Performing the music of Jim Morrison with two-thirds of the surviving members of the Doors is a daunting proposition, and it’s not one that singer Ian Astbury takes lightly.
“I’m not naive,” Astbury told Billboard.com. “I knew it was going to be difficult because Morrison is such a sacred icon. My take on it is more we’re performing a classic body of work in the same way that a classical body of a dead composer would be performed by musicians of the day.”
The former frontman of the Cult will soon be performing those works again as frontman of the Doors Of The 21st Century. The group features original keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robbie Krieger and is completed by drummer Ty Dennis. A brief slate of U.S. dates gets underway April 23 in Minneapolis, with a July trip to Europe to follow. Dates in June and August are still coming together.
“Jim Morrison is irreplaceable,” insisted Astbury, adding that he has been a fan of the Doors since hearing “Riders on the Storm” on the radio as a child. “I hope that what I’m doing, by singing with Ray and Robbie, is by giving them the opportunity to play the music in a live context, probably for the last time ever that you will hear the original musicians from the Doors play their music live in this context. So when you think about the gravity of that, it’s really kind of an important mission.”
Original drummer John Densmore opted out of the reunion, which first came together in 2002, and later sued his former bandmates for using the Doors name without his consent. Former Police drummer Stewart Copeland, who suffered a broken arm and had to pull out of the project, also sued Manzarek and Krieger, claiming he was promised a role in future touring and on a possible studio album; that suit was settled amicably out of court.
While the current group has worked on new material, Astbury said there are no concrete plans to record an album yet. “I think it’s more a case of seeing how the new material develops and then addressing that when the original members feel they’ve got a body of work worthy of recording... But, at the moment, it’s a work in progress.”
Astbury said he has “contributed a modest amount” of lyrics to the gestating songs. “They’re relying almost strictly on Americans,” he says, noting the contributions of poets Michael McClure and Jim Carroll to the project.
Inspired by his work with the Doors canon, Astbury is taking what he’s gleaned from Krieger and Manzarek and applying it to his own solo material.
“The style of music is so stripped down, it’s about organics, it’s about craft, there’s nowhere to hide, it’s about musical excellence, it’s about creativity. It’s really inspired me more to go in and have that approach to my own writing process.”
Excited by what he calls the “outsider music” of such bands as Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Blonde Redhead, Astbury has worked on series of demos with producers such as Gordon Raphael (the Strokes, the Wildhearts) and James LaVelle (U.N.K.L.E.). He hopes to release a solo album, tentatively titled “Warriors of the Mystic Plains,” on a yet-to-be-determined label sometime in 2005.
“My sound will be a mash-up,” he said. “Songs that are melodically and rhythmically driven. Like a car crash between Led Zeppelin, the Doors, Primal Scream, Blonde Redhead and Nine Inch Nails. It’s a combination of different elements.”