Songwriter Interviews

The Cure Founder Lol Tolhurst

by Carl Wiser

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Lol Tolhurst first met Robert Smith when they were five-year-old schoolmates in Crawley, England. Twelve years later, they formed The Cure, a group that helped define the sound of alternative rock.

Smith quickly emerged as the leader of the group, taking over on lead vocals and becoming the primary songwriter. Tolhurst was his stalwart sideman in their tumultuous early years, starting off as the band's drummer and then moving to keyboards (an instrument he had to learn) a few years later. His tenure in The Cure ended during the 1989 Disintegration sessions when his alcoholism caught up with him and Smith let him go. He filed an ugly lawsuit (which he lost), and eventually patched things up with Smith, returning to play some reunion shows in 2011.

In 2016, Tolhurst published Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys, his memoir detailing the formation and rise of the band. The overarching story is his relationship with Smith and how they won over audiences in hardscrabble England, which wasn't always friendly to their look and sound. Lol took the time to answer some questions about the book and discuss some of the songs he helped create with Smith.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): To research Cured, you returned to England. What did you find most surprising?

Lol Tolhurst: Two things: How much things had changed and how little they had changed! By which I mean that it was obvious that the country has come into the 21st century in many ways with new technology etc., however the type of people that we wanted to get away from still exist there.

Songfacts: "The lyrics have always spoken to me in a very helpful and healing way," you write. What specific lyrics have been particularly helpful to you?

Lol: I had a hand in some Cure lyrics so obviously they were from my own experiences, like "All Cats are Grey" which was about my mother's death. But also Robert's words have always helped me too. We went through many of the same things together growing up so they are relevant to me also.

Songfacts: You write about dealing with the "Neanderthal-like" kids where you and Robert grew up. Was "Boys Don't Cry" directed at them?

Lol: I don't recall that was why Robert wrote those particular words, although I can see how it could be taken that way. It's more a love song I think.

Songfacts: "Killing An Arab" is a very bold choice for a debut single. How did you feel about the song?

Lol: I didn't think it was so bold back when we wrote it. It was about alienation and existentialism - things more relevant to us then. Obviously events of the last two decades have changed the perception of the song's meaning. Totally erroneously I might add, as it has nothing to do with racism or killing at all.

Songfacts: What Cure song got the strongest fan reaction when you played it live?

Lol: Cure fans always sing along to the keyboard line of "Play For Today," which is pretty wonderful to experience!

Songfacts: You tell a great story about creating "The Walk," but what's going on in the lyric?

Lol: I would say that quite a few of the Cure's lyrics are open to a free interpretation of the listener. This is one!

Songfacts: Phil Thornalley [producer of the Pornography album] told us, "The nutty stories you've read about the making of the record, they're all true." What was the nuttiest thing that happened to you at this time?

Lol: Actually Phil was a bastion of sanity at this time, so I believe anything he says about it. Consumption was at an all-time high. We kept a beer-can mountain in the studio with all the drink cans and bottles we had drunk throughout the album. I slept in it at least once. It was very comfortable! On reflection, I think the nuttiest thing is that nobody died.

Songfacts: What Cure song represents your best work, and why?

Lol: Any song on Pornography. For despite, or maybe because of the insanity, it represents the pinnacle of the three-piece Cure for me.

Songfacts: You discuss your transition from drums to keyboards. How did that affect your songwriting?

Lol: In terms of songwriting it obviously opened up melody to me more. Before, I either wrote drum parts or lyrics. Once I had the keys I could add to my arsenal sonically. It also gave me access to lots of great and weird sounds which I loved.

Songfacts: What were some of your main contributions to Cure lyrics?

Lol: There are quite a few: "All Cats are Grey," "Grinding Halt," etc.

While I understand why people want to dissect the song-making process, it has never been like that for me. I contribute where I can and don't keep score. I have always been a writer and so my book is the logical end to that process.

Songfacts: Cured deals with far more than music - friendship is an overarching theme. Was this your plan all along?

Lol: Absolutely! I had no interest in writing Behind the music volume 203, you know? I used The Cure as the framework to hang the story of a lifelong friendship on, and a tale of redemption. This is something applicable to all, not just Cure fans or even other music fans. All people experience something along these lines to a greater or lesser extent. I just experienced some of mine in public!

November 15, 2016
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Photo: Scott Witter

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Comments: 1

  • Jimbo from The 1970sAlways thought White Man Killing An Arab was based on the Camus book, er about about alienation and existentialism - The Outsider (or L'Étranger if you wish to be picky). Very good it is too.
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