The Cure photographer Paul Cox: “Robert Smith is a normal bloke – but he has a presence”

The Cure's Robert Smith shot by Paul Cox

Photographer Paul Cox, who has released a new book of his images of The Cure, has spoken to NME about his experience of working with the band and his correspondence with frontman Robert Smith over the years.

The Cure, who recently completed a lengthy UK and European tour with a string of acclaimed shows at London’s Wembley Arena, are expected to release the long overdue ‘Songs Of A Lost World’ – the group’s first new album since 2008’s ‘4:13 Dream’.

To give patient fans something to digest in the mean time, Cox recently released The Cure “Stills” – a book documenting his long visual relationship with the band since he first started shooting them for a magazine session back in 1980, before soon taking photos of them during a Top Of The Pops performance. Their shoots together would often start in the early afternoon and go on until the early hours of the morning.

The Cure on 'Top Of The Pops' in 1980, shot by Paul Cox
The Cure on ‘Top Of The Pops’ in 1980, shot by Paul Cox

“I was quite young, and they came across a little bit intimidating – but interesting; and that was always the thing,” Cox told NME about their first meeting. “You get a little bit of a vibe off people. From that one little session I just kept pestering them and got to shoot them more and more.”

Cox continued: “Robert is a very down to earth person – a normal bloke – but he has a presence when he walks into a room. He knows what he wants and nothing is going to stand in the way of how he presents himself. He won’t do interviews for the sake of it, he won’t do pictures for the sake of it; there always has to be a reason and he’ll put his all into it.

“Working with him over the years, he always puts a lot of effort in. That’s not him trying overly hard but just knowing what needs to be done and projecting himself in a certain way. He’s just great to photograph and a real character.”

The Cure's Robert Smith shot by Paul Cox
The Cure’s Robert Smith shot by Paul Cox

Despite Smith’s image as one of rock’s most iconic figures, Cox doubled down on his reputation as “a normal bloke”.

“I’ve always wondered what it would be like inside Robert Smith’s house, but I think it would be fairly normal!” he said. “I can imagine him putting a shelf up. He’ll do things himself. When we were doing the book, I first asked his permission out of courtesy, then he ended up curating it. It took so bloody long because of various things happening and people dying and whatnot. It took five years to do this book when it could have taken six months.

“Anyway, while we were putting the book together he was actually moving house at one point. He didn’t get people in to do it for him. At one point he told me, ‘Oh, this is the 10th trip I’ve done in a van!’”

The Cure, shot by Paul Cox
The Cure, shot by Paul Cox

As for what his photographs reveal about the band, Cox said that The Cure “haven’t changed at all really”.

“You see their fashion changing slightly like when they went for the suits for a bit in the ‘80s, but generally Robert Smith in particular hasn’t changed at all – the big hair, the red lips, the eyeliner, his commitment. How many bands have survived as long as them? Not many.

“The members dip in and out, but I would imagine that [Smith] is really hard work to work with, but he’s just so driven.”

Cox went on to say that he “didn’t know” if he’d ever work with The Cure again, or if the band would be likely to do many more photo shoots.

“In the kindest way, they don’t need to promote themselves pictorially,” Cox argued. “They are what they are and can get by with a little drawing. Photography and what photos are used for have changed and now taking new photos is kind of unnecessary most of the time.”

The Cure, shot by Paul Cox
The Cure, shot by Paul Cox

Smith has repeatedly teased the band’s upcoming record to NME as a dark, “merciless, relentless” piece, inspired by a period of great loss following the passing of several family members, and in a similar spirit to their 1989 gothic art-rock masterpiece ‘Disintegration’.

Quizzed on if he had any inside knowledge on ‘Songs Of A Lost World’, Cox replied: “No, not at all! Haven’t they been working on a couple of albums? I know one was supposed to come out back in the autumn, but I can understand why it didn’t. Sometimes you won’t hear from him for three months at a time, then he’ll come back with shitloads all at once! A lot of personal things have happened in his life over the last few years, and he just puts his priorities in the right place.”

The Cure “Stills” by Paul Cox is out now. Visit here for more information.

The Cure "Stills" – by Paul Cox
The Cure “Stills” – by Paul Cox

Speaking about the book in a statement, Smith said: “The ‘look’ of the various incarnations of The Cure, through many different periods, is inextricably linked to Paul’s pictures; his vision, expertise and patience played a huge part in portraying us, not just as we wanted to be, but as we really were.

“An excellent photographer, and an excellent man… and a very good job he wasn’t put off by the very weird job that was The Cure on top of the pops in 1980!”

Having long teased the albums – after telling us that two new records were on the way at the NME Awards 2020 – Smith revealed to NME earlier this year that one of them would be “real very soon” and would be called ‘Songs Of A Lost World’.

Then in May, the frontman offered that the album was almost complete, hoping that new material would be out by the time the tour kicked off back in October 2022.

“Essentially it’s a 12 track album,” he told NME. “It’s there, it’s kind of half-mixed and half-finished. It’s a weird thing. It’s kind of evolved over the last two years. It hasn’t always been a good thing to have been left alone with it. You pick at it, like picking at seams, and everything falls apart.”

Smith continued: “It’ll be worth the wait. I think it’s the best thing we’ve done, but then I would say that. I’m not doing an Oasis when I say that, ‘IT’S THE BEST FOOKIN’ ALBUM’. A lot of the songs are difficult to sing, and that’s why it’s taken me a while.”

Discussing the themes and character of the long-awaited follow-up to 2008’s ‘4:13 Dream‘, Smith said that the album “doesn’t have very much light on it” and that it sounds “more like ‘Disintegration’ than ‘Head On The Door’.”

“It’s pretty relentless, which will appeal to the hardcore of our audience, but I don’t think we’ll be getting any Number One singles off it or anything like that!” he laughed. “It’s been quite harrowing, like it has for everyone else.

“I’ve been more privileged than most, but lockdown and COVID has affected me in as much as I’ve lost an entire generation of aunts and uncles in under a year. It’s things like that which have informed the way I’ve been with the record.”

Smith added: “Essentially we recorded two albums in 2019. I’ve been trying to finish two at the same time, which is pretty much impossible. One is nearly ready to go.”

The band also recently reissued their classic 1992 album ‘Wish‘ with 24 previously unreleased tracks, as well as being honoured with their own set of Funko Pop! figures.

The post The Cure photographer Paul Cox: “Robert Smith is a normal bloke – but he has a presence” appeared first on NME.