The Cult follows the template, but breaks the mold

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

The center continues to hold after all these years.

Singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy of The Cult can trace their partnership back to 1984 when Astbury’s successor to the Southern Death Cult, the Death Cult, stepped out into the public eye. There was a break-up of the British band in 1995 where Astbury and Duffy took on other projects. But, Astbury and Duffy eventually regrouped and continue to record new music, including its latest album, “Hidden City.”

The band comes to New Haven this weekend.

Calling from Los Angeles, Astbury said the partnership with Duffy has endured thanks to “alchemy.”

“It’s chemistry. It works,” said Astbury. “If you take away either of us, there would be no The Cult.”

Beyond that assessment, Astbury said he said he was reluctant to objectify why the partnership worked.

As a singer and guitarist creative partnership, Astbury and Duffy are continuing an iconic rock and roll relationship.

Astbury said the rock and roll vocal and guitar template plays out like a “mini-drama” with a “push-pull… a friction… and a contradiction.”

Due to The Cult’s combination of vocalist and guitarist, Astbury and Duffy appear to be carrying on a tradition blazed by the likes of The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, the Rolling Stone’s Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.  However, Astbury bristled at the comparison with those old school album rockers.

Astbury said he came from the punk movement. And musicians like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones were who the punks were rebelling against.

“The rules changed,” said Astbury of the era that launched the Sex Pistols and The Clash. “Punk was ground zero and everything before that was all junk.”

Bands like The Who and Aerosmith were “peacocks,” whoses lives were far removed from their audience’s, said Astbury. “They were not coming off the streets (like the punks).”

Astbury said he grew up in Brixton, London, one of the most poverty-stricken areas of the city. “We grew up in poor neighborhoods.” Among the future punk soldiers Astbury would see on the streets where he lived were members of Gang of Four and the Birthday Party (with Nick Cave). Many of the punks in his neighborhood would gather together, listen to and worship artists like the Sex Pistols and seminal bands like the Velvet Underground, said the singer of The Cult.

“We connected to that,” said Astbury.

As musicians, Astbury said the punks were learning their craft. And they were playing in clubs with audiences just as disenfranchised as themselves.

Astbury said the punks couldn’t connect to those bands that played “studio rock.”

But music is a funny thing. And the more you play, the more you write, the more refined it becomes.

As the years passed, said Astbury, the members of The Cult grew into their art form.

And when their album, “Sonic Temple” (with “Edie (Ciao Baby),” “Sweet Soul Sister,” and “Fire Woman)  came out in 1989, they found themselves a staple on MTV and a “broad appeal” to audiences all over.

However, the punk spirit of the band reasserted itself following that success, said Astbury. After the hard rocking “Sonic Temple,” Astbury said the band began to “deconstruct” itself.’

“We don’t want to be formulaic,” said Astbury, “You have to destroy to create again.”

“I wouldn’t want to continue with a commercial career,” said Astbury, where a band is expected to “rinse and repeat.”

It’s all part of that “punk rock” ethos, said Astbury.

Speaking of his career in The Cult, in other bands (such as the Holy Barbarians and The Doors of the 21st Century) “The process of creating is what keeps dragging me back,” said Astbury talking about his career both as a solo performer and as a band member. It’s about figuring out, “What’s next?” he said

“We’re constantly evolving,” said Astbury of The Cult. He said he recognizes that it’s frustrating to fans still fixated on “Sonic Temple.” But he advised fans worried about hearing songs in concert they won’t recognize, “Go do your homework.”

The Cult perform at College Street Music Hall, 238 College St., New Haven on Sunday, May 7 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $39.50-$49.50.

For more information, go to CollegeStreetMusicHall.com or thecult.us

Ian Astbury of The Cult is seen in concert. The Cult comes to New Haven this weekend.