Former Cure drummer Lol Tolhurst talks to Ellie O’Byrne about sorting himself out
“IT WAS a kind of madness; a three-ring circus. Something had to break, and it was me,” Lol Tolhurst, former drummer with and founding member of The Cure, describes with candour the moment he realised he was out of control, while the band were recording their eighth album, the aptly named Disintegration.
Tolhurst, friends with frontman Robert Smith from the age of five, was about to get booted out of the band, file a bitter and ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit against Smith and spend the better part of a decade sobering up and sorting himself out.
As it was, drinking heavily and doing drugs, Tolhurst could barely contribute to the critically acclaimed 1989 album, and is credited only as “other instrument”.
“Things had become so destroyed,” he says.
“I was so captured in this small space in my head that, physically, I couldn’t walk into the studio. I’d sit outside because my head wouldn’t allow me to get those few extra feet into the room.”
Tolhurst, at 30, was battling alcoholism. Having been the band’s drummer since 1976, when The Cure were distilled from an earlier incarnation called Easy Cure after a song Tolhurst had penned, he drummed on four of The Cure’s studio albums, up to and including 1982’s Pornography, and played keyboards on the following three as his drinking spiralled out of control.
It was a drink-and-drug fuelled lifestyle. Breaking global markets as their New Wave style evolved into distinctive gothic rock, they played punishing strings of international tour dates, at one point playing 1,000 gigs in a three-year period.
“By the time we took Pornography on the road, three out of the three people in the band were basket cases,” he says.
“It’s like any situation where there’s a lot of money to be made fast; you get unscrupulous people. The powers that be said, ‘they’re young guys and they can just keep going.’ If we’d had a break before we got to breaking point, things would have been a lot saner and we would have been a lot healthier.”
Revisiting dark days can’t come easy, but in a process Tolhurst describes as cathartic, he did so in writing his memoir, Cured — The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys. Beginning with childhood and his close friendship with Smith during the grim, recession-ridden 1970s in Crawley, West Sussex, Tolhurst says that honesty, and owning up to his many mistakes along the way, was vital to writing the book: “I decided very early on to be truthful with everything, and that was probably the hardest decision, because you know you’re going to expose yourself.”
Writing about the ill-fated decision to sue Smith and record label Fiction for a greater cut of royalties and co-ownership of the band’s name is one such moment of exposure. In hindsight, Tolhurst admits that pursuing the case, which dragged on for much of the 90s, was connected to his deep sense of hurt at having been expelled from the band.
“It was partially a relief, but there was a lot of sadness with it as well,” he says of leaving the band. “I felt expelled from my family.”
In the intervening years, Tolhurst has renewed his friendship with Smith, and joined The Cure for their 2011 Reflections tour, when they played their first three albums in full. They remain in touch. “I gave him the first copy of my book when the band came to LA last May,” he says. There’s been no official response from Smith.
The writing process has been a creative revelation to Tolhurst, and he’s currently working on a sequel to Cured, as well as a graphic novel with former Cure guitarist and artist Pearl Thompson, who designed the cover of his memoir.
Now living in LA with his second wife, Tolhurst performs and records with his band, Levinhurst. Music projects post-Cure have been, he says, always overshadowed by the “sword of Damocles” of having been in one of the most iconic bands of the second half of the 20th century.
“It’s a double-edged sword. I couldn’t win; I’d do something and people would say, ‘that sounds too much like The Cure,’ and other people would say, ‘that doesn’t sound enough like what you used to do.’ But the good thing about writing the book was, because it was uncharted territory, there were no comparisons. The book has freed me from that artistic stranglehold, in a way.”
Lol Tolhurst live book readings and signings take place Sunday July 16 at the Róisín Dubh in Galway, Wednesday 19 July in The Crane Lane Theatre in Cork, Friday, July 21, in Dolan’s in Limerick, and Tuesday July 25 in Whelan’s in Dublin. www.loltolhurst.com
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