Sonic Temple

Interview with Ian Astbury

By Gail Worley

The Cult, England’s goth/psychedelic/metal rockers, hit it big in the late ’80s, influencing both fashion trends and radio playlists. After releasing six albums in ten years, dissention among band members and uneven commercial success led to the band’s breakup in 1995. Although frontman Ian Astbury reformed the band with guitarist Billy Duffy four years later, The Cult has been relatively inactive until this summer. Now they’re scheduled to open the Jimmy Page/Black Crowes tour, a career retrospective of their singles was just released, and a new album is rumored to be in the works. All this while the handsome and charismatic Astbury releases his first solo album, Spirit Light Speed. According to the singer, the successful timing was pure coincidence. “Everything just fell into place at the same time,” he says modestly.

Before this current musical resurrection, Astbury had some downtime and found personal sanctuary while traveling in Nepal and Tibet. “I hadn’t traveled on my own since I was probably eighteen,” he says, “so I took advantage of the situation.” A few days before the domestic release of Spirit Light Speed, Astbury spoke with from his home in Los Angeles about a few of the more cerebral trips he’s taken.
How has the dynamic between you and Billy Duffy changed since you disbanded and decided to reform?

Ian Astbury: We talk to each other, that’s about it. At the time we broke up, he didn’t know who the hell I was. He had no idea. Were you pretty involved with drugs at that point?

IA: I was cultivating a nice healthy drug habit, and at that particular time he wasn’t [doing drugs]. I was your run-of-the mill adventurist, I’d try anything once. I was a day-tripper, though-I never really became a hardcore user. When drugs aren’t working for you, forget about it. I don’t want to spout philosophical that “drugs are evil” [because] drugs had a place in my life. I think achieving a balance is the key, though. Before the Cult got back together, you had a band called Holy Barbarians. Did the partying continue at that point?

IA: The Holy Barbarians were like adolescent teenagers: we’d get in a van, drink beer, take drugs, and get ourselves in trouble around Europe and the United States. We got out of order. I quit the Cult and joined the party and basically went on a rampage for a year and a half. It was a great escape from the Cult and all of that corporate structure. Once I got it all out of my system, though, I decided I was ready to [reform the Cult] again. You recently traveled to Tibet. While you were there, did anything you see have an effect on you?

IA: When you go to Tibet, you see people with very little, but what they have a lot of–and in this way they’re very wealthy–is spirituality. More than anything else, what really struck me was how generous and warm the people I encountered were. Although there are a lot of very warm, passionate people in the West, it takes a while to get to know people. I really felt that I’d found a place of refuge in Tibet. Your music has always had a spiritual feel to it. Do you follow any particular spiritual practice yourself?

IA: I find myself gravitating towards different aspects of Buddhism and the Tao. I’m also very interested in Western traditions, Wicca, Paganism and various forms of goddess worship. Whatever I believe in my life, I just want to enrich myself. Spirituality is something that really makes me feel alive.