For Ian Astbury, The Cult has something of the power of a cult; not a homogenising hippy-ish commune, with robes and hidden sexual practices. Although that sounds like a cracking basis for any rock-troupe, I really just mean that he’s seemingly been unable to leave—name changes, two reunions and tens of members later he’s still creating.
The band’s forthcoming tour (Wolverhampton Civic on Jan 26th) gives Midland fans a slim window of opportunity to snatch and re-programme the singer, should you want to, I have a cricket bat you can borrow. But if you’re happy to see the mystic-rock continue for another 25 years, then you don’t need to do anything—except go along and hear the, pretty stunning, new material.
Last time The Cult were playing live it was in support of the remastered Love album, and doing the increasingly fashionable “play the whole of an old album” thing, including a huge show at the Albert Hall with former members turning up for the encore. Fans were ecstatic, but Astbury? Not quite so much: “The Love Live tour was from Billy [Duffy, the other main Cult-ist],…he wanted to do something to celebrate the album and we’d kinda missed the 20th anniversary so it was 25 years. I’m not a fan of nostalgia or anniversaries
so I kinda compromised with him, and all he wanted to do was play the Albert Hall. Then it just grew from there into a World Tour. I’d sort of acquiesced, but it worked out really really well.”
“It was strange… Mark Brzezicki I hadn’t seen since we’d made the record and Jamie [Stewart] usually turns up if we’re playing some shows in the UK but I rarely speak to him. You get to rediscover things, songs feel like old sketches…we’ve been playing ‘White’ from Ceremony—which I don’t think was one of our better records—it’s become a really important part of our set. It has so much more guts.”
Not being a Cult completist, I’d been listening to that back catalogue on Spotify before talking to Ian, I could feel the lineage of that crisp chiming guitar across the albums and Ian’s vocals are never less than the heir to Jim Morrisson that he briefly became. And when they get it all right at once, it’s epic in all the right ways.
All except their short rock opera about the latest news from British Gas, that was shit.
Ian Astbury isn’t a man who the race forward of technology bothers, however. Driving through the early morning on the way to Michigan he’s reading Area on his iPad and planning different ways to do music.
“Pre-internet, pre-new-formats, pre-iTunes, older artists can get entrenched in a way of doing things: tour, album, tour, album. It drives the way you create. Writing a single for the radio? It doesn’t really exist anymore, it’s a dead format.”
“The bands that are really important are what I call the ‘wilderness bands’, it’s happening in the wilderness, in the fringes.”
“Billy and I are from the North West, but we came up through Brixton doing shows, Punk was incredibly important, it touched everybody…but that’s all gone, that’s all gone…maybe we wouldn’t have made the Love album if we’d had computers, there may not have been that need to escape.”
“We came up with the idea of the capsule, something a lot fresher—writing songs and releasing them as we go along. The idea of sitting in a studio for a year and a half chiselling out an album for a commercial market is something we just don’t subscribe to anymore. We don’t even have a record company.”
“The twenty-first century is a level playing field. Here’s the wonderful thing—I’m sitting on a bus driving from Cleveland to Grand Rapids and I’m looking at Area online, being exposed to artists in the Midlands. It doesn’t matter where you are, you have access to information. It’s all down to what you—what creative people—chose to do with it.”
“Tony Iommi [Ian worked on his recent solo album] is rapidly becoming the poster boy for the twenty first century… Black Sabbath were for real. Black Sabbath volume four is one of best pieces of work ever, I’d like to see an exhibit purely to Black Sabbath vol 4… I get excited when I hear it.”
The capsule is a single, of sorts, but more so—each one has a lead track, live and other music and a film, produced by Astbury himself and comes downloadable or in increasingly lavishly packaged CD and collectors editions. It’s making the most of what you’ve got, and the most of the “true fans” that will still pay for music these days.
I get the feeling that Ian Astbury is happy at the way his life and art works at the moment, he’s not only relaxed and enjoying the extra freedom that not being forced to create on schedule provides, but just freedom in general:
“The Cult have been going for years, and we live in such an ageist culture that you’re meant to be irrelevant after the age of 28. But most of my heroes didn’t start producing their best work until their forties…like Mark Rothko… you need that experience to have a broader palette to draw from. As an artist if you don’t exploit that you’re doing yourself and your audience a disservice.”
“I can make films, I can interact with artists from all over the World. When I come off tour I’m going to Tokyo to work with Boris, then I’m going back to California to make another film, as well as being in the studio with the Cult. Maybe more music with UNKLE.”
Doing just what he wants to do seems to agree with him.
Originally published in Area Magazine.