I caught up with the singer en route to LAX Airport where he divulged all the latest news on the decision to celebrate Death Cult, the setlist of tracks that are in store for the live shows, and plans for another anniversary celebrating the rich history of The Cult next year.
By far one of the most independent Rock bands that have existed through four decades of dramatic and irreversible changes in popular culture, technology, and the constant evolution of music genres. The Cult are, without a doubt, worthy of their legendary status, and as they continue to march to the beat of their own drum (literally) with critically acclaimed live shows, and new studio albums, it came as a surprise to most with the news of Death Cult’s resurrection, especially so close to the release of their last studio album.
Full dates for the Death Cult shows can be accessed below:
OD – I, like many other people, did not see this coming. Live shows celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of ‘Southern Death Cult’. Was the idea floating around for a long time, or was it an instant ‘Yes’ as soon as it was brought to the table?
ASTBURY – It was pretty intuitive and seemed very obvious to me that this was the time to acknowledge Death Cult because we had never really spoken about this period of the band’s history and the genesis of the band. We’re not great nostalgists, or never really bothered to celebrate any landmark anniversaries in in the past.
I can’t actually remember when the idea came up. I think it was actually our manager Dino who suggested it. It was pretty spontaneous with no master plan behind it… which is very much the way that we do things anyway.
There’s a real sense of coming full circle with this project. Four decades of the band’s career… with Death Cult being the foundation. This is a way of us showing respect for our origins, and how those origins have filtered through over the decades. We have already performed one show as “Death Cult” in LA (October 23rd), and it was incredible. It was immediate, and if I’m being honest, it was the most nervous I’ve been doing a live show since I was about 19 years old!
I have to add that bringing this show to Ireland…to the Celts…it’s (pauses)…well it’s going to make a lot more sense than when we perform in America, as it’s Ireland, and the UK is very much more integrated in our geneses.
OD – With a setlist that includes tracks from Southern Death Cult, Death Cult ‘Ghost Dance’ (1996), and then The Cult era, with ‘Dream Time’ and ‘LOVE’, there are quite a few tracks to choose from. Was this a relatively easy process for you and Billy to put this setlist together for the shows?
ASTBURY – It was an easy process putting this setlist together as ‘Death Cult‘ was only a band for about nine/ten months (laughing). Some of the songs in the set were written during the period of Death Cult but didn’t appear until ‘Dreamtime‘ in 1984.
Another example is ‘Spiritwalker‘, which was part of that era also, but I didn’t have a name for it yet. If I remember correctly, we just had a bass line and a loose melody for that track, but that’s it. So, it was pretty obvious to us to keep the integrity of that era pure for these live shows, hence that’s why it’s in the setlist.
‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Rain’ also came from around the ‘Spiritwalker’ period. In fact, ‘Spiritwalker‘ was the first real moment that The Cult had in the charts. We came in at number 75, or something like that, and hovered around for a while. We also did very well in the Indie Charts at the time, reaching number one.
Our label, Beggars Banquet really hedged their bets with us at the time by first putting on their Situation Two label, which was their subsidiary label [founded by Peter Kent in 1981], and then very quickly signed us to Beggars Banquet. A lot of things happened very quickly for us back then.
OD – That period, from ’83 – to ’85 saw so much happen in your career, and as a result, three studio albums were released, which by today’s standards, is astonishing. When you look back on that time in your life, does it all seem somewhat of a blur now?
ASTBURY – It really was. Essentially, I found myself with no fixed abode, and was – by all accounts – homeless! I was sleeping rough, sleeping on floors in random houses and squats, for about four or five months, and eventually ended up getting a room in a house in Bradford of all places, which might as well have been Nebraska for me [Laughing].
I was offered a room and it just so happened, there was a bunch of guys that were in a Punk band rehearsing in the house and they had just lost their singer. They liked the way I looked and asked me if I wanted to join the band. A very short time later, and in a totally unexpected turn of events, we were rollin’ as “Southern Death Cult“. When you consider other iconic bands such as Sex Pistols and Velvet Underground for example, just look at the dense concentration of intense activity they had over such a short period of time… it’s just a sequence of adrenal bursts. We never stopped.
I literally did not stop from 19 years old, until I was about 33 years old. It was at that point I just made the decision to take a break, before it breaks me! It was at this point that we took a hiatus for a couple of years. It was around that time that I started a new band called ‘Holy Barbarians‘. So much for the break right? (laughing)
What can I say? I love music. I love performing and the whole environment that surrounds creativity and the people that are part of that global community. I traveled around a lot when I was younger. I was an immigrant and an outsider. I was always known as an “outsider“. I just follow my instincts and try to be true to myself, and follow what I feel I need to do.
OD – May I ask why you decided to keep it to just the first two The Cult albums, and not anything from ‘Electric’ or ‘Sonic Temple’?
ASTBURY – We’re saving that period of our career for next year. We are gonna be acknowledging our eleven studio albums in 2024. I can’t really say too much about it now, but there will be some news coming in the near future about all of this.
OD – ‘Under The Midnight Sun’ was released a full year ago this month, and despite the shows that have already taken place this past Summer, are there any plans to return to UK/Ireland for dates for this album cycle?
ASTBURY – Well, to be honest, there’s just not enough time. We made a choice a long time ago about the way we want to run things. There were two ways we could have gone. One is that we’re on a major label system in America, financially and commercially set up, enjoying incredible success, but there are terms and conditions that come with that.
You have A&R guys in the room, who have certain expectations to please their label bosses, and I didn’t feel comfortable with that as a creative environment. We experienced that side of the industry and we started pulling things back to a degree. We had to take control of our own destiny if you will. I think Billy was a lot more comfortable with that situation, but I didn’t really feel that it was right for who we are.
I didn’t feel that we were being challenged, or would be producing our best work, and by default, would fall into a negative, uncreative imitation of our true selves. There was so much going on with the band and the members of the band during this time, hence the other option which was the eponymous album in ’94 (see below), which is really like a raw, garage-band demo, notebook from the floor, type album.
Originally we were gonna do the album with Rick Rubin but that didn’t work out. We ended up going with Bob Rock again, and he came in and stripped everything right back.
From that moment onwards we began to respond to whatever moment we were in and ‘Under The Midnight Sun‘ is an example of that. The album was written and recorded before the pandemic took hold, and this anomalous moment in human history, and human nature began to play out. The album (‘Under the Midnight Sun‘) is a time for reflection, re-grounding, and re-connection. There are a lot of layers on this album. That’s just who we are. We are a product of the lives we have lived. It’s honest, real and pure.
One of my favorite tags that journalists frequent when discussing us is that we are, “over-dramatists” [Laughing], but in fact, we lived all of those moments. That’s how it all went down.
My life has been a fascinating ride so far. I was living in Newtonards Road (Belfast) back in 1980 getting assaulted by British soldiers. I was on the streets of Glasgow as a Punk kid. I was an immigrant, an outsider, I was even a stage hand for U2 in Leeds in 1980! I was paid £10 for lugging a 48-channel mixer up the stairs of the venue [Laughing]. I’m already into the next phase of my creative life. My manager is focusing on the 40th anniversary stuff, but I’m already thinking beyond that with new ideas and creative beginnings.
OD – Have you ever considered releasing a book?
ASTBURY – I have been approached by literary agents expressing interest in my memoirs, with ideas of a biography and documentary. I don’t know if I’m ready for all of that right now. I’m not convinced that it’s the right time. I don’t feel that I’m in that moment to reflect on my life just yet.
In the meantime, I’m interested in doing something a little more immersive. Not like what U2 are currently doing in the Sphere in Vegas, but something a little more suited to what we represent, and what we’ve achieved already.
For example, I’d love to perform on an Indian Reservation in the United States on indigenous land. I grew up around indigenous kids in school and that was my peer group. It just seems like this is the place to start having a new conversation about doing something off the circuit, in an environment such as a standing stone circle and reconnecting with that. Ideas like this really excite me and get my creative juices flowing.
OD – Finally, are there any plans to reissue the Death Cult discography again on vinyl?
ASTBURY – We’ve been talking to Beggars Banquet about some things coming in the near future so keep an eye on things. I’ll put it this way, there is a lot happening and a lot of things that are in the final stages of being signed off.
Right now, my focus is on these Death Cult shows, and having only performed the first of these shows on October 23rd in LA, the next one will be in Belfast on November 6th, and Dublin on the 7th, before we continue on to the UK. This is something very special and we have no plans to ever do this again when it comes to this era of the band’s history.
Learning these songs again has been so nerve-wracking. We barely knew how to play our instruments back when it was recorded [Laughing]. When we played that first show, I missed a few cues and there were a few mistakes here and there, but the energy was electric. The room was euphoric, and the atmosphere was something different, something that I’ve not experienced in a long time. It reminded me of going to a show and seeing The Clash, or Stiff Little Fingers, etc… one of those classic Punk shows.
I can’t wait to get back to Ireland…to Dublin and perform. It’s been way too long. It’s gonna be a very special night.
Death Cult will perform in Dublin’s 3Olympia on November 7th. Limited tickets are now available via this link.