Ian Astbury of The Cult Talks "Choice of Weapon"
Mon, 27 Feb 2012 07:55:36
Choice of Weapon is an apropos title for The Cult's new album.
They've wielded music like a weapon since 1984's Dreamtime, and they continue to do so to this day. Choice of Weaponmay very well be the group's most incisive, infectious, and irresistible album ever though. The first single "Lucifer" emanates a raw vitality that's undeniably vibrant, while "For the Animals" is raucous rock 'n' roll of the highest order. Frontman Ian Astbury sounds as magnetic as ever, and the record remains another landmark for the legendary band.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, The Cult mainman Ian Astbury talks Choice of Weapon, what inspires him, and so much more.
Do you feel like there's a new vitality in the band on Choice of Weapon?
It's strange. When you're a kid, you're very earnest. You come out of what's there. You're very raw. You plug into what's going on. As you develop as an artist, you start trying to pull it apart, figure out how it works, and make it work to your advantage. That's when you start going long. You start questioning what you're doing and trying to make it better. You go through a period of that, and then you go past that. Then, you find a place where you're plugged into who you are. You've got really good self-knowledge. You know your strengths and you know your weakness. That's when you can really go to work. There's a real core confidence, and you plug into what you are. The Cult is a collaboration. Chris Goss had a huge influence on us consolidating our sound. Bob Rock had a huge influence on us making this record. It's the first time we've actually worked with two producers on one record apart from the Electric album. That was two separate recordings of a body of work. This is actually the same body of work worked on by two incredible producers. I think there are a lot of elements that made it possible. There are a lot of life experiences. I left Los Angeles seven years ago. I just had to get away from the city, go, rediscover, and reinvent myself. I think a lot of that has gone into the record as well.
When did you return to Los Angeles?
I came back about a year ago.
So, it's like you're new again.
Yeah, the city's brand new to me. I don't know anybody here [Laughs]. I know my way around because I was always coming back here. I have a very small circle of friends. I don't know anything socially. I pretty much restrict myself to the same three restaurants. I hang out in Los Feliz and Silverlake. I'm unfamiliar with the city, and it's really interesting.
Was recording a quick process for Choice of Weapon?
It was. It's like lightning in a bottle. It's about grabbing things very quickly. I said to Billy, "Give me what you've got." We sat down with the riffs. I grabbed what I liked immediately and started constructing it almost instantaneously. Pro Tools is fantastic for writing. It's such an incredible tool. You can throw something up there pretty quickly and get an approximation of what it could possibly be. Then you can free dry it to keep it fresh. When you come back to it, you've got a very good template to work from. We'd tour, come back, and work with Chris in the studio. Then, we did some sessions with him in the desert. You go from that discovery period to development. Everybody has ideas, but it's about execution. How can you take that fresh idea and keep that intensity and relevance throughout a session? That's a trick you learn over time.
What's the story behind "Lucifer"?
Originally, I saw a billboard on La Brea Avenue dedicated to Bunker Spreckels from Kenneth Anger. Bunker was a very famous surfer in the '70s. He was incredibly talented, and he was the heir to the Spreckels sugar dynasty. Overnight, he found himself to be a millionaire. He had an incredibly glamorous lifestyle. He was working on a film, which was where he was putting his money. The next thing you know, he's traveling the world, flying in private planes, riding in limousines, and living the rock star lifestyle with beautiful girls. He was the bad boy, hunter, surfer, martial arts expert, and real ladies' man. Taschen put out a book about him. There's a film being made called Bunker Spreckels 77. I saw the billboard and it said, "Bunker Spreckels My Surfing Lucifer". I thought it was really striking so I came up with the phrase, "You are my Lucifer". I'm a great devotee of Kenneth Anger, the symbolism in his films, and the meaning behind those films. The idea of him tying with this iconic young surfer really struck me. The phrase "rock star" is so worn out. It's like accountants are now rock stars. Nine-year-old girls are now rock stars. It's an energy drink. The phrase is tired. What does it actually mean? What does it mean to party like a rock star? Does it mean you're living high on the hog? The hip hop community certainly flaunts its successes as part of its cultural credo. As far as rock 'n' rollers go, we're in an amorphous space right now. I think rock 'n' rollers don't have to be rock 'n' rollers. The core thing was always the music. The lifestyle came out as an extension of success. It's a little bit darker in reality. I used Bunker Spreckels as a vehicle to enter this place of divine decadence, material attachment, and the darker things that start happening after midnight when the daytrippers have moved away and you move into move into this place that can very dangerous quickly.
Where does the idea of "Lucifer" enter?
It's not a song about the devil. "Lucifer" is a reference to the morning star, Venus. It actually has a very positive connotation. What is somebody looking for when they're going through this dark space and decadence? They must be looking for something. Their spirit is searching. I like the idea that "the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom". It's that William Blake quote which Jim Morrison used immensely and a whole generation used as a mantra. However, I think we forgot the "palace of wisdom" part. We focused on the "road of excess" and here we are. The song can have a very veneer meaning if you just like the melodic flow and break beat. Or, you can go really deep into it. There are a lot of elements that went into it. I like to grab lots of different ingredients and throw them into a lyrical mix and see how they come up. However you look at it, there's a reflective quality, and it's always up to the listener's interpretation. The cool thing about art is it's subjective. Everybody is right. There is no wrong interpretation because everyone has a different perspective.
What were you reading while working on Choice of Weapon?
I tend to crack open a lot of books, get to page 137, and pick up another back. I dabble in lots of things. I was reading the Kenneth Anger biography. I was reading Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and a lot of art books. I'm interested in the Australian art critic Robert Hughes. I love him. I was reading bits and piece of the teachings of Osho. I love to listen to podcast and books on tape. In terms of literature, there's a great novel called Sway which I really liked. It put together Kenneth Anger, Charles Manson, and The Rolling Stones in separate chapters but linked them all up at Altamont. I think Sway is a fantastic novel. It's one of those books you can't put down. I'm an avid reader of magazines—especially fashion magazines. I've always been a street kid. I grew up in the '70s in England, and Vivienne Westwood was very important to me. As a fashion-o-phile, I've always observed cultural trends and street fashion. So much has happened in street fashion that's almost like a culture barometer. For example, look at Supreme in New York or Los Angeles. I think James Jebbia has done an amazing job of curating the culture. He can get phenomenal collaborations. If you want to find out what's going on with the culture in a quick way, walk into Supreme. I lived in New York for three years. I spent a period in Vancouver, and I spent a small period traveling the Himalayas and being in India. You take all of those things, and there's a constant pool of information coming and going. That's all life experience. Then, there's the Internet [Laughs]. After a while, the Internet becomes too two-dimensional and I have to go experience it. Tokyo is amazing. If I ever find myself getting stale here, I jump on a plane and I'm in Tokyo for five or six days and I walk around and regenerate. There are a lot of experiences and observations going on within the record.
Will you be picking up Choice of Weapon on May 22, 2012?