The Cult’s Ian Astbury says touring with Lenny Kravitz is “a spiritual event”



By Steve Newton

Some folks might have been surprised to hear that the Cult is touring with Lenny Kravitz. After all, the straightforward, bluesy hard-rock of the former is quite distinct from the Beatlesque, ’60s pop styles of the latter.

Or is it?

According to Cult singer Ian Astbury, it’s not that much of a stretch. And he’s not too crazy about the hard-rock label, either.

“I don’t think we’re known as hard-rockers,” says Astbury, “that’s the whole thing—people don’t know what the hell we’re supposed to be. Rolling Stone magazine is so confused about us they didn’t even bother reviewing the album! We’re just taken as the Cult; we have our own sound and that’s it.

“We do get a lot of hard-rock fans,” concedes the dark-haired crooner, “but it’s a very diverse and eclectic audience. And when they’re watching Kravitz, they’re flipped out. Lenny plays a Les Paul through a Marshall amplifier, and I’d say that he would cream most hard-rock performers. I mean he would fucking cream them, ’cause he’s an incredibly intense performer.”

The Cult/Kravitz pairing, which hits the Pacific Coliseum this Saturday (January 11), has proven a highly successful venture so far—especially considering how poorly some big-name tours have done in the past year. At press time, the Vancouver date was closing in on a sell-out.

“The shows have been nothing short of euphoric,” claims Astbury. “People are getting nearly four hours of entertainment, so it’s a long show, but we wanted to make it a strong package because, as far as I’m concerned, live music is pretty much on the verge of extinction. There’s no soul, there’s no improvisation, there’s no jamming.

“And you look at the performers and they’ve got the character of a Brussels sprout. Very rarely do you get an act that comes along that is really provocative, that transcends entertainment. It’s a spiritual event, you know; that’s what this tour’s turned out to be.”

If Astbury’s enthusiastic self-promotion makes his band sound like the hottest thing around these days, it could be because what he’s comparing it to isn’t very exciting.

“In terms of rock music, there’s a lot of banality around today,” insists Astbury. “When hard-rock music came around, there were some really seriously good progressive bands, but most of it was crap, really—that’s why we had punk rock, you know. But then again, anybody that picks up a guitar is basically pickin’ up a tradition of blues musicians from the ’20s, so I think that we’re beyond the age of pigeon-holing music, really. I mean, U2 and Mötley Crüe have probably got more in common with each other than most people think.”

The Cult’s latest contribution to the sound of the ’90s is Ceremony, the follow-up to the double-platinum Sonic Temple, which was recorded in Vancouver by the dynamic duo of producer Bob Rock and engineer Mike Fraser. Astbury says that—although he had differences with Rock on the production of Sonic Temple—he would have loved to have worked with the red-hot producer on the Cult’s latest album, as well.

“We were gonna work with Bob, but at the time he was already busy with Metallica, so that was unfortunate for us. But fortunately for us, we met [Heart, Cheap Trick, Cher producer] Richie Zito at the midnight hour and really liked his personality. We weren’t too struck with some of the records that he’s made, you know, but I asked him about producing Heart and he said that he came up with a successful formula and stuck with it, so you can’t really argue with that.”

Joining Astbury and long-time guitarist Billy Duffy on the Ceremony sessions were bassist Charlie Drayton (from Keith Richard’s solo band, the X-Pensive Winos) and studio kingpin Mickey Curry on drums. Astbury says he had a tough time finding a drummer who could fill Curry’s formidable live shoes when the latter got called out on the current Bryan Adams tour.

“That’s always tough, ’cause Mickey Curry’s an incredible talent. I think he’s totally wasted with Bryan Adams, because Mickey’s the kind of drummer that you put in the hot seat—you put him under pressure and get him to come up with something different, you push his sensibilities of rhythm and feel. He really needs a sympathetic rhythm partner to play with, and with Charlie Drayton…I mean, together, those two guys were smokin’.”

No less than four drummers have cruised through the Cult camp since its inception, including current Guns N’ Roses member Matt Sorum, who played with the Cult on the Sonic Temple tour.

“Matt was an animal on drums,” recalls Astbury. “He just pounded the shit out of ’em, which is not my personal favourite style of drumming. But it works for them. And the whole thing with him joinin’ them was like…he’s 30-odd years old, he’s paid his dues, and he was offered a lot of money. He took it. But from all reports, I hear that they’re totally miserable at the moment.”

Guns N’ Roses actually opened for the Cult on the latter band’s first North American tour, and, at the time, Astbury informed Axl Rose and his mates that they were going to be huge some day—but they didn’t believe him. And when the two acts came to Vancouver, Astbury gave Rose a few pointers in headline-grabbing conduct when he scrapped with some Coliseum security guys that he felt overreacted to the hysteria of the crowd.

“They were bein’ self-righteous dickheads,” claims Astbury. “The whole thing is, people pay their money to come to the show to be entertained, to have their awareness heightened, and to have themselves stimulated—to escape from all the crap that goes on in the world.

“It’s like a religious event, and the audience, ultimately, is to be treated with all respect, because they’re the people who make it possible for the event to occur. The audience should not be treated like cattle. They are not cattle. They’re human beings, and sometimes security people forget that. But I won’t stand for it.”

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