Having been lead guitarist for The Cult for the last 33 years, Billy Duffy's experimentation is the stuff that makes legends.
From the intro of “She Sells Sanctuary,” to the hard rock influence throughout “Fire Woman,” Duffy knows exactly what he’s doing.
Although still packing arenas on an international level, Duffy and lead singer Ian Astbury will make beautiful Goth rock music at the Varsity Theatre on Sunday. Though they are English born and bred, the lads have a long history of appealing to their American fan base.
“When we did the 'Electric' album, that kind of opened us up to an entire generation of Americans who still come and see us now,” Duffy said. “We were at the forefront of a change in music for an American audience. The hipsters of that time understood what we were doing, and they’ve remained loyal fans.”
The Cult are perfectly imperfect, and it works. Duffy thinks it's that imperfection and brutally honest emotion that has kept long-time fans around.
“I like to think we write music that has somewhat of an emotional content,” he said. “There’s a passion to it. I think that comes out in the music. When you’ve been around as long as we have, we can’t help but be a bit retrospective when it comes to why people still like us after thirty odd years. I think people identify with our honesty and our imperfections.”
The Cult’s most recent album, "Hidden City," combines elements of contemporary rock music with their older hits from the ’80s.
“Some of the stuff we were doing in ’83 and ’84 actually sounds contemporary now, just because some of these younger bands are reaching for those sounds just like me and Ian reached back to Led Zeppelin and Hendrix," Duffy said. "We’d been under the Gestapo of the punk rock journalists in London telling everyone what was cool and what wasn’t.”
The ’80s in England were a strange time for musicians. Punk rock was fading, and the then-new post-punk sound was struggling to define itself. Duffy and Astbury’s partnership soon saw them agreeing that longevity was their ultimate goal.
“There was always a certain amount of glamour for all of the British bands at that time," Duffy said. “The goal was that you had to go west and conquer America if you wanted a career that spanned decades. If we really wanted to have a long career, which is what me and Ian decided we wanted, then we had to stay focused. We had to make music that meant something to us and hopefully meant something to our fans. We didn’t see it as a fad.”
Conquer America they did.
With the support of college radio stations, The Cult leapt from the punk clubs of a Thatcher-era Britain to stadiums and arenas in the States, picking up more and more fans of their new sound as they went.
“To take a band to that size was quite an achievement,” said Duffy. “Our fans have been a huge part of that journey. A certain percentage of those people have stuck with us, and we’ve continued to make new music. When we have something that turns us on, and we think it’ll turn our fans on as well, that’s when we know the time is right. That’s when it’s always been right.”
WHEN: Sunday. Doors open at 7 p.m. The show starts at 8 p.m.
WHERE: Varsity Theatre, 3353 Highland Road, Baton Rouge
COST: $49.50 in advance, $55 the day of the show