The Cult's Ian Astbury: "Seattle Bands Are Like Our Cousins"

After experimenting with a variety of styles and declaring the album format dead, psychedelic hard rock band The Cult came roaring back in 2012 with Choice of Weapon, their best album in two decades and a return to the sound that initially put the band on the map in the 1980s. As part of our Tell Me About That Album series, we chatted with The Cult's singer, Ian Astbury, to dig deeper into the record, which revealed some deep ties to Seattle and its music scene, dating back to the mid-80s. The band plays the Neptune Theater tonight.

A few years ago you said you wouldn't make any more full-length albums because the format was dead. What changed? Public demand was one thing. The experimentation of doing these capsules, which were these EPs that we were making that contained visual elements as well as musical elements - we tried that for a while, but the problem was we became our own label, which is all well and good, but the amount of time on administration was just something we didn't want to get into. We spent more time looking at things like card stock and inks and it became really involved. We had pressure from within as well, and from our manager. And labels -- people were saying, "We love what you're doing with the capsule project, do you have plans for an album?" So I acquiesced. And the material was there so we immediately just shifted gears. We started working with Chris Goss on the capsules and the four new songs that we'd recorded become the foundation of this record. Even though those songs don't appear on Choice of Weapon they were really important in terms of putting a working template together.

Speaking of Chris Goss, he shares a producer credit on the album with Bob Rock, another hard rock heavyweight. Can you talk about selecting the two of them and how the pair divided the duties? Goss and I had been longtime friends. He worked on a solo record of mine in the late '90s and he worked on the UNKLE record in 2007. I thought we needed his energy in The Cult. Goss works more in terms of intuition. He has a presence that is almost Buddah-like. He's Dionysian. He works completely instinctively. He's a very different animal. I think a lot of the atmosphere comes from Chris. One minute we're listening to Jimmy Page, the next we're talking about [Brian Eno's] Here Come the Warm Jets. His influences are all over the shop. That was the genesis of the record. And then you get to a place where you have to make like architectural decisions -- certain harmonies or certain engineering choices. We'd kind of exhausted Chris as well so I felt like the only man who could really finish the record was Bob. Bob did four records with us. When Bob came in the room he started to work more on things like certain melodic pastures, key lines that were missing. Bob Rock's an incredible engineer, so he has all that brilliant engineering skill at his disposal. He did a lot of overdubs as well, like a piano player, which was something we'd never done before. The unrefined work was done with Chris and then the refined process was done with Bob. The interesting thing is they both have an incredible amount of mutual respect for each other. They both brought something very important to this record.

After a few albums that dabbled in different styles, Choice of Weapon is a sort of a return to the sound of your best-loved records. Was this intentional? Sometimes you've just got to try new things to realize what you're best at. Michael Jordan went a season playing baseball. You've got to try wearing a different hat for a while. It doesn't fit but there's some very valuable things in there. You really find out who you are. This is really a return to guitar-driven pieces, but having said that, there are so many influences. One thing that was really important to me is cinema - cinematic visions. "This Night in the City Forever" is a very cinematic song, or "Elemental Light." These songs have ethereal qualities, whereas "Honey from a Knife" is straight-up knife-edge, street, almost Stooges influence. There are certain esoteric elements to the record, which is one of the things about The Cult -- they can't say we're an out and out hard rock band because when we play with hard rock bands everybody looks at us and says, "What are you doing here? You're a post-modern band." We're an anomaly. We're kind of peerless in many ways right now. We had a lot in common with what was happening in Seattle and Mother Love Bone. When I met Andrew [Wood], we were immediately talking the same language. He knew the value of Joy Division and also of Freddie Mercury or Led Zeppelin or Public Image and we were able to talk on that level. Even bands like Soundgarden came out of that energy.

Do you remember the first time you played Seattle? Yeah, Capitol Theater, 1985. Or was it '86? "She Sells Sanctuary" was actually a top 40 hit in Seattle, believe it or not. Strangely enough, that period, our biggest city in the United States was Seattle. The Love album was a very important record in Seattle. Andrew Wood said to me, "Anybody who was anybody was at that show." In many ways we would say Seattle bands were like our cousins. Soundgarden brought me to an important show in Seattle with Alice in Chains and Soundgarden on the bill, I think it was 1994 Lollapalooza, and they actually brought me up to announce the band on stage. Chris [Cornell] actually walked up on stage and said, "If it wasn't for Ian Astbury there wouldn't be a Lollapalooza."

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