The Cult’s Weapon of Choice

Last month The Cult released the ninth album of their nearly 30-year career with Choice of Weapon, their first album since 2007's Born into This. Lead singer Ian Astbury's new batch of songs manages to marry the old-school Cult sound of singles like "Fire Woman" and "Rain," which brought the group major fan adoration in the mid-'80s, with an apocalyptic flavor.

Opening this tour are Against Me! and the Icarus Line, whose sounds seem from the outset mighty incongruous with the Cult. They couldn't be more different from the older band's blistering shaman-rock. Even under normal circumstances, a bill like this would be seen as curious and inventive, but then Against Me! lead singer Laura Jane Grace recently admitted to Rolling Stone that she was coming out as transgendered, which brought new attention to the upcoming dates.

"I think it's fine, it's her life, and I support whatever she wants to do," Astbury says. "She seems like a very beautiful person."

The Cult's barrel-chested front man thinks that Grace's decision is courageous, especially in the sometimes-brutal rock world.

"I would like to think the culture is opening up enough now, with Obama's recent words (supporting gay marriage) too," Astbury says. "Aren't we beginning to see now in culture that the patriarchal machine has driven us into a ditch this millennium?"

Astbury welcomes and champions the recent wave of strong female roles in pop culture, iconic and heroic characters in movies and music who are women. To him it's all just a part of an ongoing human evolution.

"You don't see these wars being created by women," he adds. "It's all led by men."

He points to friends like Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, who has been ahead of the curve for years in terms of challenging gender roles. Astbury wonders aloud if this may all be part of something bigger.

"Maybe we are all evolving into one sex, and one gender," he says. "It's possible, right?"

Astbury is no stranger to people judging him by his looks, either. His flowing black hair and frilly, Gothic-shaman clothing weren't always welcome.

"I was definitely at the end of other peoples' boots and fists because of the way I looked," he says. "But I can be quite tasty in a fight. I had to learn that."

The singer's Glasgow upbringing wasn't without its punk-rock tussles and street dust-ups. Once nine guys beat him up and threw him in front of a bus.

Astbury reminds us that the Cult has toured with a transgendered performer before, with Canadian rock band the Cliks and singer Lucas Silveira, so this is nothing new to the band's world. It may be for Cult fans, though, who can be a surly, traditional-minded bunch.

With the Cult approaching 30 years as a band — Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy are the only original members — the lead singer is now working on tweaking his stage performance, not happy to cruise along as the aging rock star. After talking to him for any amount of time, you will find that evolution weighs heavy on his mind.

He bristles at young journalists (not this one) who question their heroes' motives at every turn. When Lulu, the collaboration between Metallica and Lou Reed, tanked this past fall, it frustrated Astbury. Having an opinion is great, he says, but when the exchange of ideas stops flowing and the verbal knives come out, that's where it should stop.

The Internet used to be about discovery, but now it's about acquiring status (followers, "likes," etc.). It's informing how artists are being perceived to mass audiences now. Loutallica was a great target for the peanut gallery, but Astbury will have none of it.

"There is this suspension of disbelief that we are all going to remain eternally 26, and that our perspective will always stay the same," he says. "The world is a completely different place from when I was 26."

Astbury resists the notion that if artists stay in one mode, they don't have to worry about their body of work decaying, or take responsibility for living their lives.

"When some privileged new-media oink decides that me and my band don't fit into some heralded, coveted space in the culture, that's fine," he says. "It's good. I came out of punk rock."

But then again, one man's mediocre is another's guilty pleasure. The Cult came up in the brutal UK media, which could get extremely personal in their attacks, and saw friends get torn apart when their bullies became aware of old wounds and decided to dig into them and see what would happen.

Astbury was with close friend Michael Hutchence at the end, when the INXS singer was feeling hopeless too, and wishes he could have changed Hutchence's collision course with suicide. This too shall pass, and all that jazz.

As the Cult tours behind Weapon and Astbury reads more press and reads reviews (which have been generally good), he seems to become more bemused than bewildered. He sees the press as filled with what he calls snot-nosed college graduates assigning more meaning to things that in fact, have little.

"The Buddhists see it like this: No big deal," Astbury says. "We're all humans, this is life. There is no duality. There is no separation. The imperfection is perfection. As it is. I love that.

"You look in the mirror and you ask 'Is it supposed to be like this?'" he continues. "And a voice comes back and says, 'Yes, it is. This is what you get today.'"

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty