In between gigs with the Cult and recent studio collaborations with the likes of Lupe Fiasco, the Cult’s Ian Astbury is in the process of adding the titles of theater producer and filmmaker to his resume.
The singer is donating his time and talents to help raise funds for a production of John Patrick Shanley’s “Savage in Limbo” at downtown Manhattan nightclub/venue The Bowery Electric. On June 12, the club will host an acoustic performance by his new ensemble the Soft Revolt.
“We’re really a shop front, a guerilla-styled acoustic incarnation,” he tells Billboard.com. “It’s not like a fully blown production, with a four-piece band and lights. It’s really just acoustic guitars—every now and then we’ll bring an amp. It’s just a floating group of musicians, whoever’s around at the time. We’ll play seven to nine songs, whatever we want to play, we might play a Television song, a Led Zeppelin song, Patti Smith, Bowie, Doors songs, Cult songs, whatever we feel like playing.” The show will be the band’s second for the production; the first was in April.
“I think one of the last bastions of real craft is in the theater, and writers like Shanley,” explained Astbury, who notes that a recent return to New York helped inspire him to get involved: “New York just kicks you in the ass. You see these things and you just want to do something. Even though the city has become gentrified, there’s still a lot of diversity and progressive culture in NY. It’s about the only place I could live right now.”
Also keeping him busy are a string of independent film projects, including a documentary based on Nobel Peace Prize-nominated author Andrea Smith’s “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.” “It’s to do with matricide,” Astbury said, “and how our culture destroys women, and how society still isn’t working for the woman.
“We haven’t been in a place where women have been in charge for thousands of years. That’s one of the underlying things of the documentary. It’s great that Obama is the president, but he’s not a woman. I think Michelle would make a much better president, personally. It’s amazing that he’s the president, but I think his wife could do a much better job. I think a woman could do a much better job. Men just fuck things up.”
Currently “in development,” Astbury is working on the film with Mona Lavelle, wife of James Lavelle of UNKLE, with whom the singer has collaborated. It was through Lavelle that he recently teamed up with Lupe Fiasco, a fellow UNKLE collaborator. “It’s a work in progress based on a mutual affection of Japanese street culture.”
Long fascinated and moved by Native American culture, Astbury is also working on two shorts films called “We Defy” and “Ruins,” the latter of which he describes as “almost a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ story set on a reservation.”
“I’m finding myself more in a role as a producer/writer/behind-the-scenes kind of guy, more like a cultural savant as opposed to a frontman, although I still enjoy getting up onstage and performing,” he says.
Astbury will do just that when he rejoins Cult partner Billy Duffy in July to kick off an international tour on which the band will play its seminal, 1985 “Love” album from start to finish.
Featuring modern rock staples “She Sells Sanctuary” and “Rain,” the album, Astbury says, “came off the back end of punk rock, and was one of the first MTV generation records—1985, it was on point. The Cult got away from the post-modern thing a little bit, when we got sort of lost in production, and made records like ‘Sonic Temple’ and ‘Ceremony,’ but the ‘Love’ album was made with 100 percent pure earnestness. It’s a pure album and it’s so much more in harmony with where I’m at right now. I feel more connected to that record than probably any other record the Cult made.
“[Playing the album live] gives some context to what the Cult are, in terms of what we do have a claim to—building this post-modern world. We’re one of the principal architects to that world, in a way. For me, it’s kind of like, ‘Hey, wait a minute, I don’t want my legacy to be ‘Sonic Temple.’ It’s amazing how many people come up and say, ‘Hey dude, where’s the cowboy hat and long hair?’ I haven’t looked like that in like 16 years,” he said.