Interview: The Cult’s Ian Astbury talks 'Hidden City,' longevity and more before Carolina Rebellion

Bands come and bands go. While some are a flash in the pan, others are besties with Father Time.

Then there’s the few that not only last but also transcend. From their early 80s beginnings to 10 albums later and a trail of top music festivals in its wake, The Cult is cemented in the latter.

Try as you might, it’s difficult to put a label on the band. Through the years, The Cult’s style has channeled metal, goth-rock, mysticism and more, while sharing stages with a list of musicians as diverse and as long as frontman Ian Astbury’s locks.

The Cult is currently basking in the success of their 2016 release, Hidden City. Anchored by Astbury’s distinct vocals and guitarist/songwriter Billy Duffy’s riffs, the band's latest effort spawned a world tour, plus a new run of live dates.

The latest trek brings the band’s unmistakable j'en sais quoi to a number of cities across the U.S. and across the Pond. Several festival dates are included, including sets at Rocklahoma, Download, and Carolina Rebellion.  

With The Cult’s Carolina Rebellion set on the horizon (Friday, May 5, at 5:55 p.m., on The Monster Rebellion Stage) AXS.com spoke with Astbury via phone, while the singer and songwriter was in L.A, where the band's founder opened up about Hidden City, the surprising factor behind the band’s longevity and more.

AXS: What sense of purpose has Hidden City served for you?

Ian Astbury: It does serve a purpose - we have to get these things out otherwise it’d drive us insane. I’m constantly writing, constantly pushing ideas around, and to me, it’s an exercise in getting it realized, getting it out of myself (laughs). Going in a recording studio, getting it down, having it come out of the speakers, working with that material of that moment, getting it out and making room for something else to come through. And that’s been the process for quite a while. So if it is a functionality, it’s a “release” moreso.

AXS: When you and Billy worked on the album’s songs, was one more immersive for you than others?

IA: There’s not one. All of the songs are immersive. Some of the songs happened quicker than others. It’s the same immersion in every piece on the record. We usually start off with about 60 pieces of music and then we have to edit that down to a workable amount, so you’re not spinning your wheels in the studio just chasing after different ideas. The editing process is one of the hardest things in the process of making music. At some point you’ve got to start cutting out songs or ideas, chord changes - things that you really love - you’re trying to make something happen and you have to cut it so you can work on the material that comes to the foreground.

AXS: With that amount of material, 60 songs, how do you begin the “narrowing down” process?

IA: Instinct – you just feel it. Plus working with [producer] Bob Rock in the studio, we’re communicating with each other - getting feedback from Billy and getting feedback from Bob. You go with your gut, that’s what leads it. From doing the process over and over and over again, it’s second nature and you just develop the ability to maybe pick one thing over another. You pick it up along the way.

AXS: You’re playing a number of upcoming fests, including Carolina Rebellion. What’s in store for that performance?

IA: We’re going to be The Cult, that’s what we have in store (laughs). When we go out on the road……everything is around the show, everything is focused on the performance - we bring everything to that performance. We grew up in a performance-based music scene….there was so much immersion, so much cultural diversity and sharing of ideas, and so much community, and that’s never changed for me….[And] playing in front of an audience, there’s a key between a band and an audience, we work off the audience, we work with an audience. I mean without an audience, it’s very difficult to make an amazing performance. We want to quickly establish that relationship with an audience, especially people that have never seen the band before - connect with them, [let them] know they’re in a safe space. And we drop-in straight away: as soon as we hit the stage we’re dropped into what we’re doing.

AXS: The Cult’s taken a couple hiatuses but you’re still together. What’s held the band together all these years?

IA: Taking a break (laughs). Knowing when to take a break. It’s well documented, this lifestyle takes lives. It’s not for everybody – there’s a lot of sacrifice. If you’re truly in it, as a performer, as a writer, it demands that you are constantly present. The lifestyle of touring can be quite brutal at times – a lot of isolation and then times of incredible immersion. Like, if you’re at a festival, you’re around lots of people. Occasionally you get to go through some really cool communities and spend a little bit of time and that’s always incredible: to see how people live and get a feel of a place, and you take [that] with you into a performance and it becomes much more of a personal, intimate experience when you know more about the environment you’re in. But to go from a very high-energy, condensed performance, to go from that adrenal dump – where you leave everything on the stage, blood, sweat and tears – and then you go to a cold, clinical backstage area, that adrenal dump….it’s quite physically demanding. That’s why it’s good to take a break, so you can reconstitute. And keeping things light, having a sense of humor about things. At the end of the day, you’re playing music – we’re not like scientists looking for the cure for all the ailments of mankind. But we take what we do seriously, we take the audience really seriously. The Cult’s been blessed with an incredible following. That’s why we make records like Hidden City – that’s why we spend the time that it took to make that record. There’s a lot of “Easter eggs” in that record, if you spend time with it there’s a lot of sign posts.

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