NOTE: The Cult performs three times during SXSW in Austin this week. Two of the three shows are free to the public. Info below. The band is promoting its upcoming new album, “Choice of Weapon,” due May 22.
By Metal Dave
If there’s common ground between an intellectual and a rock star, the stereotype would tell you it’s lost in the cracks of an earthquake. Bob Geldof is an intellectual. Tommy Lee is a rock star. See the gap? Watch your step!
And then there’s Cult singer, Ian Astbury. Known for being deeply philosophical, earthy and highly spiritual, Ian seems to have all the outward qualities of an esoteric interview. At best, he could be agenda-driven and intimidating. At worst, he could be humorless, boring and “cosmic.” Uh-oh …
Reached at his Los Angeles home, Ian turns out to be a fantastic conversationalist. He’s astutely aware and worldly, but he’s also gracious and funny (his Ray Manzarek impersonation is fall-down deadly). Interesting, cool and much more grounded than expected, Ian is nothing if not intriguing.
With my official interview assignment allowing only 500 words, the cutting-room floor could trip you with diamonds.
What follows, then, is not so much a proper interview as it is a compilation of conversation. It also is not intended (by any stretch) to be a career retrospective. Yes, I’m aware of the Cult’s “Sonic Temple.” No, we did not discuss it.
Instead, I share the following free-flowing glimpses into the mind and soul of Ian Astbury. The standard soundbites are available elsewhere. This one is for Ian’s fanatics.
It’s gone from being a village to being a metropolis. It’s unbelievable. Everybody and their dog is trying to get in there. The great thing is finding out what other bands are playing. There’s a band called the Black Ryder performing that are great friends of ours that we’ve toured with. They’re doing three shows. I’ll be out watching Black Ryder. I’ve heard Bonaparte are playing from Berlin …
At what point does an experience inspire your lyrics?
Probably when there’s an emotional response and an emotional connection to an observation or feeling. It’s more that than an intellectual (response). One thing about being a musician is we travel a LOT. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life moving whether it’s on a plane or a train or whatever. You live a very nomadic lifestyle and through that — because you’re not consistently in the same environment — that also affects your perspective and the way you relate to experiences and situations. Again, I go back to the emotional connection. It’s pretty much a visceral connection to an event or an observation. That’s the point when the pen hits the paper. Or more likely, the fingers hit the keyboard.
How do you convey your lyrical intent to Billy so that you get the proper music to accompany your message?
I have the advantage of being able to pick through his musical ideas and marry them to lyrical ideas or lyrical sentiments. Sometimes a piece of music will evoke a lyric. Sometimes I may just have a title. I work a lot with working titles where you kind of have a feeling, but you don’t quite know what you want to say yet. We don’t know where the songs gonna go, but he comes about and the music and the lyrics develop at the same time. That’s when you get excited, because you don’t know what the end result is going to be. You have a feeling it’s going to go somewhere, then you take it on a journey and then you end up in a place you never expected to arrive at.
One thing about this record (“Choice of Weapon”) is we worked very thoroughly through the songs to the brink of nearly destroying them and then bringing them back. Some of the songs came instantaneously and some songs had to evolve. I think we went back to a place of instinct. There were no predetermined agendas. We’ve had periods of stagnation and being stale and repeating ourselves, but I think that’s common. With ‘Choice of Weapon,’ we just said, ‘Fuck it! We’re going to grab every jewel we can find. We’re going to play the ace and go as deep as we can.’ There’s definitely hard rock moments on this record, but then again, there’s moments that are kind of pastoral. We worked completely on what we were feeling in that moment. We weren’t trying to recreate any other period. We were just going for what was authentic, natural