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The Cult's Ian Astbury Ain't No Caveman (He's the Wolf Child)

The Cult, with Ian Astbury seated center. The one with the hat.
The Cult, with Ian Astbury seated center. The one with the hat.
Michael Lavine

British rock band The Cult have a new album out today, Choice of Weapon. It's good -- a remarkably heavy record without a trace of "heft for the sake of heft." The songs sound exactly like The Cult, but they aren't tired, no doubt enhanced by the presence of Chris Goss, the Joshua Tree-bred producer who's helmed records for Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Masters of Reality, and more.

Everything clicks. The drums are huge, and guitarist Billy Duffy's lines sting. Singer/lyricist Ian Astbury sounds huge, with his vaguely mystic words soaring over the mix. Just don't blame the band if they don't find the songs quite as fresh as the rest of us.

"We've been sitting on this one awhile," Astbury says over the phone, his English accent and penchant for metaphysical musings (dude sometimes refers to himself as "the Wolf Child").

"We had the mixes done at the end of December/January. But then you have to get into things like marketing and artwork, but we've been living with these songs for quite a while. We have to remind ourselves that it's fresh for our audiences. It's always a bit strange; there's always that pregnant pause."

Astbury was into discussing Choice of Weapon -- not to mention modern social media, and why the band never cared much about punk or indie rules.

Up on the Sun: Choice of Weapon is a really enjoyable record, and it looks fantastic. There's really some beautiful packaging going on here -- people who pick up physical copies are going to feel rewarded.

Ian Astbury: The intention was to create packaging that reflected the level of care that went into the making of the record and reflect the authenticity and integrity of what we're doing in the studio. But the intelligence and the awareness is there. [People] try and put on The Cult, that we're a neanderthal rock band, reminiscent of playing arenas in the '80s. Mindless rock fluff, which is the exact opposite of what we do. The illuminated post-modern crowd who likes to think they have exclusive rights to that territory probably looks at the rock community and thinks we're all a bunch of fucking primate rejects [laughs]. But I'll go toe-to-toe with any of them.

You wrote this one with the idea of weapons -- words, art, whatever -- that we use to navigate society. What's the idea behind that? It's, like, where's our attention? It seems like as much as we're distracted by society as a spectacle, we're also communicating our every movement. Tweeting, blogging, texting. It always amazes me when I'm at the airport and people get on the phone straight-away: "I'm here." Well, of course, you are where you're at. You are here; you're always here. It's like we identify it like there's someone keeping score. We probably spend more time documenting our life than living it.

But the great mystery is still there. Science and religion can't explain it. We're caught up in reality shows, conspiracy theories, Weight Watchers, environmental pollution. Whatever -- whatever the distraction is -- the best of us are led by the least of us. The biggest cultural icons are actors. They're pretending to be people. They don't even write their own material. Politicians don't even write their own material anyway. So where is the real authenticity? Who's authentic anymore? You know yourself, your own experiences. So there's an authenticity. The idea of occupying yourself is something I like a way to go forward.

This is a pretty dark record, with lyrics about "fucked-up children" and songs like "Lucifer." I'm comfortable in that place. That's where the interesting things are, the uncharted and unexplored. We tend to shy away from the shadows.

But there's a theme of survival and hope, too. Absolutely. That's where the fear exists. If you go in those areas and put some light on them, if you're good in that part of your psyche, you're good.

 

I've always been interested in the line you walk between rock 'n' roll classism and your post-punk roots. You talked a little about people perceiving The Cult as caveman rocker. That's an easy peg. The illuminated, erudite, indie or post-modern culture, whatever -- it almost serves them to shove people like us out of the room. They don't want us in the room. When you open the door to us, then . . . they're letting something into the room they shouldn't. The black wolf is in the room.

Do you feel like you pushed your way into the room with BXI [Astbury's collaboration with ultra-hip, artsy post-rock Japanese band Boris]? No. We built this. "She Sells Sanctuary" was embraced by the post-modern community. It's one of the cornerstones of the indie. The Love album is seminal. It was a huge influence on indie, post-modern, and the grunge movement. The Love album was a hit in Seattle. "She Sells Sanctuary" was a Top 40 hit in Seattle. Only city in the whole country were we took Top 40 radio. When we played the Paramount Theater on that tour, every body who was anybody was at that show. I know this for a fact, because Andrew Wood, who was the lead singer of Mother Love Bone, which became Pearl Jam, shared that with me, as did Chris Cornell and Kim [Thayil] from Soundgarden. We've got some great pictures from that late '80s of Mother Love Bone and Soundgarden all crushed into the bathroom at a gig we were playing in Seattle.

There's a lot of harmony within those camps. Our 1990 Gathering of the Tribes [festival] predated Lollapalooza by four years. We have been part of the architecture of what is now established, but if you're a pioneer you end up with an arrow in the back. We never went out there with the idea of claiming anything. We just did it. It was instinctive. It was altruistic.

By the time you get to Boris, or UNKLE or whatever, it's almost firmly established. These are my credentials. My solo album, or the Cult's return to the garage, our kind of degenerate [self-titled] 1994 record. "The Witch" even. That's me -- I drive that. I'm very much like, "We built this, now we're going to tear it down."

Choice of Weapon is out now. The Cult is scheduled to perform Friday, June 22, at The Marquee Theatre in Tempe.

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