The Cult’s notable albums include Love (1985), Electric (1987) and Sonic Temple (1989), and this year they released a cool new album called Choice of Weapon. Their songs include “She Sells Sanctuary,” “Love Removal Machine,” “Fire Woman” and “Edie (Ciao Baby),” all co-written by Duffy and singer Ian Astbury. Before The Cult, Duffy played in The Nosebleeds (with a pre-Smiths Morrissey, who Duffy reportedly introduced to Johnny Marr), Slaughter & The Dogs for a short time, and Theatre of Hate.
The Cult will be playing at the Majestic Ventura Theater this Saturday. In a phone interview with Duffy excerpted below, he talks about The Cult’s history and what we can look forward to at the upcoming show.
Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming concert in Ventura?
Billy Duffy: Well, the usual good hard-rocking time with The Cult. I don’t recall doing a bad gig up there. It’s always a good atmosphere. I mean, generally for shows the audience really are a huge part of the evening as well. Generally the crowds up there have a good reputation, not just with The Cult, but with a lot of people. It’s a very enthusiastic, non-Hollywood crowd. So we’re always keen.
It’s the first show of a leg of the tour that takes us up the coast and across Canada, and straight into the UK. It’s a nice little opener for us, fairly close to where most of us live. We always look forward to playing up there. Hopefully they can look forward to a band that’s not too rusty, either. We’ve been playing a while now. We were just on a little break, so we’re fine.
JM: I have to ask, were you at either of the famous Sex Pistols shows in your hometown of Manchester?
BD: I was at the second one, not the first one. The first one, there were literally 40 people there. The second one, there was a couple of hundred. And I made the second one. I actually still have the ticket and the poster from the gig. For some reason I collected them, so I still have them. ... I have a house in the Manchester area, so I keep a little memento from that show.
I remember seeing it, and it was definitely life-changing. It’s kind of germane, because as much as The Cult is about Sonic Temple and rock ‘n’ roll and touring with Aerosmith and Metallica and all that, very much in my DNA is growing up in the U.K. and punk rock. That’s in there, and that’s in the songwriting, and that’s never really gone away, a bit of that punk attitude.
It wasn’t like anybody wanting to put a safety pin through their nose. It was more like taking that music ... it kind of got accessible to people. That was why it was a life-changing thing for me, because I went from a guy who aspired to be maybe a guitar roadie at best, to maybe I could actually be in a band, and people would come and see, and we could do shows. That’s why punk was so great. Sadly, like most movements it became 10th-generation copyists.
I mean, I was lucky to find Ian. I met him in ‘81, I think, and we formed the band in ‘83. We were lucky to find a songwriting partnership that has endured, and has some sort of, I guess, unique qualities that you have to find to make a band last for 30 years.
JM: Not too long after The Cult formed, you toured America. What are some of your memories of your first tour of America?
BD: It was just a really exciting time. We went to L.A. when the Olympics were on, that’s when it was. We arrived the day before the Olympics back in ‘84, just to put some sort of historical context. And it was great! We loved it. I’d watched some of our friends in other bands who had already been over, and we were all like, “We gotta get over to the States. We gotta play.” So that was how we did it. We flew around, and did little crazy gigs, and didn’t get any sleep. You know, all the things that guys in bands should do. It was amazing.
JM: At what point did you and Ian realize that you had made it in America?
BD: I don’t know. Maybe when we just saw our song on the Super Bowl [laughs], the commercial on the Super Bowl. (The music to The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” was mashed with “Good Feeling” by Flo Rida for a Budweiser commercial during the 2012 Super Bowl.) I don’t know.
We certainly did the work. One of the things about a lot of British bands is they come to America, they play just a few of the big cities, and they go “Well, OK, that’s it.” And they leave. We really toured and toured, and we supported people, and we kept coming around and playing and doing the work. And we built up a loyal fan base. That was important.
I don’t think we ever felt we’d made it. Maybe when we did Electric, that really helped. We’d done Saturday Night Live, with “She Sells Sanctuary” in 1985, on the Love tour. But that was more of a college thing. So I think Electric really established us. We did a tour with Billy Idol, supporting him on the Whiplash Smile tour, and then we went around and did our own tour, and blah, blah, blah, we asked Guns N’ Roses to open for us. Because Ian had sort of discovered them, and that was their first “big tour.” And they came out and opened for us, and we toured together and became friends. We’re kind of still friends to this day, with those guys.
I think Electric was the album where mainstream America kind of embraced The Cult, and the album went platinum. I think that was the point we realized we had some longevity in the States. We weren’t going to be one of those British bands that kind of came and went in the ‘80s.
JM: I imagine that the tour with Guns N’ Roses was pretty crazy. Do you ever think, wow, how did we survive that?
BD: I think young men have a very strong constitution.
BD: I wouldn’t have survived it if I tried the same thing now. I think back in the day ... you can operate on very little sleep, that’s for sure.
JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
BD: Have two great girlfriends, an excellent haircut and a fantastic pair of sunglasses. That’s the answer I always give.
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.