The Cult's Ian Astbury Talks New Album, Kitchen Knives, and Fucked-Up Children
Not too many bands have traced the kind of eclectic arc traveled by The Cult. Anchored by the British songwriting team of singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy for three decades, the group has traversed from its UK gothic-rock roots in the early 1980s through a rise to global fame with the iconic college-rock album Love before becoming hard-rock kingpins and MTV favorites after the release of 1987's Rick Rubin-produced Electric.
While The Cult found even greater success with the follow-up effort Sonic Temple in 1989, the band spent much of the '90s in disarray, as the working relationship between Astbury and Duffy disintegrated. The singer would explore other outlets with his band Holy Barbarians and on a solo album before The Cult's first celebrated reunion in 1999. Since then, the group has toured and recorded regularly, while still taking time out for other projects including Astbury's stint as vocalist for The Doors of the 21st Century with Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger.
Though Astbury had at one point insisted The Cult would no longer be making albums, the band's brand new release Choice of Weapon is rightfully being hailed as its best in ages. The loquacious singer recently spoke with All Shook Down about recording with two producers and his lyrical inspirations. The Cult performs with The Icarus Line and Against Me! at the Fillmore this Sunday, May 27.
The press materials explained that you worked with both Chris Goss and Bob Rock on Choice of Weapon, but I wanted to know if it was a matter of working with Goss during the initial development of the material and then recording with Bob Rock, or were there recordings with Chris Goss that you then refined with Rock afterwards?
Yeah, more in that sense. Working with Chris was something we had spoken about. I worked with Chris on two records, my solo record and the UNKLE record. We've been friends for many years. He had talked with me about at some point working with The Cult. And I said "Are you sure you want to do this? [laughs] It's a very different animal."
So in 2010, we started working with Chris. I had made the initial statement about albums being irrelevant or not being something we wanted to pursue anymore. Or that I didn't want to pursue as an individual. I was just looking at the sheer mass and volume of music being produced and then those albums being cannibalized. The cynical nature of the industry, pushing single tracks as the epicenter of the work for commercial use. I just thought it had kind of destroyed the essence of what albums are. A lot of the albums I like, people just went into the studio and made a record. They would just go in and make an album and it'd be a great body of work. I'm looking at a shelf that's probably got about 2,000 vinyl albums on it. I think I've gotten some knowledge of what good music is over the years.
So we went in with Goss and started these capsule recordings. I called them capsules because I wanted to come up with a format that fit in the 21st century. The EP kind of belonged in the 20th century. The idea of the capsule was that it was going to be vinyl, digital, and visual. It would have a visual element, a film element -- not specifically a music video, but more of a short film.
So we did two of those and that was all great. Because we didn't have an agenda in terms of single tracks, we came up with things like "Siberia." They're all kind of distinctive in a way. They're all different from each other, those four songs. That was kind of a transitional phase. Between the Love live tour and the making of Choice of Weapon were the capsules. So perhaps the transcendent piece is that capsule collection. Working on those songs, developing them with no agenda, kind of freed us. All of a sudden we're free.
And Goss did a great job. He's a brilliant magician. He creates an environment, just by his presence and his persona, where all the stresses and problems of your daily life disappear and the studio becomes a magical environment again; all infinite potentiality, all possibilities. All your neuroses are calmed -- he's a very calming person -- and he makes it safe. And then you can play. You can definitely go deeper and he encourages that. He has a brilliant ability to go there with you. So we were reaching further, and that was the foundation of this.
During that process, people are hearing our music, and our core fans -- the real partisan, dyed-in-the-wool Cult devotees -- they're saying, "We want more of this. This is brilliant. This is the best music you've made. Blah blah blah." That quote, right? [laughs] And then we have labels banging on the door going "This is incredible. These songs are great. These are very strong. We want to do an album."
And I'm like, "Wait a minute! We're not doing albums anymore!" And then, of course, I've got Billy and my manager looking at me going "C'mon..." And another thing that happened was we've kind of become our own label, which isn't what we really wanted to do. The next thing you know, we're talking about paper stock and inks and how to market our capsules. That's the exact opposite of what we wanted to do, so we kind of became entrenched in that as well.
So labels started banging on the door, and Cooking Vinyl from the UK approached us. They have an interesting background, because some of the people there worked at Beggar's Banquet and have been around the old systems that we were very much a part of. Like a real independent, a true independent label. And it's a British label that seemed to have a lot in common with where we were at, so I capitulated. I'm like "Okay, fine. Let's do an album."
So it made sense to go into the studio with Chris. And the same process continued where we had a lot of raw tracks that needed to be refined. We now had this body of work that, because we'd gone so broad and so deep, we really needed to bring it home. We kind of exhausted ourselves. We'd spent all of our resources and our time and our energy exploring all those possibilities and we'd kind of exhausted our relationship with Chris. We wore each other out. Or we certainly wore him out. We asked a lot of him. He gave us everything he had.
So I could only think of one person on the planet who was capable of helping us finish this record, and that was Bob. But he was tied up in other projects, so we had to kind of work with him piecemeal. We got four days here, five days there. And that went on for a couple of months. And out of maybe four sessions with Bob, we got to finish the record. He was so gracious. To come in and finish another person's work is not something that's really done very often. But it was wonderful, because it was almost seamless when he walked in the room. We've worked on four records with Bob. It was one of those classic beautiful accidents, and we ended up with Choice of Weapon.