By Steve Newton
Twenty-five years ago tomorrow–on Wednesday, May 31, 1989–the Cult opened for Metallica at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.
A month earlier the band had released its fourth album, Sonic Temple, which wasn’t no Electric, but did boast one of my fave tunes that year–“Fire Woman”.
And the album cover was definitely rockin:
In advance of the concert and album release I met up with guitarist Billy Duffy and we talked about stuff. Here’s the story that ran in the Georgia Straight.
In the last few years, little old Vancouver has become a real attraction for top-name recording acts, rivalling some of the more established music centres in the world. Bon Jovi started the ball rolling by recording the zillion-selling Slippery When Wet album here in 1986, followed by the likes of Aerosmith, Whitesnake, Kingdom Come, Blue Murder, Motley Crue, and the Cult, whose new Sonic Temple LP was made here last year.
On the eve of that record’s release, the Georgia Straight caught up with Cult guitarist Billy Duffy over coffee and cigarettes at Le Meridien on Burrard. Duffy was in town doing remixes of a new tune, “Sweet Soul Sister”, and we asked him why his band chose Vancouver to make its most recent earbuster.
“It just seemed like a good idea at the time,” says the blond-haired boogie man. “A lot of successful albums have been made here, and it’s nice to go in a studio that has a successful vibe about it. Bob Rock is obviously very familiar with Little Mountain Sound, and he knows how to get the sounds there.
“We also wanted to get out of L.A. I wouldn’t want to record an album in Los Angeles because there’s too many distractions, whereas in Vancouver you can be a little more focused. It’s a more laid-back kinda town. You have to go out and avidly search out the distractions in Vancouver, rather than have them thrust in your face.”
One of the distractions that Duffy and his mates did search out during their three-month stay in Van was this city’s world-famous collection of strip joints. Like the Bon Jovi and Aerosmith clans, the Cultists are very appreciative of exotic dancers. But they weren’t out catching eyefuls and terrorizing the town too much.
“It’s funny with the Cult,” says Duffy, taking a puff. “When we party we party, and when we work we work. We don’t really feel comfortable doing both. And we mostly worked here, to be honest. Really there was a focus on getting the job done.”
“But I went out a little bit. I went to the Town Pump and saw Art Bergmann, who I thought was really good. I thought was really really good, actually–I liked his whole persona. Our bassist, Jamie, went out a lot. He’s the one in the band who avidly goes out to see new bands, followed by Ian, when he can deal with going out. Ian gets a bit hassled, ’cause he’s kind of easy to spot. So he finds it a little more difficult just to go out and be a private person.”
Another person who’s becoming increasingly more visible these days is producer Rock, who was at the controls–along with engineer Mike Fraser–for the recording of the new Cult album. Formerly with Rock & Hyde and the Payola$, Rock has come out of the shadow of big-time local hit-maker Bruce Fairbairn to make a strong name for himself as a producer.
“Bob came at doing the Cult from a kind of fan standpoint. He wants the record to be like a fan would want it, and I think that’s really healthy. He’s not putting his stamp on it, he’s just making what’s there sound as good as it can be, and helping the band to realize what we want. He’s almost like another member, Bob. We even joked around the idea of him comin’ out on the road to play keyboards and second guitar. He fits in that well.”
Along with Rock’s winning touch, the Cult took advantage of the talents of local keyboardist John Webster and drummer Mickey Curry on the Sonic Temple album. Former Cult drummer Les Warner didn’t make it into the latest sessions.
“Les got the boot, unfortunately,” says Duffy. “I didn’t want to do it, but basically I didn’t think his frame of mind was correct to go and make this album. The drumming’s a bit tricky, you know, and Mickey Curry is one of the top-paid session drummers in the world. Les isn’t.”
As usual, Duffy played all the guitars on the album. Now 27, he’s been playing since he was 13, and was influenced by some of the top guitarists from his native Britain.
“Guitar-wise I was really into both guitar players from Thin Lizzy–they were my number-one teen band. Mick Ronson was a big influence, and Mick Ralphs. Paul Kossoff, from Free, I love. It boils down to the Les Paul guitar–it seems to be that all these guys use Les Pauls. I was never a big fan of the Strat. When you’re a kid you want to be like Jimi Hendrix or you want to be like Jimmy Page, and I was more of a Jimmy Page/Mick Ronson fan.”
A couple of other players that would agree with Duffy’s choice of instruments are guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin of Guns N’ Roses. A couple of years back GN’R opened for the Cult on the Electric tour, and barely caused a stir. But Duffy says he saw their potential back then.
“I thought they’d do well,” he says. “We asked them to come on the road with us ’cause we heard their album, Appetite for Destruction, and thought it was really good. What we wanted to do was take out a young American rock band to stop the Cult being perceived as some kind of alternative, Anglophile band. We wanted to show people that we’re a much more international band, and we didn’t want to take some lipstick boys out.
“I remember the first gig that they did, when Ian said to them, ‘You guys are gonna sell more records than we are.’ And they were going, ‘Naaw.’ They were the support band, and it was like two people clapped when they played.”
This time around, it’s the Cult that is opening on a bill with American thrashers Metallica on May 31. It’s a rather unusual pairing, but Duffy figures it’ll work out all right.
“It’ll be interesting to see,” he says. “I’m very aware that a lot of their stuff comes from a much thrashier, harder, more ridiculous background. But I hope the kids that go are broad-minded enough to see that the idea is to show two up-and-coming bands that have their own completely different styles. [Metallica] asked us to go with them because they don’t want to take out a Metallica sound-alike.”
“But we shouldn’t really be opening in Canada,” he adds, “because we’re much too big to be opening for Metallica here. But the tour is mostly in the United States, where they’re more popular than us–primarily because their album came out six months ago. Our just came out, so we’ll see what happens in six months’ time.”