Ian Astbury of The Cult tells Sarah Jane Downing about his new spirtual awareness and stepping into the shoes of Jim Morrison.
For a few glorious summers as the self-enthused optimism of 80s cock rock gave way to 90s grunge navel-gazing, The Cult were the biggest band in the world.
Guns & Roses supported them on the US leg of a gargantuan world tour and even the most suburban men donned cowboy boots and added Conchos to their leather jackets in an attempt to capture something of their wild, wolf-child mystique.
Ironic then that these glory years were some of the most difficult personally for the band. As tensions rose from a gruelling schedule on the road and opinions clashed as powerfully as their most sensational songs.
Astbury says: "I was working through a lot of stuff from a difficult turbulent childhood and I was just being torn apart by my demons."
Growing up in the grim industrial north during the 1970s had not been easy for the sensitive young man who loved Jim Morrison and David Bowie and was roundly condemned for it by his peers.
Punk brought an overt expressionism that Astbury could use. Although never entirely embraced or understood even by the punk scene, the powerful post-punk sound with Gothic styling that he created (first with Southern Death Cult, then joined by Billy Duffy for Death Cult), finally allowed him to pull free.
Ian Astbury is a man true to himself - he always was, but backed with a renewed spiritual awareness and a strong loving relationship he is almost reborn. As the latest Cult album title proclaims he's Born Into This and a powerful new phase in his life.
Made in just 36 days, Astbury says: "It has real spontaneity, a freshness that comes from being expressive and that bottom line of having something to say."
With songs taking in the war in Iraq, the appalling tragedy of Darfur and the hollow charade of the cult of celebrity it certainly does.
He says: "The media love to crucify young idols and only the strong survive. Everything's at critical mass. There is so much drug and alcohol abuse, but instead of focusing on why so many young people are condemning themselves they are ignoring the problem in favour of focusing on the celebrities that sell their publications."
He adds: "It's like with Oprah and Bono promoting The Gap's Product (Red). It's meant to be about raising awareness of Aids and HIV in Africa but instead of reaching the real issues it is treated as another celebrity spectacle."
Astbury has his own initiative, Darfur Purple. "I just want to inject something into people's consciousness. I mean, they are using rape and disfiguring women as tools of war. Why isn't that front page news?"
Harking back to punk rock DIY ethics, he says: "It's not about consumerism and buying the 'right' T-shirt, I want people to associate Darfur with the colour purple and think about what's going on. If we're in a global society we're all responsible."
He blames the lack of a spiritual foundation as a base point, saying: "You have to find self-awareness and the honesty in really knowing who you are."
It was this that allowed him to appreciate the value of great relationships, including that with friend and long-term writing partner Billy Duffy, and the recognition that "you have to be able to admit to yourself that we are all fallible".
During the last few years he has spent time in Nepal, met with the Dalai Lama and made a profound connection with Buddhism.
"Death is the only certainty for everyone, yet the time of death is uncertain, so what do you do with your life?"
He continues: "You need to realise that there is only now. There is only this chance. Once you get that you can't waste it."
Born Into This is his most self-revelatory work so far, the seminal Holy Mountain that sees Astbury's stylish tones tempered but enhanced with the raw emotion of his love song to his girlfriend, the woman whose love has changed his life and helped him find something deep within himself.
"I've always told my truth," he says, "It has reflected where I was at at the time."
At times that was a very dark place, as he dealt with losing both parents at an early age to cancer. As hinted at by the extensive use of hats, bandanas and veiling hair he "didn't always feel safe enough to express my innermost feelings openly so things were often draped in symbolism".
Working with Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger of The Doors in Riders Of The Storm has given Astbury new focus and perspective. "Those guys are amazing! They waited 30 years to find someone to sing Jim's role, and at first I was shocked when they asked me, but they said that I had a sort of Celtic shamanic quality that they liked. It took a little while to sink in."
Of Jim Morrison, he says: "He was a legend. An almost messianic figure. Part of his persona is in the music and it makes you move and feel in a certain way.
"It was incredible to be able to present his lyrics, I had always had a personal relationship with that music and it was a matter of finding my own emotional space within it.
"It really has been a master class; I've had to raise my standards and my awareness to play with them. I didn't want to leave, but I was anxious to try it out on my own."
Astbury has also become interested in other branches of performance, studying acting.
"It has been really useful to go inwards and face the blockages, to release the energies to free up the utensil of the body."
He is also investigating new forms of performance: "I'm really interested in finding new ways of presenting songs and finding a fresh new model beyond the gig format."
More to be announced in the summer, for now you can expect this show to be vibrant and beautiful with lush new songs as well as well-worn touchstones from over 17 years of The Cult because as Astbury says "each performance is of its time, of its moment, drawing from the emotions of that moment and that crowd, and in that it is a unique experience.
"It is acknowledging that, and approaching each performance as a specific moment, that keeps it fresh and exciting."
* The Cult, supported by Duffy's former band Theatre Of Hate, are at The Carling Academy Birmingham on February 28, tickets are priced at £25 Call:0844 477 2000