the morning here in England and just directed things over the phone for eight hours with the studio people in New York," says Smith, 45. "I'd use the Internet, like our producer Ross Robinson does, but I live in a grungy part of the country and I have a bad dial-up connection."
If Smith is nervous about the new record, it's only because the band's stature has grown immensely in the four years since its last release, 2000's Bloodflowers. During that time, a number of alternative bands have come out of the closet and expressed their adamant devotion to the group. Several of them will be opening for the band this summer on the inaugural Curiousa Festival 2004 tour, including the Rapture, Interpol, Thursday and Cursive. "It would have been particulary stupid for me to put together a lineup of bands I wouldn't want to see myself," says Smith. "I always place myself as the archetypal Cure fan. I'm the wrong age, but I still think that if like anything particulary, our fans will."
What was the first show you went to?
The very first concert I ever went to on my own was actually Rory Gallagher. In a one-month period in 1973 or '74, I saw him, Thin Lizzy and the Rolling Stones. I wasn't really a big Rory Gallagher fan, but I thought his guitar playing was fabulous. But Thin Lizzy, they were fabulous. I saw them probably ten times in two years. The actual sound of them live was just so overpowering, it was better than drinking.
What else did you listen to as a kid?
When punk came along, I found my generation's music. I grew up listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, 'cause that was what got played in the house. But when I first saw the Stranglers, I thought, "This is it." And I saw the Buzzcocks the following week, and I thought, "This is definitely it."
Is there a song that you wish you had written?
"Happy Birthday to You," just so that people all around the world every second of the day were singing my song. Either that or Bowie's "Life on Mars?"
Your new producer, Ross Robinson, also works with metal bands such as Korn and Limp Bizkit. Were you a fan?
A few years ago, I had heard that Ross liked us, so I searched out what else he had done. I thought At the Drive-In was great. And I've always liked Korn – they're pioneers of that sound. A lot of the stuff I was kind of ambivalent towards, like Slipknot, but my younger nephews swear by those bands. What I found that held it all together was the intensity – everything Ross did had a real sense of urgency about it.
On Your Web site, you cite En Vogue as a band you like. Can you honestly tell me when you last broke out the Funky Divas album?
A few years ago, my CD collection had grown to such insane proportions that I gave away about ninety percent of them. The ones that were left I listed on our Web site. I kept the En Vogue album because I really liked it. Some of it sounded like Janet Jackson – I like some of her stuff. But I wouldn't say I'm a fan. It's partly tongue-in-cheek.
What do you think of the Darkness?
Well, I never liked Queen. I can honestly say I hated Queen and everything that they did. To have that rehashed and reheated for a second time around is pretty weird. So, no, I don't like the Darkness at all. I think they're a comedy band.
Photos: Robert Smith Through the Years
You have a habit of "retiring" after each Cure album, yet here you are.
In the past, we've done incredibly long tours for months and months at a time, and you get sick of everyone around you. It just drives you insane, and the easiest way out, you feel at that moment, is just to disband everything, dissolve everything and to just walk away from it. I don't feel that this time. I actually feel very enthusiastic about the band at the moment.
Have you ever thought, "I'm done with the makeup, I'm going to go out as just Robert Smith"?
I still wear makeup when I'm doing things. I'm going out later on tonight, I'll put some makeup on. Its just part of what I do when I confront people. When I do things, I just feel different. When I'm sitting at home, when I'm sitting outside, walking around on the beach, I don't generally wear makeup.
I can't imagine you on a beach.
Oh, I live on the beach. My garden runs down onto the shore. It's excellent.
You did a South Park episode a few years ago, and Kyle yelled at the end. "Disintegration is the best album ever!" Do you agree with that statement?
[Laughs] Who am I to disagree?
This story is from the July 8th, 2004 issue of Rolling Stone.