In 2007, The Cult released a new album, Born Into This, and it rocked. Here’s an interview I had with frontman Ian Astbury to mark the occasion.
IT’S fair to say that The Doors have lit Ian Astbury’s fire. Or at least, re-lit it. The Cult frontman found a new profile when he joined original members of The Doors to form The Doors of the 21st Century and toured the world paying tribute to Jim Morrison’s seminal band. It was a natural fit for Astbury, who clearly channelled Morrison as he led his English rock outfit to, well, cult fandom during the 1980s.
Hits like She Sells Sanctuary, Fire Woman and Love Removal Machine couldn’t keep the ball rolling, however, and the band limped through the ’90s plagued by tensions, reforming around Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy to produce only three albums since 1990, including 2001’s lavish Between Good and Evil.
Playing with original Doors members Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek revived Astbury’s interest in his own band’s work, and stoked his ambitions as a songwriter.
“The Cult were never really a career band,” he says from New York, having moved from the UK to the US in the late ’80s.
“We grew out of punk rock, following our idols like Bowie and Iggy Pop. Performance was the most important thing.
“But over time, songwriting has become more important.
“Touring with The Doors made me respect the songwriting process,” he says. “I started to think, why not me? Why can’t I aspire to that pantheon of excellence? Not to garner credit or respect from anyone else, but as a personal challenge.”
The result was a 2006 international tour with Cult guitarist Billy Duffy and new chums Chris Wyse on bass, Mike Dimkitch on rhythm guitar and John Tempesta on drums, gigs in Europe and now a new album, Born Into This, and another international tour.
Astbury quit The Doors of the 21st Century, aka Riders on the Storm, early this year to give The Cult his full attention.
“We came into the studio with a sense that the songs were most important, not the circus that happens around them, not worrying about what other people would say about them.
“Our aim was to do it quickly, not to let it get too laboured, not second-guessing ourselves.”
While Between Good and Evil took more than a year to record, Born Into This was recorded in 36 days and is, Astbury says, “a Polaroid of where we’re at”.
“This album has mistakes all over it. Could I have arranged it better? Probably. Could we have got better sounds? Probably. But it’s where I’m at creatively. It’s spontaneous. It was written in New York, LA, London, Paris, the Himalayas.”
Those looking for Doors-like mysticism and Native American leanings harking back to the Cult’s heyday will not find it here. The songs on Born Into This are raw rock ‘n’ roll mined from the pages of newspapers and magazines, from urban streets and, in the case of Holy Mountain, India; “they’re observational, they’re reportage”, Astbury says.
There is little judgment as he mirrors urban decay, the drug trade, the cult of celebrity: the song provides the vignette and it’s up to the listener to make up their mind about the morality of the issue.
The first single, Dirty Little Rockstar, “looks at the culture, the obsession with media and celebrity, and this consumer culture, consuming magazines about celebrities. It’s an opiate. What does it say about the quality of our real lives, our internal lives?”
“It looks at how women are objectified in the culture, how eight year olds are sexualised to these images: is this a healthy thing?
“The term rockstar itself has been appropriated by soft drink companies and fashion labels. `Party like a rock star’ – what does that mean? If you hold it up and look behind it, there’s nothing there.”
While Astbury has found new if not deeper meaning behind the craft of songwriting, he still enjoys the Cult back catalogue, even if he’s looking forwards, not backwards.
“The meaning of songs changes according to where I’m at; sometimes I might come at them from the other side.
“Edie (Ciao, Baby) is a good example. Originally it was about Edie Sedgwick but now I realise it’s biographical, I was writing about myself. So now I sing it like that. The lyrics might be a little sophomoric but hey, I was just a kid – give me a break.”<p>