Q&A: Ian Astbury of the Cult
Never one to do things conventionally, The Cult will release new music Nov. 16 via innovative "music capsules."
"Capsule 2: New Blood Deep Cuts" includes the new songs "Embers" and "Until the Light Takes Us," live recordings of some of the band's hits and an intimate look into The Cult's rehearsal space, with a never before seen warm-up performance of "Black Angel." Capsules span multiple media formats including vinyl, digital, USB, CD and DVD formats, and can be purchased at the British rockers' online store. The band worked on the Capsule series with producer Chris Goss (Queens of the Stone Age, Unkle).
The Cult broke out in the early '80s with a post-punk sound, went mainstream with hard rock in the late '80s, broke up a couple times, re-assembled with new members a couple more times, and now defies the limitation of anything so mundane as genre. Founding member and lead vocalist Ian Astbury describes the band's sound as "textured metaphysical rock music for the contemporary music head."
The Cult is best known for their classic tunes "Fire Woman" and "Wildflower," but hope to add to their canon with "Embers," Capsule 2's lead track, which will be released Nov. 1 exclusively on iTunes Nov. 1, where it will be available for two weeks.
The band -- which also includes guitarist Billy Duffy, bassist Chris Wyse, drummer John Tempesta and rhythm guitarist Mike Dimkich -- is traveling the U.S. on a jaunt dubbed "L'America Tour." The Cult begins a U.K. run on Jan. 18 in Leeds. Fans are afforded the opportunity of leaving each Cult concert with a full recording of the show on a USB flash drive.
"Our latest recordings are a mixture of violent guitars, emotive vocal performances with high melody and driving beats," Astbury said.
From Buffalo, NY, Astbury spoke to SoundSpike about the Capsule, the films he's been working on and what excites him.
SoundSpike: Are you looking forward to your tour -- or are you on tour now?
Ian Astbury: I would never say I look forward to tours, no.
Why is that?
I've been on tour since I was 19, so it's continuous. I try not to compartmentalize in that way because it's a lifestyle. We don't change hats. I think if I was an actor it would be easier. I'd be playing a different role. But it's not. It's still me getting up there and doing it. We're in it. We've been out pretty much since April. We've been all over the world. In May, we were in Australia, Japan, been through Europe all summer. We've already been through the West Coast United States. Did the Fall Frenzy [in Tempe, AZ], and now we're moving to the East. We're in Buffalo today. It's a nice cloudy day in Buffalo, NY. I'm talking to you from a very glamorous bus.
Tell me about the release of the capsule. That sounds like a pretty innovative idea.
It kind of came out of necessity and it kind of came out of self awareness in the sense that you kind of get stuck on the album-tour cycle, which is the formatting of an old traditional industry that is no longer in place. ... I find that there's a lot of innovation in fashion. Seeing more and more capsule collections being released, especially in streetware, especially in Japanese subculture. You see more and more collaborations whereby you see two major brands or two major artists collaborate and they do a small collection together. Instead of doing a 200-piece fashion collection, they do like five, six pieces. It comes out, and it's available for a month or so, it disappears and then something else comes up. It's kind of exciting. You can see what new things are coming up. It's fresh and it's not stale. It doesn't hang around too long. I thought, "I wonder if that could be applied to music?"
We were kind of offered another record deal. It was another record deal where we could own our music. They were going to give us a very modest amount of money to make an album. Then we'd probably get the same lip service that we get -- they work with you for six weeks and then you disappear into their roster of artists that they don't know how to work with and develop. We decided in this particular point in time, why don't we try to do something ourselves ... engage in our audience a lot more immediately, a lot more intimately. Really start to work with our social networks and in terms of our music, go in the studio, come up with songs, bundle it with two live songs that are current and also a visual element, a film element and release them in all formats. It's not an EP because an EP is an elongated play -- it refers to a vinyl format. It's not just an EP vinyl format -- it's not. There are visual elements and it's released digitally. It encapsulates all formats as well as different elements aural and visual.
Interestingly enough, as we're developing this, we're being courted by some companies. The application will be the delivery system for the future, whereby you subscribe to a band's application and everything will come through the app. We're going to see within the next year -- Samsung is releasing a television set that has apps on it. You flick on your TV and it'll come up like your phone or your iPad or whatever it is. Wherever you have your apps. You'll be able to do it from your home. The apps will come up on the screen. You'll have a huge, 52-inch screen. You can sit there and interact with your favorite artists. How many applications can we go through? There's something like a half million applications.
There's a ton of them, that's for sure.
Oh my God. Ninety nine point nine percent of them are completely unnecessary. It's novelty. To be honest with you -- certainly I know in my immediate circle of friends -- they're bored shitless with their applications. I'm fed up. I like buying a book now. I'm excited about buying a book. Or go back and watch old Russian films. I'm just fed up with technology. I'm fed up with applications. I'm fed up with new format. I don't want another iPad. I'm just bored with these things. I've finally gone back to pen and paper. The whole thing about what we're doing, it's more guerrilla. It's more DIY. It's more in line with our punk rock roots. The way the album is cannibalized, you put your heart and soul into your body of work. You put it out and it's picked through and Pitchfork gives it a 4.7 rating and then you're done. Bye.
No, no, no. We're not done. [Laughs] By controlling how we release our music, we're controlling the environment and holding the space. OK, we've given you that, digest that. Here's another piece. It's like spoon feeding. We'll give it to you on a need-to-know basis. Maybe by the end of the whole cycle, we'll look at it like, "There's a body of a whole album here." But we'll see. Some of these songs will probably evolve into other songs. The entire capsule will be available Nov. 16. We're going to release the song "Embers" on iTunes Nov. 1. That's a very special song. It's a very intimate song. It's incredibly cathartic. It's the moment when we perform that song live when the whole room stops. The song that sucks the air out of the room when we play it.
Why is that?
It's such an intimate song. It's probably one of the most intimate things that we've ever done. There's so much space in it. A lot of our material is quite dense. There's something happening at every moment. High energy. But that particular song is far more theatrical. There's a real sense of theater with that song. It'll be interesting to see how people respond with that song. We're under no delusion that we'll be competing with the Kanye Wests and the Taylor Swifts and the Lady Gagas. We're not even attempting to take that on. We don't even think we fit in with that anyway. We're not in the same airspace. We've long since been an MTV band. I think we have more in common with the autoworks in Detroit than we have with reality TV and that generation of fresh-faced pop. Even the insipid post-modern scene, which is quite tame -- lots of puppies and kittens making music. Domesticated house animals. I'm excited about the new Neil Young album. I think it's fucking genius. There's a lot of genius on that record. I'm excited about the new Blonde Redhead record. I'm excited about Daft Punk's soundtrack for "Tron." I'm excited to hear that. I just got the Dennis Wilson record that was reissued two years ago. Genius. I played with UNKLE the other night in Los Angeles. That was phenomenal. I'm engaged with different parts of the culture. I'm excited about The Cult. We've got some new songs we're working on that I'm really excited about. We're working on a new film. The business of creativity is the business I'm in. It's a lifestyle. It's not so much a career choice.
What can you tell me about the new film?
It's going to be a trilogy. I have a film called "Ruins," which is being edited right now. It's a six-minute film. It's a short film that was filmed in the Pine Ridge [Indian] Reservation [in South Dakota] and in New York City. That's being edited. In fact, the prelude to "Ruins" was a montage of images from the film put into a little short, a capsule, a montage of those images. Then there's a documentary called "Conquest," which is in production. It has to do with sexual violence and Native American genocide. It's about what Native American women have gone through, especially in the past 100 years of forced sterilization and drug experimentation and the objectification and sexual assaults that occur on the reservations and living in the poorest communities in America and what those women have endured. Then, the film that you'll see in a Cult context, has the working title "Lucifer One." It's the story of a young woman. She's a Russian special forces sniper. She is in a combat zone where they're fighting over water. The resource that they're fighting for is water. Forget oil. We're running out of water. Fresh water is rapidly becoming a huge, huge, huge problem. It's set 15 years in the future. They realize it's kind of a lost cause. This young woman has been chosen to be the new Eve on a planet they found which is comparable for human life. It has that Aldus Huxley Brave New World quality. It also has this post-apocalyptic feel to it. That's in development right now.
What can we expect from the tour this time around? In terms of the set list, performance and production?
Well, the thing is, because we did "Love" live, it really opened us to exploring our set a little more deeply, going a little more bit deeply into our body of work. We're trying to introduce songs that we haven't played before or we haven't played in quite a long time. Then we'll play new songs like "Every Man and Woman's a Star," and we're playing "Embers." We've taken "Edie (Ciao Baby)" out of the set. We decided to put that on the shelf. We've taken "The Witch" out of the set. We've taken songs out, but then we've added new songs. The British tour's called "New Blood Deep Cuts." It's kind of like going deeper into our catalog. "Embers" has really been the highlight of the show so far. It's a pretty profound moment in the room. The band's on fire now. We've been playing together since April of this year. It's really high energy and morale is really high. We played Chicago last night and we destroyed another room. It always amazes me when we get up on the stage. Sometimes you get up on the stage and the audience is cold, but by the end of the evening everyone is pretty pumped up. It's high energy when people leave the room after a Cult concert.
2 - Baltimore, MD - Rams Head Live!
3 - Hartford, CT - Webster Theatre
5 - Munhall, PA - Carnegie Mellon University
6 - Atlantic City, NJ - House of Blues
8 - St. Petersburg, FL - Jannus Live
9 - Melbourne, FL - Levelz Night Club
10 - Orlando, FL - Hard Rock Live
12 - Atlanta, GA - The Tabernacle
13 - Charlotte, NC - Fillmore Charlotte
14 - Raleigh, NC - Lincoln Theatre
15 - Cleveland, OH - House of Blues
17 - Grand Rapids, MI - The Orbit Room
18 - South Bend, IN - Club Fever
19 - Detroit, MI - The Fillmore Detroit
20 - Milwaukee, WI - The Rave
18 - Leeds, England - O2 Academy Leeds
19 - Bristol, England - O2 Academy Bristol
21 - London, England - HMV Hammersmith Apollo
22 - Cambridge, England - Cambridge Corn Exchange
23 - Bournemouth, England - O2 Academy Bournemouth
24 - Nottingham, England - Rock City
26 - Wolverhampton, England - Wolverhampton Civic Hall
27 - Newcastle, England - O2 Academy
29 - Glasgow, Scotland - O2 Academy
30 - Manchester, England - Manchester Academy