The Cult is a platinum-selling band that got their start in the ’80s. They are looking for that magic once again with their newest release, Hidden City, which is set to drop February 5th. The band will be out on tour this spring to support their new album and are scheduled to play The Hard Rock Rocksino on March 29th.
Founding member and lead guitarist Billy Duffy spoke with NEO Music Scene to discuss his career, The Cult’s latest album and of course their stop in Cleveland.
Greg Drugan: Hi Billy, where are you calling me from today?
Billy Duffy: I’m calling from California where the sun is shining.
GD: Well its snowing here in Ohio, so I’m sure you’re not missing that!
BD: Yeah, yeah. I can do without that! Snow is good for about a day.
GD: The Cult has a new album that’s about to come out; what can fans expect from Hidden City?
BD: It’s hard to be objective, really. I can say that we took our time making this record. I think its quite diverse and it’s got a lot of different things. Its reaching in that we are trying to take the song writing into different areas. I can’t really give you any sweeping generalizations as a piece of work. Its twelve songs crafted out of about thirty ideas.
GD: What are some of your favorite tracks on the album? I really like “Dark Energy.”
BD: That’s a great question! I really used to like “No Love Lost” and “Dance the Night” early on in the process because they came together quite easily. But it changes. I do like “Dark Energy” a lot. That song has been hanging around and it was actually (producer) Bob Rock who sped up the riff and changed the context of the song. He inspired us and we all just jumped on board with a new way of doing it. So, I’m good with that one for the moment!
GD: You mentioned Bob Rock, what made you go back to him as the producer for this record?
BD: Well, Bob has done now five albums with us. Bob helped us with the last record, even though it was primarily produced by Chris Gross, which was great. But he kind of ran out of steam and time and money. So Bob was brought in to, oh-how would you say it, “To put icing on the cake?” So for this one, we made a decision, out of fairness to Bob, instead of coming in to kind of save us, lets get him involved from the ground up. So he has been solely and purely responsible for helping me and Ian coaching us through the process to the finished record. He was there from the song conception, through the raw ideas, through the mixing. So that’s the big difference and the only other time he has done that was for Sonic Temple.
GD: Who were some of your early musical influences as you were growing up?
BD: I was a mid-seventies kid. I got interested in music by ’72-’73. So I was kind of excited by Ziggy Stardust, Alice Cooper and that kind of thing. Glam Rock, Roxy Music and that kind of stuff. Then punk happened and as a result of punk, I really got into The Stooges, and The Dolls and the MC5 and that kind of American underground, not commercially successful, but very cool bands. I also like Free, Thin Lizzy and early Queen. By early Queen, I mean the first three albums only! I liked a bunch of shit! I loved Ted Nugent for a hot minute, the album before Cat Scratch Fever, the one with the semi-acoustic. I’ve always had a thing for the semi-acoustic; I think it’s kind of a sexy sound. All of that music I talked about, I used to go see those bands play. They werent so big, that they were not attainable. I could see Thin Lizzy, I saw Ted Nugent, and I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blue Oyster Cult. I saw everything that came through Manchester in the mid-seventies. Then at the same time, I saw punk gigs from ’76-’77. I saw AC/DC and didn’t realize that they weren’t a punk band because nobody really knew what punk was! So it wasn’t so much for me Zeppelin and Sabbath and Purple and Pink Floyd. I was aware of all that but there was life before punk and then there was punk. Because punk was such an important thing in England, that it was just a life changing thing.
GD: You have such a distinct sound. Is there a guitarist that you model your style after or do you just do your own thing?
BD: No, there was just a bunch of influences going into it. I would say Mick Ronson from Bowie and Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols; his simplicity and his power chords. I love Mick Ralphs from Mott the Hoople and Bad Company. You know, I like the Lynyrd Skynyrd guitar players. I hate guys that play from the head. I like guys who play from the heart. I would say blues based rock and roll would be the thing that turned me on the most. I never wanted to be the guy that stayed home practicing all of the time. I just wanted to have fun with the whole rock n roll guitar player lifestyle. But I wanted my own sound and my own identity.
GD: How did you end up playing a Gretsch guitar?
BD: Well in my first major band that I was in where it became my job was Theater of Hate. I used a Gretsch in that because we were going for a different kind of sound. The spots in the songs were different, where we had a saxophone like Roxy Music. The bass did riffs like Joy Division where the bass would play the lead riffs and the guitar would answer it with a scratchy chord. So that kind of changed my dynamic and I brought that into The Cult and kind of rocked that up. I kept the Gretsch and kind of re-added elements of rock like wah-wah pedals like Thin Lizzy and Mick Ronson but I used a Gretsch. I didn’t learn it on YouTube! My style evolved due to circumstances in the right way. Kind of an organic progression of ideas and always playing live and being in a band.
GD: Speaking of the earlier days, what was it like working with Morrissey and do you think you would have fit into The Smiths had you stayed with him?
BD: Probably not. At the time I met him we were both obsessed with the New York Dolls and all things American. We were both just a couple of kids in Manchester. My big aspiration was to be a guitar roadie with a local band, but then that band split up. Then I got asked to play in them. And I thought why not? They said oh good you can play and I looked the part. Then they asked me if I knew any singers. I said I knew this guy Steven who wants to be a singer but he’s not an aggressive punk rock front man. So that was it and we joined this band and we didn’t play any of their original songs. We wrote all new songs together. We did a couple of gigs but there was no money in it. So it just wasn’t meant to be. But I ended up introducing Morrissey to Johnny Marr at a Ramones gig or Patti Smith gig or so the legend goes. I can’t remember. I knew Johnny from my neighborhood and I knew Morrissey from this band we in at the time. I was like “Hey Steven this is Johnny” and that was that. But it took a couple of years for them to actually get together as a band.
GD: You are getting ready to go out on tour. The last time you did the full Electric album; what can we expect from this tour?
BD: Well it won’t be the full Hidden City album but it is about the new music! We will play some old music to keep the people warm and cozy. But hopefully there will be enough new music to keep the people engaged. We aren’t just playing nostalgia but we will play some old songs. But, this tour is about the new music.
GD: Thank you so much for your time today. We look forward to your show at the Hard Rock in March.
BD: Thanks mate!
The Cult’s new album Hidden City will be available February 5th on iTunes and you can also order a vinyl or CD version of it at thecult.us. You can purchase tickets to The Cult’s concert on March 29 at ticketmaster.com and at the Hard Rock Rocksino Box Office.