By Clare McCabe
Mr Ian Astbury is the lead singer of The Cult. They are here in NZ to begin their down under portion of the tour for their latest album Hidden City.
I managed to catch a few minutes with Mr Astbury this week in between his hectic touring schedule and many flights. Here we chat about the Bataclan, working with Bob Rock and how they choose their latest setlist. Good times people. See you at the show Ian.
I see you’ve got a band at present that have been together for quite awhile. How are you guys all getting on together?
Yeah, ten years. And great. It’s the most consistent line-up we’ve had. We’ve been playing with John (Tempesta) for ten years. And recently Grant Fitzpatrick the bass player came on and Damon Fox plays keyboards, guitar, backing vocals. So one thing with that is that we haven’t had a keyboard player for a long time, so we can fully realise the songs with a keyboard player, he’s able to really embellish the sound.
When you choose your set-list at the moment, are you doing a lot of the new stuff and a few of the old favorites?
The way we do the set-list is we do a set that works today. And a lot of the iconic songs work really well. The thing with The Cult is we evolved as a live band. Essentially when we first started we were playing mostly live so the songs developed really quickly and most of the time we were out playing so we didn’t spend a lot of time in the studio. And as the band progressed, the songwriting progressed and so some of the songs you can’t perform, they just don’t work well in a live environment because of the amount of tracks on them, the effects, etc, etc. We take the iconic songs that work really well, like She Sells Sanctuary for example…
Do you pull out Edie at the moment?
Occasionally. If we’re feeling it. But we’re playing Sweet Soul Sister. We’re playing songs from Love, Electric, Sonic Temple, Ceremony. We’ve got ten studio albums to pull from. We’re pretty aware that a lot of people who come through the door are only familiar with certain records so we want to make sure that those fans, they’re going to hear music they know. But they are also going to hear music from the new record. It depends how long we’re playing. We play you know 2/3/4 new songs depending on the environment we’re playing. But we’re playing Deeply Ordered Chaos live, that’s going over really well, the sound works really well.
Yeah it’s amazing. Now how was it working with Bob Rock again on the latest album?
It was great. This is his sixth record with The Cult so he knows us very well, he knows us intimately. So he knows any kind of tricks that we pull in terms of not showing up. He pushes us pretty hard in the studio.
Yeah that’s good though surely, to be pushed…
Yeah we don’t want to go into the studio and kind of repeat ourselves… One thing with The Cult, I don’t feel that we’ve repeated ourselves, we’ve always tried to push for something else and reflect where we’re at at the time.
I mean this record, it’s heavy, it’s dense in a lot of places, it’s reflecting the environments we’ve travelled through, places we’ve been, observations. For example we’ve played the Bataclan in Paris four times... So when that attack occurred, we could identify immediately with that environment. That was something that was actually happening, going down when the record was being made. The song Deeply Ordered Chaos was reflecting the kind of state, the atmosphere in Europe right now. We were watching the Charlie Ebdo attacks, that series of attacks was running while we were making the record and that definitely had an impact on the sound and the lyrical content. But that’s just like one layer, one level.
Yeah I was watching yesterday Pete Doherty played the other night at the Bataclan which has just reopened. And it looked amazing, the crowd was so happy to be back there.
Yeah absolutely, You know growing up in the UK in the 70s, there were terrorist attacks during that period of time, in the 80s there were terrorist attacks. In fact when my son was about a one-year-old, and was shopping with his mother, there was a car bomb outside the Israeli Embassy and they were in the building right next door to where the bomb went off.
It’s something Europeans deal with every day, that terrorist threat. And that’s spreading obviously to the United States, Canada, it’s a new paradigm, it’s the world we live in and we reflect that in the music, not pull away from it or try to gloss over it. But within that you know that’s kind of part of the environment, not the entire environment because it’s business as usual for The Cult. Which is a lot of introspection, and I guess desire to grow, be open to other influences.
And playing live and getting your music out there for the fans, that’s still really important?
Yeah we’ve played 85 shows together, the band’s really connected, I mean we’re operating on a sixth sense right now, we’ re not coming out here rusty. We did a radio show last week for Steve Jones in Los Angeles…
Oh Jonsey’s Jukebox, love that show.
Oh you know it?
Yeah it’s great. Just ordered his autobiography, have you read that yet?
Oh Lonely Boy? Yeah we’ve known Steve for a long time, good friends with Steve, His show’s amazing. It’s really diverse. He’ll play everything from The Kills to Bowie, to Babyshambles. He’s got a very, very broad interest in music and he reflects that in his show. It’s really one of the only radio stations in Los Angeles that has that kind of broad reach. Because mostly in Los Angeles the so-called alternative stations have all gone pretty much mainstream.
Agreed, it’s the same here.
It’s the same everywhere. But I understand it, they’ve got to get their advertisers in. So that’s what they do, and that’s what it is.
Yeah I feel it’s better to just go and see your favourites live these days because that’s where you get the real experience…
That’s the bands that can actually play live… Live was our first entry point, when we started we came out of playing live clubs, we came out of life in a band, travelling intensely through the United States and round the globe. I mean we first came to Australia and New Zealand in 87…
I saw Billy posted a snap to Instragram today of his tour itinerary from the 87 trip…
Yeah but we’re not ones for looking back, we don’t really live in that perpetual nostalgia. It’s usually only when we are in an interview situation. I’m pretty much grounded in the now.
Well I guess you have to be – because it’s so different now...
Yeah we’ve moved on and we’ve evolved, the songs have evolved as well. I mean the way the songs are performed. We find that the songs we have been playing for quite awhile, they take on a different energy. But it’s a raw band, the five guys, amplifiers, drums, guitars, keyboards. It’s live musicians that evolve their craft over decades. I don’t know… we’re still hungry. We’ve had opportunities to do other things and we chose to come out on this tour because we wanted to play a full set, we didn’t want to come out and play sixty minutes. I mean we went out with GnR and played sixty minutes sets.
How was it playing on that tour, did you like playing in those massive venues?
For me personally, if it’s fifty thousand or fifty people, it’s the same to me. Because I drop into the music, I drop into the band and you don’t see beyond the first thirty rows anyway.
Personally I prefer seeing bands in smaller venues to be honest. The one that you’re playing at on Monday, the Powerstation, now that’s a great venue.
Yeah I’ve heard great things about the Powerstation. I’m excited - it’s not like we’re in town every week. It takes a lot to organise a trip to the Southern Hemisphere, it’s a long way and it’s expensive. it’s the economy of touring now. Which has forced ticket prices to go up, which has forced promoters to respond in a different way. Its forced artists to be more responsible for themselves, we used to rely on the promoter to promote the shows but we’re doing most of the work now. We have to remind the promoters because there are so many artists out there on the road, you’ve got to fight for it.
Well thanks so much for coming over again, it’ll be great to see you. Enjoy your time in NZ and we’ll catch you Monday at the show. Thanks for your time.
Looking forward to it.
Yeah me too, Mr Astbury, me too. And don’t forget to play Edie (Ciao Baby). You know you want to.
You can catch The Cult live this week at:
Saturday November 19th: Town Hall, Dunedin
Monday November 21st: The Powerstation, Auckland