Under the LA Sun: The Cult is back with a new album and a show at the Greek


Under the LA Sun: The last time we spoke to the Cult’s enigmatic frontman Ian Astbury, it was a pre-pandemic summer of 2019 and the band was preparing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Sonic Temple album at the Greek Theatre. For a band not heavy on nostalgia, it was a rare glance back.

No, the Cult has always much preferred to keep moving forward. Sure, they play the hits at the concerts — the fans would crucify them if they didn’t — but it’s been just about the old songs. The Cult makes a point of ensuring that they don’t stagnate. So if course, the lockdowns were awfully difficult for them, much like everyone else.

“I mean, the planet stopped, for god’s sake,” says Astbury by phone. “Traditionally you’re out touring, working and performing a lot of the time, and The Cult essentially started as a live band. We came out of punk, post-punk, and then just toured. Started making records, and then toured, then made a record. That was the cycle for decades, then along comes the pandemic and a spanner goes in the works. It all grinds to a halt, and we all deal with existential anxieties and real anxieties. We went through it here. Crime activity went through the roof. We’re in East Hollywood. It was intense for two years. Meanwhile, with the people around us, relationships were breaking up, suicides, people losing their jobs and homes – it was brutal. You come out the backend and touring – I can feel the effects. It’s different. We’re in a different space. That said, what it did to the music, it gave us the opportunity to let the songs marinade. To gestate and reach their natural conclusion.”

The new album is Under the Midnight Sun, the follow up to 2016’s Hidden City. It was produced by Tom Dalgety, and while it was written and recorded under challenging circumstances, it has all of the hallmarks of a Cult gem — notably, Astbury’s post-punk croon and Billy Duffy’s majestic guitar tones. That it was written across the Atlantic while Duffy and Dalgety were stuck in the UK, until they could eventually reconvene and finish it, is impressive because the album feels utterly cohesive. The title is inspired by an experience in Finland in the ‘80s, when they were performing deep into the night and the sun was still up.

“I watched a show of us in Finland that I hadn’t seen since then, in ‘86,” Astbury says. “I remember it was 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and the sun was still up because of the northern hemisphere. The people were hanging out, making out, smoking and laughing. Just a perfect, beautiful, surreal moment. You take a memory like that and retain it somewhere in your center, your core. Here we are in the middle of the pandemic and I’m looking at this footage, and the whole wave of it came back to me.”

True to the form, the album marks an evolution, a march forward, from Hidden City. It’s not necessarily easy to put a finger on specifics – for the listener, each album just feels different. Of course, the singer can offer context.

“A new producer, a different idea of the sonic picture, brings different ideas,” he says. “This record has piano, and a 36-piece orchestra. We had a quartet once, but not a 36-piece orchestra recorded in Prague. The title track is profound. It’s one of the most staggering things I’ve been a part of, ever. The Cult is getting closer to the animal it was meant to be. A polymorphous, multi-integrated, multi-faceted entity. Of course it’s formatted to a quasi-rock band, but even that doesn’t apply anymore, because what is rock music now? Who’s saying what is what? It’s whatever you want it to be. For some people, anything with a guitar is rock.”

The Cult formed in the early ‘80s, initially as Death Cult after Astbury’s first band, Southern Death Cult. So Astbury and Duffy now have been working together for four decades. The frontman says that they’re still able to surprise each other.

“Billy’s evolved as a musician and as a player,” he says. “He’s a self-taught musician, but he’s really put the time in to learn his craft, and he’s spent a lot of time developing his tone. He’s very particular about what he plays and uses – it’s everything for him. So he’s evolved. One of his real fortes, apart from being a very gifted musician and performer, is that he has a very good ear for melody. I’m inquisitive – I need to know – even if it might not go well. I need to explore. So I brought a lot to this from experiences during the pandemic. So it’s fresh. We’re not doing a pastiche of the Electric album. I’m not going out there in leather trousers and a cowboy hat. We did that.”

This week, the Cult returns to the Greek Theatre, and Astbury laughs when we ask him what we can expect.

“We’re going to have an inflatable clown,” he jokes. “An inflatable Stonehenge. Fucking hell. What can you expect? First of all, we’d better be good and switched on. The thing about us is, we’re pretty open. Billy as well, we’re straight up guys. We’re not punting anything, which has probably been to the Cult’s commercial detriment over the years. We’ve yet to go on James Corden and sing the songs in the car with him. We haven’t played children’s instruments on Jimmy Fallon. We haven’t done any of that. We haven’t chased it. I love the Greek because of the way it’s set. A warm, late summer evening, and the bill is stacked. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – arguably one of the best bands of a generation. King Woman – an artist who’s emerging at rapidity. And then Joe Cardamone (Skeleton Joe), who was in the Icarus Line, one of the most talented and future visual artists on the planet right now.”

This, Astbury says in conclusion, will be The Cult’s only L.A. show.

“Who knows when we’ll be back,” he says. “This is the best version of the band we’ve ever had. The most integrated version of The Cult that fits Billy and I’s vision of what The Cult is.”

He would know.

Under the LA Sun: The Cult’s Under the Midnight Sun album is out from Oct. 7. They perform at 7 p.m., on Sunday, Oct. 9, at the Greek Theatre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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