Out of the working-class town of Crawley, in West Sussex, England, The Cure pioneered a distinct style of dark and tormented goth-punk, captured the spirit of disaffected suburban youth, and rose to become one of the most influential bands of the 1980s. Now, decades later, drummer and founding member Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst reflects on his time in the band in a memoir titled, Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys.
With detached wit and deadpan charm, Tolhurst captures the band’s early days, and navigates the story of his descent into alcoholism while the band ascended to global stardom. We caught up with him to talk about his upbringing in Margaret Thatcher’s England, his time spent with singer Robert Smith, and whether his approach to creativity has changed over the years.
For starters, where did your band name come from?
What we did to make the name is we chopped all the lyrics up and put them in a hat, because we heard that William Burroughs and Bowie did that. One song I had written the words, “I need some easy curing,” and “easy cure” came out. We called ourselves that for a while but changed it, later on, to include “the,” because we thought it sounded a bit more punky.
What sort of music are you listening to these days?
I have a son who’s 24; he tells me what’s good and what’s new. And I listen to a lot of old stuff as well – a lot of Can and Captain Beefheart, still all those kinds of things. I’m a big Bowie fan, especially around the time of his Berlin Trilogy. Low is my favorite album.
Where are you living now?
I’ve been living in California for the last 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve come [to England] and it’s been warmer. I’ve actually been able to go swimming in the ocean, which never happens. I’d been to California a number of times when I was younger, and always liked the place and the people, so when everything finished with The Cure, I went there, because I wanted a complete change. It’s a common thing in my family; we’re spread out all around the world.
Photo: The Early Days of The Cure's Rise to Fame / Ghetty Images
Much your memoir focuses on your upbringing in working-class England during the Thatcher years. How did that influence your music?
I think it totally influenced it. If life is too good and too comfortable, if it’s like every day on the beach and you haven’t really got a worry – you’re fine. But to us, making The Cure was our escape, it was our way out of that life, and we worked very hard at escaping. There are still a bunch of people who feel the same way, with the current political climate in the U.S., with Trump and the election, and with European politics. It probably means that there is some other great music coming down the line soon.
There were some violent situations that you talk about in the book. Was it a rough time to live in England?
Yeah, because along with lack of employment and the three-day week for electricity – they cut the power off for four days a week for a while there because there was all that unrest and there was nobody to run the power stations – so along with all of that it makes people kind of aggressive. We would be meeting all these National Front [a political party for whites only] guys and far-right guys in town and they just decided that they didn’t like the way that we looked because we looked a bit punky, and that was good enough excuse for them to have a pop at us. Yeah, it was pretty terrifying, but it was also something that made our resolve for what we wanted to do stronger.
Can’t be punk unless you get in a couple of fights, right?
How is the creative process now compared with the early days of the Cure?
I don’t know that it ever really changes. It’s still looking for the same things. When I listen to a piece of music, I got to judge it myself, and I have to hear it and be detached from it to know how good it is. If you’re thinking about the process of it the whole time, it’s probably not finished. You got to wait until you get that feeling that you want to give everybody else. It can take different lengths of time – sometimes it can be very quick, and you don’t even know what happened, and it just works. But it can take a long while, too. Artists like Picasso would go into the galleries or the places where their art is exhibited and add bits to it as it was up on the wall. People would be like: What is that old guy doing adding bits to Picasso’s painting? But it was Picasso doing it. It’s the same with the book I just did. I finished it around Christmas last year, but I’ve been working on it, finessing little bits all the way, till a couple of months ago.
Will there be other books?
This is the first book I’ve written, yeah, but hopefully it won’t be the last. I’m inspired to write some more. I’ve got three themes at the moment: fiction, nonfiction, and there might even be a graphic novel…
You spoke a lot in your book about your battle with alcoholism. What made you decide to turn your life around?
Life got uncontrollable; everything was running away from me. That’s quite a good incentive. I woke up one day and felt like I was going mad. So I just thought it’s about time I flipped the coin and changed it. It was pretty much on the cusp of when I left The Cure, which was part of the reason. It’s one of the things that made it feel so uncontrollable. That [choice to stop drinking] was 27 years ago and I’m happy with the decision.
Photo: Courtesy of Lol Tolhurst
What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
If I wasn’t doing music, I think I would want to be a writer. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It just took me a long time to get to that point. I started with the idea to write a book in 2013, and in 2014 I thought about it a lot more, and in 2015 I wrote it. I spent the whole year writing it. I rented myself a little office and went there five days a week, four to five hours a day, and chopped out 1,000 to 2,000 words if I could. Writing’s hard, the only way to do it is to sit your bottom down on the seat and write. I once saw this sign in Los Angeles that said, “The secret to good writing is...,” and it just said “good writing.” Because that’s it, you just have to write; there’s nothing more to it.
What’s your favorite song by The Cure?
My favorite song, at the moment – because it changes – is “Piggy in the Mirror” off The Top. I like the singles that we did, too, things like “The Walk” and “The Lovecats.” I feel like they have a timeless appeal. Even to me they sound fresh.
You played a reunion gig in 2011.How was that?
That was great but it was like riding a bike, once you know how to do it, you don’t forget. When we got back on-stage in Sydney it was a wonderful experience; everything just slotted right into place. We had a couple of weeks’ rehearsal in England beforehand and then got on the plane and got onstage. It was one of my favorite concerts ever because I was looking at the audience and I saw people I knew from 20 or 25 years ago, and they’re still there – a bit older, like me. But it really was a nice experience.
The Cure was our escape, it was our way out of that life, and we worked very hard at escaping
You had some legal issues with Robert Smith in the past. How’s your relationship now?
We touch base often. He’s pretty busy this year, so I haven’t really seen him that much. Los Angeles in about May would’ve been the last time. You know, the funny thing is that the first subject we all talk about is family, because I’ve known him and his family since I was about five years old, and he’s known my family for the same time. That’s why [when we meet] we spend our time talking about the people we know.
Would you describe the band as introverted or extroverted?
I go into that in the book; Rob is a bit of both. I think the word “ambivert” describes most of us. To do something artistic you have to be an extreme version of both and that gets nearest to the actual description of who we are as The Cure.
What are your plans for the future?
At the moment, I’m on the road for the next six months in England, then I go back to America, and hopefully, I can spread it out further around the world.