The Cult: ‘I would call the new album a bluesy-free zone’

Billy Duffy is looking forward to sharing a stage with Alice Cooper, when the guitarist’s band The Cult appear as the hard rock veteran’s guests at Leeds’s First Direct Arena.
The Cult. Picture: Tim CadienteThe Cult. Picture: Tim Cadiente
The Cult. Picture: Tim Cadiente

Being of the “absolute vintage” to have appreciated Cooper’s band in early 1970s, Duffy says the singer was “incredibly influential” to him.

“I was just too young to see the School’s Out tour. Some of the older, cooler lads at school went. I went to see Slade and Thin Lizzy in October of ’72, my long-suffering dad took me, but he was working and he couldn’t take me to see the School’s Out tour. I had the album with the school desk (cover), if you lifted it up it had the magical contents. It was all very exciting when I was 12,” he recalls, adding that he believes the music “still stands up”.

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“I love the production, I still listen to Alice’s records now,” he says. “They endured the somewhat seismic shift into punk rock. Loads of punk bands, like Eater, covered I’m Eighteen. Alice was on the approved listening list for the post-1976 generation. Then he went on to have a lot of success.

“It’s interesting. I always admired guys who have that longevity. Me and Ian (Astbury), when we got together as The Death Cult, we just looked to that. The two of us just wanted to be in a band and make broadly speaking guitar-orientated rock music and we looked to guys like Alice Cooper.

“Funnily enough he was what I would call the first bona fide rock legend who came to see The Cult in America. We did a gig at the Hollywood Palladium, which is a great venue in Los Angeles, in late ’85 or early ’86 and he came backstage with his manager Shep (Gordon) and we met him and he was great. I think it’s fairly common knowledge now that since he quit drinking he’s probably one of the nicest guys in the world.”

Having signed to Black Hill Records in 2020, The Cult spent lockdown working on a new album at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth where they made their first record, Dreamtime, 38 years ago. The “main bulk” of it is completed and mastered, Duffy reports. “There are always a few scraps left over that we need to figure out whether to make a casserole of them, but the body of the album is done, what we consider to be the best songs,” he says.

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“Over the period of the next six, seven or eight months songs will appear. We’ll probably play one live.

“Because of the pandemic it was sort of done long distance. For example, Ian never set foot in Rockfield. I was there with (Tom) Dalgety and the band, but Ian was in America and things were done remotely which was a shame but it just couldn’t be done any other way. Now it’s the classic example for a lot of bands where you’ve made an album now you learn how to play it. It’s very different to what it was in the 80s.”

Working with Dalgety, whose previous clients include Pixies, Ghost and Royal Blood, has been “great”, Duffy says. “We made a decision to use an English producer and challenge ourselves,” Duffy says. “The last two albums were done in America. One was with Chris Goss from Masters of Reality, that kind of stoner rock desert sound. Chris was amazing then Bob Rock helped to finish that one off, and then Bob did the next one, Hidden City, completely from the ground up.

“We just felt this time that we wanted to explore a different interpretation of what me and Ian could write, so that’s why we went with a British producer who has got a great CV. Tom is a young guy with a lot of energy but has some very dodgy 70s rock albums in his collection like I do, they shall remain nameless but he’s got some guilty pleasures so I knew he was not going to be too much of a pretentious individual when I saw what was in his record collection.”

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Duffy says it is “hard” to compare the new record to others in their catalogue. “I said to somebody the other day I’m the guy in there plastering the walls and putting the windows in, I don’t get to stand back and look at the finished house,” he says. “I’m in there banging the nails in, that’s my gig, but I will get that objectivity (later).

“I would say it’s a rock album because all our albums are rock albums, but I would call it a bluesy-free zone. We consciously kept out some of the stuff that I might write that’s a bit more in the blues rock ’n’ roll genre. We just decided as a team. I did that stuff elsewhere (in Coloursound) with Mike (Peters) from The Alarm.

“I hate the expression ‘it’s like your early albums’, but with this one we wanted to keep things a bit more in that vein, more in the Love/Dreamtime palate, and maybe like the album from ’94 that the fans liked, our post-grunge apocalypse record that was just called The Cult. But it’s also more than that because it is quite epic in its scale, it’s quite a big-sounding record, it’s not small and twee by any means because Dalgety makes big-sounding records. It’s a bit thematic, a bit cinematic in places, but there’s not a lot of that Electric era Cult, typical AC/DC stuff.

“You write what you write, we’re only as good as the music that we come up with...we’re a collaborative writing things, we always have been since the very beginnings of the band in ’83, so that continues and makes us what we are. That can be like two guys running in a three-legged race sometimes, it’s a bit of a struggle, but we get there in the end and it makes it what it is. I’m very happy with it. Obviously it was made under challenging circumstances for the Universe, but now I’m just getting used to it.”

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Charlie Jones, who played on the album as a session musician, has subsequently joined The Cult’s touring band. “He’s got some history with the band,” Duffy says. “He played with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, we knew him back in those days, and our old drummer who died, Michael Lee, was in that band. Charlie’s like extended family so he brings a lot to the pot.”

The Cult also have a new keyboard player, Mike Mangan, replacing Damon Fox. “That means I’ve got to work harder to routine these guys and get The Cult back to being as good as we were in 2019,” Duffy says. “If you think about it, it’s like not going to the gym for a couple of years then going back in. But I feel good about it. It makes me excited, I’m looking forward to playing and seeing the fans.”

It’s 39 years since Duffy and Astbury first met while touring with their then bands Theatre of Hate and The Southern Death Cult. “I was quite astonished, nay gob-smacked, when I saw him sing the first time with Southern Death Cult,” Duffy recalls. “I was on the balcony of Keele University with Stan Stammers from Theatre of Hate and they walked out and started and I said, ‘Wow, who is that?’ because he was quite incredible. We got on really well, we were very friendly the two bands, Theatre of Hate sort of talk Southern Death Cult under our wing a little bit, and me being the only northerner in Theatre of Hate, I bonded with the Southern Death Cult band and crew because they were all more alike. Because I had more cigarettes than them they used to come and visit me for my Embassy Regal habit at the time which thankfully I quit.

“But the whole Cult thing did come out of a friendship and an ease and a commonality. It was a fairly organic situation with me and Ian.”

The Cult and Alice Cooper play at First Direct Arena on June 1.

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