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The Cult: virile, aggressive, and gutteral

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The Cult are one of the the most iconic and enduring rock bands going around.  With a new Australian visit just around the corner, HEAVY caught up with frontman Ian Astbury to talk about their plans to perform the entire 1987 Electric album live.

Words: Karl Lean 

It has been a busy time for The Cult, a new album last year and plenty of touring to support it.  But this is a band that clearly isn’t ready to rest just yet.  “It’s what we do” says Astbury. “Since we started we’ve been live musicans, it’s always been live first.  Recording, record deals, career and everything else came afterwards. It was really just about playing in bars to start with.”  This drive to keep performing is at least partly based in the stability and success of the band now, he adds. “The band’s been rolling pretty consistently the past 7 or 8 years, and we just don’t want to stop. We’ve got momentum, we’ve got the album out and it’s going strong. Choice of Weapon did really really well, previous to that we did the Capsule collection and previous to that we did the Love tour which was great.  That was kind of inspired by seeing Bowie do the Low album, probably one of the first artists to go out and play an album, an iconic record in it’s entirety. So for us we’re between albums right now but we want to keep playing.”

 This will be the second time The Cult have toured playing a full album as a set.  The Love tour was a huge success with a lot of demand from fans and Astbury says this gave them the idea to take the same approach to another album.  He’s eager to emphasise that this tour is a chance to bring these songs to life. “We thought it was an opportunity to do the same for Electric because the album as a platform, well a lot these songs we’ve never played live. We don’t really think of this material as ‘old’, the action of playing live makes it all become fresh.  It’s always like kind of an external perception of what we do, there’s memories and connections to a piece or body of work. So for us Electric 13 is those Electric songs brought alive again. We’re probably better musicans now than we were then, we’re at the top of our game right now, the shows have been amazing. The band’s on fire, it’s the most consistent line up we’ve had.  We’ve been playing together for 7 or 8 years so it’s really tight.”

 The new tour is actually a double dose for fans, “The way we do it for Electric 13, we do the Electric album and then we come off, then we have a second set where we play everything from Death Cult though to Choice of Weapon” says Astbury. The band have no concerns with revisting an album that is 25 years old, or in drawing on songs from across their career. “We don’t objectify our songs as ‘old classics’, these songs are live songs, they have to be played.  We walk on stage in that moment, and they are played in that moment.  The songs take on whatever environment we are in – it’s a good day or a bad day, the amps are working or not working, a cold room or a warm room, the audience is dead or lit up, it’s all different.  You play in South America and it’s insane, you might play to a more gentrified crowd in a place like New York – you have to try to work with it. Making music, performing, it’s like making love, it’s different every time.” 

 Talking to Astbury, it’s quickly apparent that The Cult believe they have plenty more to offer than just a nostalgia trip for older fans. “We don’t identify ourselves as classic rock, to me that term is like an old custodian.  But this band is vital, it’s virile, aggressive, gutteral.  It can be sublime, it can be violent, it can be poetic.  Within that is the essence of The Cult. We have 9 studio albums and a history of working different genres from hard rock to modern alternative post rock, very eclectic.  We are still here.” asserts Astbury.

 Throughout the conversation Astbury returns to the theme that playing live is the essence of this band, dismissing the idea that ‘albums’ can define a band. “You might as well just take the Cover and put it on a stool on stage, then play the record through the PA and go ‘interact with that’! People will say ‘hey man I heard your album’ and I dont care, I’m not interested. What’s important is how you’re responding to it right now, how the audience is responding to what we’re doing right now.  When we walk on stage we can’t really go ‘we are going to be very reverentual to this work that we did whenever we did it’, we just play it the way we want to play it.”

 With planning underway, the decision to include Australia in the Electric 13 tour was an easy one.  The band has always had a great following downunder, and the ability to connect with Australian audiences has always meant great times and great shows here.  “I love Australia, my wife’s Australian and I think The Cult has some of it’s most seminal  moments there.  The ’87 tour when we toured Electric, playing places like Selina’s – we tore that place up.  We did $30,000 worth of damage to gear then.  And coming back for the Big Day Out, that was incredible.  That was a proper Big Day Out, we played with Ministry, Hole … Silverchair were just starting out, that was really chaotic and anarchic” recalls Astbury.

 But as much as they love playing live, life on the road is always a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. “Touring has always been a grind.  It’s a tough lifestyle, it’s not like every day you get to be in Sydney, or Tokyo, or New York, or Paris. Touring is basically going from venue to venue.  We just drove 10 hours from our last gig to here in Biloxi, Mississippi. Tomorrow we’ll do a 14 hour drive to the next show.  The drives are really long, especially here in the States.  And it’s the down times that you get into trouble, you try and keep your head together and not get into trouble.  I much prefer driving to flying though, all that sitting in airports.  You don’t get offstage until after midnight, and you’ll have a flight at 9 in the morning.  By the time you get cleaned up, you never sleep, you’re constantly tired, living on caffeine.  That’s what it is, you chose the life style and I’m not going to cry about that, it’s just the reality of touring. But once  you do get on stage it’s like catharsis, a release, that’s the time you really get to express yourself and it’s gratifying having an audience that has stayed with the band for so long.”

 And the fans have stayed with this band through the years because, as their 1993 compilation title says, The Cult are “For Rockers, Ravers and Sinners”.  Electric 13 is coming this October, it’s time for a new set of experiences.

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