The Cult is one of rock’s most eclectic bands, maybe the most, and have earned that right. Lead singer Ian Astbury is a very outspoken and diversified individual who is very protective of his band. Going to see them play live is an honor because they don’t tour a lot, which makes it more special. They have never been classified as a metal band, although many will disagree, but Astbury will tell you this over and over again: they are not and will never be. Their new album, Hidden City, came out over a year ago, so I knew right away I wasn’t going to ask any album questions. He’s been there, done that. They are going on a small spring tour for now and that’s big news, so I came up with a few questions for this iconic singer. I only had fifteen minutes to speak with him, so I wanted to make them all count.
Shockwave Magazine: Hello Ian, how are you sir? Thank you very much for doing this interview.
Ian: Absolutely. My pleasure.
I’m calling from Baltimore, Maryland, where coincidentally you will be starting this 16-date spring tour on May 3rd. Do you remember the last time you played Baltimore? I think it’s been a while.
I believe the last time we played there was 2007, so it’s been a while.
After this show, you will be playing the Carolina Rebellion Festival next. Have you ever played that festival before?
I don’t believe so. It should be a great experience for us to play that crowd for the first time. I’m looking forward to it.
Now, in another interview you gave a couple of years ago, you stated playing festivals like Carolina Rebellion was ‘unethical and money-grabbing.’ Has that changed, since now you are playing there as well as some other festivals?
[Laughing] Where did you hear that? That’s definitely something I don’t think I would have said. I question your sources [laughing].
I saw the interview on YouTube, Ian.
Oh really? Well, if that’s true, then yes, my opinion has definitely changed. Most festivals now have changed their rosters. They are much more diverse. There is a lot I turn down on behalf of The Cult over the years, like festivals, endorsements, licenses, and I do that to keep The Cult in a certain cultural residence. When we do play a festival though, it’s a great benefit to us. It sometimes is a much more interesting bill to perform and actually fit in with the audience.
The big thing to do now are cruises. Would you do a cruise with The Cult?
We’ve been offered cruises for lots and lots of money and I’ve turned them down. But hey, if it makes sense ethically to do and fits right for us, then I would be open for it; but, so far that hasn’t happened. Yes, I’ve turned down several cruises. We are a working band though. We have evolved and continue to make records. We just didn’t park the car in 1992. We continue to preach and work with The Cult and it’s finding that fine balance. The production value to tour these days has almost tripled what it was several decades ago. The costs have gone through the roof. We compete now for venues to play in; you have to now. There are literally thousands of artists and you have to compete to make the tour work. The landscape has changed dramatically. To use a line from a sporting analogy, you play the ball the way you are facing. We don’t have a crystal ball, but we try to make the best choices for the band and for the audience. We could go out and do many more shows, but we don’t. We keep it tight. Last year, we did 90 shows and promoted a new album. This year, we will only do about 50.
Sticking with touring, with what happened in Paris with the Eagles of Death Metal, has that changed for you in choosing where you play?
It depends on where you are touring. We played the Bataclan three times. Playing Europe in the eighties was a different affair back then; Belfast for example, where there was terrorist activity and bombings. That was a bit scary. New York can be scary as well. I witnessed gunpoint hold-ups there. In Detroit, as well. I had an Italian soldier stick a machine gun in my stomach in an airport, back in the day. We live our lives though. We are conscience of it. We have an awareness of it. You have to. The world is changing dramatically. You can see the cracks in society everywhere.
What advice would you give to newer bands out there trying to make it? You’ve seen it, you’ve done it.
Learn to use a camera. Get good at how you image yourself and present yourself to the world. We live in a visual first culture now. We see something now, before we hear it. For music, YouTube is pretty much the main thing visually now. Image is everything though.
If you had to put one album from The Cult in a time capsule, and 50 or 100 years from now, someone opens it, sees that album and plays it, which album would you choose and why?
That’s a very interesting question. I don’t think it has been made yet. They are all so different from each other. Maybe in ten more years if you ask me that I could answer it, when we probably would make some more records. If I had to pick something now, it would definitely be some sort of compilation of what we have put together. The idea of the album format, that document is sort of out-molded in different ways, everything is much more fragmented now. I’m sure at that time when it gets opened there would be some sort of playback system invented where not only can you hear the album, but feel it, smell it, sense it sort of. All shall be revealed one day.
The Cult will be on tour this spring for 16 dates here in the US and the rest in Europe with more dates sometime in the fall.