Ian Astbury, throat of the long-running British rock band The Cult, doesn't appreciate his band being reduced to "dumb rock 'n' roll" by hipsters. Not one bit.
"The illuminated, erudite, indie, or post-modern culture, whatever — it almost serves them to shove people like us out of the room," Astbury says. "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."
Speaking with Astbury about The Cult's new record, the vital-sounding Weapon of Choice, it's nearly impossible to make some Russell Brand-in-Forgetting Sarah Marshall connections. Astbury's accent helps, but it's the way he describes his music. Indie schlubs don't use phrases like "black wolf is in the room," nor do they suggest that their music seeks to peer into "the great mystery." But Astbury is an old-school rock star, one whose ponderings have as much in common with Jim Morrison as goth-rockers like Bauhaus, a band for whom The Cult opened in its infancy.
"Science and religion can't explain it," Astbury says of modern life. "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 as a way to go forward."
Weapon of Choice, Astbury explains, is about picking up weapons — art, words, music — and navigating modern society. But don't be scared off by the lofty ideas: featuring the beefy guitar of Billy Duffy and the no-nonsense production of Chris Goss, the Joshua Tree-bred producer who's worked on records for Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, and Masters of Reality, songs like the anthemic "Elemental Light" (with those signature string bends) and the roadhouse rocker "A Pale Horse" are heavy enough for late-night ragers or caveman revelry. You don't have to take it deeper — unless you want to, that is.
"The intelligence and the awareness is there," Astbury says. "[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. But I'll go toe-to-toe with any of them."
Astbury has made a habit of engaging musicians outside the band's classic rock-inspired sound. He worked with electronic outfit U.N.K.L.E., and 2010 found him teaming with Japanese sludge/art rock band Boris for a collaboration called BXI. It's just natural, he insists.
"We built this," Astbury says. "'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."
Astbury's kept pushing buttons. The band is joined by L.A. noise-makers The Icarus Line on this tour, as well as Florida punk combo Against Me!, a band that's grabbed headlines regarding singer/songwriter Tom Gabel's announcement that after years of struggling with gender dysphoria, he planned to begin living life and performing as a woman, Laura Jane Grace.
If the mooks and knuckle-draggers have a problem with that, well, don't bother Astbury talking about.
"So, yeah, there's a rock neanderthal bill for you," Astbury laughs. "We find ourselves with Laura, and it's incredible. There's a lot of solidarity, and [on tour we] end up doing a lot of communal living. Being able to watch Against Me! every night — that's amazing."