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The Cult’s Billy Duffy Talks ‘Choice of Weapon,’ Touring Around the World + More

The Cult
Photo by Michael Lavine

Billy Duffy of the Cult will be a guest on Loudwire Radio this weekend. The guitarist talks to host Mike ‘Sandman’ Sanders about the band’s new album, ‘Choice of Weapon,’ touring around the world, and much more. Catch Loudwire Radio for the full interview, but in the meantime, here’s a preview of the interview with the Cult’s Billy Duffy:

It is excellent to talk to you and I got to tell you I’m a big fan for a long time and one of the things I like most about you and your guitar playing, and I hope this is in no way an insult to you, but you’re such a riff master, you know? You’re like a Keith Richards or, like, The Edge from U2. You’re a guy that just comes up with the most awesome riffs and that is such a big part of The Cults sound, I think.

Well, thanks. I’ll take that; I’ll take The Edge and Keith Richards. I’d much rather that than some heavy medal shredders I could think of, that’s never really been my cup of tea, you know, sitting at home practicing guitar scales. I’m more about getting out there and living life and, you know, maybe copping a few decent riffs. Well, yeah, yeah, that’s been my kind of my role in the song writing partnership between me and Ian, is coming up with those riffs you know and a lot of the times, you know, the riff – the vast majority of our songs the riff comes first and they kind of suggest a certain feeling or modality to Ian and then he, luckily, we found each other, and his vocal style and his tone of his voice and everything seems to just fit, you know.

I mean, I think that’s just it, in a very simple form, that’s the essence of The Cult and I think all of those, you know, the legendary bands who’ve lasted, there’s that two-guy core songwriting partnership that keep constantly coming up with material that fuels the band. ‘Cause, you know, it’s great, new material is great, it’s the kind of new blood that invigorates the bands creative process. If you just keep going on playing old songs forever—whilst that can be sort of fun—it’s a bit of a kind of a grind, in some respects and as writers I’m sure everybody in a band would enjoy the challenge of creating new music and, you know, not trying to compare it to the past cause, you know, that’s kind of a ridiculous fool’s errand, but that’s kind of where we’re at with The Cult, you know, we’re invigorated by the new album and the response to it. You know, it makes us want to play the old stuff even more, you know, in conjunction with the new stuff.

The band has been off and on a little bit. You guys are back together, you and Ian and some new cats and you’re on tour I know you’re in Chicago tonight and I was looking at the tour dates and it’s just amazing that you guys on June 23 go from Hollywood, California to June 28 in Belgrade [Serbia].

Yeah, yeah, it’s far out, man. It’s going to be quite damaging, physically.That’s a pretty brutal…you know but that’s kind of indicative to the nature of being a touring real live act. You know, we don’t posses our own private jets, sadly, so that’s kind of it, man. It’s a bit of a beating but hopefully we’ll make it through. Yeah, yeah, you know, all the bands go out there. We did quite a short gap, that one, when you consider to get to Belgrade and play on the 28th, we have to leave the West Coast on the 26th.

You guys, obviously, have a worldwide following and I noticed all the tour dates in Europe. Is there much of a difference between rock fans in North American and in Europe?

I think the most obvious difference is that they’ve been a bit more starved over there, you know, I mean, several of the shows are in Eastern Europe but in general I think the fans can be a little more crazy over there sometimes. I think some of the venues that we tend to play in America tend to be a little conservative in their nature and the way their built and their kind of a little polite and, you know, whatnot and I think we’re all spoiled over here, you know? I think we have a very comfortable lifestyle, you know, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I think that certainly you can see in countries that are slightly less privileged than that the fans can go a little more mental, you know? I’m happy that anybody shows up I have no judgments about it. I just see that they’re different and you’re right I get to play to people from Argentina to Romania to whatever, you know?

A lot of guys in bands do that and we have those experiences and I’m sure they all would say the same, we love everybody but anybody that spends some hard earned cash to come and see The Cult is more than welcome, you know? You still want to sit down and go to sleep, I’m quite happy too, as long as they bought a ticket. I am aware that there is a recession on, it kind of reaches everybody pretty much in any way shape or form. So, I think everybody knows now with the music business that we’ve really been beaten because nobody really buys CDs anymore, so we have a massive amount of money that used to come in from selling records that don’t sell anymore. You know, so most other industries, with that amount of revenue disappearing would be reaching out to the government for a bailout but we muddle through regardless.

I noticed on your tour itinerary, one of the last dates on the tour, that’s posted anyway, is at Wembley Stadium.

Yeah, well, it’s not the soccer stadium, don’t get the idea that we’re out there playing the soccer stadium, as much as I’d probably like to. It’s just an arena. [Laughs]

But I’m sure you guys have played some pretty huge festivals and things like that over the years.

Yeah, I mean a lot of the one’s you’re referring to—I mean that gig in Serbia, for example—it was supposed to be us and Black Sabbath but because of the illness to Tony Iommi is now Ozzy & Friends, but, it’s essentially, you know, the same thing and that will be in some sort of small soccer stadium thingy. There’s a bunch of those and you just do whatever, I mean, the tour we’re on right now in the USA is all our venues and we’re on the road with Against Me! and Icarus Line which are a really good night out, some great rock and roll music that spans a few generations. But in Europe it’s definitely…we pick up whatever shows. There’s a mixture of our own shows and festivals with all different line-ups, you know.

For you, personally, is it more enjoyable to play an intimate setting or a large venue, a stadium type show?

It really depends, man, it really depends. I’m not a great fan of playing outdoors in the daytime. I never saw myself doing, like, being entertainment for sunny summer barbeque types, you know, I’m just …even if that barbeque is attended by a hundred thousand people, it doesn’t do it for me. I never feel it; it just doesn’t enhance the magic. However, you know, I really don’t have preference.

I know for a period when we were playing a lot of the bigger arenas it’s kind of a little soul destroying, that. I don’t think it’s a great experience for the fans. I don’t know. Never felt really a thousand percent comfortable as much as my ego would like to do those places. I love, like, a ballroom, like, a good theatre or ballroom with, say, four or five thousand people crammed into it, you know. That, to me, really creates great energy for the fans and the band and, obviously, ‘the louder they scream the faster we go’ kind of situation.

So, some sterile cold arena where you’re really trying to put on some kind of visual smorgasbord, you know. That’s what happens is you have to, in arenas, kind of create some fake excitement, you have to create this, like, visual Disneyland of stuff and bangs and explosions to make people connect. Whereas, The Cult’s really more of a kind of an honest, you know—we’re probably a little dark and twisted but—you know, a rock and roll band and for us we try and keep the gimmicks to a minimum.

We do some visual stuff occasionally but we don’t want it to become like a sort of special effects circus. So those are the kind of reasons so…I mean, I’ll play for anybody who shows up, but, those are my preferences, I love to play kind of a ballroom. To me they are the best venues for rock and roll and those are the ones that connected to me when I was a kid growing up going to see bands in Manchester in England, that’s when I felt the energy the most.

When you were growing up and starting to get involved in music, who can you cite as some influences that you maybe listened to as a young man?

I grew up very much as a little music obsessed fan in Manchester in England and we were very fortunate that, being one of the major town’s in the UK, everybody came and played. I just got into the habit of going to see concerts and kind of sneaking my way into venues with some of my friends ‘cause, you know, we kind of had to do what we had to do to get where we needed to get. And we really didn’t have any money ‘cause we were still in high school. So we just kind of evolved a system of teamwork to kind of sneak into shows.

Personally, the music I kind of liked was glam rock. I loved David Bowie. I mean, I was watching TV last night and there was a Spiders From Mars concert on, David Bowie and Mick Ronson playing, it was just incredible, I watched the whole thing last night. I’d forgotten how good it was, from 1973. So, I would say the background for me is that mixed with a little bit of, um, I very much like the British band Free and they kind of morphed into Bad Company and I used to like Mott the Hoople…a bunch of other stuff, I like Thin Lizzie, apparently I liked early Queen, I pretty much stopped at “Sheer Heart Attack.” I like Queen’s first three records. That kind of music, and I know this from like, I found all my old clippings and scrap books from when I was a kid in Manchester at my parents house and I looked at what I, you know… I went to see The Who on Keith Moon’s last tour, I mean, a bunch of stuff.

So that kind of rock, rock and roll, glam rock, and then I kind of got into punk, ‘cause punk kind of happened in the UK right when I left high school and that was a massive influence on me and is a big part of my DNA. It’s what made me think what was a hobby, which was playing guitar, could become a job. And I did see The Sex Pistols in Manchester in 1976 and have the tickets and poster to prove it, ‘cause they did two shows in Manchester in, I think, July or June in ’76 and everybody claims to have been there from Morrissey to New Order, you know, the guy from Simply Red, I mean, a bunch of Manchester musicians, everybody was there and they’re probably all telling the truth.

Well your band certainly has appeal across the board as far as radio play you appeal to alternative formats and hard rock and even the metal crowd to an extent. And I’m curious as you’re on tour now, you touched on it a little bit earlier, how much do you balance the stuff from the new album ‘Choice of Weapon’ versus the library material.

Yeah, I agree with you, we’re one of those bands that’s dependent on what kind of songs we play and what attitude we kind of adopt. We’ve done gigs with Metallica, we’ve done gigs with Lenny Kravitz, gigs in Europe with Franz Ferdinand and Keane, you know, it depends, it’s interesting that we straddle a few genres just by being us and doing what’s felt natural. But on the other hand, you can confuse people a little bit, and there’s a tendency to want to categorize bands and I think that, if anything, we’ve never really been genre specific in terms of that. But in terms of the set list for this tour, we’re so excited with the new album and the fact that it goes down so well we’re playing a fair bit of new material and we’ve just decided to pretty much do early Cult which is basically, I think we do one from “Sonic Temple”, but we’re really doing early Cult and the new album.

How about ‘Wildflower’?

Yeah, we do that one.

That’s one of my favorites, for sure.

Well, there you go! You won’t be disappointed then! We do that one, that’s one of the one’s we can’t really not do because it’s such an effective song to play live. There’s a couple of songs in our catalogue that we never tire of playing live and ‘Wildflower’ is one and ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ is another. We’ll play ‘em at the drop of a hat. Be happy to do it. It makes my job a lot easier, but not all our songs are like that. I’m not going to tell you which one’s I don’t like playing but some of them are more hard work to play than others, you know?

[Laughs] If you won’t tell me, I won’t ask you.

No, I can’t tell you ‘cause I don’t want to ruin it…it might be somebody’s favorite tune out there. “Duffy just said he doesn’t like playing that one live!”

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