Lol Tolhurst: “The Cure Became my Gang”
Most of the iconic bands of the past generations have many stories of demons and redemption to tell; and The Cure, of course, is one of them. Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst, former drummer and keyboard player of the band recently released a memoir titled “Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys,” where he shares key moments of the formation of the group in Crawley, his friendship with Robert Smith, and the struggles that led him to departure from The Cure.
Before his visit to Miami we had the opportunity of sharing a conversation with Lol, who is one of the creative minds behind the creation of some of The Cure’s best and most influential albums albums such as Three Imaginary Boys, Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography.
In this interview Tolhurst talks about the motivations he had for writing this memoir, the most difficult moments of his career, fatherhood, and how was to share the stage back again with Robert Smith in 2011.
Lol Tolhurst will be at Radioactive Records this Friday from 6-8pm for a special in store book signing and later that night at Gramps for a book signing and DJ set.
This Friday you’ll visit Miami in support of your book “Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys.” Why did you decide to start writing it?
Because it’s been long enough, really, since most of the events in the book. A lot of stuff in the book is before I was 30. I’m 58 now so there’s been a long period and enough time to reflect on what went on. And I think that’s better than if I had written it when I was younger it would perhaps have been more difficult to write and I wouldn’t have such a clear perspective.
I imagine that writing a memoir of things that happened so many years ago must be difficult. How long did it take you to write the book and what was the most challenging part?
It took about a year, and rather stay at home and write it – because if I stayed at home I’d get distracted – I rented myself a little office about a mile from where I live. I went there every day, five days a week, five hours a day, and would immerse myself in the writing process. But it still took about a year to write the manuscript and about another six months to edit it, copy edit, and proof it. All in all it was an 18 month process.
The first page was difficult but I have some friends who are writers so I asked them for hints and techniques. I also asked my publisher for a good book to read about the art of writing and he recommended Stephen King, so I read that. I followed people’s advice because to me it was a new area. But I just decided that I would spend the whole year (2015) writing the book, and it worked out right in the end, and I was very happy by the time I finished. I found that it was one of the most creative experiences of my life.
Did you get inspired by other autobiographies or books, like Patti Smith’ “Just Kids,” for example?
Yes, I read that one, and it was really good. And in some ways, yes, there are some echoes because it’s a story about her and Robert Mapplethorpe – and mine is a story of me and Robert – but there were other ones that I really liked. I read a lot of different memoirs. I really liked Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up.” The way he described his relationship with his father and him being a teenager was really good. Another one I really liked – which might seem strange – was Doug McKagan’s from Guns N’ Roses. It was very honest. I contacted Doug and I asked him about it, so now we write to each other like pen pals. I enjoyed it a lot and it gave me a lot of hints. But the memoirs I enjoyed the most were the ones that I felt were honest. So I tried to be truthful in my memoir.
In the book you tell the story of your friendship with Robert Smith since you were kids. How was it to grow up in Crawley in the 70’s ? And how did the cultural and political situation of England at the time affected the formation of The Cure?
In some ways the cultural and political situation in England back then is very similar to what it is now in the world. There’s a lot of unrest and polarization. What happened when we were growing up was, in music, the punk movement. It was a voice of protest and that really said something to us. It made us believe that we could do something, so that’s really why we started. And I think now is a similar time, so I’m looking forward to what comes out artistically from this. Good art comes from tough times.
Can you describe what you felt the first time The Cure played live?
The first time i played with the Cure live, we’d actually been rehearsing for three years. We started when we were teens. I always feel the same way performing with the Cure. The last time I played was in 2011 during the Reflections tour. I always feel very comfortable. A lot of people who go on stage get nervous, their heart rate increases… I’m the opposite. My heart rate slows down, and I’m very calm on stage. It’s almost like meditation. I’ve always felt that way and that’s always been my experience. You also have to consider that the people who are on stage with me are my teenage friends. They’re my family, they’re the people I grew up with and I know very well, and they know me very well. It’s comfortable.
What’s the story behind “A Forest,” one of the singles off Seventeen Seconds? It was a breakthrough song and considered by many one of The Cure’s first hits in the UK.
Cure songs, in general, come in different ways. There isn’t one method. But for “A Forest,” I had a title, and the title was “A Forest.” I showed it to Robert, and he thought it would go well with a piece of music he was writing. He showed it to me and at that time, we were still rehearsing at Robert’s parents’ house. It was the start of a sound that we pioneered to become The Cure. It was the first time we allowed ourselves – with that song and all the songs on Seventeen Seconds – and that’s when we decided that we had a vision of what we wanted to sound like and what we were gonna be.
When did you realize that you had become of the foundational bands of the post-punk and goth movements?
I don’t think anybody ever thinks or realizes that. To us, we were just on the road playing for years, for a long time. In the book I talk about that: how that’s sometimes kind of good but also kind of destructive because you don’t give yourself a chance to relax or get away from it. Up until when we went to Los Angeles fon time, most of our audience had been mostly guys. MTV came out and we had a couple of videos there, and all of a sudden I realized: “this thing is a lot bigger than I thought it was, and it’s getting bigger all the time.” And in terms of being a foundation for lots of movements, I only realized that now, 40 years later. Everywhere I go now, people give me cassettes or cds of their bands and I can hear the influence. I know that we did something that changed the face of music and culture, which, to me, makes me feel both humbled and flattered at the same time. I’m proud but also in awe of the things that happened.
One of the moments that you highlight in your book was your departure from The Cure in 1988. How was that moment for you?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. It was as I described in the book. I kind of expected it because it had been coming for a long time, but it was also very painful. They’re my family. The family I grew up in was kind of dysfunctional. My father was an alcoholic, my mom died when I was young. So The Cure became my family. It was much like how people join gangs. The Cure became my gang, in a way. When you’re in something like that and you’re so close, to not be a part of it is very painful, almost like a mini death. Out of that pain, out of that crucible of pain and suffering, came something much better so I don’t really regret anything. Stuff has to happen the way they happen. Now, much later on, my life is very good, I’m a very happy person and fulfilled person which is really great, and I still talk to everybody in the Cure: Robert, Simon, Mike Dempsey and Pearl Thompson. They’re still my close friends and everything is fine.
What did you do during those years? I know you formed Levinhurst in the early 2000’s but that was over ten years later.
Before that, I had a son, who’s now 25. I made a promise to myself — much in the same way that happened to Patti Smith, because she didn’t play for a long time. I decided that when I had my son and while living in Los Angeles. I had to raise him by myself for a long period of time until I met my current wife, so decided that I was gonna be the father I wished that I had had. So I stayed at home, I didn’t go on the road, I did very low key things… That way he got to have a father, and that to me is my greatest joy. So that’s what I did. Then he became a teenager, found his way around, did his own stuff… He was a musician and a poet. That’s when I decided: “okay, now I can go do something!” Actually, that’s really one of the reasons why I started to write the book, when he left home. There was suddenly room and space for me to do something and that’s what came out.
How was reuniting with Robert and The Cure in 2011?
It was really good. I wrote to Robert and I told him I’d been playing some of the old songs with my band during our European tour, and it was really fun. I had Michael, the original bass player in The Cure, with me and we really enjoyed it. I told Robert that the next year would be the anniversary of Faith – 30 years – and that we should do something. I didn’t hear about him for a while, then about two months later, he said: “why don’t we do all three of the first albums?” So I said: “great!” We thought “let’s go to Australia first because if it goes wrong, nobody will know, because they’re so far away from everybody!” But it went really well. It was a very happy experience for all of us and it was as if nothing had changed. And then we did the rest of the concerts in London, Los Angeles and New York, and it worked out really well. We’re all older guys now – we still have 20-30 more years left if we’re lucky – so I’m sure there’s room to do something else at some point.
And now you are in a different kind of tour but still touring with your book. What do you want people to experience when reading “Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys?”
The idea of the book is that there’s the story of the band, which is the framework, but ultimately, it’s a very human story — a story about a lot of people who grew up at the same time as me. It’s a story about a generation and how certain things came to pass and how life changes, and for that I want it to be helpful to people.
What can we expect from your DJ set this Friday at Gramps? Are you going to go with post-punk classic or are you going to surprise us with something new?
Both. I normally play 2 sets, my first set is post-punk, but the second one has more surprises is a little different. But people seem to like it and it’s worthwhile to come along to.