The Cure in 1986. Photo: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
Lol Tolhurst was just five years old when he met Robert Smith at their Catholic primary school in Crawley. Soon fast friends, they first played on stage together aged 14 at a school end-of-year show. Just a few years later, the pair (along with Martin Creasy) would release their first single as The Cure.
Intellectual and emotional – and as adept at heartrending, rain-swept guitar epics as perfectly fizzing (yet deceptively deep) pop bangers – few bands have had greater influence on the musicians who came after. Their beautiful darkness would spearhead goth (though, traditionally, no goth worth their salt accepts the label) and transform alternative rock. On drums and then keyboards through The Cure’s rise to global significance, Tolhurst shaped their distinctive sound until his departure during 1989’s Disintegration.
But it all started in Smith’s parents’ suburban home. “Music, for us, was a social thing more than anything,” remembers Tolhurst. “We would go around to Robert’s house, and just rehearse for three days a week, but a lot of time we were having a laugh, just talking. Also, it was a way to avoid going to the pub with all the skinheads.”
Now 64, Lol Tolhurst has returned to those early ways for his new record, made with fellow goth drumming royalty Budgie (of Siouxsie and the Banshees) and Irish producer Jacknife Lee. “We did that in the same way as we started making music in the beginning,” he says. “Me and Budgie would just sit there with Jacknife in his studio, and drink coffee and listen to records. He’s got like, a million records.”
Immersed in Jacknife’s collection (“from U2 to Taylor Swift to African artists”), they explored new sounds. “We’re not about excavation. We don’t want to go back and polish off the dinosaur’s bones. We want to do something different.” The result – Los Angeles, featuring guest spots from James Murphy of LCD Sound Sustem, The Edge, Bobby Gillespie and Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock – is the exciting and pleasing sound of elder statesmen who remain open to the world.
The author of one of the truly great rock autobiographies (Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys) and an insider’s guide to the genre he helped invent (this year’s Goth: A History), as well as the host of a podcast examining the legacy of punk (Curious Creatures), Tolhurst has thought more than most about where his sound came from.
“A friend of mine, James Murphy, says when you start making music, you listen to the bands that you like and you try to write a song like them. And because you’re not them, you always get it wrong. The way you get it wrong, is what becomes your sound,” Tolhurst says of his influences.
Here, then, are the ingredients that formed The Cure… the music that made Lol Tolhurst.
Lol Tolhurst: The Music That Made Me
David Bowie singles out a new Starman
I remember seeing David Bowie on Top of the Pops [in 1972, performing Starman]. He was like, “I had to call someone, so I picked on you.” And he pointed out of the screen. And I thought, he’s pointing at me, I know he’s pointing at me!
If you look at the background of Top of the Pops, and you see the teenagers dancing around, they look so different to David Bowie. It’s like he really is like an alien from another planet. I saw him as some kind of oddity, something strange that was interesting.
In 1977 Low came out… I still listen to that record, probably twice a month, driving around in my car. I still get something different from it all the time. It came out in the same year as The Clash’s first album, which I loved as well. Put those two things together, that gave us the feeling we could do something that would change things.
I always remember, I went to a party one night, and somebody played Sound and Vision. And I thought, well, that’s great, because it’s like it’s a pop song, and it’s very catchy in its own way and makes people want to dance. But the lyrics are so strange. That really freed me because I realised I could write something and play something that would take hold of people, but it didn’t have to be simplistic. It didn’t have to be like ‘moon in June’, that kind of lyric. It could be something that reflected what I really thought about stuff. That was a revelation.
When we first started, I know it used to annoy Robert [to be asked what genre we were] so he would give funny answers. We’d be somewhere and people would go, ‘Well, what do you call your music?’… Robert would just say, ‘Well, it’s Cure music.’
But if I think about it from many years hence, we were kind of like a psychedelic punk group when we started out, really. In 1977, you had to disown the fact that you’d ever heard any of this stuff beforehand. There was a new dawn – I only ever listened to The Clash, and Buzzcocks, and Elvis Costello. But of course, that’s not true. We’d listened to all that stuff beforehand.
Some of the early [Pink] Floyd, with Syd Barrett was great. It’s not really psychedelic, more sort of insane, but Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica was a great record. Even Genesis, when they had [Peter] Gabriel were good.
How The Cure fell apart… and got back together
My favourite album of The Cure that we ever did was Pornography. As people at the time, we were in a very strange place. We were kind of falling apart. But the music is very precise and intense. And that’s the thing that kept us together.
People always said to me, this is a very, very hard album and very dark. I said, well, yes, but if you listen, the last line is, ‘I must… find a cure.’ There’s some salvation coming at the end of it. And that’s the same thing I wanted for us to do at the end of this record [Los Angeles]. And so, it sounds very hopeful at the end.
I think what people relate to in music is they see you, they see who you are. Last time I went back and played with The Cure in 2011, that’s exactly what I got. When I walked on stage, I realised, this is like a feedback loop. What we’re giving out here is coming back to us, and then it’s going back out again.
Which is why when people always said to me, ‘You play this dark music, and maybe it makes people more depressed and makes them feel bad about themselves’. I said, no, the opposite is true, people get solace from this stuff.
I told my son, when I go – because you know, none of us is getting out of here alive – I’m going to make a playlist for the funeral. I’m constantly updating it. It’s about five hours’ worth now so you know, it’s gonna be a long bloody funeral.
The songs on there – some of them make me happy, some of them give me solace. I think the first one is the oldest one probably, a Leonard Cohen song, Suzanne. I love that line in it that says, ‘she brings me tea and oranges that come all the way from China’. For some reason, I find that very comforting. Whenever I have a cup of tea, I always have to have an orange with it, if I can.
There’s a lot of Clash in it. And then there’s things like Wichita Lineman, Be My Wife – David Bowie, Ever Fallen in Love – Buzzcocks. There’s Tom Waits’ Tango Till They’re Sore. Then there’s things like Summer Breeze, and John Martyn, some of his old stuff. There’s Paul McCartney. There’s a lot a lot of Low in here. I’m going to let all my secrets out here…
Colin Blunstone and the power of vulnerability
When we did the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thing [The Cure were inducted in 2019], they have a dinner the night before the event. I was really happy that The Zombies were playing because [singer] Colin Blunstone, when I was 13, he made a solo single called Say You Don’t Mind and the lyrics in it amazed me. He actually didn’t write the lyrics, but he sang the perfect version of the song. It was the first time as a young man that I realised you could write a lyric that would be vulnerable and be open about your feelings. And that helped me a lot. So generally, the songs I love are the songs that I get that from.
Los Angeles by Lol Tolhurst x Budgie x Jacknife Lee is out now (Play It Again Sam).
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