EW's Gilbert Cruz eavesdrops as Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz calls up his idol, Cure frontman Robert Smith, to discuss fame, songwriting, ''South Park,'' the joy of making sandwiches, and more...

By Gilbert Cruz
January 08, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
Pete Wentz: BJ Papas / Retna Ltd.; Robert Smith: John Rogers/Getty

PETE WENTZ (27; Fall Out Boy): I remember once my band played on the side stage of something that the Cure were performing at, and afterwards I followed you onto an elevator and went to whatever floor you got off on… and I didn’t say anything to you. I had a plan to tell you that your music changed my life, but instead I just stayed on the elevator. I imagine people walk up to you all the time and tell you that your music changed their lives.

ROBERT SMITH (47; The Cure): You’ll be amazed how many people don’t say that.

WENTZ: One thing I’m really interested in is how you’ve managed to stay completely relevant for the past three decades, and what you think is more important: changing with the times, or maintaining your artistic vision.

SMITH: It’s essential to me to continue what I do [artistically]. The idea of appealing to people of a like mind and like spirit always appealed to me…. When I was younger, I never just wanted to play to people who were my own age, and as the years have gone by, the Cure’s audience has remained very broad. I never wanted to grow old with the audience. How we’ve managed it is just continuing to do what we want to do. We’ve been irrelevant to a lot of the media for a long time, but to the people that we matter to, we’ve been relevant for a long time.

WENTZ: One of the things that always appealed to me is that you never wrote down to an age group. I got into it when I was 14, and I’m just as into it now at 27.

SMITH: It’s truly music — writing songs as [you’d write] literature, writing what you know…The problem as you get older is, from my perspective, after a certain amount of songs, you tend to start writing something and then you stop and say, ”Wait, I think I’ve written that before.”

WENTZ: Another interesting thing that I’ve noticed in the past two or three years is a lot of bands that have come out have assumed this dark [persona]. Did you start out that way?

SMITH: [Initially] I wanted to be a pop group… [But] when you first start out, you have to play and play and play… [and] we went down a pretty dark path. [Eventually] I thought, ”The only way to make this fun again is to make it fun again” — and so we became a pop group again. It’s a balancing act. But I never wanted to be a band that made the same type of music. You don’t always have to sing dark things to be thoughtful… I get very frustrated with people who classify bands very early only as, They do only this. I think it’s really crass.

WENTZ: People now say to us, ”What is this emo thing? Is it about to be over?” And people think that everyone is making an industry out of misery now… I think that people need to classify things in order to try to understand them. Whatever people want to classify us as, they can…But to have a career like the Cure’s is awesome — to have these amazing moments and at the same time to have this fanbase that stays with you this entire time.

SMITH: We’ve always been classified as a goth band. But as long as your audience really believes in you, it doesn’t matter what other people label you…. With your band, I bought your first CD for one of my nieces. I remember thinking, ”This has so much energy in it.” Some of your songs are really, really good lyrically and musically. And you’re involved in so many more different things, whereas with the Cure, [the band] was all we did. Yet you have books and your record label…I resisted always going further than just a band.

NEXT PAGE: Smith talks about rivalries between bands, and meeting his own hero, David Bowie