Hits like “Fire Woman” and “She Sells Sanctuary” made the Zeppelin- and Doors-influenced hard rock of The Cult an MTV staple in the mid-'80s. The English outfit's foundation was guitarist Billy Duffy and frontman Ian Astbury, the latter known for his goth-meets-Native American shamanisms. Internal tensions led to hiatuses, but in recent years they've begun to release their music as “capsules” — multimedia bundles, as opposed to traditional albums, that have been met largely with confusion.
Tomorrow, May 22, however, they return with the strong, regular-format LP Choice of Weapon. To mark the occasion, we spoke with the rambunctious Astbury — who famously christened himself a “Wolf Child, howlin' for you” in the song “Wild Flower” — and now calls Los Angeles home.
Three years ago you declared, “The album is dead.”
Privately, I still believe it is dead — or at least the format is dead. Maybe the concept isn't dead. The culture is more interested in short, sharp bursts of information. Remember those pick-and-choose stores where you could go in and get whatever candy you want? That's the lifestyle we live in; we live in a pick-and-choose world.
Do you think the idea of the capsule was ahead of its time, that people weren't ready for it?
Perhaps. And what I found out, even in my own camp we weren't ready for it, as an entity.
What made you return to the LP?
Fans of the band were banging on the door, saying, “We love the music and we want more and we want it now,” and then we got a load of labels sniffing around, saying, “This is really great material.” Having said that, we had recent conversations over the past few days, Billy and I, about what we're going to do next. He said, “We could return to the capsule format.” And I went, “Oh! We can do both!” So that was the epiphany.
You and Billy have had your ups and downs. What's the working dynamic like these days?
When we polarize each other and we neutralize the environment and it becomes stagnant and nothing gets done — that's not good. When we polarize each other and we get that kind of, like, still looking at each other and we're still connected? Then we get good shit. Then we can kind of come back into the space, and something else comes out of it, like a third element, and we sit back and listen to it and it's, like, “Whoa — that's pretty intense.” And that's what kind of happened in this instance.
Choice of Weapon is one of the strongest records you've done in quite a bit.
We're very proud of it. There's a lot in it to talk about, and then there's a lot in it not to talk about, because in the business of rock & roll it's the basic food groups. … You just gotta fucking rock with your cock out. Then it's not about the haircut, it's about laying into it with gravitas, which I think we do pretty good.
With John Tempesta (drums) and Chris Wyse (bass), this is the longest, most consistent rhythm section The Cult has ever had.
In essence, The Cult really hasn't had a band since the early part, and now in this phase — I don't even know what to call it, pre-apocalypse? — the mood is upbeat. It's an integrated family, it's as dysfunctional as everybody else, but it works, and I think we've made a brilliant Cult record.
You turn 50 this month. Will you still be the Wolf Child at 50?
I'll always be the Wolf Child. … I just have better control over my faculties.
The Cult's Choice of Weapon will be released tomorrow, May 22. They perform June 23 at the Palladium.