An interview with Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst, founding member of The Cure

Laurence “Lol” Tolhurst, a founding member of The Cure has released 3 albums with his wife Cindy Levinson under the name Levinhurst. The following interview was conducted in 2004 around their “Perfect Life” album.

Going into it, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do with this project?

Lol Tolhurst: “Well, I did have an idea when I first started it off to try to sum up the last 10 years of my own experience, both musically and emotionally. Lyric-wise, I had a very strong feeling of what the songs were going to be about. And in a musical sense, I wanted to take some of the best elements from my part and mingle them with what I thought were the best things happening now. I didn’t want to make something that was a complete throwback to the ’80s, and I didn’t want to make something that was too modern, because then you run the risk of being like the oldest teenager in town.”

Working with electronic instruments, do you think there’s a danger in tweaking things too much, rather than actually finishing them?

Lol Tolhurst: “I’ve managed to get a method where that is kept to a minimum. You’re right, because in the older style of making music you have the bass, you have some drum kits and a guitar. You have a very definite sound, and you tend to write pieces for that. What I tried to do with the things that I had was to assign roles to each piece of equipment or software that I have. Not so much a traditional role, but a definite role. For instance, a lot of the bass on the album is the Evolver, which David Smith has just made. It’s like a Prophet 5 in a little box. It’s a mono synth and it does that very well. Now, conceivably you could tweak everything inside of it and make it do EVERYTHING on the album. But that’s something that I decided not to do. Every instrument I have has a very specific role, and that tends to keep the endless tweaking down to a minimum. And I have a sort of rule of thumb – if I make something, and I go away for a few hours or a few days and I listen to it again and it takes me a little while to realize that I’d made it. I think it sounds good, but for a second or two I don’t know where it comes from – that’s usually a good sign!”

Were you doing any live shows at all before or during the recording of the album?

Lol Tolhurst: “Not really. This last little tour, 10 dates, was really it. It’s given us some ideas for the next album and ways of working with it. But we were pretty much studio-based and evolved out of the studio.”

Do you plan on doing more touring?

Lol Tolhurst: “Yes, sometime later in the summer. We have a lot of options. There’s some large sort of festival-type tours going around that we might join in on, and there’s a couple of other things that look pretty exciting. We haven’t got anything firm set up at the moment, but I’d think towards the end of the summer we’ll do a more extensive tour. The 10 date tour allowed us to get a feel for how it works live, and it worked out pretty well. I think now we’re ready to do a lot more.”

Many bands have cited The Cure as an influence are there any Cure-influenced bands who you particularly like?

Lol Tolhurst: ” I like Interpol. I see a lot of stuff … not necessarily stylistically, but I see a lot of the same kind of attitudes. And The Rapture as well. I see it all over the place, and it’s funny because it’s both humbling and flattering at the same time. It’s quite amazing to me that 25 years on The Cure can have that kind of resonance.”

At what point did you realize that music is your career?

Lol Tolhurst: “I don’t know to be honest. I think it was just something that evolved out of a passion for music. Before I started paying, I was very much a fan of all kinds of things. The whole rise of The Cure – it just evolved. There was never a master plan. It just evolved.”

How do you feel about tools like software-based synths making it easier and more affordable than ever for people to make electronic music?

Lol Tolhurst: “Well, I read something very interesting a few months back. There was a guy who was pretty big in the 70’s – John Mclachlan. He played with Mahavishnu Orchestra and all kinds of people. A very talented jazz guitarist. This man is now 60, and he said that nowadays he listened not to his peers, who tried to recreate the 60’s and the 70’s, but to a lot of trip hop and acid jazz and all these other things that are coming up. And these things aren’t made by people who are necessarily adept musically in the traditional sense, but they have fantastic ideas. He said that was far more exciting than listening to a virtuoso who doesn’t have any ideas left. And I agree with that. Yes, anybody can get a copy of Reason and bang out a tune in an afternoon. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be great, but a lot of people with less of a traditional background have a great feeling of what is exciting and what works and just sounds good. I think a lot of the new tools enable people to realize that much easier. But you still have to make a decision at the end of what is really good and what works. That to me is where the musical part comes in.”

What does you current set-up consist of?

Lol Tolhurst: “Elektron SPS-1 machine drum, Evolver mono synth, Access Virus indigo 2 synth, Akai MPC 1000, Oxygen midi controller, Roland SPD 20 percussion pad.

In the studio all the above and LIVE software by Ableton, Storm by Arturia and various Native Instrument software synths.”

Do you find yourself limited at all by the current tools? Are there things you’d like to do that software or equipment doesn’t allow for right now?

Lol Tolhurst: “There’s a couple of things. I’ve had some conversations with the head of ABLETON, and a couple of things saw the light of day in later versions of Live. For me, one of the things that I’d love to see happen .there’s a throwback today to lots of the old analog systems. And they sound great, absolutely wonderful, but a lot of them don’t have the type of digital control you can use well in a live situation. You end up patching a lot of leads, and you might get a great sound, but to recreate it live would be virtually impossible. I think that things are happening. The Evolver has basically analog guts but digital controls. So you can recreate it. That’s not to say that it sounds the same every time, as sometimes it has a life of its own. Which I like as well. So I’d like to see more things along that line, really.”

In terms of your songwriting style, do you tend to have musical ideas prepared before starting to work with the equipment, or do you tend to come up with ideas while you’re working with it?

Lol Tolhurst: “Both really. Thinking about the next album, I have quite a clear idea in my mind of how I would like things to sound, and affect me emotionally and hopefully other people as well. I do have some sounds and ideas that are already there. But I’m also very open when I sit down and try to create those sounds. If something else pops up that sounds wonderful, I’ll go with that as well.”