Decades on, The Cult sees virtue in not fitting in

Decades on, The Cult sees virtue in not fitting in

New York (AFP) - Born in the musical explosion of 1980s Britain, The Cult seemed to come from a different mold -- unabashed in the love of then-out-of-fashion hard rock yet straddling the emerging alternative sound.

More than three decades later, The Cult has persevered with a loyal fan base, a newfound burst of creative energy and a relationship that has finally stabilized between guitarist Billy Duffy and singer Ian Astbury.

The group recently joined the long-awaited reunion concerts of Guns N' Roses -- in an earlier life the little-known opening act for The Cult -- and starts its own headlining tour of North America on Friday.

Duffy said The Cult achieved success in part by flouting the "very patronizing and condescending" attitude of the music press in a Britain that had just been transformed by the punk explosion in the late 1970s.

"All of the journalists in Britain used to hate us because Ian dared to have long hair, and we dared to go, well, maybe early Led Zeppelin was actually okay," Duffy told AFP.

"To an American that's not a big deal but put yourself in England in the early '80s and that was heresy and treason," he said.

Duffy said The Cult believed that "a lot of those rock bands from the '70s started off brilliantly -- and might have got a bit self-indulgent."

"No, I don't really want to see people dressed in capes with sabers and talking about magical mountains. That's not my cup of tea, that's more the middle-class guys, and we were working-class," he said.

- Finally happy together -

Astbury, distinguished by his powerful wailing baritone, has lyrically pursued a deep interest in indigenous spirituality which stems from a childhood spent partially in Canada.

And Duffy was no stranger to the musical cutting-edge as he grew up in Manchester, a hub of experimentation.

He played guitar in the fledgling early band of Morrissey, now a patron saint of alternative culture, and helped introduce the singer to his guitarist friend Johnny Marr. They went on to become The Smiths.

The Cult broke through with hits such as "She Sells Sanctuary," which brought an element of dance music to a style that blurred the lines of post-punk, hard rock and Goth.

The band's 10th album, "Hidden City," came out in February and brought in touches of contemporary rock with Duffy's signature metal-blues guitar backdrop.

Duffy said it was crucial to keep releasing new albums, explaining: "I think spiritually you're in a bit of a dark place if all you're doing is playing music from 30 years ago."

After longstanding tensions and a formal breakup of The Cult in the 1990s, Duffy said the chemistry had become "pretty good" with Astbury, the band's only other consistent member.

"There are certain battles that aren't worth fighting and I think there is just an acceptance on both sides that we need each other," said the 55-year-old Duffy.

- Uneasy with smartphone mania -

One change has been the audiences. Duffy hailed older fans of The Cult for still coming to shows -- "It's so much easier to sit and binge-watch Netflix" -- but said crowds in general were not as engaged in the era of smartphones.

In 2013 Astbury made headlines when he was seen -- on video -- lashing out at a front-row spectator who was texting and filming throughout the show.

"People are so obsessed with the phones now. I'm not actually there unless I film it -- that's the first thought, to capture it on some meaningless bad video to prove to themselves rather than being present," Duffy said.

Duffy said that audiences were gradually realizing "it has gone a little bit far" and that "just filming like you're CNN is not going to make it better for anyone."

Duffy said he had no problem with fans taking a few mementoes on their phones. But he regretted the overall climate in music when so much is available all the time.

"I just wish it were easier to be aware of what's the good stuff out there because I think it's getting buried in a deluge of crap," he said.

"Just 'cause you've got a laptop and you think you can make music doesn't mean you should."