There's one claim you can't level at the Cult: rock & roll retread. These psychedelic post-punkers formed in Yorkshire in 1981 around the core duo of Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy. But they broke big in the U.S. a few years later, bridging the gap between metal and grunge with dark rock hits "Love Removal Machine," "Fire Woman" and "Sweet Soul Sister." It was the Cult who introduced the world to a then-unknown Guns N' Roses on a 1987 world tour. And it was the Cult who organized the first cross-genre festival, Gathering of the Tribes, in 1990.
By the mid-'90s, drugs and disillusion broke up the Cult; even after they reformed in 1999, an ill-fated deal with Atlantic Records set them back even further. In 2002, the Cult went on ice again, with Astbury filling Jim Morrison's role in a 21st-century reboot of the Doors.
But once the Cult reunited for good in 2005, the band caught a third wind, transforming themselves into titans of the new international festival circuit. Their 2014 Coachella performance is widely considered one of the best rock performances in recent memory, and a trifecta of gripping original albums, 2007's Born Into This, 2012's Choice of Weapon and 2015's Hidden City, thrust them to the forefront of any conversation about modern rock. Orlando Weekly chatted with founding guitarist Billy Duffy about rock & roll passion, artistry over commercialism and combating the inevitability of extremism.
The Cult still tours relentlessly. Has that pace ever gotten to you or Ian or any of the other guys?
Billy Duffy: We've been around a while – most of us are in our 60s – and the wear and tear, the physicality of touring, is a factor. We're still doing about five gigs a week, which is sustainable. But touring is where you make your money – it's not considered a holiday any more. And we are a touring band that makes records when we have enough good songs to share with people.
Last year's Hidden City was the band's 10th full-length in 32 years. What stands out to you about it?
We got the best out of the diverse material. Working with producer Bob Rock from the ground up helped guide our creativity in a structured way, and the beneficiary was the songs. There's definitely a thirst from young people for rock music that doesn't suck, made by people who are still alive and playing, not just old and fat and nostalgic. So it's a matter of re-engaging our fans who went to concerts all the time when they were 30 but are maybe 45 now and don't do anything. That's what Hidden City can do: reignite their passion for rock & roll.
Songs like "Deeply Ordered Chaos" comment on contemporary events, like last year's Paris terrorist attacks. That's rare for an established band.
For Ian, Paris means a lot – it symbolizes everything that's great about art. It's the City of Light. ... We wear our hearts on our sleeves and believe in what we do. We live it and breathe it. That song was written in response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks (January 2015); the album was recorded by the time of the Eagles of Death Metal thing (November 2015). But that just reinforced the sentiment that it could have been us – we've played the Bataclan before. It looks like the lunatics are going to be running the asylum soon, and the inevitability of that extremism is sad. The sane people now are the silent majority again, and that's a problem.
Last year, Rolling Stone called the Cult "fearless and peerless." Does that seem accurate or overblown to you?
I'll take it. There are bands we respect, but I'm proud of what we've done, and we do it without fear. We pursue artistic choices, not commercial choices, as our primary concern. The rock & roll field is a fairly thin herd. That's why we're always looking to partner up with other interesting bands. Like Public Enemy – that was a great experiment that went really well. It worked. It wasn't just tokenism. Here's to more of that if it can be done.