Lol Tolhurst and Budgie will never forget how they first met. It was 1979 and the Cure were supporting Siouxsie and the Banshees when the latter’s guitarist and drummer sensationally quit. Tolhurst – who had cofounded the Cure in Crawley, Sussex, with school friends Robert Smith and Michael Dempsey – remembers that the band was just two gigs into its first big tour when “everything fell apart”.
On that evening, the two musical groups came together for an impromptu show in Aberdeen. Budgie, a Liverpudlian and former member of The Slits, was quickly added to the Banshees as their new drummer. He was immediately tasked with selecting a new guitarist from a pool of aspiring young musicians.
“Who were all terrible,” he laughs. “Myself and the Cure were all holding up score cards, like Eurovision song contest judges.” In the end, the tour carried on when Cure man Smith stepped up to play guitar in both bands. “There was a lot of camaraderie,” smiles Tolhurst, speaking by video from Los Angeles, with the similarly bespectacled, blond and cheery former Banshees drummer sitting beside him. “Me and Budgie have been friends ever since.”
In the groups The Banshees and The Cure, the unique drumming of the duo played a crucial role in establishing the basis for post-punk, goth, and some of the most creative pop music of the 1980s. Currently, the two co-host an enjoyable podcast called “Curious Creatures”, featuring guests like Shirley Manson and James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem, where they discuss topics ranging from psychedelia to “finding leather pants”. Now, Tolhurst and Budgie have joined forces with renowned producer Jacknife Lee to create a rather unconventional supergroup.
Their first album, Los Angeles, includes appearances by notable figures such as The Edge from U2 and long-time advocate for civil rights, Lonnie Holley. The music is characterized by a gritty, rhythmic, nightclub vibe with electronic and chaotic elements, but it is far from resembling the sound of bands like the Banshees or the Cure. Tolhurst acknowledges, “Initially, our sound was similar to that, but we recognized the importance of being unique.”
The unexpected venture began during a lunch meeting in Los Angeles with another post-punk drummer, Kevin Haskins from Bauhaus. Budgie, who currently resides in Berlin, was in town as a drummer for John Grant. As a joke, Tolhurst proposed the idea of creating a group similar to the Three Tenors, but with drummers. The three of them started collaborating (with a vocalist at first) after being lent a home studio by their friend and fellow drummer, Tommy Lee from Mötley Crüe. Budgie laughs as he mentions that the studio was located next to Lee’s Bentley and Harley. However, the project wasn’t working out and Haskins eventually left to go on tour with Bauhaus.
Tolhurst expresses, with a sigh, that at that moment they were not completely hopeless, but rather feeling a bit disheartened. During one evening, he confided in their neighbor, Jacknife (real name Garret) Lee, who kindly offered to hear what they had recorded. Tolhurst recalls, “In typical punk fashion, he said: ‘You guys need to scrap everything and start over.’ I was probably in tears when I called Budgie and exclaimed, ‘Budgie, I’ve found our savior.'”
Lee’s timing was remarkable. He attended his first concert, the Banshees on the Kaleidoscope tour, at the age of 10. Before becoming a producer for big names like U2 and Taylor Swift, he had his beginnings in the Dublin garage-punk band Thee Amazing Colossal Men. Recently, he had become disinterested in the music industry. In a separate video call, he explains, “Pop music has turned into a competition of capitalism rather than creativity.” He then adds, “I realized I was enjoying teaching my child’s hip-hop class more than my actual job.”
He was also fascinated by the merging of popular and experimental music, as demonstrated by Kendrick Lamar. To explore this further, he asked Tolhurst and Budgie to visit his home studio in remote Topanga Canyon. Budgie describes this studio as a “cave filled with records” and encouraged them to listen to music that influenced them during their youth, such as T Rex, Kraftwerk, and Roxy Music. The intention was not to imitate, but rather to recall the emotions felt when first hearing these songs.
While experimenting with various instruments such as drums, guitars, and synths (which they were all familiar with from their respective bands), the group also incorporated found sounds and an AI voice machine. Tolhurst was reminded of their days in The Cure when they would gather at Robert’s house three nights a week to simply play whatever came to them. The Edge, who was a fan of Siouxsie and the Banshees during his teenage years and now lives nearby, eagerly joined in without hesitation. However, he did not bring his signature U2 guitar riffs. Lee points out that people tend to forget that The Edge has also worked on projects with artists like Jah Wobble and Holger Czukay from Can, showing his interest and talent in exploring new sounds outside of his usual “day job.”
The concept of having guest singers was sparked when LCD frontman Murphy enjoyed their work and suggested singing on it. Other guest singers were urged to let go of their ego and step out of their comfort zone, like Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie who wanted less emphasis on guitars.
73-year-old Holley, a civil rights activist who is now an artist, sings “Bodies” with a powerful, primal growl. Lee, who works with Holley, expresses admiration for his lack of awareness of fame, as he only knows Bob Dylan. Despite Lee’s attempts to engage in conversation, Holley consistently talks about wanting to move to Mars. Lee jokingly asks if he is avoiding something, to which Holley responds by spontaneously singing. After the performance, Holley opens up about his difficult upbringing – he was one of 27 children and was given away by his mother for a bottle of whiskey to a milk nurse. He grew up in a brothel and at the age of eight, the milk nurse passed away. Holley himself was hit by a car and spent three months in a coma. He was then sent to a prison-like slave camp until his mother eventually found him and brought him back home. As a child, Holley was given a toy pedal car shaped like a rocket, which symbolized escape for him – hence his fondness for the idea of moving to Mars.
The title of the album Los Angeles represents the diverse perspectives and sometimes negative opinions of the city of angels from the different singers. In the standout track, Murphy sings “Los Angeles consumes its own offspring,” while Lee describes Starcrawler frontwoman Arrow de Wilde, who sings Uh Oh, as “reminiscent of a descendant of the Cramps. She embraces the campy and vampiric themes of ‘We’re going to devour you and spit you out.’ She turns it into something enjoyable, joining in on the all-American dream.”
In his honest autobiography, Cured, Tolhurst refers to Los Angeles as a place where people either find success or suffer destruction. However, for him, it was a place of salvation. By the 1990s, he was struggling. Despite being a part of all the iconic Cure albums leading up to 1989’s Disintegration, he was fired due to his struggles with alcoholism. He also deeply regretted a long and bitter legal battle against his former bandmates (which he ultimately lost), and his marriage had come to an end. When his first wife from America returned to the country with their son, he made the decision to follow and become a better parent than his own father who struggled with alcoholism.
Tolhurst reflected on his decision to leave England, stating, “If I had stayed, I would have become the sad loner at the pub that everyone avoids, and eventually just withers away.” His friend Budgie playfully but affectionately reassured him, “I would have been there for you, Lol.” After arriving in Los Angeles, Tolhurst took a trip to the desert and had a moment of realization. “I came to the realization that I could leave behind all the regret and anger that I had been carrying with me. I was able to connect with people again, and on the very day I returned to the city, I met my future second wife.” He has been sober for over 30 years and has been living in LA since then.
Budgie did not move to Los Angeles, but the city provided a valuable refuge after he stopped drinking and went through the end of both the Banshees (in 1996) and his 15-year marriage to Siouxsie. He confesses that he had lost himself completely, despite his Merseyside accent remaining strong after years of living abroad. However, someone reached out to him and he suddenly realized that he was still alive. He is now remarried with children and acknowledges that the lyrics to their new single, Ghosted at Home, unintentionally tell his own story. He specifically relates to the lines about the consequences of indulging in physical desires and constantly changing his mind. This was a common behavior for him whenever he visited New York, often with someone else and ending up in a dumpster.
They were unable to listen to their respective bands for a long time. Tolhurst started Presence and Levinhurst, but after reconciling with Smith in 2011, he went on tour with the Cure and played their first three albums. He acknowledges that his obituary will mention his time with the Cure, but he no longer denies it and is proud of it while acknowledging that he has changed.
In a surprising revelation, Budgie realized that he is now able to enjoy listening to the Banshees or the Creatures – both bands featuring Siouxsie and Budgie on percussion – without any discomfort. Additionally, he stumbled upon some older video footage of a group conversation and was taken aback by how outspoken he had been in his younger years.
The speaker reflects on their initial perception of a person, whom they had always seen as quiet and supportive. However, upon further reflection, they realize that there are parts of themselves that they had forgotten but are still present. They credit their decision to pursue their passion for music and travel to their old art tutor at Liverpool Poly, who asked them what they truly wanted to do and encouraged them to follow their dreams.
On 3 November, Lol Tolhurst, Budgie, and Jacknife Lee will release Los Angeles and are planning to go on tour. Their album Ghosted at Home is currently available. You can listen to Curious Creatures by visiting curiouscreaturespodcast.com.