It is likely that many people will stereotype The Cult with the image of mid 80s rock pose bombast, all denim and leather, long hair and Marshall stacks that saturated the video channels of the time. That was the era of Electric, an album that took them to the masses and was the point at which their sound changed dramatically from the dark and swirling psychedelic post punk that characterised their first two albums – Dreamtime and Love.
After breakups, meltdowns and reformations the band are looking in fine health after the release of their 8th album Born Into This in 2007 and recent touring where they have been playing their classic Love album in full, followed by a selection of favourite Cult songs from the rest of their albums.
Ahead of their Australian tour this May, Billy Duffy happily looks back on the record that first broke them internationally and set them on course to be one of the bigger rock bands of the 80s.
“It all started when I had this idea a number of years ago to play the Albert Hall, I thought we should play the Love album there. I approached Ian [Astbury] about it and we weren’t actually playing together as a band, we were on a hiatus, he was singing with the Doors and I saw him and we chatted about for the first time – that was about 5 years ago. Eventually it just came together and we did it and it was good and people want to see it,” Duffy explains.
“When the band got back together we did a new album and it came together after that, it seemed like the right time and everyone felt good about it. It wasn’t over-thought it was just an organic thing which is the best way. People say its the 25th anniversary but I don’t really know and don’t really care. Its more like a celebration of the band’s music for the fans and we wanted to keep it on the down low and we really did that. We didn’t do interviews or have people there to review the shows, the fans just got wind of it and it snowballed,” says Duffy, sounding genuinely excited about the project.
The band has been so impressed with the format and reaction to Love Live that they aren’t ruling out applying the same treatment to more of their albums. “This has proven quite successful so we might do it again, there’s always the Electric album. Love is pretty special to us though, it is a very honest, pure and organic place for The Cult. It just felt the most natural to do that record, its certainly my favourite and felt the right way to start,” says Duffy.
Looking back at those early albums and placing them in the musical context of the times it can be strongly argued that Duffy’s guitar playing was one of the more unique styles of the time, avoiding the harsh and basic distortion of punk and eschewing the choppy militarism of post punk rhythms. “I was just trying to find something that wasn’t punk rock, you take a bit of Ennio Morricone, spaghetti western guitar and mix it with echoey stuff. I was into John McGeoch from The Banshees, I was really into the Psychedelic Furs and obviously The Edge, he was amazing with that echoey sound. Geordie from Killing Joke had some good stuff going on too. It was a bunch of those influences and I just tried to do my own thing. I was always leaning more to the rock, I grew up listening to Free, Thin Lizzy, Bad Company, just slightly pre-punk and then it got blown away by Steve Jones and the Pistols and The Clash. That was my melting pot of influences,” states Duffy.
Of course that rock sound really came to the fore when the band abandoned the recordings for their third album and decamped to New York to recreate the the songs as Electric. “We did the Love album and it was kind of critically hammered, particularly in England. I think the journalists were scared that hippies were back, but everywhere else it was pretty warmly received. That album became more of a global outlook and we really weren’t that concerned with appeasing the press in England. We toured a lot and went around the world and tried to do the next album with Steve Brown and we couldn’t work it out, we couldn’t make that transition and it ended up being The Manor Sessions/Peace album. Some of the songs are the same and some were OK but overall it didn’t feel right so after spending an enormous amount of money we shit-canned it and ran off to New York and re-recorded it in 19 days with Rick Rubin. Rick and George Drakoulias who co-produced the record, made it leaner. Rick said the best thing – he reduced The Cult. We had a slightly overblown album with too much going and on and we were mired down in it and he stripped it all away and got it back to its essence,” explains Duffy.
“People often say why don’t we do more like Electric but we don’t normally write like that. Electric happened because we went through a process. Maybe Lil Devil was written like that but everything else evolved into that. It was a one off thing. I don’t think we could write like that again and plus I couldn’t drink and take drugs and party like I did back then. I was living it and Ian was really living in it. When we were in New York making that record and the tours before and after it was the real deal/ We toured, Guns N Roses opened for us, we opened for Billy Idol, it was the 80s and it was full on, game on,” recalls Duffy.
Fast forward to 2010 and the good news is The Cult have been back in the studio recording new material with Chris Goss (Masters Of Reality, Kyuss, QOTSA) producing the sessions. “We’ve just done 4 tracks with him, we’ll probably do some more, we seem to have a good relationship going on. Its good, Chris is a very talented guy and so far its been very enjoyable and the new stuff is good,” says Duffy.
The Love Live tour will be a chance to see The Cult as a more balanced representation of their true selves. Love was their sound on the cusp of the band going over the barricades and the encore, with songs like Love Removal Machine and Fire Woman, will no doubt satiate those fans who embrace and relish all incarnations of The Cult.
This interview featured on FasterLouder
Read the review of The Cult’s Sydney show…