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It took two blokes from the 'Naki to convince the Cure to add New Zealand to their upcoming tour of Asia, Australia and North America - and Robert Smith couldn't be happier. The frontman for the iconic alt rock band wanted to return to the country he describes as "breathtakingly beautiful", but for various reasons it was left off the itinerary.

That's when Alastair Ross and Gordon Pitcairn of New Plymouth stepped in. Their "We Need a Cure Tour!!" petition attracted more than 3000 signatures and ultimately resulted in the band booking a spot at Auckland's Vector Arena on August 14.

"It coincided happily with our intention to play New Zealand anyway, so we could be the good guys without really trying too hard," says Smith on the phone from a London studio, where he's been working on the Cure's 13th album.

The band was under pressure to play more shows in Australia because it's a bigger market, but Smith says he couldn't ignore the petition.

"And they seemed very sweet lads as well, so I thought it's only fair. If people get motivated like that, you have to respond because otherwise you feel really bad about yourself."

It will be the band's first visit here since 1992. Smith is no stranger to New Zealand. Chris Parry, the Cure's former record label boss, is a Kiwi, and the band toured the country frequently in the early 1980s just so he could get free trips home, jokes Smith.

It was also the first country in which they had a number one single. So, in Parry's era, they found themselves touring New Zealand in 1980, 1981, and 1984. Not only was it near the top of touring list, but it also became the band's favourite holiday destination - and it didn't just stop at Auckland.

"I had a very memorable night at a farm in Dunedin with some Scottish people," Smith recalls. "Maybe you even know them."

At the time, New Zealand had a thriving music scene, buoyed by the "Dunedin Sound" and the bands signed to Flying Nun Records. Smith remembers jamming with local musicians in rehearsal spaces after the shows. "It was really good," says the singer. "I loved it, I really did. It's a fantastic country."

It's just after 4am in London and Smith is wide awake. He's coming to end of his day, after starting work, as usual, at 2pm, but he's full of energy, speaking softly but quickly, and littering his speech with witticisms and frequent references to his advancing years.

He also has an extraordinary ability to speak in paragraphs - one breathless spiel lasts a full three minutes.

The 48-year-old is upbeat about an album he thinks Cure fans will love. When it eventually emerges, it will likely be followed by a special-edition double set mixed by Smith.

Certainly, it's been a more enjoyable project than the band's last outing, 2004's eponymous album produced by Ross Robinson, the force behind nu-metal giants Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Slipknot. Tensions while making The Cure led to two members leaving the band.

"The recording sessions were about three months, and they were the most intense and difficult three months I have spent with other people who I thought I knew," says Smith of the experience.

He says in hindsight it was almost like a communal mid-life crisis. "This album, by contrast, has been without question the most pleasurable experience I've ever had in a recording studio."

Today's line-up is about as pure Cure as it gets. Guitarist Porl Thompson, Smith's brother-in-law, was there when the band came together as teenagers in 1976. He was subsequently dropped in 1979 but re-joined in 1983. He stayed until 1993, when he left again to tour with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. He eventually came on board again for this album in 2005.

Jason Cooper has been a fixture as drummer since 1995, but bassist Simon Gallup is another on-again off-again story. After joining the band in 1979, he lasted three years before leaving because of differences with Smith, which reportedly included a punch-up in a nightclub.

"I suppose you just can't have two egocentrics in a band, and Robert was sort of 'the main man'," Gallup said soon after his departure. But by 1985, he was back in the fold and was best man at Smith's 1988 wedding.

Smith has been the only constant in a constantly changing line-up. With his frenzied black hair and smeared red lipstick, he is a towering figure in pop culture history. He wrote the music that has sold more than 25 million albums and influenced bands as diverse as the Smashing Pumpkins, Interpol, Dinosaur Jr., and My Chemical Romance.

Smith has interviewed David Bowie on radio while drunk; he's beaten up a cartoon version of Barbra Streisand on South Park; and he has a fan-base stretching from Southland to Slovakia.

Martin Phillipps, frontman for Dunedin rock band the Chills, remembers seeing the Cure play live at Dunedin's Regent Theatre in the early 1980, before the band hit mega-stardom. He was impressed by the performance and the spectacular lighting - a feature of Cure shows even today.

While Phillips, another mainstay in an ever-changing band, was never a great follower of the Cure, he felt the effect of their songs. "It made me aware of possibilities in a more haunting kind of music."

After 30 years with the Cure, Smith is surprised to be finding his own new possibilities while making album number 13. "Quite a lot of what we've been playing is quite dark, but the atmosphere when we've done something good is celebratory. It's really weird to think how long it's been since the band felt that. And it's been years, really."

The band is getting milder with age, and Smith has rediscovered the feeling of being part of something bigger than himself. "When you're in a young band, you can throw tantrums and act your age," he explains. "It's very difficult to do that and take it seriously when you're at the age we're at. You're investing huge amounts of time and energy into something, you want other people to feel the same, and with these four people I get that - I feel we're all pulling in the same direction."


Lowdown
Who: The Cure

Formed: Crawley, Britain, 1976 by Robert Smith with friends Laurence "Lol" Tolhurst and Michael Dempsey. Smith remains the only constant member of the band since it began.

Current line up: Smith (vocals/guitar); Jason Cooper (drums); Porl Thompson (guitar); Simon Gallup (bass).

Where & when: Vector Arena, Auckland, August 14, 7.45pm. The Cure play the entire three-hour show. Tickets from Ticketmaster.

Essential albums: Three Imaginary Boys (1979); Seventeen Seconds (1980); Pornography (1982); Head on the Door (1985); Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987); Disintegration (1989); Wish (1992); Bloodflowers (2000).

New album: The Cure's 13th studio album is due later this year.