Ol Tolhurst and Budgie will always remember their initial encounter. In 1979, the Cure was opening for Siouxsie and the Banshees when the guitarist and drummer abruptly left the latter’s band. Tolhurst, one of the founding members of the Cure along with Robert Smith and Michael Dempsey, recalls that this happened only two shows into their first major tour.
On that evening, the two music groups came together for an impromptu show in Aberdeen. Budgie, a Liverpudlian and former drummer for The Slits, was quickly brought into the Banshees as a replacement. He was immediately tasked with selecting a new guitarist from a pool of aspiring young musicians.
“We were all terrible,” he chuckles. “Myself and the Cure were acting as judges, holding up score cards like in the Eurovision song contest.” Eventually, the tour continued when Cure member Smith stepped in to play guitar for both bands. “There was a strong sense of camaraderie,” Tolhurst recalls, speaking via video from Los Angeles while seated next to the similarly bespectacled, blonde, and cheerful former Banshees drummer. “Budgie and I have been friends ever since.”
In the Banshees and the Cure, the pair’s innovative drumming helped create the foundations of post-punk, goth and some of the 80s’ most inventive pop. Today, the pair co-host an entertaining podcast, Curious Creatures, where guests such as Shirley Manson and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy discuss issues from psychedelia to “discovering leather pants”. Now, Tolhurst and Budgie have teamed up with megaproducer Jacknife Lee to form an unusual sort of supergroup.
Their first album, Los Angeles, showcases a diverse group of guests including The Edge from U2 and Lonnie Holley, an experienced advocate for civil rights. The album itself is dynamic, incorporating elements of edginess, percussion, club music, electronics, and noise. However, it strays far from the sound of bands like the Banshees and the Cure. Tolhurst acknowledges that their initial sound was similar, but they recognized the need to stand out.
During a lunch in Los Angeles, the unlikely project was born when Kevin Haskins, a post-punk drummer from Bauhaus, met with Budgie, who currently resides in Berlin and was in town playing drums for John Grant. As a joke, Tolhurst suggested creating a group similar to the Three Tenors, but with drummers. They started working together with another singer and were able to use Tommy Lee’s home studio, lent to them by the Mötley Crüe drummer. However, the project was not successful and Haskins eventually left to go on tour with Bauhaus.
“We were not completely hopeless, but feeling a bit discouraged,” sighed Tolhurst. One evening, he confided in their neighbor Jacknife (born Garret) Lee, who offered to hear their recordings. “Then,” Tolhurst recalls, “in typical punk fashion, he said: ‘You need to scrap everything and start over.'” Tolhurst likely called Budgie while in tears and exclaimed, “Budgie, I’ve found the person we need.”
Lee had a remarkable coincidence with the timing. He was just 10 years old when he got his first job working for the Banshees on their Kaleidoscope tour. Before becoming a producer for big names like U2 and Taylor Swift, he got his start with Dublin garage-punks Thee Amazing Colossal Men. However, recently he has become disenchanted with the music industry. In a separate video call, he explains, “Pop music has turned into a competition for profit rather than a platform for creativity. I realized I was having more enjoyment teaching a hip-hop class at my child’s school than in my actual job.”
He became fascinated by the current merging of popular music and experimental art represented by Kendrick Lamar. With this in consideration, he asked Tolhurst and Budgie to join him at his secluded home studio in Topanga Canyon, which Budgie describes as “a cave full of records”. He encouraged them to listen to the music that influenced them in their youth, such as T Rex, Kraftwerk, and Roxy Music. Not to imitate, but “to recollect the feeling of hearing these things for the first time.”
While experimenting with various musical instruments such as drums, guitars, and synths, members of the band were reminded of their early days in The Cure when they would often gather at Robert’s house to jam without any set plans. The Edge, a former fan of Siouxsie and the Banshees who now lives nearby, readily joined in on the experimentation and brought a unique perspective despite not incorporating U2 guitar riffs. It should also be noted that The Edge has worked with artists such as Jah Wobble and Holger Czukay from the band Can, showcasing his interest in exploring different sounds outside of his main gig.
LCD frontman Murphy was impressed with the work of guest vocalists and proposed to lend his own voice to the project. Following this, other guests were urged to let go of their egos and push beyond their usual boundaries, as seen with Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, who was open to incorporating more guitars into the music.
73-year-old Holley, a former civil rights activist now known as an artist, sings Bodies with a fierce and raw growl. Lee, who collaborates with him, shares: “I enjoy working with Lonnie because he doesn’t pay attention to who anyone is, he only knows Bob Dylan.” Lee adds that whenever he asked Lonnie something, he would divert the conversation to moving to Mars. When questioned about it, Lonnie revealed that he grew up in a difficult environment – he was one of 27 children, and his mother had traded him for a bottle of whiskey with a nurse. He spent his childhood in a brothel and when he was eight, the nurse passed away. Lonnie was then hit by a car and spent three months in a coma. After waking up, he was sent to a prison-like labor camp where his mother eventually found him and took him back. As a child, Lonnie had a toy pedal car in the shape of a rocket, which he associated with escape – hence his fascination with Mars.
The album title Los Angeles reflects the different singers’ varying and sometimes critical takes on the city of angels. On the excellent title track, Murphy sings “Los Angeles eats its young”, whereas Lee explains that Starcrawler singer Arrow de Wilde, who sings Uh Oh, is “like a grandchild of the Cramps. She gets all that kitsch and vampiric stuff. ‘We’re gonna eat your flesh and spit it out.’ So she turns it into something fun, join the game, the all-American dream.”
In his honest memoir, Cured, Tolhurst describes Los Angeles as a place where people either find success or face destruction. However, for him, it was a source of redemption. By the 1990s, his life was in disarray. After being a part of all the iconic Cure albums until 1989’s Disintegration, he was fired due to his struggles with alcoholism. He also regretted his decision to take legal action against his former bandmates (which he ultimately lost), and his marriage had ended. When his first wife, who was American, returned to the US with their son, he followed in order to be a better father than his own alcoholic dad.
Tolhurst recalls that if he had stayed in England, he would have become the lonely and avoided person in the pub, eventually dying. Budgie jokingly and affectionately touches Tolhurst’s shoulder and says he would have been there for him. However, upon arriving in LA, Tolhurst had a moment of realization after driving into the desert for three days. He recognized that he could let go of all the regret and anger he had been carrying with him. He was able to start talking to people again, and on the same day he returned to the city, he met his future wife. He has been living there ever since and has been sober for over 30 years.
Budgie did not ultimately relocate to Los Angeles, but the city provided a valuable refuge after he had quit drinking and experienced the end of both the Banshees (in 1996) and his 15-year marriage to Siouxsie. He acknowledges that he had completely lost himself during this time, despite his strong Merseyside accent that remained from years of living abroad. However, someone extended a helping hand and he suddenly realized, “God, I’m alive.” He is now remarried and has children, and he recognizes that Gillespie’s lyrics in their new single Ghosted at Home unintentionally reflect his own story. He specifically relates to the lines, “The sins of the flesh come back to haunt you” and “flipping and flopping,” as he often engaged in this behavior every time he visited New York. Usually with someone else, he would end up falling into a dumpster.
For many years, they both refused to hear their well-known previous bands. Tolhurst created Presence and Levinhurst, but unexpectedly in 2011 – after reconciling with Smith – he joined the Cure on tour again, playing their first three albums. “I am aware of what my obituary will state,” he grins. “But why hide from it? I take pride in it, but I have changed now.”
Budgie recently made the realization that he is now able to enjoy listening to both the Banshees and the Creatures, bands that feature Siouxsie and Budgie as percussionists. He was surprised to find that it no longer bothers him. He also stumbled upon an old video of a group discussion and was taken aback by how outspoken he was during his younger days.
“I pondered, ‘Who is that person?’ as I had always perceived the younger Budgie to be reserved and helpful, like a gopher in the background,” he shares. “But then I realized that there are parts of myself that I had forgotten about, which are still very much alive. The most significant moment in my life was when I consulted my former art instructor at Liverpool Poly about whether to complete my studies or join the band. When he asked me what I truly wanted to do, I replied, ‘Play drums and see the world.’ And he responded, ‘Well, we’ll always be here, so why not go and do that?'”
The collaboration between Lol Tolhurst, Budgie, and Jacknife Lee will release their album “Los Angeles” on November 3rd, and are also planning to go on tour. Their current project, “Ghosted at Home”, is available now. You can access the podcast “Curious Creatures” through curiouscreaturespodcast.com.