Interview: Cults

Cults - Photo courtesy of Cults

Cults - Photo courtesy of Cults

When they first thought up a name, Cults, then a bedroom-based indie band from New York, never quite expected that the very name would eventually come to personify the band.

But now it’s more than a year later, and that’s exactly what happened. Where Cults first began as an art project of Madeline Follin (vocals) and Brian Oblivion (most everything else), it has now developed a cult following of its own.

The two of them, natives of California, were attending school in New York – Follin at the New School and Oblivion at New York University, when they first began to write music together, initially releasing their debut EP on bandcamp.

But almost immediately they began garnering attention from the music world, and were faced with the decision of trying to finish their degrees and juggle a music career, or commit themselves full-time to the music.

“We totally dropped out,” Follin said, giggling unabashedly.

Since then, it has been an almost non-stop journey for the two, who have consistently been on tour – first in support of the aforementioned EP, and then to push their self-titled full-length, which came out in June.

“[It has been] pretty much, like, a year straight,” Follin said. “But like, this leg, for like two months.”

“It feels like forever,” Oblivion chimed in.

But it’s that determinacy to which the two also attribute their success.

“[We’ve been] working really really hard, working every day,” Follin said.

“That’s kind of the secret,” Oblivion added. “We just, like, we wrote a ton of songs for our album, like, we’re in the studio for like, three months, working on it, and toured like crazy…[although] having songs that people like helps also.”

While he shared with hyperbolic intensity that he feels the record label and booking agent are “intent on taking years off our [lives],” Oblivion said it’s worth it, because “at least we’re doing it on our own terms.”

In fact, this idea of doing things in one’s own way is part of an underlying theme of the songs on the album.

“I think most of our songs are about, like, not wanting to grow up and not wanting to deal with, like, you know, the real world, in like a normal sense,” Oblivion said. “[They’re about this] teenage, sort of Peter Pan complex that we have.”

But while both Follin and Oblivion are musically and lyrically on the same page, they shared that songwriting is usually a solitary process for Cults.

“[It’s] pretty separate,” Follin said. “[We] never [write] lyrics first. Ever.”

Instead, Oblivion comes up with the basic musical structure of a song, and then passes it on to Follin, who creates something out of the feeling the song evokes.

“It’s like, usually pretty evident once the song is done, what the song should be about,” Oblivion said.

He laughed, likening the songwriting process to making movies in reverse.

“You set up the camera and like, get the right shot, and then, like, make up the dialogue,” he said.

But it works for them, because he doesn’t have to think about writing a song around lyrics, whereas she doesn’t have to generate lyrics out of nothing.

“We’ll both just kind of, like, inspire each other,” Oblivion said.

Although the band is still on tour, already they are working on songs for a follow-up album, which admittedly has a bit of a different vibe – perhaps more complex, but definitely more easy-going.

“It’s fun, because we’re so much better at music now,” Oblivion said. “There’s a lot of innocence to the first record…because we were like, extremely amateurish at making music…we were just kind of like, going by the seat of our pants, figuring it out. But now I think we both know who we are musically a lot better, so it’s easier to get things done and to create things that are different.”

It’s also something to look forward too, because as much as the two love touring – especially with their companions who make up the live band – it does take a toll on them.

Follin said that sometimes the entire experience is surreal, such as the band’s experience this week of arriving in Berlin for the first time to find their show had already sold out. However, she isn’t keen on “waking up so early and missing out on a lot of sleep, traveling [and] being in a car.”

Instead, if she had to choose, Follin prefers recording and mixing the music.

“It’s the most fun,” she said.

“[Plus], nobody can see you fail,” Oblivion added. “You can try out, like, the weirdest shit, and like, in the end, like, you’ve wasted a day or two on it, you’re just like, ‘yeah, well, didn’t work’…you feel a little bummed for awhile, [and] then you go back to the drawing board.”

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