Billy Duffy of the Cult on punk's influence and playing with Morrisey in the Nosebleeds
Many people heard the Cult after its breakthrough album, Love, which contained the classic single "She Sells Sanctuary," was released in 1985. But the Cult increasingly became a worldwide phenomenon with its following two albums, Electric and Sonic Temple.
Although credited as being an early gothic-rock band, there was never anything particularly dark about the Cult, and its songs are often uplifting or at least energized rock-and-roll numbers with densely moody atmospheres. With a charismatic, brooding frontman in Ian Astbury and a guitarist equally comfortable with screaming guitar pyrotechnics and ethereal psychedelia in Billy Duffy, the Cult could never be strictly pegged as a gothic-rock band or a metal band, nor would the all-encompassing "hard rock" fit.
The act has a distinct sound. You don't hear a Cult song and confuse it with another band. After a hiatus in 1995, the group returned with a series of albums, and in a recent interview in Blabbermouth, Astbury announced that the band didn't intend to release another album, but instead was changing with the times regarding the release of its new music.
Astbury and Duffy have both expressed that this way of operating has renewed for them the freshness and excitement of making music, and the results can certainly be heard on the Cult's latest release, Capsule 1. We spoke with Duffy about his background and his own storied history as a musician, as well as the origins of the band that would make him famous.
Were you one of the people at that Sex Pistols show in June of 1977 at the Lesser Free Trade Hall? How did that show impact your life?
Very good questions. Actually, yes, but there were two shows. I was at the second one. There were a couple hundred people; three bands played, same venue, three weeks later. I think it was June 26th. I actually have a poster and two tickets from the gig. It cost one pound to get in. I knew it was kind of important.
It's fundamental to the DNA of the Cult to know that punk thing is there with me and Ian. Not that we ever wanted to be in punk bands ourselves, but the kind of punk mentality and attitude that sort of swept in Britain from '76 to '78 was fundamental to our band, and it doesn't always come out. It didn't mean we wanted to be the Sex Pistols or the Banshees or the Clash, but we understood, related to and liked a lot of the bands they liked.
I was at the second gig, believe it or not. It was The Buzzcocks' first-ever show. They arranged the shows, but they didn't play the first one as per the movie Control. That's absolutely true. They did, in fact, play the second show, and I immediately went out and bought the EP they had called Spiral Scratch, which is a four-track vinyl. It's definitely a big part of my DNA and Ian's. As well as loving rock music, punk was a big thing to us.
How did you end up joining the Nosebleeds, and what was it like being in a band with those guys?
The Nosebleeds thing was just that they were a local neighborhood band where I was from in south Manchester, and I aspired to be their guitar roadie because I wanted to be anywhere near a real live band. What the punk thing did was, suddenly, bands would sort of pop up and play in local bars and pubs.
Prior to that, it was just these godlike creatures that would play rock shows in castles, or bands would play enormous venues that would hold 2,000 people, which is what I used to go to in Manchester. All the guys from New Order and Morrissey and the Smiths and a bunch of those bands, we all went to see gigs. We were massive fans of music. Coincidentally, punk happened to a generation of people, a lot of whom, I guess, were creative.
The Nosebleeds -- I just aspired to be their guitar roadie, and one day, two of the guys left the band, and the drummer and the bass player were left with the name. The singer left, and the guitar player left, and I just got the audition.