The Cult's latest album, Choice of Weapon, has been a success, charting on both sides of the Atlantic. As reviewed previously in ZANI (Choice of Weapon Review), proving The Cult continue to evolve with their music.
The Cult has such a strong and successful back catalogue of songs that it would be easy for Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy to rest on their laurels, and tour the world performing their hits. But they would never do that as they are true artists, using their current influences and surroundings to produce an inspiring and interesting body of work.
This is certainly the case with Choice of Weapon drawn from the US urban night time, (Astbury and Duffy both reside in the US) mixed with the edginess of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns; it creates an exciting pandemonium with an epic cinematic feel.
Furthermore ZANI was delighted when front man and co-founder Ian Astbury asked to be interviewed again by us. Shows we must have done something right when we spoke to Ian in May 2010.
So, as Ian and the band travelled across the amazing landscape of the US, he took time out to speak to us on the phone.
ZANI – Your latest album Choice of Weapon came out in May, are you pleased with the overall results?
Ian Astbury - Definitely, there are things you always want to go back and change, especially after listening to the album so many times. We are in the process of playing the songs live, and we are in a different space. It's a bit of a slow burn, people seem to be just discovering it, and they are going to The Cult. Really this album is taking people by surprise, it's gratifying to see some people eat humble pie and realise it's an important album.
ZANI – Was that your intention to take people by surprise?
Ian Astbury - Not in total, we did that a long time ago. The idea was to go into the studio, see what works and make the best possible record we could and allow it to grow. The last album we made was in 2007, we were in the studio for two weeks, and I literally mean two weeks, and that was everything, front to back, backing tracks, overdubs, arrangements. Those were long days, 14 to 16 hours, with no days off. With Choice of Weapon the actual time spent in the studio was about three months and that was spread out over a year.
ZANI – Totally different approach, in terms of timescale. I understand a lot of songwriting was done in New York, is that right?
Ian Astbury - The genesis of the album was in New York, as I was living there. So the early sessions were in New York, but the band is based in Los Angeles, so I was going backwards and forwards between New York and Los Angeles. Then Billy and I took the material we were working on into the desert, Chris Goss's home, to refine it further.
What I have learnt over the years, is that you don't want to be writing in the studio, as it's extortionately expensive, and counter productive. It is better to be prepared before you go in. So by the time we had got into the studio, we knew what we needed to do. We had at least sixty to seventy per cent done of what will appear on the track.
ZANI – As you know ZANI's love the album, and there are a few homages in Choice of Weapon, not just in genres of music, but also films like Gangs of New York.
Ian Astbury - Interesting that you mention Gangs of New York, because the shirt I am wearing on the inside cover, is from the Gangs of New York. It was a prop worn by one of the actors playing Dead Rabbit. I guess there is no one overriding theme to the record, there is a redemptive quality. Like me examining my station in life picking myself off the canvas and coming back off the ropes, there is that quality. Like in Love > Death, there is so much in that song, so many layers, if you broke into my skull, you would see all these fragmented elements that are part of a whole. It's a real cinematic track.
ZANI – It's a classic epic rock track that takes you on a journey.
Ian Astbury - There is a straight up knife edge element to the album, when you live your life at speed. Not living in the same community or doing the same routine, you put yourself in a situation where you are constantly having to deal with obstacles. Some of it is your own stuff, like family origin, progression, that kind of psychic. But then some of them come with the trappings of success, so many different psychological layers that you go through, and then you throw yourself in a big city like New York which heightens the neurosis and the imperfections.
Then you get that kind of raw animal energy but it's not sustainable, and you crash and burn, there is some of this on the record. You know when you put the gas pedal to the floor, and then the engine blows up. That is the kind of person I am, to take things to the maximum where a lot of people would back out. Primal Scream are like that.
ZANI – You mean Bobby Gillespie and Co ?
Ian Astbury - Totally, Bobby definitely, he goes beyond and everything is in the body of Primal Scream's work. He's not apologetic about it, and a lot of the media have had trouble trying to get their heads around it.
The record isn't incredibly refined, well it's refined in certain areas, but as an overall body of work, is still raw. ZANI – I like the rawness of the album, and in regard to the title, Choice of Weapon, I take it you are referring to Gordon Parks (Director of Shaft and co-founder of Essence, magazine) semi-autobiographical book from 1967, A Choice of Weapons, where he famously states "Photography was my choice of weapon. Those people who want to use a camera should have something in mind, something they want to show, something they want to say. I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapon against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty. I could have just as easily picked up a knife or a gun, like many of my childhood friends did". Therefore, is music the choice of weapon for The Cult ?
Ian Astbury - It's interesting. I have read his book A Choice of Weapons, and I was struck by his observations that he had chosen the camera as his weapon. Furthermore I was inspired by John Sinclair, poet and ex-manager of MC5, about Rock and Roll being a weapon of Cultural Revolution, and the weapons used in Tantric Buddhism, sometimes known as Vajrayana.
They don't have to be weapons of violence they can also be weapons of symbolism, materialism and different levels of consciousness and awareness. I really liked that image of setting intention with the album.
Like when you ask a lot of artists what their intention is, they don't even know what you are talking about. There is so much unconscious living, people responding to what somebody else is doing, as opposed to being dynamic in their own individual world.
It's amazing when somebody comes along with a paper bag over their head and everybody goes "that is awful", and then somewhere down the line everybody else is doing it. Eventually everyone starts copying and imitating them, yet we tend to destroy or outcast the visionaries.
ZANI – The modern day mainstream media certainly seems to dislike the visionary
Ian Astbury - That's because it is driven by the advertising industry, nothing to do with journalism, is there any publication out there thinking they are selling their publication based on their insight?
ZANI – They're just copied and pasted press releases, no depth, no new angles, no new ideas. Sorry, better stop otherwise I will get wound up.
Ian Astbury - Yes you'd better
ZANI – I understand you had a bad problem in late 2009, which wasn't drugs or drink, but a problem with your hip and you became a little bit of a recluse and also depressed?
Ian Astbury - It was a difficult period. I pretty much destroyed my hip through wear and tear, not just from performing. I was run over when I was eleven and also when I was fifteen, a lot of trauma on my left hip. Being athletic and running a lot, then falling on concrete stages, jumping off a PA stack, coming off a motorcycle about five or six times, I really put my body through it. Basically destroyed my left hip, and I had to have surgery where they cut the bone and capped it with titanium so I have got a pound and half of titanium on my left hip.
ZANI – Shit.
Ian Astbury - Yea, and psychologically I got to the stage, where I thought I was never going to run again, it was depressing and I found it a difficult challenge. I was in New York, a city of eight million people, I rarely spoke to anybody, I walked the streets, I contemplated, it was an incredible period, I went inwards.
ZANI – You became the Hollow Man?
Ian Astbury - I didn't become The Hollow Man, the idea of The Hollow Man is somebody who has no self awareness, just a shell. No, if anything, it began an inward journey that was enlightening to a degree. I was going to a centre in New York, a school of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact it's where the poet Allen Ginsberg was placed in the main meditation hall, after his death.
Ginsberg was a big part of the Buddhism community, as was Jack Kerouac and The Beats, so there was a strong affiliation between The Beat community and the Buddhism community of New York. It was their cathedral, their temple. A lot of people who attend there are artists, musicians, writers, and it's a place I would spend a bit of time in meditation. You would think that having some sort of Buddhist practice in a city like New York would be almost impossible, but with the pace and the neuroses of New York, it was easier to point out those aspects and attachments to that kind of behaviour, as opposed to going to a desert in California, and sitting in a place where time is dead. A real contrast, as we speak, I am driving through a desert right now in New Mexico .
ZANI – Deserts have been an important part of your psychological makeup since your childhood. As I understand when you went to the cinema to see Lawrence of Arabia I believe this was your awakening to do something creative.
Ian Astbury - That's interesting. The more I contemplate the film not only am I struck with the cinematic images created by David Lean, but also with the aspects of the desert, exotic Arabic culture and mysticism. It's not just an action film that was beautifully shot, there is a subtext which is spiritual.
The scene where Omar Sharif comes out of the desert dressed all in black robes is a powerful scene. Imagine seeing that when you are seven years old, which may have been Glasgow or Liverpool. Anyway you go out in the street after seeing this wonderful imagery, it's pouring with rain, and you are surrounded by these Victorian suburbs, it's like a drug experience.
ZANI – I can go with that, how's the tour going in general.
Ian Astbury - Yea it's going great, done over thirty shows, getting more and more into the tour. We are seeing more people connecting with the record, right now we are playing five new songs, and they are getting them. You don't see any element of people walking away, there's no lull in the set, and it's fully engaged from the first note right to the very end. We have found a great balance of material, we are kind of leaning towards Psychedelic and Punk elements from our past. Even though we are playing Fire Women in the set, it has taken on a kind of Acid Psychedelic version, which is more punk and edgy. It's perhaps one of my least favourite songs that we have ever written, but it has taken on this whole new lease of life. This is a tough band, we are not little kids.
It's been a long time since I felt this energy before going on stage. Beforehand I usually walked out on stage, and it would take me three or four songs to get into it. But this time round, I am banging on the gate, I want to get at it. We start really strong, we have stripped the set now, and people are asking why don't you play this or that, like Soul Sister or Peace Dog.
ZANI – You've dropped Peace Dog? One of my favourites
Ian Astbury - No, we don't play it anymore, but we do play Love Removal Machine, Wild Flower, again these songs have taken on a new lease of life.
ZANI – Out of your new songs, is Lucifer in your set?
Ian Astbury – Yea.
ZANI – Brilliant.
Ian Astbury - People have taken to Lucifer, because it has a kind of Hip Hop feel to it, break beat, it's in that space, without trying to copy somebody else's style. It's a thrashing, sexual, great song to play live.
ZANI – Look forward to seeing you in the UK, when you come here in September, what do you miss about the UK?
Ian Astbury - Heathrow Airport when I am flying back, no only joking. The relationship we have with our audiences there is very unique. It's a bit difficult for me to feel at home in England, because I grew up in North America, so I was exiled and alienated when I returned to England from North America. When I was a teenager I was never fully accepted as a fully fledged Brit or whatever you want to call it, there was always something about me that people knew I was a different kind of animal.
When I was in Southern Death Cult, I became a target, I don't know, just for being different. So sometimes it is a little hard for me to come home and fully embrace that xenophobia that exists in the UK. But our audience is amazing, they won't let us leave the stage.
ZANI – Interesting, I know you love your football, Serie A, La Lingua and The Premiership. You are a big Everton fan, and Billy is a big Man City fan, how do you think Everton are going to do this season ?
Ian Astbury - Don't know, but we ended above Liverpool, which made me happy. I was taken to Goodison Park when I was four years old, had a scarf put round my neck and that was it. It would be nice to compete in Europe, but you need that big influx of money. But we do have the infrastructure as David Moyes is a great manager and you need someone at the helm, he's my hero.
There is a lot of camaraderie between the Everton players, you don't see that power struggle which you see in a lot of other premiership clubs, there always seem to be smiles. They are very much of their community and have been for over a hundred years, and one of the last clubs to be playing in their original ground.
Pleased to be associated with Everton, but I loved the fact that Man City won the league last year
ZANI – So did I, and that proves your point, about having someone at the helm and a good infrastructure. It took Roberto Mancini three years to build that team, it wasn't done overnight.
Ian Astbury - Agreed, and I would love to see any critics worth their salt do what that Roberto did.
Ian Astbury and Roberto Mancini alike, they are both mavericks and achieve results, be it in football or music. Astbury is certainly reflective, philosophical, upbeat and forward thinking. He seems to have stepped out of the darkness, and into a new light of overwhelming self belief. Not that he didn't have it before, but this seems a whole new level, where he doesn't seem to care about the media interpretations of him and/or The Cult. Ian and the band just want to keep on making powerful, deep and raw music. Furthermore with their new album Weapon of Choice, he certainly has the ammunition to be this strong minded.