There aren't too many bands who can make their own rules, who can craft their own sound, and still top charts. However, when you look at British rock group The Cult, you're looking at a band that's always done all three. Since their beginnings, they've had success while dropping music that combined the hard rock notations of Led Zeppelin and the mysticism of The Doors.
In preparation for the band's upcoming tour with Bush and Stone Temple Pilots, the Houston Press sat down with singer and founding member Ian Astbury about the band's beginnings, their storied history, and what they have planned for all who will catch them at Woodlands Center on August 17.
Astbury, born in the U.K. moved to Canada and returned to the U.K. years later. "Growing up in Canada, we moved because my mother was diagnosed with cancer at 40, and she wanted to be near family. We were North American teenagers there," says the singer.
His first band, Southern Death Cult was quite the post-punk band who got to tour with Bauhaus, play with legendary acts, and stand out from the rest of what was happening at the time. Astbury's vocals have always sounded the same even in a post-punk band. When asked about that time and if he'd considered revisting those songs again he says, "First tour was with Theater of Hate, then with The Clash, and we played festivals with New Order and then toured with Bauhaus. We were being pursued by majors (labels) and that wasn't the vision for the band when I left in 1983. I think there's a chance in revisiting that material now. When I met Billy (Duffy), I was more interested in moving forward.
It's this thing where punk works at that young age. Your upbringing and your environment are factors, but I'm glad we evolved. It was a fractional movement in Britain. The Clash were done by '84, the (Sex) Pistols dissolved with evolution from those bands."
The band has been a force from their debut album Dreamtime all the way up to their most recent release Hidden City. It still ultimately sounds like The Cult, and there's always been a mysticism to the band's sound. When asked where he thinks that comes from, Astbury explains, "I think it's forming between the cracks. Travelling so much at a young age, growing up and being a fan of Bowie and then getting to Canada and picking up on what they liked. Relearning and relearning, and then getting bored with something quickly and moving on to something else."
While the band's album Electric catapulted the group to a wider audience, it also came with a bit of history behind it, being rerecorded by Rick Rubin after scrapping the original version. The founding member explains, "We completely rerecorded it front to back. I didn't like it. The band was evolving so quickly, and we were playing live so much. It was intensely produced but wouldn't work live, what was happening in New York City was incredibly exciting. What Rick was doing was the way to go. The first version was textural and layered. It was dense."
Over the years, the band has had plenty of high charting releases. Even when they go in a different direction, as on the 2012 release Choice of Weapon, it still sounds like The Cult. Asked if there was ever a record that he wasn't pleased with after it was released, Astbury says, "Yeah, Ceremony. Ceremony came after my father passed, so I wasn't at my best. There was pressure to maintain, but we should've stepped out for a bit. I was into break beats, a bass driven and raw sound. "The Witch" was the only song from that period that I liked. I was focused on bands like Happy Mondays or Inspiral Carpets. I wanted that sound, but I stepped out and let Billy and management handle it. That's why the black sheep (The Cult) album is so stripped."
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With Hidden City, the sound is very fresh but keeps the band's core sound intact. Asked if all the changes in the music industry have ever kept the band from making the album they wanted to do, the singer says "I think you make whatever you want. The Cult is a collaborative effort, the industry has different entry points. My solo stuff is more cinematic like the work of Max Richter, you know, trying to grab ground and more atmospheric with the piano. There were some pieces that didn't make it on. The culture has changed. Eighty-nine percent of what's in the Billboard charts are singular artists, not bands. At a major label, there's very few individual thinkers versus numbers people. We have no label. We did the majors and there were people there who loved music. Once MTV came along and bands didn't fit into a genre, then it was a different situation. People forcing analytics from MTV rather than your creative process. We're a small corporation now."
This all brings things full circle, where the band's current tour with Bush and Stone Temple Pilots feels like an alternative lineup for the ages."We're focused on putting together a set that works. A track like 'She Sells Sanctuary' has to be there," Astbury says. "We've tried removing it and it doesn't work. The visual production on this show, what works with that and how things work together is what I'm focused on mostly. It will be a well curated set. We're tight. If you haven't seen us before, we cut our teeth on live music. We're more of a live band than a studio band I think."
Whether or not The Cult is more of a live band than a studio band is on anyone who's seen them before. You can stream the entire catalog from The Cult on all streaming platforms, or order their merchandise from their web store. The Cult will perform at Woodlands Center on Thursday, August 16. The all ages show will feature performances from Bush and Stone Temple Pilots. Gates at 6:30 p.m.; tickets $25 to $199.50.