Remember the first time you fell in love with a certain song, album and later an entire band? If it happens at the right time this love can last a lifetime. British independent rock institution The Cure are such a band that managed to stick with many people and – by now – multiple generations of fans – for a very long time. This year officially marks the 40th anniversary of the group around iconic leading man Robert Smith and while there’s still no new studio album on the horizon the band is still alive. There’s going to be a new reworks album produced by Smith which arrives for Record Store Day on April 21, he’s curating this year’s Meltdown festival and the entire band will play a massive birthday gig at London’s Hyde Park in July, supported by bands like Interpol, Editors and Slowdive aka groups that were really inspired by The Cure.
The dark sound of despair and the overall unadapted attitude by the band has always attracted the misfits and those who were looking for an honest alternative to mainstream pop culture. As this demand is pretty timeless and more necessary than ever in the 21st century it might also explain the ongoing fascination of The Cure and their musical legacy. Over the past forty years Robert Smith and his group have inspired countless artists from various creative fields and established themselves as one of the most influential bands of all time. Danish producer and songwriter Anders Trentemøller is no exception to the rule. Nods to the sound of The Cure are sensible all over his discography, from the early days of techno to his later more band-sounding releases.
‘It’s really crazy that it’s been forty years already as it still sounds quite fresh in my head,’ Trentemøller starts our conversation when we phone up to talk about one of our favourite bands of all time. Being a lifelong fan of The Cure and having mentioned their influence on him multiple times in the past, the acclaimed artist felt like an appropriate expert to join me for the following fan boy talk.
My first conscious encounter with The Cure aside from hearing Friday I’m In Love on some Top 40 radio station might have been 2001’s forgotten Cut Here single. So, I was pretty late but I assume you got into them way earlier. Do you remember that moment?
Anders Trentemøller: I do remember as it was the time when I was about 14 and 15 years old. I had this small local band when I lived in the countryside back then. A good friend was the drummer of the band and one day he brought the double vinyl of Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me to our rehearsal space and said: ‘You need to listen to this.’ Of course, that was the time when we constantly played new music to each other, no matter if it was an old record or an entirely new one. I remember him putting on the album in his room and we were totally blown away by it.
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is indeed a tough album. My first impression was ‘Damn, it got 17 tracks.’
AT: (laughs) I know the album’s been quite long but you look different on these things nowadays as we got Spotify, iTunes and Co. people might lake of patience when it comes to experiencing such a record today but for us back then it was pure magic. I remember even dimming the lights and lightening some candles as we listened to the album.
We didn’t talk that much, we were just listening to the album for hours.
What was so special about its atmosphere to you?
AT: It felt very mysterious but also had these really brilliant pop songs on it. This mixture of something quite melodic and other very deep and complex songs was something that instantly spoke to us. I mean you got a brutal song like Torture and only two tracks later comes Why Can’t I Be You? which is quite the opposite of that. So, that was my first encounter with The Cure and it’s still one of my favourite albums of all time. I also love their albums Faith, Seventeen Seconds and Disintegration but Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me got that special place in my heart.
When I first started listening to their music I was already quite ‘late’ to have the full teen angst experience since I was in my early twenties …
AT: I was at the ‘perfect’ age to get into this sort of sound. 15, insecure and very much interested in music. (laughs) Somehow this band managed to capture all these emotions and became the soundtrack to my teenage years. Especially the vibe and musical atmosphere spoke to me, probably more than the lyrics which I didn’t all understand back then.
A reduced and well-thought approach to music
Is there such a thing like an atypical Cure song for you?
AT: One of my favourite tracks is All Cats Are Grey from the Faith album. I like it because it appears to be so simple but the chords on the other hand are very unique and original and had a slightly different progression. It’s that sound that fascinated me. When I first heard the Seventeen Seconds album I was totally convinced that they used drum machines back as these drums sounded so damn cold and dry. I later read that they used small contact microphones to get this effect of isolated drum parts and it was things like that which spoke to me. Most of the rock bands back then wanted to sound like they would sound like but The Cure had this special ‘studio sound’ approach, quite lo-fi and simple yet still organic. There were small and often subtle melodies that came from all these instruments and that’s very fascinating till today. It’s that reduced and well-thought approach towards music and its effect which works as an inspiration to me.
Speaking of inspiration… Especially on your 2016 album Fixion there are undeniable nods to The Cure sensible in tracks like Never Fade and November, right?
AT: When I started to work on this record and those songs I wasn’t really thinking about the whole Cure sound. It has become such an important part of my musical socialization and personal DNA that I don’t notice these things anymore. But when I first played these tracks to a few friends of mine they were like: ‘Man, that’s totally the bass of The Cure’ and I was like ‘Oh Shit, you’re right.’ (laughs) I didn’t want to change it in the aftermath as it felt natural to me. In many ways these songs are tributes to The Cure as the whole Fixion album got multiple connection points to the music I grew up with. That’s also some critics might state about my music… all those obvious references but I honestly don’t really care.
I remember you and your band also including the Lullaby riff during some of your live shows.
AT: That was also something I incorporated naturally as the riff perfectly fit to one of my songs. It’s our little ‘Hello’ to The Cure when I and my band perform live.
If you ever happen to catch a Trentemøller live show you will clearly spot the references but so will you with many other popular bands. From Interpol to The xx – the dark and reduced notion, all those tiny elements and melodies – it feels as if almost everything in contemporary alternative music somehow leads back to The Cure at certain points. Whether it’s the pumping bassline, the dry and cold mechanic drum beat or the love for reverb-infected guitar play – listening to the discography of The Cure is also like listening to the beginning of an entire genre. Their ingredients have become crucial parts of modern day indie DNA and that’s something you can’t worship enough.
Personally I found the band’s ability to adapt and change quite fascinating when you look on the entire three decades of released music. It starts with that simplicity you already mentioned and heads over to that bigger sound in quite a natural way …
Anders Trentemøller: What I also love about them is that they really wanted to create their own sound and you can hear that and all these early works. It had this very honest feeling; not much layers, not a lot overdubs. It was really raw and pure. And then on top came Robert Smith’s unique voice which was very different from anything I heard ever before. I also loved when he joined Siouxsie and the Banshees back then for a limited time because he also got a special way of playing guitar which has always been a part of the whole The Cure sound.
I like the way they always made the most out of a minimum of ingredients. It’s very inspiring.
You worked with plenty of guest vocalists in the past years so I really need to ask the obvious question right here: Did you ever approach Robert Smith to sing on a Trentemøller record?
AT: Yeah, well that almost happened. Some friend of mine had a connection to a guy on Danish national radio and he said that he had Robert’s E-Mail which I somehow got after a lot of talking. I remember sending him a track that was very different from The Cure as I wasn’t really interested in doing an ‘electronic version’ of his band which felt like a cheap trick to me. But, well, I never heard anything back from him. Maybe I should try a bit stalking again. (laughs)
A ‘larger than life’ legacy
If a younger generation wants to get into The Cure – what would be the best record to start?
AT: I would actually recommend to start with Disintegration as it perfectly captures the essence of The Cure.
Yes, couldn’t agree more.
AT: Disintegration is of course an important album and it came to me at another perfect time when I was around 18 and had to face important changes and decisions in my life. If you are down for that dark and melancholic sound you can start to dig a bit deeper. From the sweet delicacy of Lovesong to the manic funk of Fascination Street – it’s all in there on one album and that makes it so in credible. Maybe Faith is a great one to follow up as it feels quite intimate compared to Disintegration and it’s probably also more of a band album.
I like that cohesive character almost all of their 80s albums have – they float naturally, got the perfect length, different feelings within the record …
AT: You’re right. There is a certain homogeneous feeling to all the albums from the 80s and you can actually follow a certain story in there which is quite nice. And in many ways that structure also somehow inspired the way I compile my own albums or build the live sets.
But we are allowed to skip the 90s Cure, right?
AT: (laughs) Well, I must confess I somehow slowly lost track following Disintegration and didn’t get most of the stuff they did in the 1990s.
I think Bloodflowers from 2000 was a solid return to form. You should give this one another try.
AT: Thanks, I will. They also did this Jimmy Hendrix cover in the past years which I really like, maybe because Hendrix and The Cure are such different musical worlds.
I think over the years the stakes got higher and higher when you are a living legend that inspired multiple generations of musicians. Maybe that’s the reason why The Cure somehow turned into a ‘legacy band’ as they haven’t released a new studio album in a decade.
AT: You cannot do the same thing over and over again. I know this thing as an artist as you constantly have to develop your music. The last time I saw them was at the Roskilde Festival a few years back and it was fantastic. They played three and a half hours. They sounded as powerful as they’ve always been and they didn’t appear weak to me. I liked a few songs on their last album back in 2008 as they managed to capture their musical identity a bit better.
I mean they’ve written so many songs and classics, maybe Robert Smith is aware of this and he doesn’t want to bother the world with mediocre material, right?
AT: Exactly. That was also what I was thinking. It’s very tough to remain on the same productive level for over forty years, especially after you’ve written so many great songs. So, there is probably a lot of pressure but mostly from Robert Smith himself, I think. Plus you also got plenty of bands who do that sort of sound these days. Including me. (laughs) So, it’s gotten harder to actually be original here.
Yeah, especially since there’s so much to discover already. I didn’t even get through everything – 13 studio albums, countless bonus-tracks, B-Sides, remixes and other releases. There’s already enough out and the quality is timeless.
AT: I agree. They have a very natural sense for melodies. And these melodies are indeed timeless and could also work perfectly on songs written today. I’m very much inspired by the songwriting of Robert Smith. A lot of them are really great pop tunes but they tend to disguise themselves in something different. They also released an unplugged album many years ago where you could perfectly see how this all perfectly also works on a much smaller level.
In the end I think nostalgia is an important ally when it comes to these things …
AT: Listening to music for the first time is like remembering the first smell of something.
Well, there’s an undeniable truth in that.
AT: All Cats Are Grey, for example, reminds me of my girlfriend leaving me back there. It can be frustrating when you listen to new music and it gets harder and harder to feel the same emotional connection like you used to have. Maybe it’s also because you are a bit more open minded when you are younger. The music you listen to from 15 to – let’s say – 25 will stick with you forever.
And that’s hopefully what Trentemøller and I have achieved with this little chitchat. Get to know this band, make them a part of your life, take your time and discover their sound and atmosphere behind it. It’s never too late to fall in love with The Cure and it’s absolutely legitimate to have a new generation make the same nostalgic connection with them like so many before. No matter what the future might hold for them, their music will continue to shine bright in the darkness.