The Cult continues to evolve while staying true to punk rock spirit

He calls it nostalgia with a lowercase "n."

There’s just a touch of irritation tinging Billy Duffy’s voice as he speaks, as if The Cult guitarist has been pestered by some especially persistent gnat that’s been buzzing in his ear for, oh, about two decades now.

"We write new songs, we tour, we’re active," Duffy says, sounding equally bemused and a little annoyed. "People just think, ‘Oh yeah, you had some hits in the 1980s.’ We’ve done hundreds and hundreds of gigs to millions of people since then, you know?"

Sure we do.

We’ve been to a few of them over the years.

They go something like this: singer Ian Astbury, who’s long been characterized as Jim Morrison’s spiritual heir with his wild child, shamanistic demeanor, brooding and baying on the mic over Duffy’s equally triumphant and tensile Gretsch guitar playing.

The band’s sound, equally posited on forcefulness and finesse, encompasses a lot of things: a dark, gothy mysticism, classic, ’70s-style guitar riffs, plenty of art rock aspirations and a battery of radio-friendly hooks.

In a way, it’s anchored in rock ‘n’ roll tradition, but yet it carries with it a diffident, impulsive, punk-rock spirit largely attributable to where this band comes from. "That’s definitely in our DNA," Duffy says of The Cult’s punk roots in late ’70s, early ’80s Britain. "We kind of evolved in quite a difficult time, the post-punk (era). We were fans of punk who felt, ‘Well, how do you follow that? Four years ago, it was all Led Zeppelin and flares and 10-minute songs, then it’s Johnny Rotten, and now what do we do?’ That all happened in less than a decade, and you’re like, ‘Whoa.’ It was an interesting time to forge a band."

The backdrop for said forging of The Cult was a dreary one: the gray skies of the working class factory town that is Manchester, England, a blue-collar stronghold that was in the midst of profound social upheaval when Duffy was coming of age as a teenager.

"When I grew up in Manchester in the ’70s, there was massive unemployment," he recalls. "I came out of high school when punk happened, and ‘God Save the Queen’ was a Sex Pistols single. That’s my background. My future was no future. Ian was a year younger than me, and he was the same. We grew up with no hope. We were formed in that as young men, and it still permeates the music. The Cult wasn’t formed in a yacht club."

As such, there’s always been a do-as-we-please air about The Cult, who evolved in creative leaps and bounds, especially in their early years, when they went from the shadowy psychedelia of 1985’s "Love" to the more muscular melodies of "Electric" to the anthemic stadium rock of "Sonic Temple," their biggest selling album in the States, in the span of but four years.

"We never got pigeonholed; we were a little elusive," Duffy says of The Cult’s many musical growth spurts. "The downside to that was that, at any one particular moment in time, we never really capitalized fully (on the band).

"Me and Ian, we probably wear our hearts on our sleeves, and we’re a lot less calculating than other musicians that we’ve come across," he continues. "We just do what we feel. We genuinely are into what we’re into. We just get together, try and write some tunes and record them. It really isn’t rocket science."

Maybe not, but The Cult is still trying to keep up with the times nevertheless.

In addition to releasing an invigorated, spontaneous-sounding record a few years back with 2007’s "Born into This," the band recently issued a fiery new single, "Every Man and Woman is a Star."

It fits right in The Cult catalog: Like much of what this group has done throughout its career, the song feels both fresh and familiar in the same hot, fire-breathing breath.

"It’s still guitar-oriented rock music that, in our opinion, attacks from the waist down as opposed to the waist up," Duffy says, pondering his band’s longevity.

"I do it because I don’t know how to do anything else. I’m a pretty bad soccer player," he chuckles. "Those are my options where I come from."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ or 702-383-0476.

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