Robert James Smith (born 21 April 1959) is an English singer, songwriter and musician. He is the lead singer, guitarist, lyricist, principal songwriter and only consistent member of the rock band The Cure, which he co-founded in 1976. He was also the lead guitarist for the band Siouxsie and the Banshees from 1982 to 1984 and was part of the short-lived group The Glove in 1983. Smith is known for his distinctive voice and unique stage look, the latter of which was influential on the Goth subculture that rose to prominence in the 1980s.
Early years and family life
Smith was born in the Lancashire town of Blackpool and is the third of four children born to James Alexander and Rita Mary (née Emmott) Smith. Smith came from a musical family – his father sang and his mother played the piano.
Raised Catholic, he later became an atheist. When he was three years old, in December 1962 his family moved to Horley, Surrey, where he later attended St Francis Primary School, before the family moved to Crawley, West Sussex, in March 1966, where Smith attended St Francis Junior School. He later attended Notre Dame Middle School (1970–72) and St Wilfrid's Comprehensive School, Crawley (1972–77).
Both Robert and his younger sister Janet had piano lessons; Smith said that Janet "was a piano prodigy, so sibling rivalry made me take up guitar because she couldn't get her fingers around the neck." He told Chris Heath of Smash Hits magazine that from about 1966 (when Smith turned seven years old) his brother Richard (thirteen years Robert's senior) taught him "a few basic chords" on guitar. Smith began taking classical guitar lessons from the age of nine, "with a student of John Williams, a really excellent guitarist ... I learned a lot, but got to the point where I was losing the sense of fun. I wish I'd stuck with it." Smith has said his guitar tutor was "horrified" by his playing. Robert consequently gave up formal tuition and began teaching himself to play by ear, listening to his older brother's record collection.
Smith was thirteen or fourteen when he became more serious about rock music and "started to play and learn frenetically". Up until December 1972 he did not have a guitar of his own, and had been borrowing his brother's for some time, "so he gave me his guitar for Christmas. But I'd commandeered it anyway – so whether he was officially giving it to me at Christmas or not, I was going to have it!" One rock biographer (Jeff Apter) maintains that the guitar Smith received for Christmas of 1972 was from his parents, and equates this item with Smith's notorious Woolworth's 'Top 20' guitar, later used on many of the Cure's earliest recordings. Smith was quoted in several earlier sources as saying he purchased the Top 20 himself for £20, in 1978.
Smith described Notre Dame Middle School as "a very free-thinking establishment" with an experimental approach; a freedom he claimed to have abused. On one occasion, Smith said that he wore a black velvet dress to Notre Dame and kept it on all day "because the teachers just thought 'oh, it's a phase he's going through, he's got some personality crisis, let's help him through it'." According to Smith "four other kids" beat him up after school, although Jeff Apter notes that Smith has given several conflicting versions of the story. Apter also reports that Smith put in minimal effort at Notre Dame, sufficient to gain pass marks, and quotes Smith as saying:
If you were crafty enough … you could convince the teachers you were special: I did virtually nothing for three years.
Smith's secondary school, St Wilfrid's, was reportedly stricter than Notre Dame. In the summer of 1975, Smith and his sat their O Level exams, but only he and Michael Dempsey stayed on to attend sixth form at St Wilfrid's (1976–77). Smith has claimed that he was expelled from St Wilfrid's as an "undesirable influence" after their band Malice's second live performance shortly before Christmas 1976, which took place at the school and allegedly caused a riot.
I got taken back [in 1977] but they never acknowledged that I was there ... I did three 'A' levels – failed biology miserably, scraped through French and got a 'B' in English. Then I spent 8 or 9 months on social security until they stopped my money, so I thought 'now's the time to make a demo and see what people think'.
According to Dave Bowler and Bryan Dray, biographers of the Cure, the school expelled ex-Malice co-founder Marc Ceccagno along with Smith, whose new band, called Amulet, played the December school show. Smith has given conflicting accounts of his alleged expulsion: elsewhere saying that he was merely suspended, and that it was because he did not get along with the school headmaster, and, on another occasion, claiming that he was suspended "because my attitude towards religion was considered wrong. I thought that was incredible".
School bands: 1972–1976
Robert Smith has said that his first band when he was fourteen consisted of "my brother Richard, some of his friends and my younger sister Janet. It was called the Crawley Goat Band – brilliant!" However, while the Crawley Goat Band may have been Smith's first regular group, he would have been just thirteen when he and his Notre Dame schoolmates gave their first one-off performance together as the Obelisk; an early incarnation of what would eventually become the Cure. The Obelisk featured Robert Smith (still playing piano at this point), alongside Marc Ceccagno (lead guitar), Michael Dempsey (guitar), Alan Hill (bass) and Laurence "Lol" Tolhurst (percussion) and, according to the Cure's official biography Ten Imaginary Years, gave their only performance at a school function in April 1972. Jeff Apter, however, dates the performance to April 1973, which is at variance with Smith and his bandmates having already left Notre Dame Middle School by this time.
During the latter part of 1972, the nucleus of Smith, Ceccagno, Dempsey and Tolhurst had gone on to secondary school together at St Wilfrid's Comprehensive, where they and their friends continued playing music together. Smith said that they were known simply as "the group" "because it was the only one at school so we didn't need a name." Dempsey, who eventually moved from guitar to bassist for "the group", said that another name they toyed with was the Brat's Club – a reference to Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust. Smith said that "the group" eventually became Malice, "sort of a sub-metal punk group -with Michael Dempsey, Laurence and two other blokes." According to the band's Ten Imaginary Years biography, between January and December 1976, the shifting line-up for Malice featured several "other blokes", with founding guitarist Marc Ceccagno being replaced by Porl Thompson, an early drummer known only as "Graham" replaced by Lol Tolhurst, and "Graham's brother" replaced by vocalist Martin Creasy. By 1977, Malice had become Easy Cure.
Role in the Cure
As singer and front-man
Smith did not intend to become the lead vocalist of the group. Bowler and Dray note that the Obelisk had "featured Dempsey and Ceccagno as guitarists and him [Robert] on piano as very much a background player." As "the group" gradually became Malice and began regular rehearsals in January 1976, Smith was still one of several floating members. Of their first "proper" rehearsal at St Edwards Church, Robert said
I think it all came about because Marc Ceccagno wanted to be a guitar hero. Michael had a bass, I had got hold of a guitar and our first drummer, Graham, had a drum kit. His brother had an amp and a mic, so he sang.
By December 1976, Graham's brother had been replaced by vocalist Martin Creasy, a journalist with The Crawley Observer, whose brief tenure with the group was a live débâcle according to those involved. By January 1977 Malice had changed their name to Easy Cure, partly to distance themselves from these earlier shows. Both drummer Lol Tolhurst and bassist Mick Dempsey are also noted as having performed vocals with the group in the early years. Tolhurst also sang on a cover of "Wild Thing" at Malice's early shows, and Dempsey sang backing vocals on songs like "Killing An Arab", and even recorded lead vocals on one track on the Cure's debut album, for their cover of Hendrix's "Foxy Lady". During March 1977, a vocalist named Gary X came and went, and was replaced by Peter O'Toole, described as "a demon footballer and Bowie fan" who made his singing debut in April. O'Toole remained Easy Cure's steady front man for several months while the group played the local pub circuit, "building up an enormous local following", and was even the singer on the home demo tapes that landed them their first recording contract with Hansa Records. By the time Easy Cure entered London's Sound And Vision Studio to record for Hansa in October 1977, however, O'Toole had left to work on a Kibbutz in Israel. Smith then fell into the vocalist role by default, since no better replacement appeared. He told Musician magazine in 1989:
When we started, and were playing in pubs, I wasn't the singer ... I was the drunk rhythm guitarist who wrote all these weird songs. We went through about five different singers – they were fucking useless, basically. I always ended up thinking, 'I could do better than this.' ... I mean, I hated my voice, but I didn't hate it more than I hated everyone else's voice ... So I thought, 'If I can get away with that, I can be the singer.' I've worked on that basis ever since.
As principal songwriter
Smith was also not the sole songwriter or lyricist in the group during their early years; the band name 'Easy Cure' came from a song penned by Lol Tolhurst, while "Grinding Halt" began as a Tolhurst lyric that Smith shortened to the first half of each line. Between 1978–79, Smith composed and recorded demo versions of some of the Cure's definitive early songs on his sister Janet's Hammond organ with a built-in tape recorder, including "10:15 Saturday Night".
By the time the NME interviewed the band in October 1979 during their tour with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Smith was acknowledged as the principal writer of "almost all of the Cure's songs and lyrics", and stated that he was uncomfortable playing and singing songs that weren't his own. Following his return from the Banshees' tour, Smith also composed most of the music for the album Seventeen Seconds using the Hammond, a drum machine and his trademark Top 20 Woolworth's guitar, during a home demo session in his parents' basement. Most of the lyrics had been written in one night in Newcastle. Michael Dempsey, discussing his own departure from the group at this time, later remarked:
Robert's new songs were more of a personal statement – entirely personal to him – and I couldn't make that statement on his behalf.
Although Smith wrote most of the lyrics for Seventeen Seconds, many were also rewritten by the group during the recording of the album itself. Dempsey's replacement Simon Gallup described the collective writing process to Sounds in 1980:
When we play new songs live Robert ad libs [vocals] a lot until he gets the feel of it. Then when we record it if it's still not right it means everyone sitting around Chris Parry's (their manager's) kitchen all night scrawling sheets and sheets of paper – for "At Night" we got really desperate and finished up at six in the morning with Lol standing on the table pressing his head against the ceiling because he thought that might help.
Lol Tolhurst later stated that he, Gallup and Smith all wrote lyrics for the Cure's early albums, and that the group dynamic only changed after their 1982 album Pornography:
Generally as Robert had to sing the words he chose which ones he sang but they were from all of us. He kept a big box of words to which I contributed from time to time (Simon too) and he would use them all for songs.
Tolhurst claimed to have written the lyrics for "All Cats Are Grey" from the 1981 album Faith, which he later re-recorded with his own project, Levinhurst. In contrast to Tolhurst's recollection of their songwriting as a group effort, in 1982 Smith claimed to have written "90 per cent of the 'Pornography' album", and that he therefore couldn't leave the Cure, because it wouldn't be the Cure without him. For their first four albums (Three Imaginary Boys, Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography), all members of the group had received equal songwriting credits. With Simon Gallup's departure reducing the group to a duo, and Tolhurst quitting drums to start taking keyboard lessons, from July 1982 until Gallup's return in February 1985, according to Smith, much of the writing and recording process within the Cure effectively became a solo effort. While the songwriting of their next single, "Let's Go to Bed" was credited to both Smith and Tolhurst, Smith later claimed that Tolhurst was credited with keyboards despite not playing anything.
I did them [the keyboards] on my own and Lol was just there for company, basically... I was spending late nights in the studio and he was just someone who'd sit there and I'd talk to. When we did "Let's Go To Bed" he tried to do the drumbeat for it for about three days, and it cost us a fortune in studio time. In the end we got in a session drummer. He was going to pretend he'd played it until I pointed out to him that if he had to play it somewhere and he couldn't he'd be humiliated.
Nonetheless, Tolhurst was credited as co-writer of five of the eight songs featured on 1983's singles and b-sides collection Japanese Whispers (including "Let's Go to Bed" and "The Walk"), while "The Love Cats", "Lament" and "The Dream" were credited to Smith only. Of 1984's The Top, Smith would say it was "the solo album I never made", having played nearly all instruments himself except for drums (by Andy Anderson), with Porl Thompson contributing saxophone to one song ("Give Me It"). Tolhurst is obliquely credited in the album's liner notes with performing "other Instruments", and shared co-writing credits with Smith for only three of the ten album tracks.
Musical projects outside the Cure
Smith, Severin and Siouxsie Join Hands on tour: 1979
Robert Smith met Steven Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees at a Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire gig at the London YMCA on 3 August 1979. Both the Banshees and the Cure had been signed to Polydor and its imprint Fiction, respectively, by Chris Parry, and Smith was already a fan of the Banshees. The pair hit it off, and Severin invited Smith to accompany the Banshees on a UK tour in support of their second album Join Hands. The two bands embarked on the tour later in August, and meanwhile in September Banshees singer Siouxsie Sioux contributed backing vocals to "I'm Cold", the b-side to the Cure's next single "Jumping Someone Else's Train" (released in November), A few dates into the Join Hands tour, however, the Banshees' guitarist John McKay and drummer Kenny Morris quit the band hours before they were due to go on stage in Aberdeen, placing the tour in limbo. Determined not to let the tour end, Smith volunteered to replace McKay temporarily on condition that the Cure remained the opening act, while ex-Slits drummer Budgie joined on drums. The tour resumed on 18 September, with Smith playing in both bands each night. At the tour's end, Smith returned full-time to the Cure.
Steven Severin has attributed Smith's transition from a reticent figure to a more enigmatic front person to Smith's early experiences playing with Siouxsie and the Banshees
I think he learnt how to be a front person, just by standing next to Siouxsie for a couple of months every night. I think he completely changed his persona on stage because of that; he came out of his shell. I think that he learnt how to be a bit more flamboyant, and how it was okay, and I think he saw how, y'know... how should I put it... Siouxsie's more "diva" moments were kind of acceptable because they were the front person, and I think he learnt how to get away with stuff. And just a bit about stagecraft, and how to use the audience a bit more. Because if you look at early clips of their performances you can see he's sort of much more shy and retiring than he becomes a bit later on, and of course, his whole look changes as well.
Cult Hero and Dance Fools Dance label: 1979–1980
Smith meanwhile conceived the Cult Hero side-project to collaborate with bassist Simon Gallup of the Magspies, recorded at Morgan Studios in October 1979. With some leftover time in the studio from the Cult Hero sessions, Smith also produced recordings by the Magspies and a young vocal and percussion duo the Obtainers (described by Steve Sutherland of Melody Maker as "two 11-year olds banging on pots and pans"), for the fledgling independent label Dance Fools Dance co-founded by Robert Smith and Ric Gallup, elder brother of Simon. The Cult Hero single was released on the Fiction Records label in December 1979, while the Magspies/Obtainers split single appeared on Dance Fools Dance the following year.
The Stranglers and Associates: April 1980
On 3 and 4 April 1980 at the Rainbow Theatre in London, Robert Smith and Matthieu Hartley (also of the Magspies, Cult Hero and by this time, the Cure) were among the many guest members of a unique line-up of the Stranglers to play two protest concerts for Hugh Cornwell, who had been imprisoned on drugs charges in late 1979. Joy Division were also one of the support bands on the second night. Recordings from the event were later released as The Stranglers and Friends – Live in Concert in 1995. Also during April, Smith provided backing vocals for the Associates' debut album The Affectionate Punch, released in August 1980. At the time, the Associates were also signed to Fiction Records, and had been joined in late 1979 by former Cure bassist Michael Dempsey. The Associates' front man Billy Mackenzie was a friend of Smith's for more than 20 years, and the Cure song, "Cut Here" (from 2001's Greatest Hits album), was written in response to Mackenzie's suicide in 1997. As Smith told Jam! Showbiz following the release of "Greatest Hits":
I kept passing on the opportunity to sit down and have a drink with him, have a chat ... I was very regretful. I had never used the words. I wrote them down to get it out of my system ... It is nice to sing a song that meant something, and to think it is going to be a single is a good thing. Strangely enough, it turned out to be the record company's favourite one (of the new songs).
And Also the Trees: 1981–1982
During 1981, the Cure received a home demo tape from And Also the Trees and immediately became friends. Front-man Simon Huw Jones later told Abstract Magazine that the Cure were AATT's "biggest fans, the first people who came up to us and said 'we think you're great'" and that the two groups were mutually influenced by one another. The group joined the Cure in support of the Eight Appearances tour of Scotland and Northern England during November and December 1981, together with 1313, featuring Steve Severin and Lydia Lunch, and the following year Robert Smith together with Cure/Banshees co-producer Mike Hedges co-produced And Also the Trees' 1982 cassette release From Under The Hill. Smith was initially to have also produced the band's debut single "The Secret Sea", but instead Lol Tolhurst stepped in as producer between 1982–84, both for the band's first two singles, and for their self-titled debut album. Smith would again collaborate with And Also the Trees in 1991 (see → ).
Post-Pornography projects: 1982
In the wake of the Cure's Fourteen Explicit Moments tour, which culminated in the departure of Simon Gallup and the temporary dissolution of the Cure, in June 1982, Smith began collaborating with Steve Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees again. Although released under the name of the Cure, the only personnel to perform on the original Flexipop single release of "Lament" in August 1982 were Robert Smith and Steve Severin, and soon afterwards, Smith admitted that the Cure as a band now existed in name only. That August, Smith briefly resurrected the Dance Fools Dance label to record and release the single "Frame One" by Crawley gothic/post-punk outfit Animation. In September, Smith with former Cure drummer Lol Tolhurst (now on keyboards) and session drummer Steve Goulding went into the studio to record a "blatant pop single" at the instigation of Fiction Records manager Chris Parry. Smith was reportedly so unhappy with the resultant track "Let's Go to Bed" that he attempted to have the single released under the name of Recur, feeling that the single let Cure fans down. During October, Smith and Severin also recorded early demos for what would become the Glove's "Punish Me With Kisses" single, at Mike Hedges' studio "The Playground".
Smith also returned to touring as a live guitarist with Siouxsie and the Banshees from November, following the collapse of then-Banshee John McGeoch from nervous exhaustion one week before the band were due to go on tour. His return to guitar duties with the group prompted Smith to remark:
Once a Banshee, always a Banshee.
He later said that he was "fed up" and "really disillusioned" with the pressures of playing in the Cure, and that "the Banshees thing came along and I thought it would be a really good escape". Journalist/biographer Jo-Ann Greene noted that Smith's replacement of McGeoch "left a bad taste in many people's mouths, as [McGeoch] was informed of his sacking only a week after his recovery from a brief spell of clinical depression". In a later interview with Guitar World magazine, Smith concurred that McGeoch was "a sadly underrated and unappreciated guitarist" and that he had "left the Banshees under a bit of a cloud, but he stayed friendly with me and Severin".
The Venomettes and Marc and the Mambas: 1983
Returning to England from the Banshees' tour of Australia, New Zealand and Japan in January 1983, Smith was approached the following month by Nicholas Dixon, a young choreographer with The Royal Ballet, to score a choreographed adaptation of Les Enfants Terribles. To test the idea, Smith and Severin recorded a reworking of the Cure's "Siamese Twins", with Lol Tolhurst on drums, and Anne Stephenson and Virginia Hewes (later known as Ginni Ball) of the Venomettes on violins, which was performed on BBC Two's music programme Riverside in March 1983, featuring two dancers choreographed by Dixon. Despite a positive critical reception, however, neither Dixon nor Smith were happy with the results, and the Les Enfants Terribles project was shelved indefinitely. The Venomettes were a string and vocal performance group associated with the Batcave scene during the early 1980s, whose members collaborated with Marc Almond (as part of Marc and the Mambas), Andi Sexgang, Siouxsie and the Banshees and This Mortal Coil, among others. Stephenson and Hewes had previously performed on the Siouxsie and the Banshees' album A Kiss in the Dreamhouse, while fellow Venomette Martin McCarrick later became a full-time member of the Banshees.
Smith and Severin meanwhile co-wrote the music to the Marc and the Mambas song "Torment", which also featured the Venomettes, and appeared on the album Torment and Toreros, while the Venomettes (McCarrick, Stephenson and Hewes) all performed strings in the studio with the Glove. Between March and June 1983, Smith was in the studio recording with the Glove, Siouxsie and the Banshees and (ostensibly) the Cure; prompting him to remark: "I need a holiday ... I keep making plans to go every week, but every week I'm in another group."
The Glove: 1983
Smith and Severin had first discussed collaborating on an external side-project in 1981, although their respective commitments to the Cure and the Banshees had previously left no time for the project. From May 1983, however, with the Cure on hold and Siouxsie and Budgie working together as the Creatures, recording of the Glove's album Blue Sunshine began in earnest. Budgie's then girlfriend Jeanette Landray, formerly a dancer with Zoo, was recruited to perform vocals, while Andy Anderson from Brilliant was brought in to play drums. The Glove took its name from the "murder mitten" from the Beatles' animated feature Yellow Submarine, while the album title came from a B-movie by the same name about a potent strain of LSD that caused people to lose their hair and turn into homicidal maniacs many years after their first trip. Severin said of the project:
Obviously there was an interest in psychedelia. We didn't have any set idea of what we wanted to do. After a few pointless discussions we just went in and started writing songs, and eventually honed in on shared interests, one of which happened to be late 60's garbage, but nothing hippy-dippy. The problem for us was how can we get Barbarella onto a record sleeve and not be seen as idiots.
Smith described the creation of the album by saying:
I thought it was a real attack on the senses when we were doing it. We were virtually coming out of the studio at six in the morning, coming back here and watching all these really mental films and then going to sleep and having really demented dreams and then, as soon as we woke up at four in the afternoon, we'd go virtually straight back into the studio, so, it was a bit like a mental assault course towards the end ... I mean, God, we must have watched about 600 videos at the time!
As well as Barbarella, Yellow Submarine and the eponymous Blue Sunshine, films cited as having fuelled the project included The Brood, Evil Dead, The Helicopter Spies and Inferno. Retrospectively, the Melody Maker's Steve Sutherland described The Glove as "a manic psychedelic pastiche".
The Banshees and Tim Pope: 1983–84
The Glove's Blue Sunshine album and its lead single "Like an Animal" were both released in August 1983, followed by the Siouxsie and the Banshees' single "Dear Prudence" (a cover of the Beatles' song) in September, all on the Banshees' own label Wonderland Records. According to the Banshees' authorised biography, "Dear Prudence" had been recorded at Smith's insistence to document his time with the group, and it became their biggest hit, reaching number 3 on the UK Singles Chart.
Shortly before the group's scheduled Royal Albert Hall concerts in September and October 1983, Siouxsie and the Banshees were also invited to participate in an episode of Channel 4's television series "Play at Home", which they agreed to in order to take advantage of having the upcoming concerts filmed. Robert had previously suggested to Severin that "the Banshees shouldn't be doing tours, they should be doing something really ambitious like The Wizard of Oz on stage", and Severin decided to adapt this idea for the "Play at Home" episode, substituting the Wizard of Oz concept with Alice in Wonderland to tie the theme with the Banshees' Wonderland recording label. The result was a 45-minute television programme featuring performances from Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Glove and the Creatures, in which all four members of the Banshees appeared in a recreation of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party dressed as Alice, while each individual member scripted their own solo character performance and monologue. Musical interludes included the Glove performing "A Blues in Drag", the Creatures playing "Weathercade" and the whole band performing "Circle". The programme (which did not air on television until the following year) concluded with live footage of Siouxsie and the Banshees playing "Voodoo Dolly" and "Helter Skelter" live at the Royal Albert Hall. Meanwhile, both the Glove's second single, "Punish Me With Kisses", and the Banshees' live double album and companion video, Nocturne from the Albert Hall shows, appeared in November. In March 1984, the next Banshees single to feature Robert Smith on guitar, "Swimming Horses" was released, followed by "Dazzle" in May, and finally the album Hyæna in June – Smith having left the Banshees the month prior to release, citing health issues due to his overloaded schedule.
Meanwhile, in between commitments to the Cure, the Glove and the Banshees, Smith also found time to perform on Tim Pope's Syd Barrett-inspired "I Want To Be A Tree" single. Pope at the time was the regular director of promotional videos for the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Marc Almond, among others, but was taken aback when his fame on American MTV as a video director began to rival that of the bands he worked for. He described the project as "a real piss-take of what was going on in America", prompted by people referring to "Tim Pope Videos", and said that he "felt really strongly that they were not Tim Pope videos, they were Cure videos or Siouxsie videos or whatever". Over the 1983 Christmas holidays, Pope and a friend, Charles Gray, recorded what Pope described as "this really stupid song" that they had co-written years earlier as teenagers. Pope made an accompanying video for his showreel, asking several of the artists he worked with (the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Soft Cell, Talk Talk, the Style Council, Paul Young and Freur) to "come along and slag me off on the showreel". He then played the artists the song, while filming their reactions to it. The Old Grey Whistle Test screened the video, which Pope says resulted in several record deals being offered. The song was re-recorded with Robert Smith playing most instruments in January 1984, produced by Chris Parry, and was released on Fiction Records (with a new video) in June, reaching number 34 in the British charts.
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and a world tour: 1987
1987 saw the release of the double album Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, with the singles "Hot, Hot, Hot!" and "Just Like Heaven" becoming popular in the US. A world tour following the album's release drew millions into stadiums. The line-up included Simon Gallup, Boris Williams, Roger O'Donnell, Lol Tolhurst, Porl, and Robert Smith.
Remixes, Cranes, Pirate Ships, And Also the Trees: 1989–1993
With the completion of the Blue Sunshine project and his departure from Siouxsie and the Banshees, by 1984 Robert Smith had returned to recording and touring with the Cure as his full-time primary band. Between 1985 and 1996, his musical outings beyond The Cure were comparatively rare, with notable exceptions including remix work for And Also the Trees and Cranes. During 1989, Smith and producer Mark Saunders remixed 7'’ and 12'’ versions of the song "The Pear Tree", by And Also the Trees. The "Round Mix" of the song also appeared on the band's album Farewell to the Shade in 1989, followed by a US-only release of The Pear Tree EP the following year. In December that year while mixing the Cure's live album Entreat, Robert also recorded a solo cover version of Wendy Waldman's "Pirate Ships", originally intended for Rubáiyát: Elektra's 40th Anniversary; a compilation album celebrating the history of the Cure's US label Elektra Records. Instead, however, the full band line-up of the Cure recorded "Hello, I Love You" by the Doors for Elektra, and "Pirate Ships" did not see official CD release until Disintegration's "Deluxe Edition" reissue in 2010.
In 1992, Smith invited Cranes to support the Cure live on the Wish Tour. For one of the French dates of the tour (Stade Couvert Régional, Liévin, 15 November 1992), Cranes vocalist Alison Shaw was ill and the group had to revise their entire set, with Robert Smith replacing Alison's vocal melodies on 6-string bass, and joined by the Cure's guitarist Porl Thompson. Cranes wrote most of their next album (1993's Forever) while on the Wish Tour, and the album's title was partly influenced by touring with the Cure. In 1993, Smith and Bryan "Chuck" New remixed the extended 12'’ version of Cranes' single Jewel from the album; Smith again contributing his trademark Fender Bass VI sound and additional guitars to the remixed track. The single gave Cranes their first Top 30 single in Britain and Norway, and also became their biggest commercial breakthrough in the US.
Bowie, Reeves Gabrels, Mark Plati and COGASM: 1997–1999
From 1993, Smith's primary musical engagement was the recording of the Cure's album Wild Mood Swings, released in 1996 and followed by the Swing Tour, concluding in early 1997. He was meanwhile invited to perform at David Bowie's 50th Birthday concert at Madison Square Garden (9 January 1997), where he duetted with Bowie on "The Last Thing You Should Do" and "Quicksand". Here Smith met Bowie's guitarist Reeves Gabrels and co-producer Mark Plati, leading to their collaboration on the single "Wrong Number". Although released under the name of the Cure, "Wrong Number" was one of several "one-off" studio projects recorded during this period by Robert Smith either performing solo, or with guest musicians from outside the full-time line-up of the Cure. Earlier versions of the song had already been recorded by the band, but Plati and Smith completely reconstructed the track, built around a sampled drum loop by Cure drummer Jason Cooper. Smith and Plati added keyboards, effects and new vocals, while Gabrels laid down "a gazillion guitar tracks". Recorded in August, "Wrong Number" was released in October 1997 as the new promotional single to accompany the Cure's Galore singles compilation album.
In February 1998, Robert again collaborated with Reeves Gabrels in the studio, co-writing, singing and playing on the song "Yesterday's Gone" (eventually finding its way to CD release in 2000). The following month, Smith was again recording solo between RAK and Outside studios, assisted this time by co-producer Paul Corkett, whose production credits included Nick Cave, Björk, Placebo, Tori Amos and Suede. These sessions produced "More Than This" (not to be confused with the Roxy Music song) for The X-Files: The Album, and a cover of Depeche Mode's "World in My Eyes" for the tribute album For the Masses. Again, both were released under the name of the Cure, but were essentially Robert Smith solo recordings. Smith said:
The Cure doing Depeche Mode as the Cure just didn't seem quite right. We tried "Walking in My Shoes" at first but it didn't really work, so I went off and did "World In My Eyes" one night in Outside Studios near Reading.
Having made a guest appearance on an episode of South Park earlier in the year (see → ), Smith again collaborated with Trey Parker under the name COGASM, featuring Reeves Gabrels and Jason Cooper, releasing the track "A Sign from God" for the film Orgazmo. Smith's contribution to "Yesterday's Gone" appeared on Gabrels' solo album Ulysses (Della Notte) released in 1999 via Internet and in 2000 on CD by E-magine Music.
Collaborations (feat. Robert Smith): 2003–2007
Smith's musical activity between 1999 and 2002 was again dominated by the Cure, including recording of the Bloodflowers album followed by the "Dream Tour" in 2000, and the 2001 release of their Greatest Hits compilation. In 2002, as Exclaim! magazine's Cam Lindsay later observed, the Cure became "the band to namedrop as a musical influence, sparking rejuvenation for their career. Artists such as Deftones, Mogwai, Tricky and Thursday praise the band and stress their influence, while others like Hot Hot Heat and the Rapture receive constant comparisons". From 2003–2004 a steady succession of guest vocal performances were released with other recording artists "feat. Robert Smith". Smith wrote the words and sang "Perfect Blue Sky (feat. Robert Smith)" for Dutch electronic music producer Junkie XL's album Radio JXL: A Broadcast from the Computer Hell Cabin, released in June 2003; "All of This (feat. Robert Smith)" for Blink-182's self-titled album released in November, and "Believe (feat. Robert Smith)" on veteran Bowie guitarist Earl Slick's Zig Zag album, released 9 December 2003. Slick meanwhile contributed guitars to the Mark Plati mix of "A Forest" featured on the Join The Dots box-set on 27 January 2004. Although issued under the moniker of the Cure, the "Mark Plati mix" was in fact an entirely new recording resulting from the studio collaborations between Slick, Plati and Smith. Smith had also recorded vocals for another completely new version of "A Forest" during 2003, this time billed as a cover version by the German electronic duo "Blank & Jones (feat. Robert Smith)". Released in September 2003, the single reached number 14 in the German Top100 Singles charts, and three separate remixes later appeared on the 2004 album Monument; "A Forest" being described by AllMusic's Rick Anderson as "the centerpiece of the album".
January 2004 also saw the single release of Junior Jack's "Da Hype (feat. Robert Smith)", which also appeared on the Belgium-based Italian house music producer's album Trust It in March. During the same month, an exclusive re-recording of the Cure's "Pictures of You", remixed by Australian electronic musician/producer Paul Mac and released under the banner "Robert Smith – Pictures of You (Paulmac mix)", featured in the soundtrack to the Australian "rave culture" film One Perfect Day. "Truth Is (Featuring – Robert Smith)" appeared on former Nine Inch Nails drummer and co-founder Chris Vrenna's second Tweaker album 2 a.m. Wakeup Call, released 20 April 2004. In 2004, on 17 September at Old Billingsgate Market in London, Robert joined Blink-182 live onstage to perform "All of This" during the MTV Icon tribute to the Cure. On 21 October, Robert stood in as one of three guest presenters for John Peel on BBC Radio 1, just days before Peel's death. Near the end of the year, Robert Smith made two guest appearances live at Wembley Arena; first joining Placebo on 5 November on their song "Without You I'm Nothing" and the Cure's "Boys Don't Cry", followed by Blink-182 on 6 December to perform "All of This" and again, "Boys Don't Cry".
In June 2005, Smith appeared on Smashing Pumpkins/Zwan front man Billy Corgan's solo debut TheFutureEmbrace, sharing vocal duties during the refrain for Corgan's cover of the Bee Gees song "To Love Somebody". In November 2006, Robert appeared on UK trance and trip hop act Faithless's album To All New Arrivals, on the track "Spiders, Crocodiles & Kryptonite", featuring prominent samples of the Cure's "Lullaby", for which Smith recorded a new performance of the original vocal. Another guest vocal on Paul Hartnoll of Orbital's song "Please" was released as a single and appeared on The Ideal Condition in May 2007. Placebo's Steve Hewitt meanwhile announced plans to launch a solo dance/drum'n'bass-influenced album under the working title of Ancient B to feature Smith singing some tracks, and bassist Jon Thorne of Lamb.
More guest vocals, plus solo cover versions: 2010–2015
From 2010–2012, as well as continuing to collaborate with other artists as a guest performer, several cover versions were released by Robert Smith performing solo. Unlike his previous solo covers (such as "Pirate Ships" and "World In My Eyes"), these were officially released under the name of Robert Smith, rather than the Cure. In 2010, he contributed a cover of "Very Good Advice" from the 1951 film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland to the album Almost Alice; a companion release to Tim Burton's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, while "Pirate Ships" from 1989 also saw release on CD for the first time. Further guest vocalist/lyricist collaborations "feat. Robert Smith" during 2010 included the single "J'aurai tout essayé" (a reworking of Smith and Earl Slick's "Believe") by French Canadian rock singer, guitarist and fellow Bowie/Mark Plati/Earl Slick collaborator Anik Jean and the single version of Crystal Castles' cover version of Platinum Blonde's "Not in Love", released on Fiction Records, 6 December 2010. In June 2011, electronic dance act the Japanese Popstars from Northern Ireland released their album Controlling Your Allegiance in the UK, including the track "Take Forever (Ft. Robert Smith)", and the following month, a solo cover version of "Small Hours" by British singer-songwriter and guitarist John Martyn (1948–2009) was released on the tribute album Johnny Boy Would Love This. On 25 October 2011, instrumental rock band 65daysofstatic released the track "Come to Me" featuring Robert Smith as a free download, coinciding with the release of their album We Were Exploding Anyway. In 2012 Robert again recorded a solo cover version for a Tim Burton project; this time covering Frank Sinatra's 1957 hit song "Witchcraft" for Frankenweenie Unleashed!, a 14-track collection of songs "inspired by" the filmmaker's stop-motion film, Frankenweenie, released on 25 September 2012.
In 2015, Smith contributed vocals to the song "Please" from the album 8:58, a project by Paul Hartnoll. The track is in fact a reworking of the track of the same name from the Ideal Condition, which he also contributed vocals for. On 15 June 2015, the Twilight Sad released a single featuring Smith covering "There's a Girl in the Corner", originally from the Twilight Sad's album Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave.
In 2015 Robert Smith also contributed vocals to 'In All Worlds', a single from Eat Static's album Dead Planet.
Robert Smith has credited his older siblings Richard and Margaret with exposing him to rock music such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones when he was six years old. He has said that his early songwriting "was influenced by early Beatles – the sense of a three-minute guitar-pop song", and early in his career the Cure's second single Boys Don't Cry was compared by British music paper Record Mirror to "John Lennon at 12 or 13". Alex and Rita Smith encouraged their children's musical development, as Smith told French magazine Les Inrockuptibles: "my parents were lending us their stuff; my mum made me listen to a lot of classical music to enable me to have a larger vision of music". When Robert was eight years old in 1967, Richard played him "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix, who became hugely influential. Of this period, Robert Smith later went on to say:
Nick Drake's on the other side of the coin to Jimi Hendrix. He was very quiet and withdrawn ... I think also that because he had an untimely death like Jimi Hendrix, he was never able to compromise his early work. He was never able to put a foot wrong. It's a morbid romanticism, but there is something attractive about that.
It was not long afterwards that Robert Smith attended his first rock concert – Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight Festival. At the age of thirteen in 1972, Smith first saw David Bowie on television, performing Starman on Top of the Pops. He later recalled: "...every person in Britain who saw that performance, it's stuck with them. It's like Kennedy being shot for another generation. You just remember that night watching David Bowie on TV. It really was a formative, seminal experience." Smith said that the first LP he ever purchased with his pocket-money was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. According to Apter, Bowie also paved the way for Smith's love of Glam rock bands such as Slade, Sweet and T. Rex, and during the same period, Robert also became a fan of Roxy Music. Rita and Alex Smith maintained their supportive attitude: "My mum and dad ... were encouraging us to talk [about] the records we liked", said Smith. "I remember staggering talks about Slade and Gary Glitter." Smith said that he was fifteen when he first heard Alex Harvey, and that the Sensational Alex Harvey Band was the first and only group he ever really followed.
He was probably my only real idol. I travelled around the country to see them ... People talk about Iggy Pop as the original punk but certainly in Britain the forerunner of the punk movement was Alex Harvey ... I remembered the power of that live performance and I've tried to have that in my mind since I started up my own group.
Smith soon became influenced by the emergence of the UK punk scene of 1977, and has cited the Sex Pistols, the Stranglers, Elvis Costello, the Buzzcocks and Siouxsie and the Banshees as important influences on his own music from this period. He described the release of Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols as
...the last time something major happened to me and changed me ... it was the best summer of my life. I remember listening to "Anarchy" for the very first time at a party and thinking "this is it!" You knew straight away, you either loved it or hated it, and it polarised an entire nation for that summer.
Elsewhere Smith said that the Stranglers were his favourite punk band and that Elvis Costello "was a cut above the whole lot of them", in terms of lyrics and songcraft.
Smith was influenced by the Banshees' "wall of noise" and the Buzzcocks' melodies, and aspired to combine the two. Ian Birch of Melody Maker recognised the Banshees' influence on Smith's band early on, comparing the Cure's 1978 debut single Killing An Arab favourably to Siouxsie's Hong Kong Garden (released a few short months earlier). Along with the Banshees, early Cure gigs from 1978–1979 supporting post-punk bands such as Wire and Joy Division influenced Robert shift in musical direction from the Cure's 1979 album, Three Imaginary Boys, to 1980's sophomore effort, Seventeen Seconds. Playing support for Wire (at Kent University in October 1978) gave Smith the idea "to follow a different course, to hold out against the punk wave ... Wire pointed out another direction to me."
Stage persona and image
Smith began sporting his trademark and cult style of smeared red lipstick, eye-liner, pale complexion, artfully dishevelled black hair, black clothes and trainers in the early 1980s, around the same time as the Goth subculture took off. However, Robert Smith denies any credit for this trend and claims it is a coincidence that the styles are similar, stating that he wore makeup since he was young and further saying: "It's so pitiful when 'Goth' is still tagged onto the name the Cure."
The sombre mood of early albums, combined with Smith's on-stage persona, cemented the band's "gothic" image. The band's aesthetic went from gloomy to psychedelic beginning with The Top. In 1986, Smith altered his image by appearing on-stage and in press photos sporting short spiky hair and polo shirts (this can be seen in The Cure in Orange, a concert in the south of France released on video in 1987). This new haircut made the headlines on MTV news.
Although Smith's public persona could be deemed to portray a depressed image, he has stated that his songs do not convey how he feels all, or even most of the time:
"At the time we wrote Disintegration ... it's just about what I was doing really, how I felt. But I'm not like that all the time. That's the difficulty of writing songs that are a bit depressing. People think you're like that all the time, but I don't think that. I just usually write when I'm depressed."
Smith has a tenor vocal range. In the band's earliest period, he used a soft vocal style on the demos of "10:15 Saturday Night" and "Boys Don't Cry", and a frenetic punk style on "I Just Need Myself". Both of those styles were left behind as a third emerged during the production of the band's debut album, Three Imaginary Boys. This new sound, which can be heard on most of the final versions of songs from that period, became the signature Smith sound, which he generally abandoned during Seventeen Seconds era'. Around that time, Smith said he wanted to improve his singing, the opposite of his goal in 1984: he remarked in the documentary Ten Imaginary Years that he tried to sing badly on the album The Top.
Smith's songwriting has developed a range of styles and themes throughout his career. Some songs incorporate literary paraphrase, such as Camus' novel L'Etranger in "Killing an Arab" (1978), and "How Beautiful You Are" (1987), based on a poem by Baudelaire. The song "The Drowning Man" (1981) is also a reference to the Gormenghast books by Mervyn Peake. Others involve punk metafiction ("So What"), surrealism ("Accuracy"), straightforward rock/pop ("Boys Don't Cry", "I'm Cold"), and poetic mood pieces ("Another Day" and "Fire in Cairo"). In subsequent decades, Smith explored more poetic moods, which accorded with New Order and other bands of that genre. In an interview in 2000, Smith said that "there is one particular kind of music, an atmospheric type of music, that I enjoy making with the Cure. I enjoy it a lot more than any other kind of sound". When Smith was asked about the 'sound' of his songwriting, Smith said that he did not "think there is such a thing as a typical Cure sound. I think there are various Cure sounds from different periods and different line-ups."
Guitar playing style
In a 1992 interview with Guitar Player magazine, Smith shared insights from his first guitar lessons—undertaken at the age of 9 years—and his guitar-playing style, as well as his habit of purposely detuning the high "E" (first) string on his guitars. Of his first lessons, Smith stated:
I started on classical guitar, actually. I had lessons from age nine with a student of John Williams, a really excellent guitarist. [...] I learned a lot, but got to the point where I was losing the sense of fun. I wish I'd stuck with it. I still read music, but it takes me too long to work through a piece.
Smith also described his detuning process:
I don't know what it adds, but the guitar just doesn't sound quite right to me normally. In the studio, I often defy the tuners, particularly with keyboard overdubs. I even change the speed of the tape to detune some parts. I think a lot of players presented with the same guitar and told to tune it themselves would come up with something drastically different. And the way you play [guitar] affects the perceived tuning. If Porl [Thompson] and I tune together and play the same thing, but he plays hard and I play soft, it will sound completely off.
Speaking about Wish in 1992, Smith also offered the following input on how detuned instruments played a significant role in the album, and the challenges of capturing the sound live. "A lot of things on our record [Wish] that sound like heavy chorusing are actually just detuned instruments. The only drawback to that is onstage it's very confusing sometimes, especially with lots of phasing effects going on. It turns into this overwhelming pulsing sound, and you can't hear anything."
While recording the Cure's debut Three Imaginary Boys album in 1978, Smith's guitar during this period was a Woolworth's Top 20 electric guitar, and was told by Chris Parry to use a more suitable instrument, so Smith went out and purchased a Fender Jazzmaster (based on Smith's having recently seen Elvis Costello playing one on Top of the Pops, but then decided to have the Top 20 Pickup installed into the Jazzmaster, giving it a 3rd pickup. Smith explained this guitar customization in 1992: "The third pickup [in the Fender Jazzmaster] is from a Woolworth's Top 20 guitar, my very first electric. I took it in to record our first album, along with a little WEM combo amp. [Manager/producer] Chris Parry, who was paying for the record, said," you can't use that!" We went out and bought a Fender Jazzmaster, and I immediately had the Top 20 pickup installed in it, which really upset Chris. I played the entire Three Imaginary Boys album through a Top 20 pickup. It's a brilliant guitar, though I actually bought it because of how it looked."
Smith's notable guitar work was first heard on the first Cure single "Killing An Arab" which was released in Dec. 1978, where Smith performed an intricate Middle Eastern sounding descending and ascending guitar riff to accompany the song, as well as the B-side 10:15 Saturday Night, where Smith played the heavily-distorted solo that's featured in the song. Smith would soon expand on his guitar style further with the Cure's second album Seventeen Seconds, notably on the singles "A Forest", where Smith played an extended solo-outro on his Jazzmaster, as well as Play For Today, where Smith demonstrated an intricate use of harmonics.
With every Cure album release on-ward, Smith would soon incorporate a number of different guitars and sounds into the Cure’s repertoire with stylistic versatility and craftsmanship over the course of thirty years. Notably, starting with The Top, in 1984, Smith started incorporating Spanish acoustic guitars (notably on the songs "Birdmad Girl", and "The Caterpillar"), and from the mid-80s onward Smith included more acoustic guitar instrumentation on later Cure songs such as "The Blood", as well as notable singles such as "In Between Days", "Just Like Heaven", and "Friday I’m In Love". On the 1987 release Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Smith showcased a diverse style of guitar playing across the 17-track album. Notably on the opening track "The Kiss" where Smith played an extended Wah-wah pedal introductory solo that opened the LP, as well as the single "Hot Hot Hot!!!" where Smith included an intricate funk playing style that intersected with Porl Thompson's guitar lines. Another ingredient of Smith’s guitar sound is the Fender VI, which proved to be a staple of the Cure’s sound during the early 80’s on Cure albums such as Faith, and was later played by Smith on the 1989 release Disintegration. Smith shared the following input of his use of the Fender VI:
"I added the six-string bass on the Faith album. I think [producer] Mike Hedges stole it. I'm not sure from whom, but he said they'd never miss it. He worked with a lot of big-name artists and he felt it was his duty as a socialist to relieve them of some of their worldly possessions. So he gave me that at the end of Seventeen Seconds. I actually wrote "Primary" on it and incorporated it into a few other things."
Speaking of his brief stint(s) of playing guitar with Siouxsie & the Banshees in 1979, (and later from 1982-1984 while still playing with the Cure), Smith offered the following input of his time with the Banshees: "it allowed me to experiment. I inherited an approach from John [McKay, the Banshee's first guitarist] which was just to have everything full up, really. It was just a matter of getting somewhere in the region of the right chord, and you got away with it. [Steve] Severin's bass was so loud, Budgie's drums were so thunderous, and Siouxsie's voice was so loud in the mix, that there was very little room for guitar. It was phased/flanged distortion noise, really. There were only about 5 songs where I had to learn the parts. The rest of it was just in a key."
Smith started incorporating more distortion and feedback sounds and textures on albums such as "Wish" where Smith predominantly played a Gibson Chet Atkins as well.
Speaking to The Hit in 1985, Smith gave a frank assessment of his approach to guitar playing, and musicianship in general. "I'm not technically a good player but at least I don't sound like anyone else. For me the idea of being a musician has nothing to do with technical ability, but I suppose you have to have a certain amount to be able to put ideas into music. I think it's important to get past the stage of being comfortable with an instrument. You need the capacity to learn - most people tend to stay at the same level, which [I think] is boring to listen to."