EXCLUSIVE – THE CULT INTERVIEW
The Cult are back with a brand new album and UK headline tour. RUSHONROCK Editor Simon Rushworth caught up with guitarist Billy Duffy following the release of the critically acclaimed Hidden City.
RUSHONROCK: Now that you’ve completed the trilogy of albums that started with Born Into This do you feel relief or a little trepidation?
BILLY DUFFY: When the last three albums are referred to as a trilogy that’s Ian talking. I think for him it might be the case that this is the completion of a cycle – thematically at least. It probably feels like a 10-year cycle to him but I don’t really see it that way. What we’re trying to do is to focus people’s attention on this band and what it’s still capable of achieving. We’ve made reasonably good music for the last 10 years and been active for all of that time. Do people actually know that? I’m not so sure. All people want to talk about is stuff from the 80s – at some point we have to redirect people’s attention to what’s happening now! We’ve made four pretty good records since we got back to together. These albums exist in Ian’s headspace – or at least the themes that bind them together do. So I think the concept idea is more for him.
RUSHONROCK: How do you and Ian get along these days?
BD: As far as the band is concerned he’s the ideas man and I’m more the engine room. I facilitate him and give his lyrics a platform. Because of our age we’ve found an understanding – a way to get along. He can say what he likes to me and it won’t finish the band. It’s down to Ian if he wants to be that guy and it doesn’t bother me. Our fans are the same – they’re pretty progressive and accepting of change. We’re very lucky in that respect. I know what Ian’s like. He’s always reaching out and searching for the next idea and the next song. I jump in at the end of that process. He said it best: ‘we’re the head and the heart of The Cult’. We need each other and we know it. When we get together and write songs it just clicks. It always has done. Who knows why? There are no ‘Ian’ songs or ‘Billy’ songs – none that are more his or more mine. We’re a team.
RUSHONROCK: How proud are you of the new album?
BD: Each one of the songs stands up to the closest of scrutiny. We take time to craft the songs. Most of the time! I suppose Choice Of Weapon was a bit rushed. But it was still well received and the fans loved it. It could have been better – unfortunately we ran out of both time and money on that one. With Hidden City we were able to fully explore it creatively. Now we’re done it’s a really nice feeling. Looking back the style of the songs is much the same as the last record – the sound isn’t too different but there is more of a piano influence. As the spotters out there will know we had a keyboard player on both the Sonic Temple and Ceremony tours and introducing keys is not uncommon for The Cult. Every so often we need that element of versatility.
RUSHONROCK: Has Ian’s spell with The Doors encouraged The Cult to tweak its sound again?
BD: Having played one show with The Doors I suppose it does affect you. I remember that night well. The lights went down and I thought ‘fuck me I’m playing with The Doors!’. People might have looked at Ian back then and thought ‘who does he think he is – some kind of northern Jim Morrison?’. But did they front The Doors? He did. You talk it or you walk it. I know Ian enjoyed it and it’s bound to rub off on the work we do. From a creative standpoint bringing in the keyboards gave us somewhere different to go on Hidden City. The Cult is always going to be a guitar band but we have a great keyboard player with us right now – and he also plays a bit of guitar! I’m excited to get on the road because it’s such a cool line-up. We just toured with the Primals (Primal Scream) on the west coast of America and it was a wonderful experience.
RUSHONROCK: When The Cult originally broke up did you ever imagine you’d go on to make some of the best music of your career?
BD: I really thought that we were done. We did 12 years straight from 1983 to 1995 and it took its toll. I just snapped. There was personal life stuff that tipped me over the edge. But we all needed a break. When you’re in a band from being a kid you infanticise yourself – all of a sudden I just gave out and grew up. In hindsight it was good to take that break. Even I was happy!
RUSHONROCK: What was that period of your life like?
BD: My parents were getting old and it gave me time with them back home. I was in England for the second half of the 1990s – I was at the coalface when the whole British rock scene was reinvented. I was at Oasis’ first arena gig and I saw Radiohead at their peak. I saw Tim Buckley in a field in Glastonbury and I’m grateful for all of those memories and all of those experiences. I’m grateful that I got to do those things when I did. I missed out on so much during that first run with The Cult – I just didn’t realise it.
RUSHONROCK: Are you now grateful that The Cult has been given a second chance?
BD: Of course. I always knew me and Ian had something special. Most classic bands have that partnership that’s almost duty bound to make music that’s above the mundane. That’s us. Fortunately people who really get The Cult have stayed loyal to the band for years. And I like to think that’s because we do make an effort where our music is concerned. We could just throw these albums out but we don’t. We take time to make something worthy of our name and we do it because we love it. And when we don’t love it as much we just stop for a while! Neither of us need the money but we want to do this. When it comes down to it we’re both fans of rock music. That’s the top and bottom of it.
RUSHONROCK: And you’re a fan of football – are you still playing over in the US?
BD: I don’t play for Hollywood United any more. But I do pull on the shorts and socks on a Sunday morning in the South California Beach League. It’s an over-50s league so it’s my level! As a left footer I’m in a team with a load of left-footed players but I still hold my own in midfield. At Hollywood United we had even more left footers! I love it. And I’ll keep playing as long as I can.
I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.