What do you get if you bring together ex-Cure drummer Lol Tolhurst, former Siouxsie And The Banshees sticksman Budgie and uber-producer Jacknife Lee? An exploratory and brilliantly inventive “electronic head-fuck”, that’s what

Los Angeles has long been a magnet for exiled musicians in the autumn of their career, a rock ’n’ roll Bournemouth but with better weather, a no-man’s land where time stands still and vintage Harley-riding rockers never die. But LA is also the laboratory city where musicians collide and converge, explore and experiment, reinvent and reboot. Behind the Sunset Strip cliches, the post-punk ethos of permanent musical revolution still thrives here in the shadows.

‘Los Angeles’ is also the name of the debut collaborative album by a new pan-generational supergroup featuring Cure co-founder Lol Tolhurst, former Siouxsie And The Banshees drummer Peter “Budgie” Clarke, who has worked with everyone from The Slits to John Grant, and Irish super-producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee, whose stellar portfolio includes U2, Taylor Swift, REM, Cathal Coughlan and The Killers. Loaded with famous guests – from Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and U2 guitarist The Edge to harpist Mary Lattimore and experimental folk artist Lonnie Holley – this groove-heavy electro-rock epic is a vast, ungainly sprawl of noises and voices, punk-funk beats and avant-pop soundscapes. A kaleidoscopic cubist portrait of a sprawling post-modern metropolis, the album is personal to its three creators, who all have strong connections to the city. 

“Los Angeles is home to me,” says Lee down the line from his home studio in Topanga Canyon, on LA’s rustic mountain fringes. “There’s still a sense that it’s crazy that a city this size is only 100 years old. I think there are eight million people or something here. So if you want it to work like a normal city, it won’t. But it’s still an ‘unwritten rule’ kind of place.”

“Jacknife’s lived out here a while,” says Tolhurst, a fellow long-term resident who moved to LA in 1994. “I’ve been here almost 30 years – I’ve lived longer in Los Angeles than I’ve lived anywhere my whole life. And Budgie’s spent a considerable amount of time here. So this is really where the album was conceived.”

“I’ve been kind of aiming for LA since Siouxsie and I split,” adds Budgie. “It wasn’t planned – I just thought this is where I have the most friends outside the band, which had already folded. But then my best plans were quashed and I ended up in Berlin with the most wonderful person, who’s now my wife, and we have two young children.”

Tolhurst and Budgie have been friends for over 40 years. The Cure and the Banshees share a long history together, with Robert Smith even playing in both bands for a spell. The pair had long discussed collaborating, but their first joint album comes at the end of a long and winding road. This alt-rock supergroup took five years, multiple wrong turns, long pandemic delays and a colourful chorus of background characters as it slouched towards Los Angeles to be born.

They first agreed to try working together over breakfast in December 2018 after both appeared on Joe Wong’s long-running podcast ‘The Trap Set’, which specialises in interviews with drummers. The embryonic project’s first incarnation also featured Bauhaus percussionist Kevin Haskins. 

“Kevin has lived here for a long time as well,” says Tolhurst. “So we decided, instead of The Three Tenors, we would be The Three Drummers.” 

Budgie has a less flattering comparison. 

“I called it ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ meets ‘Top Gear’,” he quips. “Only it wasn’t about cars.”

Tolhurst and Budgie initially enlisted an unknown female singer, with Nine Inch Nails’ Danny Lohner as producer. One of their earliest sessions took place at Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee’s home studio, which is attached to his high-security mansion. 

“All drummers are friends – that’s the golden rule,” nods Tolhurst. “I know Tommy because back in the 80s, his band Mötley Crüe, Madonna and The Cure all did the same circuit for a whole summer.” 

When Tolhurst called Lee to book his studio, the heavy-rock tub-thumper agreed, offering some sage advice… 

“Don’t bother to bring any drums. I have a shitload of them.”

As Budgie settled into clobbering away on Lee’s super-sized Pearl drum set-up (“the Rolls-Royce of kits”), their superstar host would sporadically pop in to check out the sessions. 

“Tommy was looking a little wistful,” says Tolhurst. 

“I think he wanted to be there,” grins Budgie. “But he was getting busy for Mötley Crüe.”

With a female singer on board, the band began to take a slightly more conventionally goth-rock industrial direction. Pretty soon, that felt like a dead end. 

“It sounded like you would expect The Cure, the Banshees and Bauhaus melded together to sound, with the guitarist from Nine Inch Nails producing,” shrugs Tolhurst. “It was OK, but we’re not really into doing something that was legacy. Because what’s the point of that for us? I’ve done that before, and you can never win with that scenario – you’ll always be compared. It will always sound too much like The Cure or not enough.”

In late 2019, Haskins left the project to resume touring duties with Bauhaus. Budgie also returned to Europe to continue drumming for John Grant. When the worldwide Covid lockdowns prevented travel, the trio’s early sessions were mostly shelved, although some were repurposed by The Mission frontman Wayne Hussey on his charity single ‘TOS2020’, an all-star reworking of ‘Tower Of Strength’ designed to raise money for frontline workers globally. 

“It wasn’t easy, because we had done a lot of work,” recalls Budgie. “But we had to pull the plug not knowing what we were going to do next.”

Unsure about how to progress with their stalled project, Tolhurst turned to Lee, but the producer was initially unimpressed by the band’s early efforts. 

“As a fan, I thought, ‘That’s not really what I wanted to hear’,” says Lee. “You know, it’s missing the point slightly. It was fine – professionally recorded drums, a woman singing… It was Nine Inch Nails-y, I guess. It’s strange in the States – there’s a very different perception of the Banshees and The Cure than there is in Europe. The goth, industrial, body music thing seems to dominate here. I don’t think the US got the romantic thing from goth music. It ended up getting very muscular and Nine Inch Nails… angry-man energy.”

Lee’s advice to Tolhurst and Budgie was blunt – rip it up and start again. Despite being 10 years younger, the producer was well-versed in their back catalogues. In fact, his first grown-up gig experience was a Siouxsie And The Banshees show. He encouraged them to drop the goth-rock cliches and rediscover their more experimental post-punk roots. 

“I had to remind them they were drummers – that was the first thing,” says Lee. “For me, the problem with those two guys is that I was more interested in them than I was in their singers, even though I had a crush on Siouxsie. You know, I found the lyrics a bit spooky, but I was more interested in the noises being made. So I just wanted to get back to that moment of discovery.”

The trio began to formulate a new musical approach during long chats, listening sessions and exploratory jams at Lee’s home studio in Topanga Canyon. They discussed their shared formative love for Can, Neu!, Kraftwerk, Moebius and Roedelius, Eno and Fripp – that whole radiant pantheon of 1970s krautrock and groundbreaking analogue synthtronica.

“All the greats of beats and synths,” nods Budgie. “Lol’s heavily into his Buchlas and Moogs and stuff. So when it didn’t work out with Kevin Haskins, we really thought this was our chance to do something we’ve always liked but perhaps never had the opportunity to explore.”

Indeed, Lee essentially acted as an Eno-like creative catalyst to Tolhurst and Budgie, forcing them to take risks, pushing them to push themselves. He pointed out to Budgie that the most interesting Banshees album was their 2004 B-sides and rarities boxset, ‘Downside Up’, largely because it was put together with zero commercial pressure. 

“That was how I wanted to approach this – just start making noise, and I’ll engage with my editor brain later,” says Lee. “Once you begin to think too much about music, it gets a little problematic. The Creatures [Siouxsie and Budgie’s side-project] recorded quickly, because they never had the time. Budgie would tell me – it was very haphazard. You’re in a state of panic, fear and giddiness. That’s the optimal headspace to be in to make music.”

The ‘Los Angeles’ album evolved from these sessions, with Tolhurst on synths, percussion and found sounds, including wooden teeth he picked up at his local junk store, and Budgie playing drums, keyboards, harmonica and more. Lee jumped in on multiple instruments, reworking the tracks alone overnight, electronically manipulating tempo and texture.

“It was a very natural, organic way of making music,” says Tolhurst. “We would walk into the other room and start playing. It was like when I started with The Cure. From the age of 16 to 19, we didn’t really leave Robert’s house. We didn’t play anywhere. We spent three days a week, three hours each night, just rehearsing. 

Robert’s parents built this extra room on their house. I think they thought they’d use it for Christmas and stuff, but we just put the drums in. That was our 10,000 hours.”

By early 2020, the three seemed on course to make an instrumental album in classic krautrock supergroup mode. But the focus shifted again when they decided to invite a few friends to sing and play on some of the tracks. That turned into a torrent of guests, with James Murphy’s “throat shredder” title track giving the album its umbrella theme, while Bobby Gillespie’s politically charged lyrics helped shape the loose motif of multiple takes on Los Angeles.

“It was Bobby who really kickstarted it in a new direction,” says Budgie. “Jacknife knew James Murphy, and Lol had met him too, and I’d just been out with John Grant and met James backstage at T In The Park. Bobby and I met when I was out with John at some Swedish festival – we’d known each other for years but never had a full conversation, certainly not one we could remember… ha! So it wasn’t too strange to ask them to contribute.”

In October 2021, Tolhurst and Budgie launched their own podcast, ‘Curious Creatures’, a post-punk platform featuring interviews with friends and fellow musicians, including Shirley Manson, Tim Burgess, Miki Berenyi and James Murphy. 

“There was a point where we were going to maybe call the whole band thing Curious Creatures,” says Tolhurst. “But then we thought our names by themselves are much better-known than that.” 

Budgie recalls that after toying with various alternatives, the trio decided to use their own names, “but write it in that cool way everyone does now, with kisses in between, ha!”

So they now sound like a firm of hipster solicitors. 

“I think all the best bands do,” laughs Budgie.

Fatefully, ‘Los Angeles’ arrives during a bumper comeback year for the veteran post-punk generation. 

Tolhurst and Budgie are resurfacing just as their former collaborators Siouxsie and The Cure are earning rapturous reviews for their latest sold-out comeback shows. Although Budgie didn’t see his ex-wife and long-time musical partner play on her recent tour, he still talks fondly of “Madame Siouxsie” during our interview. Tolhurst had a famously bitter falling-out with Robert Smith back in 1989, but they are on more cordial terms these days. 

“I went to see The Cure because they came to play here,” he explains. “And it was kind of like going back to the pub in 1977 for me. Which was nice, because I got to see a lot of people I hadn’t seen for years. I’ve known Robert since he was five years old. If you know anybody for 60 years, they’re family, right? And you know how your family is – sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s less than great. But mostly we’re still family. You know, we’re still together.”

Tolhurst says working with Budgie feels like a “third act” in both their careers after several low-key decades of family life, raising kids and sporadic side projects. 

“There’s life in the old dog yet!” he laughs. “I’m not convincing anybody I’m the oldest teenager in town. That’s not going to happen. But it’s better because now we have a clear head – we have clear ideas about who we are.”

After ‘Los Angeles’, the trio are already planning two more albums. Lol Tolhurst says another “very famous percussionist” has already signed on for the second album, but declines to name names. Meanwhile, he and Budgie are currently working on a live show for 2024, with guest-heavy big-venue gigs planned alongside more DIY “suitcase shows”, where the duo “throw a bunch of electronic stuff in a box”. They’re still pushing the envelope, keeping the experimental post-punk spirit alive. Whether Jacknife Lee will join them on tour is still under negotiation. 

“Jacknife will come for some things,” reveals Tolhurst. “But he’s got a whole other career in production. He’s sensible. He doesn’t really like months of living out of a suitcase. But me and Budgie, we’re road dogs. Show us the highway. Let’s go!” 

‘Los Angeles’ is out on Play It Again Sam

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