The Cult On The Inside Story of Electric, Part Two

Ahead of the tour of Electric 13, Billy and the boys reveal what went on during the making of a masterpiece...
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Ahead of the tour of Electric 13, Billy and the boys reveal what went on during the making of a masterpiece...

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AH – It was quite the departure from the more textured sound of Love and Peace. How did you feel about Rick’s approach, and the new environment?

IA – The environment was so full of energy. I’d be walking down the street, a Kerouac book in one pocket, a bottle of wine in the other, just immersed in where we were.

BD – Well when we got there we were all horrified that Rick didn’t drink, but he sat there and said “do you like early Aerosmith, Zeppelin, AC/DC?” and we were all like “YES!!” and he replied, “well let’s make a record then.”

JS – As Billy has said, it didn’t start off as a re-record, but really quickly became that. We were suddenly all in New York City, at Electric Ladyland studios. It was very different, as you’d imagine, to the Oxfordshire countryside. There was a different attitude, different personalities. Steve was great for Love, but Rick was just what we needed for Electric.

IA – With the Def Jam thing happening they were fascinated by us, and we were fascinated by them. It really was a family affair – the Beastie Boys were there the whole time, jamming on our gear. LL Cool J would come by and Rick was there in the studio 24/7. At feeding time the place was just rammed. We’d be recording up until 1 in the morning, then all go out together until 6 or 7, then just do it all again.

BD – New York was a dangerous place to be at the time. There were people getting mugged and beaten up, killed, all around you. It’s not like it is now. There was just this incredible, frightening, inspiring energy to the place. Alongside that though was this amazing nightlife – I remember going to see Afrika Bambaataa DJ-ing – there was 2,000 people there and was just this incredible melting pot of cultures. Then on the flipside we’d be meeting metal bands like Anthrax and Slayer and hanging out with them. John Tempesta, who drums with us now, was actually a drum tech for Anthrax at the time! Like I said before, unlike the UK you weren’t pigeon-holed for styles, you were ‘allowed’ to like Anthrax on one hand and then rap or punk on the other. It was just such a different mentality.

IA – I was in my element. We were in New York City – that was like my Mecca – a mythical place – it was all kicking off! Time Square was pretty derelict back then but there was this 24-hour diner there where you could just read, write and romanticize. You started to realise that you were living this. There was no need for stimulants in NYC at that time. The hotel was trash; bed bugs the lot. Hookers, drug dealers, our agent was killed outside the Limelight. At the time, this was our life, but looking back, it’s like “wow”…

AH - How did Rick’s style differ to Steve’s and what did that do for the band?

JS – We all had to reinvent ourselves really as musicians, it was all very much back to basics. Billy was stripped of his effects and Ian had to change his delivery to a more aggressive style. For me as well as a bassist, that was a real departure.

SB – Rick’s an incredibly powerful, influential producer and they would have had the whole American rock scene driven in to them day after day!

BD – Rick basically just said that this album is going to be done on the floor. No effects or any of that bullshit. He wanted honesty and authenticity. There was just a 24 track analogue desk, no extra machines. The whole thing was recorded and mixed in the same room – it’s almost like a live album. We were there 7 days a week, even on Christmas Day, and so was Rick back in those days. That was the time pressure – remember, we’d already recorded this album, and the label and management from a financial point of view were terrified at how much doing it all again would cost. Once they started hearing where we were though, they became very supportive.

JS – Rick brought Ian back into the fold. He was bought in again and was getting his head down.

IA ­­- It was just thrilling to be in a room with an engineer (Andy Wallace) who really understood exactly what to do with microphone placement.

BD – I remember Rick saying to Ian, “you’re the singer, get out there on the floor and sing”. Ian then became totally engaged and really back as part of the band. In the room, all together.

Billy Duffy: "New York was a dangerous place to be at the time. There were people getting mugged and beaten up, killed, all around you."

AH – In terms of your playing, this must have been a bit of a short, sharp shock?

BD – It freaked me out to be honest. I was having to readapt all these riffs and songs pretty much on the fly. I felt embarrassed and out of my depth, but there was the proverbial gun to my head. You either crack under the pressure or come up with the goods.

IA – Welcome to my world!! I don’t have any effects! The life of a vocalist…..I might have a bit of reverb if I’ve had a night out or something, but that’s it.

JS – It was an odd experience for me. The earlier records like God’s Zoo or Resurrection Joe, well the bass is all over the shop and it didn’t leave much room for the guitars. Our style back then was very much a progression of the old Southern Death Cult tunes, which was a bass-driven band. It’s actually quite a struggle to play less! I remember, even during the recording of Peace, Billy said to me “it’s okay, but play it more basic!” That obviously became more and more important with Rick. It requires a lot of discipline. Just play D and don’t change! There’s a lot of four-note songs.

BD - It definitely improved me as a player – I was forced to go back to those pre-punk roots and listen and learn again from Angus Young, Paul Kossoff. I had to drop the comfort blanket of my effects!

IA – I was listening to a lot of singers that I loved at the time. I mean really listening. Roy Orbison, Robert Plant, Nina Simone. Listening to the delivery and cadence of Bowie and Scott Walker. I had a big poster of Janis Joplin up in the studio – I’d look in her eyes and try and connect with that rawness somehow.

JS – It was around then that some of the cracks began to show with Les Warner, our drummer. He was being asked to be very precise and accurate and he wasn’t really up to doing that. It frustrated Billy no end.

BD – There were a few Troggs-like moments – that kind of “why do you need 12 strings, you can’t even play 6” type arguments. That was more because we were really going for it though. Again, we didn’t have the time to sit around and do hundreds of takes whilst the drummer tried to remember what he was meant to be playing from one point to the next! But it made for some of the power behind the album.

JS – I did have one moment where I could be a little bit freer with my bass line, which sits underneath the solo for King Contrary Man. Billy didn’t notice that I’d done that until he came to try and lay down the rhythm guitar there, which for whatever reason didn’t really come together for him. So in the end, I played the rhythm guitar as well underneath that solo.

AH – A lot of the core fanbase love some of the tracks from Peace that didn’t make it on to Electric, tracks like Zap City. What made you decide to drop tracks like that, and include the cover of Born To Be Wild?

BD – We’d been playing Born To Be Wild live in the tour because we were looking for songs to play that were a bit heavier. Where our heads were at that point, playing Revolution (from the Love album) just wasn’t doing it for us. We were touring more, drinking more, and that song was kind of expressing where we were at.

IA – Born To Be Wild was kind of thrust upon us by Rick. He still saw songs like Memphis Hip Shake and Aphrodisiac Jacket as kind of esoteric, so he wanted an American, iconic classic in there to give it a bit of context. I was opposed to it but I loved Rick and this was a team effort, so I just thought okay, we’ll give it a shot.

JS – There was no soft spot really for Zap City at the time. I think in retrospect everyone would rather the Born To Be Wild cover didn’t exist, but Zap City just didn’t make the transition.

BD – It was a shame Zap City didn’t make it, but it wasn’t a case of that or Born To Be Wild at all.  Rick actually said you either pick that one to re-record, or Outlaw, so it became a casualty of that decision. We might well play it live on this tour though. To be honest, I’m not especially proud of Born To Be Wild, but it was just a case of “fuck it, we’ll do it”.

AH – What was the chemistry like with Rick, Andy Wallace and George Drakoulias?

BD – You’d have to remortgage your house and give your children away to get that team these days!

JS – George was just a mate of Rick’s as far as we were concerned. He came along, ate burgers and made funny comments, but still had an extraordinary amount of influence. He would listen and then sing guitar parts and say “it should be like that”. Billy was very much open to the suggestions from George and Rick – it helped him a great deal.

IA – Yeah, George was just Rick’s friend who was hanging out there, but he could play. He was an accomplished guitarist so would say “I dunno, try this”. We were a gang of kids of all about the same age, then there was Andy Wallace who was very, very cool. He saw us reaching for something that he’d already experienced. He’s place the microphones and organize the working room and it was just inspiring – Billy would play something and sonically it was just ‘boom’! It was the conduit to writing, it made you want to get on the animal!

BD – Rick didn’t really know anything musically, he’d just say “play that weird pussy English chord”, but George would know what that was. He was a loose, funny guy who worked really well as a kind of double act with Rick. Andy Wallace on the other hand was very much a straight-laced gentleman, but one hell of a sonic engineer!

JS – Kid Chaos used to hang around during recordings too. He was buddies with Rick and George and used to be there just to be part of the vibe. He ended up going on tour with us as a result to play bass. Some of the rhythm guitar was trickier than that bass, so I picked that up for the tour. You just really needed a bassist who could play four notes, and he did a great job. Mind you, Ian and Kid Chaos ended up destroying something like £30k worth of equipment on the Australian leg. I had a prized 1969 Fender Jazz that I loaned to Kid Chaos. He just handed me the neck of the guitar after one of the gigs. It’s an odd and not especially pleasant experience watching your prized possession being destroyed in front of an audience!

Jamie Stewart: "I think in retrospect everyone would rather the Born To Be Wild cover didn’t exist"

AH – Love is always looked upon with retrospect as a highly influential album, but you received some criticism at the time for how influenced by the past Electric sounded. Do you think that’s fair, or do you feel that Electric is equally influential?

IA ­– There were borderline pastiche moments on the album, for sure, and we were drawing from a lot of influences. But to make the garment fit, first you need to try it on!

JS – I think it was very influential. It allowed acts like Guns N’ Roses to come through off the back of the album. We of course took them on tour with us during Electric before anyone had really heard of them. A lot of the artists that were doing the big hair, big noise, big everything act over in the States and to a lesser extent in the UK, started then doing the stripped down thing after Electric did so well.

BD – Electric was certainly a more US-centric album for sure. There was certainly no conscious lifting of riffs or music from the past, but of course that was the kind of stuff we were listening to at the time and there was this massive time pressure.

IA – It was called Electric after Electric Ladyland. As I say, it was a young, British rock band hooking up with a hip-hop producer to record in Hendrix’s studio. That was a brave move and opened the door to a lot of other people. Around 85/86 there was a transition going on from post-Punk and people were looking for something new. We were trying to provide that.

AH – You got a hard time from some of the British press for that though. Why was there such a spiky relationship there?

IA – People couldn’t really work us out. I just wasn’t what people thought I was – they used to say things like “he’s two teepees short of a reservation” or “his mum must have been sniffing glue when she had him”...

JS – It was a combination of everything really. People liked to poke fun at the band because they didn’t really understand it. I remember when we went on The Tube, Ian was in his full make-up and regalia, and we stood out like a sore thumb. We were an easy target. Ian in particular has always been out there on his own, he’s a unique artist, but has often been ahead of his time. I think that there’s respect from the press in retrospect for the band’s catalogue.

IA – I grew up all over the place, moving to North America when I was 11. My best friends were native Americans and Turkish immigrants. I was living in Ontario in the late 70s, collecting bottles with my brother outside a concert hall where Pink Floyd were playing Animals. That was my life and people just didn’t get that. I was stemming from the US rather than the UK.

BD – I don’t make records for reviews to be honest. We got battered after Love because we were the first band to put our head above the parapet and were saying “punk is dead. Move on.” People found that difficult to accept, and easy to have a pop at. I think we then got big enough that people started having to write good things about us as well. We were on the front cover of NME, we were suddenly relevant with Electric so it kind of forced their hand. Rock got massive in the 90’s and The Cult were very influential in opening the doors for the grunge movement.

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AH – Love and Electric have certainly stood the test of time, and are widely regarded as classic albums now.

IA – Absolutely, they were real and they were us, whereas Sonic Temple was of a time. I had an intention for that album – I wanted it to be our Disraeli Gears, or Zeppelin I. In my head that was going to be a psychedelic kind of record of energy and sexuality, a follow up to Electric, but it wasn’t to become that record.

BD – They’re both really very honest and organic in their own way. It was just a genuine representation of where we were at the time, and the majority of any band’s best albums are when they’re being true to themselves.

SB – I’m incredibly proud of having been involved with the Love album. I really do love all the songs on that album, and looking back I’m really happy with the way Peace turned out too.

JS – I agree, and more so than the biggest seller, Sonic Temple (the follow up to Electric). They’re products of their time and people, rightly I think, still love them.

IA – The problem was we’d sold 2 or 3 million records at that point, so the shadows were appearing over our shoulders with an agenda. There was a lot on the table then and we had to compromise. In a way Sonic Temple put us on a platform that was beyond our pay grade. We were suddenly playing arenas and performing on the MTV awards in front of Madonna. It had gone too far. We should never have made the Ceremony record. There’s things I love on it, Wonderland is a great song. We looked good, but there was just no energy to fight any more. We were burnt out.

AH – Looking back at Electric, what are your favourite and least favourite tracks?

BD – Difficult to say really. We’ve played Wild Flower, L’il Devil and Love Removal Machine so many times live now that they have lost some of their charm. Right now I’m really enjoying Bad Fun. In terms of least favourite, that would have to be Born To Be Wild.

IA – They all do different things, but at the time probably Love Removal Machine, it had this fast, exciting aggressive ending.

JS – I don’t know what my favourite would be, but certainly I have the least affinity with Born To Be Wild.

IA – Now I’d have to say Memphis Hip Shake is something else. It’s a really cool song. I really love singing Aphrodisiac Jacket now as well. We play it like our ass is hanging out of our trousers, we’re not quite on top of it so it’s exciting. I’ll sing that line “Sitting on a mountain, Looking at the sun” and it feels prophetic because I traveled to Everest later on and did exactly that. Every time I sing that, I’m thinking of that moment now.

Ian Astbury: "Of course, people who say they don’t regret anything, that’s bullshit."

AH – Do you have any regrets from the time?

BD – Not really. Looking back I think I’d prefer to have a new house extension now than have spent that vast amount of money making the album! It was decadent, but it was rock and roll.  As an adult, it does seem a bit wasteful to spend all that money!

IA – Of course, people who say they don’t regret anything, that’s bullshit. Just not so much that you become crippled by regret. I’ve done some awful things that I feel embarrassed about.

SB – You never know how things might have worked our differently, but if I had my time again I’d never have allowed us to go in blind like that. It would have been, “no, we’re going into the rehearsal studio, we’re doing pre-production”. I’m still proud though, and would love to work with the guys again. It would be a lot of fun!

JS – I don’t think I do from that specific time, no. When I eventually left the band (in 1990) it was the right time to move on. I got married in 1989 and I wanted to move on and have a family. We’d spent that year touring with Aerosmith and they all had their kids with them on the tour bus – I just thought this is not the way kids should be brought up! I guess I got responsible, but I’ve never regretted that.

IA – My biggest regret musically is having compromised.

BD – I guess one thing is it would have been nice to have Zap City on the album. It was a transitional song though, it still had one foot in the Love album.

IA - We’re having incredible fun on this tour now though. Billy’s like a kid bouncing up and down. Do you know how hard it is to get someone from Manchester to smile naturally like that!

The album ‘Electric’ was to truly establish The Cult as an international act and became their first platinum album, selling over 3 million copies worldwide.

The double album Peace/Electric is released on Beggars Banquet on 31st July. The Cult’s tour of the album, entitled Electric ’13, comes to the UK on 18th October across a range of venues around the country.

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