"As long as it's got guitars, The Cult can fit in"
When MusicRadar speaks with LA-based Brit guitar hero Billy Duffy, he's fresh from a batch of dates with The Cult supporting Guns N’ Roses.
“It was great to be part of it,” he says. “It wasn’t arenas; it was stadium rock. I think we helped to make a great night of it for people.”
After witnessing the rebooted GN’R first hand, Billy attests that they are still the real deal.
“The most important thing to say is that it is high energy. It isn’t some cashing in thing; they’re giving 110 per cent. It’s good for young people to see some rock 'n' roll and see some proper rock stars on stage.”
It’s not just the youngsters in the audience that can benefit from the rejuvenated Gunners - Duffy also reckons his own band has been given a shot in the arm by the shows.
“It’s great because I want to be around edgy rock bands that deliver, because there aren’t many of those left. That’s good for The Cult so that we don’t slip softly into middle age. We want to keep it as edgy as we can and always give the best that we can.”
By releasing the excellent Hidden City record earlier this year, Duffy and co proved that they are most definitely not slowing down. There will be no sign of the pipe and slippers as the band trek the festival circuit and US in the coming months.
“This run is a mixture of festivals and our own shows,” Duffy says of the upcoming shows. “We’re playing with a diverse mix of bands. As long as it’s got guitars, The Cult can fit in.
“We’ve got one coming up with a good bill of us, Garbage, Violent Femmes and Jane’s Addiction. That’s not a bad bill. We can do that, and then we can play with Aerosmith and Metallica. It’s an interesting space that we inhabit. It’s a cool place to be.”
Want to know how your band can inhabit the kind of cool place occupied by The Cult? Well, following Billy Duffy’s top five tips for guitarists would be a decent start.
1. Have your own sound
“The most important thing in my opinion is to have your own style and sound. That is important more than anything else.
“It’s not about technical ability; it’s about saying something with your guitar playing that has emotion. That is the most important thing, and it is also the hardest thing to do when you’re a young guitar player.
“It’s difficult, because we all try to emulate our heroes. But at some point in that journey you need to develop and play with other musicians who are like-minded.
"If you do that, you can express yourself and become your own player. So, it's not always about technique. I’m not a metal guy, but I do like John Sykes. He was in Thin Lizzy, and anybody that’s been in Thin Lizzy is all right with me.
“He’s a great guy and I think he’s from Blackpool, which is good. He’s a fast player, but he said the goal of being some shredder is a bit like being a gunslinger in the Wild West: you aim to be the fastest but you will find someone that is faster than you - you just will. He said at some point he realised that and gave up chasing that. That’s not the most important thing.”
2. Try ALL of the gear
“When I was growing up, there were no boutique amp and pedal makers. There was one guy that used to make pedals for Dave Gilmour called Pete Cornish, and that was it.
“All the stuff now is so readily available, it’s hard to explain that there was nothing when we were young. I’m actually of the era where we still used tuning forks. I’m of the era that just, only just by a couple of years, missed battery-operated tuners. It was: guitar, amp, tuning fork.
“What I’m getting at is the pendulum has swung in a different direction. When I was younger, I was searching for a great tone and I failed miserably. I was just a working kid in a council estate. My dad wasn’t in Led Zeppelin, my uncle didn’t hang out with Clapton. My dad was a bricklayer, so I knew where to get good tools, but for the tools of my trade it was trial and error.
“I obsessed on getting a Fender Twin because Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols had one. My dad drove me to Oldham so I could buy one, and I bought one without realising that the Steve Jones one had been modified. His was a good one, and with Fender Twins a few of them were good and the rest were terrible.
“So I spent all of my hard-earned money and bought this Fender Twin that sounded like doo-doo. But it looked good.
“Back then, it was all about what gear you could beg, steal or borrow, and I did all of the above. Now there is so much equipment that it is almost overwhelming. Plus, there’s all of these amp-modelling simulators.
"Guitarists should listen to all of those amps on those simulators, and if there’s one that you keep coming back to then go find the original amp. There’s nothing like a real amp with air moving through the speakers.
“You should also get a really good overdrive pedal. That is really important to me still to this day.
“Once you have a really sweet combination of amp, guitar and an overdrive pedal, everything else is gravy. So get yourself a good harmonic overdrive that works for you and makes you think, ‘This is what it should sound like.’"
3. Do what you need to do to survive
“On Ceremony, I think my playing had reached a pinnacle, and then grunge happened - we deconstructed the band.
“I didn’t practise, because I didn’t want to sound too slick and I wanted to get back to songwriting. It was kind of like I was a method actor.
“If you listen to the album after that, the 1994 [self-titled] album, I had deconstructed the way I had played. I wasn’t double-tracking, I used about 15 different guitars. I needed to respond to what was happening, and I felt Ceremony was a little devoid of ideas.
“We deconstructed the band and did what we had to do to survive. I had been like, ‘No, I need to use all my stacks and my Les Pauls and my Bradshaw rig in the studio, bring me my slave.’ So we deconstructed it all. It was important for us to be able to be open like that.”
4. Get out and jam
“You’ve got to live life and express that through your music. If your life is just being in your bedroom, then the music will be pretty boring. I think you have to get out and live life and do some dodgy stuff. That will come out in your music.
“It’s great to get out there and play with other musicians. For a long time with The Cult I didn’t do that. We did not jam. Not even in America where everybody likes to jam and everybody pretends to like each other, unlike they do in the UK where everybody slags each other off all the time.
“When The Cult broke up in the '90s I did a little playing around with people, and then in the 2000s I did that much more. I had just got a bit older and a bit more into hanging out, and I played with so many players and that gave me a second lease of life. It was like I had gotten as far as I could under my own power and my own will.”
5. Think about your look
“As a guitar player, you need to be conscious of your aesthetic. You need to think of what guitar you use and why you’re using it.
“You should play a cool guitar and look cool while you’re doing it. I became known for using the Gretsch White Falcon. The New York Dolls had a Gretsch, so did Joe Strummer, and when I got into Theatre Of Hate I got the White Falcon and that became important to my sound and style. You’re never going to be shredding on a Gretsch, although I did try!
“You need to work on your body language while you’re on stage as well because that’s important. People love a guitar hero, even though a lot of people think a guitar hero is just a video game now. It’s good to know what you want to present and what you want to say.
“The biggest tip on this is to go with your gut. If you’re nerdy-looking then play a nerdy guitar, get nerdy tone, listen to nerdy albums and be the best nerdy guitar player in the world.”
The Cult tour North America in September:
Fri 9/16 Hampton Beach, NH Casino Ballroom
Sat 9/17 Chester, PA Talen Energy Stadium
Sun 9/18 Norfolk, VA Norva
Tue 9/20 Raleigh, NC The Ritz
Wed 9/21 Charlotte, NC Fillmore Charlotte
Sat 9/24 Houston, TX Houston Open Air
Tue 9/27 Wichita, KS Cotillion Ballroom
Thur 9/29 Kansas City, MO Harrah's/Voodoo Lounge
Fri 9/30 Memphis, TN Minglewood Hall
Sat 10/1 Louisville, KY Louder Than Life Festival
Tue 10/4 Denver, CO Ogden Theatre
Wed 10/5 Salt Lake City, UT The Depot
Fri 10/7 Fresno, AZ Paul Paul Theater at Fresno Fair
Sat 10/8 Primm, NV Star of the Desert Arena