Brian Hiatt
April 16, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Robert Smith has finally found some sunshine. Twenty-six years ago, the mood-swinging crooner set hearts in the cosmetics industry a-pounding by starting the Cure, which filled stadiums with face-painted fanatics — and held on to a gloomy rep despite slipping ecstatic pop singles (”Friday I’m in Love”) in alongside haunted, melancholy epics (”Prayers for Rain”). Now, 20 days after the Cure began manic, up-all-night sessions for a 13th studio album (on Geffen this June), Smith is sitting in the garden of his coastal English home on a bright afternoon, his feet bare, his face makeup-free. It’s just like heaven. But he’ll soon have to stock up on lipstick for a busy year.

Suddenly, the Cure’s sound is inescapable, be it Smith’s vocals on blink-182’s ”All of This,” 311 covering ”Lovesong,” or the indie-rockers (the Rapture, Interpol, Hot Hot Heat) who’ve absorbed every note off Disintegration. This summer, the Cure will celebrate their cultural clout with what Smith has tentatively dubbed the Curefest, a tour of like-minded bands young and old. They’ll also headline the Coachella festival, May 1-2 in Indio, Calif. L2T interrupted Smith’s brief idyll to discuss the months ahead.

LISTEN2THIS Here’s your opportunity to once again declare that your new album will be the Cure’s final release.

ROBERT SMITH [Laughs] No, I gave up on that. That was the ’90s.

L2T So is this the first album ever that’s not supposed to be your last?

SMITH Well, from the first day we’re in the studio, it’s still part of the ritual. I still tell everyone, ”Treat this as the last thing we’ll ever do.” You can’t treat it as one in a stream of albums, because if this is no good, no one’s going to want to hear the next one.

L2T You’re working with nu-metal producer Ross Robinson [Korn, Limp Bizkit, Vanilla Ice(!)]. Um, why?

SMITH He kept mentioning the Cure in interviews, and I was just intrigued. I listened to the Korn album [1994’s Korn] again, and I had forgotten how much I liked it. So I said to Ross when we started that I wanted this to be the heaviest, most intense album we’d ever done. But he likes the melodic side of the band, too. He cites ”Pictures of You” as a song that’s got emotional content but also has a great melody. So he has actually — quite cleverly — moved us away from my preconceptions as to what he would do with the band.

L2T Where did you end up then?

SMITH I was thinking it would be the Cure like you’ve never heard them before. But in fact, Ross wanted to make us sound more like the Cure than we’ve ever sounded before. And so we’ve ended up with 20 songs. There’s five incredibly heavy songs, sonically heavy and lyrically heavy. There’s five that are very wistful and nostalgic, kind of almost not there. There’s five out-and-out pop songs: up-tempo, guitar hooks. And there’s five weird things. And now we’ve got two weeks left, and the dilemma is how to pick 10 songs.

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