The Cult of Tone
Led by guitarist Billy Duffy and vocalist Ian Astbury, British post-punk band The Cult is still going strong after nearly 30 years. Formed in 1983 and strongly influenced by classic rockers from the ’60s and ’70s, the group unleashed a hard-edged sound with shades of psychedelia that presented a strong contrast to the drum machine-driven synth pop that led the UK music scene at the time. Powered by Duffy’s melodic riffage and Astbury’s bluesy wail, the essential ’80s albums Love, Electric, and Sonic Temple saw the group evolve in an increasingly heavier direction, a tradition carried on today with their latest release, Choice of Weapon.
From the very beginning of The Cult, BOSS and Roland gear has been at the heart of Billy’s guitar tone. BOSS stomps have been his pedalboard mainstays for three decades, while the Roland JC-120 amp and its built-in chorus effect has a permanent home in his backline. “She Sells Sanctuary,” recorded in 1985 and one of the band’s most enduring songs, features this setup prominently, with multiple BOSS pedals and JC chorus shaping the tune’s memorable guitar intro.
BUG recently sat down with Billy to discuss The Cult’s music, his thoughts on tone, and his long history with BOSS and Roland. He also gave us a demonstration of how he developed the classic sounds in “She Sells Sanctuary” and “Fire Woman,” another iconic song that showcases Billy’s unique style.
When did you start using BOSS pedals?
The first time I got my hands on a BOSS pedal was really early in ’83. A guy called Jamie Stewart joined The Cult [on bass] when we put the band together in England. He used to be a guitar player, so he came with guitar effects. He handed them over and said, “I won’t be needing these anymore.” One of them was a BOSS Super Overdrive, which I’ve pretty much used until today. That was the first time I’d seen a BOSS pedal. Very quickly thereafter I started getting into BOSS delays—the old DM-2, the analog one, and I think it was a DD-2. And then I used a [BOSS] flanger. I never used chorus, because I always used [the built-in chorus in] my Roland JC-120.
A funny story about that: the first gig I ever did with The Cult was in a club in Oslo called Rats. We kind of debuted the band out of the UK. We did our first Led Zeppelin copy, which was “play outside the UK first, get your chops up, and come back.” So we did a gig in Oslo, and they gave me a thing called a JC-160, which I believe was a 4×10 [version]. I’ve never seen one since. That was the first amp I ever used [live with The Cult].
What is it that makes BOSS pedals appealing to pro players like you?