Following on from my last set of answers to your great questions here’s a few more. It’s been great fun to do and hopefully interesting seeing some of your burning questions answered. There were still a few more good ones that I’ve not got round to yet so I’ll be putting up a Part 3 in due course. In the meantime if missed the previous deadline go to the contact form here on my website and fill in your details with your question marked ‘ASK BD’ and I’ll answer as many as I can in the future.
So to round two…
Q: Is it true that you were asked by Boy George to join Culture Club?
Ismael Mayo Villarreal
Billy: “In a word no. But around the time that he was getting Culture Club going in the early 1980s I was friends with George and he was the person who actually introduced me to Kirk Brandon from Theatre of Hate. We were in a club in London called ‘Dial 9 for Dolphin’ and he said “that guy over there is looking for guitar player and his band are going to blow up and you should go over an talk to him”. So I summoned up the courage and did as he suggested and ended up with Kirk asking me to join the band. I think it helped that I certainly looked the part then and already looked like I should be in Theatre of Hate before I was actually in them!
Apart from being a good laugh and great to hang out with, that’s what George did for me. It was a very, very pivotal point in my life in that club and I can still see the moment where my life took a massive change.”
Q: Growing up in Manchester why did you go blue and not red!?
Billy: “For those of you that may be confused by this question it’s why I chose to support Manchester City Football Club rather than Manchester United. Well it’s in the blood as all my family were City fans. I was seven years old when I went to my first game, which was City v Burnley in 1968. I was taken by my brother, David, and his fiancé Lynn and they took me along as they used to look after me occasionally. They were really passionate about the team and that rubbed off on me. That and the fact City won 4-2.
In the early 1960s my dad’s interest had waned but around that time of my first game my Dad started to go again too so I went to the matches with him from then on.
My memories about going to City with my dad all seem to be about cold foggy weather, not so much rain but a cold damp excitement, getting the bus to the ground and then running through the streets of Moss Side dodging our way through the narrow, cobbled streets leading to the ground. Anyone who’d ever been to Maine Road (Manchester City’s old stadium) would know what I’m talking about.
Night games were especially memorable because of the atmosphere and the street lights and the whole other worldly quality of it. From about 1970 onwards I was a regular at every home game and even I started going to away game trips with my dad.”
Q: “Do you recall the joys of Button Lane?”
Billy: “Ah yes, my first school and I do remember it… I can still visualize it, leaving out the back gate, it was joyful times and I remember it like it was 40 odd years ago! Occasionally when I go back to Manchester I drive by there and it’s funny because its all shrunk and gotten smaller. I wonder how that happened!”
Q: It would appear, particularly early in The Cult’s recording career you may have struggled to find a “style/sound” to settle on. Which record was your favourite and conversely are there any out there that you wish you could re record?
Billy: “Great question. Because both Ian and I had come from bands that were quite well known in Britain in the early days we were kind of making it up as we went along and trying to find our identity. I think that the ‘Love’ album was the one were we really gelled and I still think that album as a collection of songs is a good representation of when The Cult kind of clicked. There were definite moments before, certain things on ‘Dreamtime’ but that album was actually put together in order to get live work in Europe. In the 1980s European promoters were reluctant to book bands that didn’t have an album so even though we’d released a lot of singles we needed to get an album out to get the shows.
So I think that the ‘Love’ album was where it all came together.
As for one that I’d like to re-record it would have to be ‘Ceremony’ because I thought that the songs on that album were all overblown and too indulgent. I’ve said before that it’s my least favorite album but it’s a frustration because I think that if a little more time had been spent on it we could have pulled it in together. I felt that ‘Ceremony’ was kind of style over content and whilst there’s a couple of moments like ‘White’ and ‘Wonderland’ I don’t think that even with the singles ‘Wild Hearted Son’ and ‘Heart of Soul’ that we managed to capture what we wanted to get out and that a very frustrating feeling. We couldn’t use the producer that we wanted, due to various circumstances, and the chemistry with the new producer, Richie Zito just wasn’t there. He worked really hard and he’s a great guy but for me he didn’t give us what we needed and that why I’d like to re-do Ceremony. Sonically I actually really like the sounds and I was certainly playing my most shreddy lead guitar but as a song based record I think it was the end an era for us. The era hadn’t quite ended but we were aware that it soon would be.”
Q: What would be the longest time where you have not performed music (no gigs) and how did that feel?
Billy: “It will obviously be one of the two breaks of The Cult either the one 1995-99 or 2002-05. However, in the first break I did ‘Vent’ with Miles Hunt (Wonderstuff) and ‘Coloursound’ with Mike Peters (The Alarm) just to keep engaged and keep my hand in. Then in the 2000s for fun I did the ‘Cardboard Vampyres’ with Jerry Cantrel (Alice in Chains) plus gigs with ‘Camp Freddy’ which I’ve always enjoyed as pure entertainment.
When there’s been a break at first I think that I can do without playing live and all the work involved in touring but then after a while I realize that I can’t! I start feeling that unless I get to play gigs that something’s missing… being a working musician is when my life seems the most balanced so its not a good thing when I’m not playing for real.”
Q: In the past, it seemed that you were very hesitant to play with anyone outside of The Cult – musically monogamous if you will. That’s obviously changed over the years and you’ve guested with quite a list of musicians through various avenues via Camp Freddy, Cardboard Vampyres et.al.
Which leads me to my question: Is there any opportunity you passed on that you wish you would have done whether it been in the studio or live?
Billy: “The only thing that I’ve regretted passing on was when I was offered by a good friend of mine Wayne Kramer to play with the MC5 on a tour. Initially I said yes and then about six hours later backtracked and had to call him up and say I couldn’t do it. Even though I consider Wayne a very good friend of mine anyone who knows the history of him and the MC5 will know that it took a lot of balls on my part to make that call. To this day I don’t know why I changed my mind but I regret it now as I am sure it would have been an amazing experience working with such a legendary band and great friend, Mr Kramer!
In truth I mostly get satisfied by playing within The Cult as I feel that’s when I get to express myself as best I can in any collaborative situation. So I was purposely musically monogamous until much later in my career. But that changed because once I started playing with other people, learning other material, it opened me up to another chapter which I think has benefited me and The Cult later on as a writer. Its like the second act of my life in The Cult has been benefited by playing with all those different people as I opened myself up.”
Q: What’s your favorite cult song and why??
Billy: “The track ‘Love’ from the ‘Love album as it just has an atmosphere for me personally that resonates. There’s very little music that gives me a chill down the back of my neck and certainly very little music that I’ve written but that song… something about the whole atmosphere created by ‘Love’ puts me in a place that’s really cool. There are others that I love too but if I have to pick one off the top of my head that would be it.”
Q: What have you learned from your life experiences being a famous musician in a band that has been through peaks and troughs of popularity?
Billy: “I think that the reason why The Cult have lasted so long is that our intention when we started out was very pure, very honest, very clear and very simple. The intention was to get together and do what we thought music was all about which was to be creative and to try and have fun. That’s what’s made The Cult endure and we’ve tried to work with people in business who are in it for the music first and the cash and prizes second.
At times you hate it because, as they say, it’s a very thin line and when things don’t go well it’s frustrating and horrible but overall that’s what’s given us the tenacity to get through the peaks and valleys of our career because making music is what we love to do.
So I’d say what I’ve learned is stay true to yourself and stick to beliefs.”
Q: Outside of yourself and Ian who has made an invaluable contribution to your sound/writing over the years?
Billy: “Several people. Obviously Jamie Stewart was key because for the 8/9 years he was in the band he really helped as a foil and a guy. I probably didn’t appreciate it at the time as much as I do now but having a guy with his disposition was good to have around and very fortunate. Also he was the last piece of the jigsaw when we put the Death Cult together in 1983.
I would say that for me the main guy would have to be Bob Rock, just for the sheer length of time that he’s been involved with our music. He’s a close friend but as a producer I think that Bob really understands us. His ability to channel what were trying to do and help us get to the finish line has given him that status. Back in the 80s Steve Brown, who’s also still a friend, was critically important on the ‘Love’ album and ‘Sanctuary’ and getting us the pop aspects of what was there. Steve was also great in navigating a way around mine and Ian’s personalities which was critical to make the breakthrough for the band. You can’t underestimate that contribution despite it being shorter in time than Bob Rocks.
Similarly Rick Rubin, when he produced ‘Electric’, bought something to us at a moment when we needed some kind of seismic shift.
But overall Bob Rock wins out for longevity and he’s still helping us today.”
Interview by Mick Peek – July 2014 © www.billyduffy.com 2014 – All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher.