Last update : 04 July
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Kisses From Rio
Cure mania in South America, an imminent (and eminent) double album, "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me": following only his duty, Georges Daublon goes to meet Robert Smith and his commando on the beaches of Copacabana.
The last time I had met Robert Smith, he had made the following prediction: "In 1987, you'll see, we are going to be huge everywhere, not just in France." I'd have trouble confirming that in what regards Terra Nova or Mongolia, but as for South America and Brazil in particular, I can say without doubt that Robert had been entirely right. Brazil doesn't need Cure-mania though to raise the temperature, which, now at the end of March, can reach 35C during the day and 27C at night. Tough climate for five young guys who like wearing black!
When I met The Cure in Rio de Janeiro (to note, very no-frills), they were coming back from a mini-tour in Argentina where they had experienced a sort of local Altamont. The first British group to play Buenos Aires since the Falklands war could only expect to be received with an explosive welcome.
Robert Smith: Actually we didn't feel that the aggressivity in the air was directed towards us. Maybe it's because we were extremely well protected. Even so, the second concert we did there degenerated very quickly into general chaos. There must have been 70,000 people in this stadium, under an infernal heat, and everything started because of the security barriers that the organizers had installed. The public, where there were some football fans like our hooligans, must have taken these barriers as a provocation, so much that in the middle of the show they started tearing them to bits, setting fires and throwing rubbish on stage. There were bits of burning wood, steel sheet and bottles flying around us, it was quite scary. I saw people jumping 4 or 5 meters and landing on their head, it was terrifying. I stopped the concert and yelled at them trying to make them calm down, and we finished the show quickly.
Laurence Tolhurst: It was a big shock for us, all the more since it was the first time that we came to South America. So it was a culture shock a little like the first time we went to Japan, except that in Japan people follow you on the street, point fingers but don't dare approaching you, they are too polite. Here, they jump on you and pat you everywhere. At least, it taught us a new strategy: now, at the end of the concerts we leave 20 minutes before the lights come back on so people think we are still backstage.
R.S.: But again, I think it had nothing to do with us, or with the fact that we are from the UK. Besides, during the press conferences, nobody dared mentioning the Falklands war, I think they would have been just as embarrassed as us to talk about it.
So, exit Argentina and viva Brasilia, where the atmosphere wasn't much less warm. Once Robert showed in public his famous mop of hair, recently regrown, the kids would become hysterical. So Robert and the band needed a seriously muscled escort to walk as much as 10 meters from the palace. And me, who naively thought that the Brazilians would rather frown at the spleen-impregnated melodies from northern Europe and prefer instead samba and its rhythms adapted to the latitude! And yet, The Cure has been selected best foreign group of the year by the readers of the most famous music magazine, Bizz. Reverse exotism?
L.T.: It doesn't surprise me too much, because music is part of everyday life here and it is normal that they would be interested in everything. Also, there are very few bands like us who come and play here and finally, I've always thought that the British musical explosion of these last few years would end up sooner or later touching all the countries in the world.
Still, "The Head On The Door" must have weighted heavily in the balance to engender such a success far from mother Albion. "The Head...", the decisive turning point in the career of The Cure, an album hard to surpass. But it's a done fact now. "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me" is in the box and no one here has heard a note of it. No one except for the band and your servant, who had the audition of his life, first in Panama (courtesy of Polydor) and a second memorable time in Rio, in Mister Smith's hotel room. You couldn't dream of better company to discover in detail what in my opinion will quickly join the prestigious list of the 10 or 15 grand classic double albums in the history of rock. But how did Robert find the time to compose these 18 jewels?
Robert Smith: That happened very easily. For the first time, I asked the others to bring in demos, so we all contributed to the music. So this record encompasses more variety than the precedent, there are even melodies that aren't mine. All the songs on "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me" have been written since January 1986. We got together in a studio in London with all our demos in the bag and we exchanged ideas, there were hundreds of good ones, and we chose 40 songs. I am proud of each of the 18 that were selected for the album, even the B-sides of the upcoming singles are good, while I wasn't very satisfied with "A Man Inside My Mouth" or even "Screw" (from "The Head..."). Aside from the people who always detested us, I think that everyone could find something to make them happy on this disc.
Since "The Head...", I know that a great number of people listen to our records, so this time I didn't want to leave anything to chance, we paid extremely careful attention to every detail, I wanted everything to be absolutely perfect. Every time we start recording a new album, I always want it to be better than the one before and I want us to continue progressing musically. On our previous records there were always little things that I left a bit imperfect, or even mediocre, either because I was tired or lazy, or because I was thinking that it didn't really have that much importance. But for this record I insisted that we don't have a limit on recording time, I didn't want any external pressure to bother us, any constraints to trouble us. In the beginning, the record company wasn't so happy because it meant it was going to cost a lot of money, but I ended up convincing them. We aren't there to think about money, that's not our job, our job is to make good records.
And a good record it is. "Kiss Me..." is a masterly conclusion of everything that the band has done in the past, but it is also a wide-open door towards a most engaging future, with surprise forays into styles entirely new for The Cure. Don't be surprised to jump from songs close to "Seventeen Seconds" such as "One More Time" or "The Snakepit", to others more in the line of "The Head..." like "Just Like Heaven", then a trip totally Tamla Motown with the first upcoming single "Why Can't I Be You" (Robert let me discover the maxi version, 100% pure), or even almost hip-hop exercises like "Hot Hot Hot". Said like that, it could seem a bit of a mess, but one shouldn't forget the unity of sound, remarkably crafted by Robert and Dave Allen (sound engineer since the old days), and above all it has to be known that Robert has never sung as well as he does on this record.
R.S.: For me, this record constitutes both a conclusion of what we have done previously, but also a new beginning. I've never enjoyed recording so much, except for the time spent in the Bahamas.
- How is it that you preferred Brussels rain to the sun of the Bahamas to mix the album?
R.S.: I don't like the sun, nor the heat (he got served in Rio! n.ed.) or the American tourists. Besides, it's a place where the poverty grabs you by the throat, there is just a little corner reserved for rich potbellied tourists, it's quite harrowing. I couldn't relax there, and also the studio wasn't that good. But that's not important for me, what matters is that The Cure back in the studio did a good job and they were happy doing it. Everything happened as naturally as possible, once we met again to submit our ideas, I knew that we had enough material to put out a good record, then I realized that it should be a double record. And for that I had to convince people, because it's less profitable to release a double album than to release two regular ones six months apart. Personally I am delighted that it is a double. Generally, when you love a double album, for some strange reason it becomes one of your favorite records, a special record that you love more than the others. I feel like that about "Electric Ladyland" by Hendrix. Besides, there are very few double LPs that came out in the last ten years. I think that's because of the scandalous pressure that record companies exert over the bands so that they would release the maximum number of records in as short a period as possible.
- Certain songs like "The Kiss" (which opens the album), "Torture" or "Destroy" sound very "live in the studio". How were they recorded?
R.S.: That's correct, I did in fact record the guitar part in "The Kiss" in one take. "Torture" was also recorded on the first take, but this was all possible because of the serious preparation work we had done together in London. So it was a lot less off-putting to work like that, which was not the case for "The Head...", where we spend a lot of time at the end to made little modifications left and right.
Thanks to ideal working conditions, an impeccable result. This is felt even in Robert's lyrics, which seem a lot less tortured than usual.
R.S.: Actually I don't think there are so many happy songs. But what happened was that in Miraval (in the South of France), I had all the time necessary to write the words while working on the music. At Miraval, I was in a very pleasant environment, it was beautiful, I would take walks in the vineyard with Mary, it was fun, I was entirely rested and above all I had enough time. While, usually, I always write the lyrics at the last minute. There, I could do more, let's say, intellectual work, even though that might sound pretentious, but I was looking for the very essence of each piece of music to be able to add to it perfectly fitting lyrics. Which explains why the words are so much more precise and easy to understand, and I am quite proud of that.
Dear readers, by all means don't take Robert for a gratuitously self-satisfied rock-star. When he says he is proud, Robert is simply content with his work. You had to see him catch fire that night, while he was having me listen to the magical tape, you had to see his eyes shining like those of a child happy with his latest toy. Right next to us, Simon and Laurence
honored the tradition of the warriors' rest by drinking up any bottles that got within reach.
- Talk to me a bit about "Just Like Heaven"; am I dreaming or is it the opening track for Les Enfants du Rock (French TV show)?
R.S.: Yes, we had just written this melody for Les Enfants du Rock, we kept that in our mind and we did a complete song. It is definitely the song that most resembles "The Head...", or more exactly it is the junction point of "The Head..." and what we do now.
- For the first time one discovers some black American influences in your music, on "Why Can't I Be You" and "Hot Hot Hot". How did that happen?
R.S.: I wouldn't qualify that as conscious influences, but rather more experience. But it's true that once we did "Hot Hot Hot" we all said, "shit, it sounds like Chic!" Still, it's not theft, it happened naturally, we just wanted to try and play something in that style. The same for "Hey You" which is for me the Cure version of rhythm'n'blues. A bit like when I wanted to do a jazz song and I wrote "Lovecats", it wasn't really jazz, it was Cure-jazz. But, to be perfectly honest, generally when I sing in the studio I'm rather drunk, which means that I never really know how I'm going to sound. So I never sing on the demos, like that my singing is completely spontaneous at the time of the definitive recording. But once again, for this record, since I already knew the music well, the vocals came to me more easily.
- Maybe that's why you seem to have never sung so well.
R.S.: (he is amused) Mm-yeah, I suppose I am a better singer now, but on the contrary my guitar playing hasn't improved. For example, I know that I am incapable today of doing better than the "A Forest" solo, while I feel I could sing it better, but certainly with less naivety in my voice. It's funny because before, I considered myself a guitarist who had to sing to accompany his music, and now I'm a bit the opposite. The audience must feel it too because around the time I was in the Banshees I was always well placed in surveys as a guitarist, but now people seem to appreciate me more as a singer.
Speaking of surveys, I take the opportunity to catch Simon Gallup (Simon, the group clown, never stays in one place), to ask him how it feels to find himself ranked 8th best instrumentalist by the readers of Best.
Simon Gallup: (taking a scandalized air) I ranked 4th last year, no? Actually, to be honest with your readers, I am very flattered but I think that's a bit absurd because I don't consider myself a great bassist. I know I could never play with another band but The Cure. I feel incapable to go hammer it out with just anyone, on the contrary with The Cure, I feel totally at ease because I feel the music very deeply. But honestly, to find myself better placed than Clapton, I feel very honored.
Let's come back to the album, where we find once more heterogenous and surprising sounds for The Cure, such as a sitar on "If Only Tonight We Could Sleep" or a brass section on "Why Can't I Be You". But are they real instruments, or a technology trick?
R.S.: (to Laurence, mockingly) Shall I tell him the truth? In fact, you see, all that is due to excellent production (he laughs). For example on "If Only Tonight...", I could have played a sitar because I have one, but I play it a lot less well than a... Mirage. But for the brass, there are real instruments and also parts done on Mirage like on "Why Can't I Be You". But since we aren't good keyboard players, when we play a brass part on a keyboard it sounds imperfect, so it can give the impression of having been played by a true brass section. But I can assure you that nothing on the album was programmed by one of those fucking computers. Everything was done "by hand" and I think you can hear that. Of course we use modern sound technology, but it has to stay human. We will never do something like Depeche Mode, who spend 8 hours in the studio programming an entire album and have it done presto. We're not too good with computers, maybe aside from Simon who likes the games. For example I have no idea how an Emulator works, but when it doesn't, I get angry and threaten to spill my beer glass on it.
Now that would surprise me. Not that Robert would have a beer in the studio, not that, but that he would get angry at that point. During the 48 hours that I spent with the group in this distant and rather violent land, I haven't seen Robert even once get angry, raise his voice, annoyed by something or even scared. Given the madness that reigned around them, it's nothing short of a miracle. At the press conference they gave in Rio, Robert remained smiling, polite, almost shy, and this despite rather stupid questions, and definitely behind the times with regards to the group's current affairs. In a city where drivers have permission to not stop on red at night because of thug gangs, Robert looked calm and serene while dipping in the turbulent waters of a surcharged club for the local musical Oscar award ceremony.
Here we are. It is not by chance that Robert Smith fascinates so many people of so many different cultures. He knows how to keep a dignified and responsible attitude in all occasions, and that's what makes him a rock star of an entirely new breed. In Rio, city where vices are institutions, The Cure, as international stars, could have taken advantage of the situation. But, sorry for gossip mouths, there were no demonic orgies, no smashing parties, just some well-watered evenings, but that we can all do.
To live in close intimacy with The Cure for a while is a very instructive experience. Robert's uncommon personality imposes itself to you naturally. His calm, his humour and his spirit confirm him as the spontaneous leader of the group, the one that everyone listens to with respect, the one that the others would follow anywhere.
- Robert, how do you manage to keep a cool head in the middle of all this madness?
R.S.: I am simply myself all the time, and that's thanks to The Cure. The fact that the group exists is the only thing that really matters for me. I've never planned to be part of a successful group. I detest more and more being some curious animal in the public eye, it annoys me that my face is everywhere, and I still don't understand why people appreciate me so much. I've always believed in the group, I've always thought that we were good and that it was normal that we we'd be played on the radio and on TV, but now it upsets me a little that I can't just take a quiet walk down the street. But otherwise, nothing impresses me really, I know that the media and the success will never go to my head.
- Not even the money?
R.S.: Oh, of course I'm not going to refuse it, but I think that we deserve it, because we work hard for it, and anyway we give most of it to taxes. And besides I don't spend much money, I am not a fan of limos or luxury clothing. I think that needing a lot of money is like having a serious sickness. No, honestly the success hasn't changed me, besides Mary wouldn't allow it. But if after all this time we'd still be only selling 20,000 copies of each record, I think I'd become a bit bitter. Which isn't to say that we had to make compromises to be successful. It amuses me a lot that everywhere we are invited we always wear the same old clothes, and it was really funny last time we did a TV show in Paris for Champs-Elysees, I was dressed like a clown in front of this stuck-up guy in a suit.
- In your opinion what are the limits of your success?
R.S.: I've never had too many ambitions. Mary would love us to have a No.1 record in England. But personally I don't want to feel dependent on all that craziness, I want to be able to stop when I want to.
We are really not in a hurry, Robert!
The day after this unforgettable evening, The Cure had to fly to Porto Alegre in the South of Brazil. But at the last minute the group, having had enough of the clouds and wanting to discover this fascinating country a bit better, decided to get there by car. That's where the shadow man intervenes, manager since the old days, Fiction founder Chris Parry. In 10 minutes and just as many phone calls, Chris makes the arrangements. The Cure, little lucky devils, go then do a bit of tourism around this country that has 15 times the area of France.
It's time to leave. Robert, Laurence, Simon, Boris, Porl and their whole crew wave at me politely. I find myself alone on the steps of the hotel, a little confused by these 48 hours spent in the rhythm of rock stars. Paris seems very far when you have the Copacabana beach under your eyes. I miss my flight, so I stay another night to sweat and tap my feet to very different beats from those concocted by my Crawley friends. But that doesn't matter much. The Cure will be the band of 1987, and for that they have a winning double album in their pocket. Garçon, I'll have another caifirinhas.
-- Georges Daublon
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