IAN ASTBURY

24 Jul

Whatever we could say by way of introduction about Ian Astbury – and by extension, the band he has fronted for the past several decades, The Cult – would be noticeably incomplete and underwhelming, in the same way that a conversation with the man seems incapable of being either of those things. 

Should we mention our distinct memories of hearing “Electric” as a teenager, and the hole drilled in to our head via that utterly perfect – and perfectly named – album?

Should we mention that the band is now embarking on a tour entitled “Electric 13,” in celebration of that album’s past and, notably, its continued presence? Should we mention that The Cult has brought our old friends and constant obsessions, the hypnotic space-rock warriors White Hills, along with them on this tour?

Should we mention the absolutely accidental, unplanned unfolding of a day this past weekend that ultimately ended with the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time on the phone with Mr. Astbury? 

We should – and could – mention all of this and more. But we’d rather just let Ian speak for himself.

We feel tremendously fortunate to have had the chance to chat with Ian Astbury, a friendly and fascinating man by any definition, and to share that conversation with you here, on this ridiculous website. May all your weeds be wildflowers – enjoy.

Was there ever a book that you’ve read – not necessarily about music – that changed the way you think about music, or interact with music?

Let me think … I think one the first lightning bolts of the printed page that really hit me was “Black Elk Speaks,” the story of the Lakota medicine man. That was given to me when I used to follow the band Crass. I was in their house one day and I think it may have been Eve [Libertine]– she gave me the book and said, “Read this.” I was about seventeen, eighteen. I sat and read the book and it really kind of gave me a map to what I was picking up on at a certain frequency.

I moved around a lot as a kid and I constantly had to navigate new environments. And there’s a certain order to things. For example, the bullies – you met them very quickly. And then the kids that were in to music, or the kids that were in to sports or whatever. So I very quickly had to read these environments. And that always made me feel like a bit of an outsider – I went to twelve different schools, y’know? When I came to Canada when I was a kid, I was around age eleven and I was introduced to indigenous cultures, primarily by going to school with some Mohawk kids from the reservations, living in the city of Hamilton. And they just had a different attitude toward everything, and they dressed a little differently. They kept their hair long and wore denim jackets and just did what they wanted, really. They didn’t pay much attention to the teachers and just seemed to do what they wanted. And I ended up with these kids because to the other kids, to the other white kids, I was just another immigrant, it didn’t matter where I was from. So I ended up with these kids. And I had another friend from Jamaica, another kid who was from Turkey – that was my crew. So I’m beginning to be exposed to different cultures and beginning to be drawn toward material, as young as twelve or thirteen, reading books about Native American culture. But I hadn’t made the spiritual connection to it yet – it was much more aesthetically based, and reading about their histories, the history of the Indian wars. But then as I started to get a little bit older, other questions came up. And then when it came to music … I guess I first saw David Bowie when I was ten or eleven years old, and the first single I ever bought was “Life on Mars.” And all of the sudden, I found myself in a completely different zone – I had pierced the veil in some way. And music became a way of identifying with other people. You know, you used to get the “do you like” questions – “Do you like music? What kind of music do you like?” And then you could pretty much determine if you were going to hook up a friendship or hang out. So around that time, I became a devotee of David Bowie. I went to school with blue food coloring in my hair – I was a Ziggy kid. My friend and I dyed our hair with this blue food coloring – we did it in the bathroom at school, just before class started. He brought food coloring. It washes out and you could barely see it, but the teacher said, “What is that? What are you guys doing?” And we got sent home, straight away. But that drew a boundary between the authoritarians and having a sense of making your own choices and having your own internal compass guide you, your own sense of conduct. And I guess I’ve been in it ever since.

So to answer your question, it wasn’t so much a book, but the books kind of reinforced vibrations and sentiments that were already present. I read biographies – I was a voracious reader of music biographies. Everything from Victor’s book on Patti Smith to you know, obviously “No One Here Gets Out Alive” by Danny Sugarman and things like Brian Jones biographies. I went through a very big Brian Jones obsession, pre the “Love” album. And things like “Hammer of the Gods.” You know, recently I’ve been picking up the 33 and 1/3 books, which I really like immensely.

Those are great. There’s one by Erik Davis about Led Zeppelin IV

Yes, I’ve read that one. And you know, “Touching From a Distance,” the Ian Curtis biography … I’m stuck now, but I’ve probably read thirty different music biographies on different artists. But now, I don’t think I’ve read a music biography in quite awhile. I’m much more likely to pick up a 33 1/3 … I got Marc Spitz’s book on David Bowie, and I just finished “Bowie in Berlin,” which is amazing; I really enjoyed that. I’ve just cracked in to “Just Kids” but I’ve not gotten the time to really read it. I read a book called “Sway” which is really interesting, a great novel. I read an unofficial Kenneth Anger biography which I really enjoyed. So books in many ways just kind of give, maybe, some kind of focus to these sentiments, to these feelings. In many ways, we seem to be living in a time when the acquisition of knowledge is a badge of honor. Like, “How much do you know about communes in Cologne in 1974 and what’s your knowledge of krautrock?” And this acquisition of knowledge is seen as a badge of honor and there seems to be a lot of one-upmanship, like, “Oh you don’t know about this? Well, let me tell you …” And for the most part, the exchange is somebody giving you their perspective on a period of time that they were never a part of, of musicians they were never around, of artists they were never around, and it seems to be lorded over sort of the great unwashed, or people who haven’t read these things, and people are made to feel less than, somehow. And it’s done in kind of an intellectual bullying way, and I find that to be a bore. Because, really, the higher knowledge transcends. I mean, there are these tributaries, things like “Black Elk Speaks,” or discovering that Bowie has an interest in Zen Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism, or Crowley, that led in to exploring more esoteric realms. I mean, going all the way from Glasgow to Tibet, when I went to Tibet – I followed the experience. I didn’t want to just read about it. You know, we were on the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1999 and we had to fight to get on. The quote at the time was, “The Cult is not an appropriate band for this concert.” And yet Thom Yorke was appropriate, Eddie Vedder was appropriate, Bjork was appropriate, R.E.M. was appropriate – and not one of them had been to Tibet. Not a single one of those artists had been to Tibet.

What a horrible word – “appropriate.”

Yeah. So I sat on that panel as the only artist that had been to Tibet. And I just had to stop people and say, “I’m sorry, but you’re wrong.” One thing that was being thrown around was this idea that you shouldn’t go to Tibet, you shouldn’t support the Chinese, you shouldn’t go there. And in fact, the exact opposite was true. When I got there, people were coming up and grabbing me, with tears in their eyes saying, “Thank you so much for being here. You are our benefactors in the West. Please don’t forget about us. Tell people what you see here. Tell more people to come, because when you come, you can see, you can report – we want you to be here.” And I saw that and heard all of these pious, self-absorbed savants, absorbed with their own importance. The spiritual materialism of it all – it’s pretty disgusting. And we still seem to celebrate that. I’ve always felt that if you’re the position to be a conduit, to have an opinion … I would much rather give someone a book, or indicate that there is an airport in their city where you can travel and find out for yourself. People think it must cost a fortune to get there – not at all. And once you get there, it’s pretty cheap. And that’s the cradle of a lot of our philosophies, a lot of our religious and spiritual identities come from the Middle East, come from India, come from Africa. I mean, right now we have Martin Luther King wearing a hoodie, because of Trayvon Martin. And they’ll use quotes from Martin Luther King. And Martin Luther King was inspired by Gandhi, and Gandhi was inspired by Madame Blavatsky, and she was inspired by the Tibetans. And you follow that lineage and you find yourself in the middle of a culture with a high knowledge, a high spiritual experience, an expansive culture. And in many ways that’s inspired revolutionary culture throughout the twentieth century and in to the twenty-first century.

So, bringing it all the way around,  psychedelic music is probably one of the only really authentic forms of music that actually has a direct connection to that school of thought, to that experience. I mean, I’m actually a pop-culture whore. I pick up on everything and I’m fascinated by Kanye West and I’m fascinated by Jay-Z and the idea that he’s called his album “The Magna Carta and The Holy Grail,” without any real knowledge of what these objects are, what these documents are, other than just using them as symbols of power to authenticate their positions as cultural icons. When you come out and say, “I am a God, I am Jim Morrison, I am Kurt Cobain, I am Axl Rose,” you’re stepping in to territory that is a different realm.  You’ve gone right off the map. You’re in a very different place. When Morrison would talk about Blake or Aldous Huxley or “Journey to the End of Night” by Celine – these aren’t just things you can throw around and try to lord over people. We live in a time when we’ve gone as far as we can. Man’s law over nature? It ain’t working. It’s evident. The proof is all around us. So this idea of trying to get in touch with more natural rhythms and the laws of nature … if the sun went out tomorrow, we’d all be dead. We forget these things. But we worship actors and idols and objects over this. It’d be amazing if everyone could get up at six o-clock in the morning, even cities of ten million people, and all pay homage to the sun. That would be a very interesting culture to be a part of.

Yes. Anyway – that was a very long-winded answer to your question.

I love it. We could go in so many directions.

Yeah!

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One of the terms you use is an important one – “spiritual materialism” …

That’s from Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I was exposed to him in the 80s. I was very interested in the nomadic cultures of Eastern Tibet, the horse cultures, the area where the Dalai Lama is from.  There’s a lot of similarities between them and the Plains Indians and I was fascinated by these nomadic tribes who had shamanism and mysticism as part of their culture. So through that I developed an interest in Tibetan Buddhism and was exposed to the works of Chogyam Trungpa Rincpoche, “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialsm” and “Meditation In Action,” etc.

“Spiritual Materialsm” is such a powerful phrase, and one we probably haven’t yet come to terms with.

Well, I think it’s up to the individual. Everyone’s different. There’s no critiquing an individual who’s on the path, who’s seeking and hasn’t attained a certain breakthrough point. The only position I take umbrage with is those who put themselves in the position of self-imposed power and then begin to proselytize about how wonderful they are or how much they know. That’s knowledge – wisdom comes through experience and is a completely different thing. That’s what I’m interested in. I mean, when Patti Smith speaks, she speaks from experience and a real wisdom. Just an incredible woman and one of our most important poets and our most important spiritual icons. I’d much rather listen to hear proselytize about anything – it could be the telephone book [laughs].

Anyone who has the good sense to marry a guitarist from The MC-5 is worth listening to.

Yeah, Fred “Sonic.” And it’s interesting now, because it seems like so much of the culture is saying, “You know what I mean? You know what I’m saying?” And actually, most of the time I’m saying, “No, I don’t. Do you know what you mean? Do you know what you’re saying? Because this may be OK in a certain environment, but everything you do has an effect. Everything.” So, to have that kind of wisdom – I feel that’s where we’re at right now. It’s amazing, you know – housewives everywhere will run out and buy self-help books at all different levels. It’s like a crack has appeared and everyone is rushing for something. You have designers like Givenchy and they use imagery of things like Renaissance paintings of the Madonna with the Christ child and it’s almost like this haute couture that’s luxuriant and maybe connected to the heavens and to God, and when you wear these clothes you feel like royalty, like a king or a queen. But Crowley came out with, “Every man and woman is a star,” and “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” It’s the same mantra in a contemporary package. That’s the material that fascinates me more than anything.

Are you familiar with what they call “mind trainings” in Mahayana Buddhism?

Well, in Mayahana … you know, various schools have various techniques and all have their particular nuances. But once you get in to the minutiae of all the different schools, it’s all leading to the same source, to achieve the same result. Which is being present, being conscious, being in a certain state of mindlessness. So – take your pick. Take your pick. I have people come up to me and ask me about different schools of Buddhism – “Have you heard of this? Have you heard of this?” And a lot of times, it’s like, “No, I haven’t.” I mean, I have my interests and I sort of stay with what I know. I love Shambhala and the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche – that’s kind of my crew and where I sit. That’s me, but there are other schools that work for different people. However you get there – John Lennon said, “Whatever gets you through the night.” You could be doing Ayahuasca in the jungle with a shaman. Whatever gets you there. We’re seeing more and more of that and it may just be people choking on the rampant materialism, and that’s not just buying things. I mean, I love sneakers – I’ve been wearing Nikes sense I was a kid. And in some ways, that’s worse than drugs.

You know, I gravitate toward Zen Buddhism, but I tend to read everything I can get my hands on …

That seems evident from your blog. It’s very … it’s fucking …

It’s a little all over the place.

It’s like the Library of Alexandria! And that’s what we’re talking about – everything is connected.

And that’s one of the pleasures for me of living in the time we’re in now, where the Internet makes it possible to make those connections, directly.

I love what you’ve got on here. You’ve got Maja D’Aoust – she’s wonderful. Women like her, women like Aimee from The Black Ryder – these very powerful women are coming through who really are not compromising themselves to be a part of the misogynistic, passive culture, not having to use their sexuality to sell something. They’re just powerful. They’re fierce. I’d go in to battle with Maja and Aimee anytime over loads of guys, because I know they’d be there until the end. Because that’s why they’re committed to their craft, to their art.

I hope that’s the next step in our evolution as a race, y’know?

It’s happening – we’re in it.

Getting away from this patriarchy. Flipping it on its head somehow.

We are in it. We are in it. It’s happening. It’s the phenomenon of – you can’t stop the laws of nature. She’s balancing. It’s the death of the old, middle-age white guy – the old white father. He’s gone. He’s done. And he ain’t coming back. And that’s good.

I agree. The reason I asked about the Mahayana mind-trainings is that there’s one that I’m particularly fond of called “The Wheel of Sharp Weapons” …

Interesting.

I just wondered if that had any bearing at all on the title “Choice of Weapon”?

No, but it could definitely be connected like that. When I was thinking of weapon as a metaphor, I was thinking of a dorje. Like a lightning bolt, cutting through at the moment of enlightenment. I was thinking of that as a spiritual weapon, as a tantric weapon. Perhaps the – what did you call it, “The Wheel of Sharp Weapons”?

Yeah, “The Wheel of Sharp Weapons.”

That’s a wonderful illustration. They’re all visualizations, these teachings. You can visualize what it is you’re connecting with. But I was also interested in the idea of … everybody has their camera on their phone and in their hand. That’s become like the AK-47 for non-violence. It’s an amazing tool. People can use these cameras and instantaneously capture a moment to be shared around the world. So much of the Arab Spring phenomenon was captured with cameras and with social networking. That’s a weapon. There’s literal weapons – guns, knives – but it also means you have the choice of arming yourself with metaphoric weapons, to do what you’ve got to do, to take care of the task at hand. Malcolm X said, “By any means necessary.” And I don’t subscribe to the violent schools. I wouldn’t consider myself a pacifist, but I don’t think of violence as a first choice. That’s the last choice. And if you’ve gotten to that choice, then it’s not much of a choice at all. Everyone says, “We won World War II,” or, “We won Vietnam” – but at what cost?

Yeah – define “win.”

Look at the cost. The cost is hundreds of thousands of lives, if not millions. Look at the genocides of just the twentieth century. It’s fucking … insane. It’s insane – it’s beyond comprehension. I mean, we can go down to the 7-11 and get a Slurpee, or to boot around the mall and get a pair of sneakers at the Pac-Sun store, go to Barnes and Noble, go see a C-grade movie – and it’s all built on the blood and bones of pioneers, of men and women who believed in something higher than themselves. And when you find yourself in a situation where there’s a crisis in the family, all of the sudden you’re scrambling for something to hold on to. You’re clutching to something, like a drowning person with no life preserver. It’s not woven in to the culture. So I think music – music can be a conduit. To get you through the doorway. To get you in to realms where you start to grow and develop yourself. Ultimately, self-empowerment is the real mission. Everyone is different. Everyone has a unique perspective – there’s no right way, no wrong way. There are definitely paths you can follow, to say “That seems to work. I’m gonna give that a shot.” I mean, I was going to Sunday school, you know, you get thrown in to Sunday school when you’re eight or nine, and then the next thing you know I’m on the other team. I’m with all the pagan kids, going, “Whoo!” [laughs]. You know? I’ve got my rock and roll, I’ve got all my shamanistic totems around me.

Considering all that you’ve done and experienced in your life up to this point, how has your own personal translation of the name “The Cult” evolved over time?

Ummm … it’s strange. I mean, the name came from Southern Death Cult, and Southern Death Cult came from a situation where the drummer’s brother at the time was a local promoter, and he was approached by a local documentary team who wanted to do something about youth cultures. And they said, “We want to film some bands, some young kids.” And he said, “Oh, I know a great band!” And they say, “Who’s that?” And he says, “Oh, I can’t tell you – it’s a secret.” So he came to the drummer – and at this point, we only had three songs – and he says, “Oh, I can get you on this documentary, it’ll be amazing, it’s gonna be on television.” So we’ve got to come up with a name fast. So I was reading this book on indigenous cultures and the term “southern death cult” came up where they we’re talking about this place – I think it’s called the Hopewell Valley in Mississippi, where they have these burial mounds. They still exist today. And the anthropologists were calling this the “southern death cult.” And I just thought it had this beautiful ring to it, and it rolled off the tongue beautifully, and the imagery was beautiful as well. You know, we had just gone through the Falklands War, the government was in the south, while we were living in northwestern, impoverished England – it just fit very well with the zeitgeist. So that became the band’s name, which was eventually shortened to The Cult. Because I wanted to keep the momentum of the band, but I was sort of looking at Billy [Duffy] going, “Death Cult – it’s a dope name, but it’s very limited. It kind of limits our ability to communicate much beyond a certain niche group of people, and it’s also very one-sided, it’s very one dimensional.” So we shortened it to The Cult. And that just became, for me, synonymous with “culture,” really. I just thought of it as culture, which has always been the epicenter of what we do, what The Cult does, anyway. I mean, we’ve done everything from – we’ve had our MTV moment with big hair, to psychedelic rock to punk rock, to going back to the indie ghetto in the early 90s … we’ve had so many different periods, but all of those periods have come out of the environment we found ourselves in, the relationships in the band. But I found that as the band went on, I had to do so much more outside of the band – the band didn’t fulfill me. It became like a runaway train. It’s like a child that you’ve been nurturing and then all of the sudden has a life of its own. But it became this vehicle that’s allowed me to do so many other things with my life. There are so many aspects of The Cult that I am really proud of, and there’s some of it that I wouldn’t piss on if it were on fire. But that’s how you learn, right? Trial and error.

Do you feel like you’ve become more of a conductor of that train over the years?

Yeah. I’ve gotten a hold of the reigns a bit more, but it’s a collaboration. There are other personalities involved. It’s not just mine and I don’t railroad Billy in to my vision. If anything, I try to incorporate his – I mean, he’s like the archetypal guitar hero. He loves his guitars and he loves his amplifiers and he wants to play them all the time. And that can be somewhat obtrusive at times, to the song. Because I tend to lean a little more toward the songwriting process, what is the song going to convey and then let the song dictate what instrumentation will go along with it, the sentiment, the textures and everything. The Cult has its strengths and it has its weaknesses, its limitations. But I think one thing The Cult is very good at is being a live rock and roll band, for want of a better term. It’s a certain discipline that not too many people can actually do very well. People talk about being rock stars and I don’t always know what that means, but it usually doesn’t come off very well. But it’s something I’ve been doing since I was nineteen, so I’ve gotten good at that. It’s something I know I can do. And it actually gets the adrenals going when you get to perform songs that you’re invested in and the audience is connected. We’re connected to that moment and we’re deep inside something and it’s definitely something transcendent and there’s a … a different consciousness going on.

You know, The Cult started in 1984. When we first came to New York, Basquait was still running around, Hell’s Kitchen was a no-go zone, the Lower East Side was a no-go zone, Brooklyn was a no-go zone, the Bronx was a no-go zone – the city was wild. The city was just lawless. It was incredibly exciting, an exciting place. “Taxi Driver” was still fresh in my skull and that vision of Scorcese’s New York was what I wanted to find.

Where I grew up, in Hamilton, Ontario, it was about three-hundred miles from New York, and there was all this music at the time coming out of New York. It was the epicenter. Like, the radio tower of The Empire State Building or the World Trade Center – it was almost like they were broadcasting music from this central location. It was like everything that was sophisticated rock and roll, from The Stooges – of course, they were from Detroit, but we seemed to identify them as from New York, and The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, The Ramones – all coming from New York. The “Electric” album is a very New York record. It was made in New York at the ElectricLady Studios with Rick Rubin, right in the middle of Def Jam’s genesis. We were around all of it. There were hookers on either end of the street, shootings around the corner. Some of our crew guys went out one day to get some ice cream at the Baskin Robbins and they got held up. Washington Square Park was where the drug deals went down – it was intense. You never went through Washington Square Park after a certain hour. It was definitely an amazing time. But it is what it is – the city’s evolved.

It’s interesting now having spent so much time in Los Angeles – where we live is right next to the Besant Lodge. The Theosophists were here, the Vedanta Society was and is here, and Christopher Isherwood, who translated the Bahgavad Gita, was here, and he wrote “The Berlin Stories,” which inspired “Cabaret,” and “Cabaret” influenced David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust, and then that influenced punk rock – “Cabaret” influenced punk rock. The look for punk rock came from “Cabaret.” And that all happened right here in this canyon where we live, in L.A. There’s an amazing energy here and an amazing energy happening here right now, with people like Maja who I mentioned. She’s a very, very important priestess. It seems like there’s more people flocking to the West Coast than to New York. It definitely feels like there’s a spiritual shift happening in the West right now, which is pretty exciting.

Well, one thing that’s come out of New York that I love that seems appropriate to mention is a band called White Hills, who you’re bringing out on tour.

Of course. Yeah, absolutely.

You guys have a history of, I guess, just bringing whoever the hell you want on tour.

Pretty much. I always fight to get artists who I respect and admire. I really don’t care about what the perception is, whether it was Guns ‘N Roses back in the day, or for this tour. For this tour, I had a decent sized list – White Hills were on that list, Psychic Ills were on that list, Black Bananas was on that list, all sorts of artists. And sometimes people have other tours, or occasionally they’re not interested. But then I see Black Bananas is on tour was MGMT and I think, “Oh, OK. Not very rock and roll, but there you go.” But I love them – I love Black Bananas, a brilliant band.

But White Hills were introduced to me by Shazzula, when she was with Aqua Nebula Oscillator, a band we took through Europe a few years ago. She was kind of hanging out with them and she introduced me to them and their music. And they just struck me as something really kind of anarchic and highly ritualistic – almost like a high mass going on and the music’s, I don’t know … almost like something really urban, like Sonic Youth, mixed with something really transcendent, like Hawkwind. And I heard that and I thought, “That sounds like it should have a mantra to it.” It’s transcendent music, it’s ritual music, it’s about space and if you allow yourself to go on their journey, you’re gonna have some of the benefits that go along with breaking through to the other side. And it’s a similar thing with Psychic Ills, although Psychic Ills remind me of something more like psychedelia, almost like … I don’t know, maybe like The Doors. I don’t want to throw comparisons around because they’re not really adequate. But I do know that I connected to their music very strongly. People always ask me, “Have you heard this song? Do you know this band?” and it’s like, I don’t spend my time reviewing sleeve notes. I’m actually spending my time reading and writing my own things, and doing things to enhance my own psychic weapons, y’know?

It’s kind of a form of what you said about “intellectual bullying,” where it’s like, you have to know everything.

How can you?

You can’t!

It’s impossible. And if you don’t, it’s like you’re shamed.

Right.

“You don’t KNOW?!?”

And then doesn’t it go back to what you said – about having to actually have an experience with these things?

Yeah, that’s the thing – it’s a point of entry and the point of entry could be anything. Right now, the point of entry could be The Black Ryder or it could be Savages, it could be Boris, it could be Dirty Beaches, it could be Kanye West – it doesn’t matter. If it’s your music and you’re connecting with it, that’s incredible. It’s a point of entry. You’re in. Now you’re in a place of awareness – let the guides take you wherever. Because there’s definitely a sell-by date to this body.

I remember Keith Richards being asked about some young bands, y’know, what do you think of these bands, around the time of stuff like Britpop, like Oasis and Blur, et cetera, and his response was, “They’ll find out.” Which to me was just like … fucking hell, that’s heavy. “They’ll find out.” And when you get a little bit older, and you’ve had a bit of experience, you realize that all those young boys and those young girls, with their Auschwitz pallor, the anemic look – they’re basically being used to fill somebody else’s coffers, to perpetuate something, to be used. Because as soon as they’re done, they’ll be discarded and somebody else will replace them. And that’s the cosmic joke. So I think celebrating our elders and celebrating – not the knowledge, but the wisdom. And vulnerability. Vulnerability is wonderful in people. You know, you see some people who are incredibly earnest and incredibly vulnerable – I would much rather listen to that than somebody’s endorsement’s for … the new hair product, or whatever [laughs].

Vulnerability, at its core, is really a form of being open, right?

Totally, totally. Being an open channel. It’s tough to get. Or not get, from another perspective. I’m not very good at doing Zen practice, or darshan or whatever. Staring at the wall for three hours, while all the blood drains out of your legs.

You do tend to wobble a bit when you stand up.

And you get the occasional whack on the shoulder.

Yeah, there’s that.

But to what end? To me, the mantra is really, “To what end?” To what end is this activity? To what end is this collection of knowledge? To what end? Because it doesn’t matter how much you knew, when outside, nature is raging. And nature doesn’t care about how much you know about krautrock, or Detroit underground, or No Wave, or whatever it is you’re in to. Because ultimately, you’ll be worm food, or food for the carrion. All that’s left will be your skull and your bones, and you’ll be transformed in to something else.

Dead Skeletons have a bit of that going on, too.

Oh, man – I love Dead Skeletons.

Totally. So dope.

Can I ask you about a specific lyric?

Yeah!

It’s from a song on “Choice of Weapon” – the way I read the title is “Life Greater Than Death.”

Yeah.

There’s a line in there that says, “We’ll weave a golden noose / and hang you from the stars.”

Uh-huh.

Can you just … maybe … explain to me where that came from, how that came to you? And if you can’t or don’t want to, that’s OK.

I think it’s symbolic for me. The cosmic truth is the golden noose. And once you’ve crossed over in to an expanded consciousness, it’s like … again, you could put all of your value in materialism, but essentially, that is a cul-de-sac. It’s not really going to lead anywhere. And if you ignore the natural laws that are, in essence, all around us, you will end up choking on that. There will be a moment where the epiphany will hit, and it’ll be too late. And it’s also like … y’know, I throw a lot of these things out as barbs, as a counter-balance to bigger-better-faster-stronger-deeper-pockets-have-five-Maybachs. Go for it. That’ll be your undoing. Whereas transcendence, symbolized by … y’know, it’s amazing. Where we live, we look up at the sky every night and usually we can see stars and it’s pretty powerful to connect with that. We go out to the desert a lot, to the high desert. And you get out there and the cinematic vista is just awe inspiring. It’s amazing. It’s interesting. We’ve sung that song – well, I … it … we, The Cult – we’ve done that song a few times and it really goes off. And that’s the kind of space I’m interested in for The Cult, pushing The Cult in that direction. Doing basic rock and roll is one thing, but I’m much more interested in the transcendent material.

I think it’s an absolutely stunning song.

Thank you.

And I can’t believe I have the good fortune to just take a second to ask you about it, directly.

Cool. I don’t think anyone has ever asked me about that one. Most interviews aren’t interested in asking about stuff like that. Which is fine.

I think that’s about the only stuff I’m interested in asking about, to some degree.

Well, that’s evident from your blog.

You know better than me that it can get tiresome to hear, “What was the tour like? What was the recording like?”

Well, not really. I mean, every personality is different, and you can always get a sense of the humanity behind it. Sometimes you get somebody who is really closed off, but just by answering the question in a way that is honest, it tends to flip over. You can say, “What do you mean by that?” And once you get in to that, then you have a conversation. I like to hand it back to them – “I don’t know, how do you feel about this? Do you think it really has any value? What are your feelings on this – never mind your thoughts, what are your feelings? How does it make you feel?”

You’ve probably managed to liberate some people’s feelings just by doing that.

Yeah, precisely.

It’s kind of like that jumping-off point you were talking about.

Point of entry.

Yeah, point of entry.

Anything can be the point of entry. It can be dropping acid – [adopts perfect Spicoli voice] “Hey, dude, check this out. It makes everything, like, Mickey Mouse [laughs].” That’ll flip the switch.

That’ll flip the switch quick.

But then you find yourself in a car moving very fast with absolutely no driving instructions. And you haven’t got a fucking clue where you are.

Have you ever thought about writing a book?

No.

Why not?

I don’t have time. I’m too busy doing things.

The Cult is on tour now. 

 

Revolt circle sticker (IAN)

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19 Responses to “IAN ASTBURY”

  1. Andy Hollis July 24, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    That’s a wonderful, wonderful interview – so very different to a lot of the standard questions. Thanks for putting this up. Enlightening.

    • RyanoftheApes July 24, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words! Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Tom O'Connor July 24, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    Brilliant interview with an amazing inspiring subject! CFFC!

  3. Angie Lavezzo July 25, 2013 at 12:24 am #

    Great interview! At the ripe old age of 9 The Cult was my first favorite band, and 26 years later they’re still the best. I think this might be the most interesting Astbury interview I’ve seen. Thanks ❤

  4. Wiz Garber July 29, 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    I really enjoyed reading this during the Grand Sextile Planetary Alignment. Do you feel the energy? I do. Back in the day, one day I found myself at Electric Ladyland Studio and Rick Rubin and Ian Astubury were there working on Electric. Our lives move in mysterious circles with significant intersections. I’m glad I intersected with you here and now.

  5. Justonlyjudy July 30, 2013 at 12:26 am #

    I am headed to the show tomorrow night in Seattle and just read this interview- I am looking forward to things in a whole new way! Thanks for taking Ian to the thinking place…love it! I would rather just sit and listen to him talk…but I’ll endure the crowd and the music this time…but in my mind, Ian and I will be talking about the connectedness of all things. Again, nice job on the interview!

  6. Derek Dunbar August 1, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Cracking piece of work and excellent questions for Ian, thanks.

  7. Paul Anthony Davies August 2, 2013 at 2:36 am #

    awesome interview with my major vocal influence………………….Magickal !! The man has answered any questions I had about him !! from Red Nations, to music influences, all of it.
    Thanks folks for this interview.

  8. truetten August 7, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    Great interview, thanks for learning some new sides about one of the leaders of my favourite rock band, cannot wait to see Ian and Billy in Cologne in Novmber…. Good Luck for the ongoing tour

  9. Kenny August 9, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    Great interview, really insightful. Been a member of The Cult Tribe since ’85, seen every show they have played in NYC and so excited for 8/22! Electric13

  10. Jenny Fisk August 11, 2013 at 8:32 am #

    Loved this interview. Ticks all the right boxes for me. Would love to have conversations like this all the time. Booked my tickets for London right after reading.
    Stunning and inspirational. Thanks.

    • RyanoftheApes August 12, 2013 at 9:53 am #

      Alright! Thanks for checking it out & glad it moved ya’!

  11. zz December 20, 2013 at 12:02 am #

    Badass interview

  12. dimm witness February 21, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    nice job — great questions and inspiring answers

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