The Cult: How Rick Rubin Saved The Band’s Career

Ian Astbury

Rick Rubin Would Give The Cult Their First Platinum Album

Today Rock N’ Roll True Stories takes a look at the Cult Album ‘Electric’ and how producer Rick Rubin turned the band’s fortunes around when they were headed for obscurity.

Electric would represent the Cult’s third album and follow up to their commercial breakthrough 1985’s Love. The record also represented a stylistic change for the british band whose previous sound had been more representative of gothic and psychadelic rock. Electric was an album that was stripped down rock n’ roll, but the road to get there was long and expensive . As producer Steve Brown who worked on the album told Loudersound “Ian just lost interest in the reverb, echo, big wall of noise thing we’d had on Love. He’d lost interest in it almost before we’d started recording, and got even less interested in it as we went along. Today, let’s explore the history of the album.

Both frontman Ian Astbury’s and guitarist Billy Duffy would join forces in the early 80’s after both playing in their own respective. post-punk outfits. Initially called Death Cult, before renaming themselves the Cult. They released their debut album dream time in 1984 which went silver in the UK, but it would be the group’s sophomore effort Love that landed them on the map in the US. Led in part by the hit singles she sells sanctuary, revolution and rain the album would go sell at least half a million copies stateside Love would be soaked in post-punk and gothic rock a direction the band initially headed in when they started recording their third album. They would team up again with Love producer Steve Brown. But something was happening in the music scene between 1986 and 1987 and the members of The Cult took notice.

Heavy metal and hard rock grew in popularity thanks to the success of Metallica, Megadeth as well as Slayer releasing seminal albums in 1986 and of course the following year you had Guns N’ Roses releasing appetite for destruction.
The Cult saw it as an opportunity. in 1986 the LA Times interviewed the members of the Cult on their Love Tour where they talked about how some radio stations ignored the band despite Love being a commercial success. The paper would read “Astbury was also discouraged because the Cult hasn’t received the radio play in America he thinks it deserves with the singer revealing. “It’s really frustrating, especially in the Midwest,” “You go to these radio stations that are basically playing rock music, which is what we do in the broadest sense of the word, yet they won’t pick up on us because of the name, or the image.”
The article was onto something, the band’s image was in stark contrast to what was popular at the time. The Cult would embrace the 60’s counterculture look with Paisley shirts, love beads, peace pins and of course American Indian imagery.
Astbury would reveal in the same interview why the band identified with the 60’s so much saying
“In the 1960s people really ran their own lives,” “They were fed up with what old people were doing. And they decided to use their imaginations and to do something like explore every aspect of life, fashion being one of them. They pooled their resources with clothes from all different periods and different cultures. Then all of a sudden it became uncool to be imaginative. Everyone went bland and boring. Recently, most people haven’t been using their imaginations enough” he’d say.
In a separate interview, Asbury would tell the Sun-Sentinel It was a taboo to acknowledge the fact that you liked groups like Led Zeppelin or the Doors dating back to 1981 sayingThe Bible was the NME [magazine], and if you said, ‘Robert Plant,’ you mentioned the unholy!” he’d say

By the summer of 1986 the band had recorded about a dozen songs which became known as the “Manor Sessions” at Richard Bransons studio in the Oxfordshire countryside. Compared to their previous album Love the band had a lot more money to burn through in the studio & that they did.

The album at the time was tentatively titled “Peace.” The sessions harkened back to the band’s sound on Love, but the Cult were unhappy with how the tracks turned out. Guitarist Billy Duffy would tell The Sabotage Times in 2013 “the songs were too long and just felt bloated and self-indulgent. We’d gone back into the studio too soon, as the label just wanted us to keep laying golden eggs. In reality, we should have kept rehearsing and gone through a pre-production process. We knew something was not right, but didn’t quite know what it was. I remember listening to a replay of the album at the Townhouse studios and thinking, ‘We’re doomed!’”

While the band’s past influences included British post-punk they seemed to have lost interest in pursuing that sound and instead tried to mash together the sound of bands like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stone. Producer Steve Brown would perfectly summarize the band’s thinking saying “So if you wanna make a record that people outside of LA and New York are gonna buy, you have to ditch the chorus reverb and… I don’t know. You’ve got to change your guitar amp.”

After listening back to the album, the band would want to re-record the album and it was during their tour to promote Love that frontman Ian Astbuy who was 24 at the time was at a Toronto Nightclub and heard the Beastie Boys track Cookie Puss recalling to Rolling Stone “I was blown away by how raw and naked it was. Those productions had no agenda other than “to rock,” as you used to say!” It was then that Astbury realized that the band’s sound was in stark contrast to the hard life they were living on the road. The band soon sought out producer by Rick Rubin who in addition to the beastie boys, cut his teeth working with Run DMC, and heavy metal band Slayer.At this time Rubin was still living in the NYU dorms & upon their first meeting Rubin would tell Astbury according to Rolling Stone, “Do you want to play English music – or do you want to rock?

The band’s focus soon shifted to becoming big in America. Along with hiring a new producer, the band made several more changes. They moved the recording of the album from England to America at Electric Ladyland Studio in New York City. The band also fired their british managers and enlisted a big wig management team from Los Angeles. And finally the band traded in their pirate costumes for leather and denim.

Some of the songs from the Peace Sessions would be re-recorded to have a more straight forward rock n’ roll sound . The band would also write a handful of new tracks including Lil Devil, King Contrary Men and Memphis Hip Shake.

Rick Rubin would tell Loudersound what his ultimate goal is with producing rock bands revealing: “When I’m producing a rock band, I try to create albums that sound as powerful as Highway To Hell. Whether it’s The Cult or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I apply the same basic formula: keep it sparse, make the guitar parts more rhythmic. It sounds simple, but what AC/DC did is almost impossible to duplicate.”

Rubin would institute some new rules for the band including banning the use of any guitar effects and allegedly keeping guitar solos to a maximum of 30 seconds.

Electric would be released on April 6, 1987 and would peak at number 38 on the billboard charts. The album would end up going platinum selling over a million copies led in part by several strong singles including ‘Love Removal Machine,’ ‘Lil Devil’ and ‘Wildflower’ all of which were top 40 hits on the mainstream rock charts. From what i read online there were allegedly bootlegs of the Mannor sessions floating around shortly after the album’s release and the full Peace album was not released in its entirety until 2000, when it was part of a Rare Cult boxed set. In 2013, the Peace album was released as part was released as part of a two-disc set alongside Electric, under the title Electric Peace. You can listen to the songs on youtube and you’ll see a stark difference in opinion over which versions of the songs are better. That does it for today’s video guys. Thanks for watching. Be sure to hit the like button and subscribe and we’ll see you again on rock n’ roll true stories. Take care.