When many people think of the Cult, decades-old hits like “Fire Woman”, “She Sells Sanctuary”, and “Love Removal Machine” come to mind. While that’s understandable, it’s also worth noting the despite a couple of extended hiatuses over the years, the band is hardly leaning heavy on their past catalog. In fact, this year’s exceptional Hidden City is the third and most solid effort since the most recent regrouping of frontman Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy in 2006. It’s been branded as part of a trilogy along with 2007’s Born Into This and 2012’s Choice of Weapon, which came as a surprise as it wasn’t revealed to be one until Hidden City’s release was announced.
Vanyaland caught up with Duffy for a 617 ahead of the Cult show tomorrow night at the Citi Shubert Theatre to get to the bottom of the whole “trilogy” notion, the recent tribulations of Manchester City, the reunion of former tour mates Guns N’ Roses, and why drinking water is the best thing for you.
Michael Christopher: The last time we talked, back in late summer 2014, you were having drapes installed while on a break from touring. What did you have to take care of this time at home before heading out on tour?
Billy Duffy: Somebody to look after my co-parenting of a dog. That was the trickiest thing — co-parenting of a dog.
I want to get into the new album, but first, we have to talk about Manchester City. They’ve been in a free fall since the announcement of the coaching change coming up in July. What’s going on with them?
Yeah — is that a coincidence? It’s really hard to say. Probably not, I mean, I try not to meet the actual players, although I met Samir Nasri and contrary to his public opinion he was actually very polite. I’m not sure of the mentality of these guys is what I’m saying. Just because they play football well, that kind of effect, I don’t know what it has, I mean, when I play my horrible Sunday over-50s league, I don’t like to lose at anything. What I’m getting at, ultimately, is I’m not sure… obviously Man City coming from nowhere had to overpay for a lot of players, who some of them are probably of questionable morality. Mercenaries. And I think a lot of those guys are gone. I think it’s a certain effect on the players, but the injuries didn’t help, and all teams get them. But I can’t understand professional football players going out there and not trying. It’s a funny business; I can’t tell you why, with the money spent, and the infrastructure at City we should’ve walked away with the league this year, but we haven’t beaten any of the top six teams — so we don’t deserve anything. We haven’t beaten one of the top six, which is an appalling record really. I think they’re definitely going to be an improvement next year for sure — without a doubt.
Alright; Hidden City. To me, it’s like a Cult album for fans from every era. There seems to be something reminiscent — not retro — but it hints of parts of almost every album in the Cult catalog. Was that intentional?
No, no, no it wasn’t. I don’t disagree with you; I think it wasn’t intentional, but because we took our time doing it, there was no rush at any one point to get songs finished, so each song had the time to kind of have the attention to detail for the little parts of it. Sometimes when you make albums there’s a bit of a rush to finish, so whatever modality you’re in, two, three, four songs in basically get shoved in that mode whether they require it artistically and they sound a bit “samey” and I think with this album we managed to get each individual song as its own little island that collectively work pretty well.
Tell me about the whole trilogy thing — because I didn’t know it was supposed to be one before reading about the album. Did Ian just come up with the idea like, “Oh yeah, this is a trilogy and I didn’t even realize it!”
I think really what it was was it just really stems from the idea, me and Ian and the manager Tom sat down and thought, “How do we kind of remind people that the Cult isn’t just about nostalgia?” We’re very happy and proud of the albums we made in the ’80s — not of the haircuts — but how do you gently steer people towards the idea that in the last eight to 10 years we’ve made three albums, we’ve been touring, we feel like we’re reaching within the bracket of music we like to make; guitar oriented rock. How do you guide people to that? Well, maybe if you group them together. Somebody came up with the idea of the trilogy — maybe the manager did — I certainly didn’t. Personally, if you want my honest opinion, I see the value in that and it’s kind of worked that people realize we have made three fairly good albums, and this is probably the best of the three. The band does try to reach and take some chances and not just rely on the past and is at least attempting stuff.
I want to get your opinion on the whole Guns N’ Roses reunion. You’re good friends with [bassist] Duff [McKagan] As many people know, you took them out on their first arena tour in 1987, and they repaid you by stealing your drummer [Matt Sorum] a few years later.
[Laughs] Well, back in that day they did what they had to do and who’s to say I wouldn’t have done the same if I was in their position — you know? There seriously weren’t any hard feelings because at that point me and Ian weren’t really in a good place, so holding onto Matt Sorum out of spite… because Matt was very conflicted. I sat with him and he was like, “I don’t really want to leave, but you and Ian aren’t really getting along and there’s no plans for the Cult and [Guns N’ Roses] are asking me to play their last album sold about five thousand billion copies.” I said, “Do it mate. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t take this opportunity. The Cult will survive. The Cult is built upon the foundation of Astbury/Duffy, and we’ll survive mate, so go ahead and have at it. I would.” And it became what it became.
I’m supportive of anything that makes rock not be a sideshow and slightly ironic, comedic, “Hey let’s all have an ’80s hair metal party and dress up in spandex. Isn’t that fun? And let’s tweet it to our friends.” I mean that side of things, because there was some hilarious stuff going on at the time, but I also think in amongst that there’s always been genuine rock and roll played from the heart by people who mean it, and I would say Guns N’ Roses clearly fit in that bracket. We’re all still buddies, and I believe that we’ll be playing with them at a couple of shows that are not in the United States — I think I can say that I believe. I just found out. So there’s definitely a lot of friendship between the two bands after all the years.
You know a thing or two about having a rocky relationship with a lead singer. How are things between you and Ian these days?
We’re good. We’re both kind of stubborn, so I think at its worst there was this a little bit like the Cold War. We weren’t really throwing things at each other across the room, it was just a bit more of a smoldering like, “You pissed me off.” But I don’t think it was ever really worse than that. It’s just because you’ve got two Type A personalities who deep down realize that we kind of need each other to be at our artistic best, arguably. I’m not, as you know, the happy clapper guy, so when I say it’s good, lo, it’s good.
Drink lots of water. Honestly — it’s the best thing I can think of, and it’s something I don’t do; I’m all over the coffee and the tea and whatever, and I think it’s just the best tip I can give anybody: drink lots of water.
::SEVEN OF SOMETHING
The new album is called Hidden City. I’m going to give you seven cities around the world that you’ve been to; tell me the first thing that comes to mind about each one.
A sense of humor. I like people.
I like the scenery.
It’s great for rock and roll.
New York City
An ever evolving place that I should live at one point before I die.
The only city where I think I could spend two hours in a 7-Eleven and not get bored. I love the minutiae of Japanese life and their attention to detail of the smallest things. It’s tidy, it’s safe and they value a lot of things of Western culture; they have an ability to spot the crème de la crème of Western clothes, motorbikes, cars, they have a great take on that aesthetic. Sometimes you need to go to a place like Tokyo to make you realize the wheat from the chaff.
An underrated place to live. And I’m happy with people to continue with their misconceptions, because that’s one less idiot on the road. L.A. is a great place to live, for me, and I went there by choice — I didn’t go to “make it.” I went there because I’d kind of made it, and I felt it was a great place to live. I have my own reasons for that, and everybody does, but it’s important that I didn’t go there to make it. The other thing about Los Angeles; try and find another city in the world that has amountain range running through it full of wildlife. There aren’t many — if any.
I find Boston the most European of American cities. It’s a lot like Manchester to me. I find that the people who are my friends who are Bostonians, I guess it’s that Irish descended thing which obviously Liverpool and Manchester have an incredibly large population of Irish descended folk and I get that same feeling. When I’m in Boston I find it the most British of American cities, which might upset a lot of people, Paul Revere being one of them. But it has a feeling; the people, the mentality, to me, and the sense of humor and stuff, I find it the most connected to the UK.
THE CULT + HOLY WHITE HOUNDS :: Tuesday, April 5 at the Citi Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont St. in Boston, MA :: 7:30 p.m., all ages, $47.00 to $307.00 :: Advance tickets