Interviewing Cults

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madeline follin Performing at Mercury Lounge last August. Photo by Sarahana.

Cults are blowing the hell up these days in LA, London, on the pages of Nylon, fashion shoots, a buzz song called “Abandon” that was making the blog rounds, a tour in effect and an album due June 7 on Columbia Records. I sat down to pick their brains on how to make it to the majors or die trying.

What advice do you have to your bandcamp contemporaries who don’t have any Paul Kostabi connections on how to get signed by a major?

Madeline Follin: Don’t do anything. (breaks out into laughter) We didn’t do anything, I mean, make good music and focus on that I guess.

Brian Oblivion: Yeah, I mean, part of the reason a lot of our success in the past year or whatever have been based on on us being extremely lazy and very rarely talking to anybody. I had a conversation with Ernest (Greene) from Washed Out about this too because when we were talking to labels and everyone was talking about him and everyone’s like, ‘He’s so punk, you can’t even get a hold of him, all these labels, you know, e-mailing him and he doesn’t e-mail any of them back!’ I talked to him about it and I’m like, so what’s up, why aren’t you talking to any of these labels? And he’s like, ‘Dude, I’m just really bad at getting back to e-mails.’ (they both laugh) It’s like the same thing with us, everything came out and we just kind of kept working on the music and ignored the whole other side of it until we were happy with the song. We just let it happen on its own.

What was the shift from studying film at NYU to putting up a single on bandcamp?

M: Well we were getting kind of bored from writing essays and going to class didn’t feel very creative so we started making this music on the weekends and then uh, we put it up on bandcamp and, uh it started getting attention and we just…(laughs) dropped out!

B: Yeah.

Of all the blogs that have hosted your “Abducted” singles, which ones do ya’ll feel are hyping it right, who's not getting it and which can't you stand?'

B: To be honest, I mean, we try to stay away from reading a lot of stuff about our own band, like, you uh know, you’re kind of setting yourself up to do it one way or the other with it like on the one end you start to uh you know, I could be just as uncomfortable with some of the things people like about it or what people don’t like about it but either way it changes your whole perspective about the music when you know how people are interpreting it and then you start going, 'Well it’s going well this way let’s do it like this.'

You have now made a hot record. What is the secret to making a big name record in this day and age when everything is a single heard on an mp3 or via Soundcloud?

B: Um, write a lot of songs I guess. I think we wrote, like 23 songs for our 11 song record. I think that’s ultimately the secret to, I mean, all my favorite songwriters like Jack White, he writes a song a day. You know and if you have the discipline to do that a lot of good stuff can come out of that…and a lot of bad stuff too (laughs). But that was our main focus from the beginning to write as many songs as we can then sort them out later. And that formula really worked well for us! (laughs some more)

How did you grab Lily Allen's attention for your Columbia subsidy, In the Name Of signing?

B: Um, she just e-mailed us. It was really bizarre and we thought it was a practical joke in the beginning, we were aware of who she was and we got this e-mail saying, ‘hey I work for Lily Allen and we want to fly you out to the UK to come meet us.” And we were like, wow, that’s hilarious this can’t be real. And finally we realized it was real and we still thought I was super bizarre and we thought we were going to go over there and party, but we were still like that’s never going to happen and then we fly out there and Lilly and everyone (at In the Name Of) is super awesome, they want us to have complete creative control, they never tell us what to do, they fight for us when we need them to. I think Lilly is pretty big in the record industry and she knows how to do it right. She knows that artists make the best decisions which from our end rings true.

Nice. Tracks like “You Know What I Mean” have a Julee Cruise/Angelo Badalamenti almost 50's sway. Are you fans of Twin Peaks/Blue Velvet?

B: Absolutely, yeah, that comes through a lot I think, that’s a major influence on us, the music of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti and what he does and with the perspective of something kind of interesting, unsettling and edgy like a finger in a field; that’s the kind of pop element that we try to create. You know, an underground layer of weirdness!

If you could license a song for any film what would it be and why?

B: Oh man, I mean, I guess I would license “You Know What I Mean” to Mullholland Drive for the scene where the Spanish woman is on stage signing.

Where she’s singing the Spanish version of “Crying” by Roy Orbison?

B: Yeah, I would want her to play “You Know What I Mean”.

If your name wasn't the Cults and you would title yourself after an actual Cult like People’s Temple, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Solar Temple, Heaven's Gate, the Räelians, etc, what would it be?

B: Um, I don’t know, that’s a tough one, I just watched a huge thing on the Branch Davidians, they’re so fucked up, crazy and insane, that’s the first thing on my mind right now..

What is perhaps the most in style cult right now in the world do you think?

B: Geez…

M: Most in style…

B: I don’t know, I guess Charles Manson is always in style, he’s a fashion icon. (laughs) I walk around LA and like, everyone looks like they’re part of the Manson family, boring look if you ask me, I don’t know. People in dresses, every dude has a beard.

Looking like a bunch of creepy uncles?

B: Ha ha, yeah.

What cults are totally out in 2011?

B: Um, I think the Branch Davidians are having a hard time, struggling for elements. They didn’t have enough ideology, not enough standards and too much violence.

Who are you both excited to see at NXNE in Toronto?

B: Oh man, I haven’t really looked at the line up to see who’s playing but I know Fucked Up is playing, we’re real excited to see them. Madeline was singing a song with them and we got to meet them and hang out which was amazing, they’re super cool. Who all else is playing?

Well let’s see, Minotaurs, My First Tooth, No Joy, OFF! is playing, P.S. I Love You, Royal Bangs, Secret Cities…

B: Did you say OFF! is playing?


B: Oh yeah, I’m psyched on them, those guys, Keith is good friend of Madeline’s family and every time we see them they’re the nicest, coolest kids ever.

They played over here at the Eagle Tavern a few days ago.

B: How long was there set? Was it like, 10 minutes long.

I didn’t go but my buddies said the show was great, but there was a bit too much stage banter for some folks’ likings.

B: He’s a big talker though, you read his interviews and he answers every question with something five paragraphs long.

Yeah, he’s a real eccentric from what I hear, goes off on his diabetes, 9/11 and what have you.

B: Yeah, yeah! (laughs)

Which bands/artists in the LA/NYC/UK or wherever circuits are you close to?

B: Let’s see, bands that we have toured with, we hang out with Bethany and Ali from Best Coast a lot, we hang out with Twin Sister whenever we can, Morning Benders, who else? We’ve been lucky to tour with the Magic Kids, they’re like the coolest people ever. We’ve been lucky to tour with a bunch of awesome bands that also have been super down to party, have fun and be cool, so… (laughs)

Are there any bands that make either of you feel nauseous?

B: Bands that make us feel nauseous…ooof. I don’t know, I can’t think of one…not that there’s not anyone but …it’s kind of an American thing, you know, but I was talking to a lot of UK journalists over there and they were trying to get us to start beefs with other bands.

The NME over there thrives on that, think Blur v. Oasis, Beatles v. Stones…

B: Yeah, totally, they live off that and it sells the magazines. But I think with American bands over here, it’s less of a rock star mentality, everybody knows that even if you don’t like someone’s music, it is so hard to get noticed and being in a band that people do care about, it’s really not worth talking bad about anybody because if you’re that different then they can go around and talk bad about you and it just goes around in childish little circles. I have respect for anyone that’s out there on the road and doing it full throttle ‘cause it’s really hard and I’ll shake hands with anyone except Chris Brown.

Other than yourselves, who are the best pop duos of all time?

B: Oh man, best pop duos? Uh, Ike and Tina, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, um who else? Best pop duos? Maybe the Carpenters, I just a read the Karen Carpenter book, pretty tragic.

Have you seen the old Todd Haynes film on the Carpenters?

B: No.

Same dude behind Velvet Goldmine and I’m Not Here, he made it after college, called Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story, portrayed with Barbie dolls.

B: That’s sounds great, something everyone should see, Bethany of Best Coast recommended it to us like, ‘you got to read this book.’

Yeah, I think you can watch it on Google, but the film is kind of underground in a Cocksucker Blues kind of way, Richard Carpenter killed any potential showings or distribution and Mattle was prepared to sue for misrepresentation of their copyrighted product. You should check it out.

B: Yeah, I hate that so much, we have had so many problems with talking samples on our records and the whole copyright law is the devil to me. We have had a bunch of hip hop dudes sample our songs and every time with someone like, ‘this is really awesome, hey we really like it’ we’re like do whatever you want and that’s the way that it should be. You should be able to mix and match and the people who get in the way of that are the enemy of art.

Speaking of hip hop, when can we expect a Freddie Gibbs remix?

B: We’re working on it, I’m working on it right now. We go back and forth on this but I really want to make a whole mix tape album that I have been slaving away on over here but I got to get some time off, we’re trying to get to get a bunch of people…I don’t want to say any names in case it doesn’t happen but it’s an aspiration of ours because we’re big hip hop fans.

My Bloody Valentine was always talking about how Public Enemy and house music were informing their sound back in the day.

B: I mean a lot of the music that has taken the best little different parts of old soul songs and rebuilt them and it’s so infectious and perfect. I think what a lot of bands do is create that organically besides sampling and get the feeling because when you hear a good beat come on, ooh; you’re stoked!

Your sound is said to be very 60s by most of the press junkets I read, but songs like “Rave On” take their name from the 50s with 70s glam percussion. What can we expect next from the Cults?

B: I don’t know. We have a lot of ideas for the next album. The two things we’re talking about the most are either making the whole thing on an MPC and making it sound all future r n’ b and really campy or we want to do a darker, more Portishead-like album and get an actual string arranger to come and do full orchestra stuff. I think we’re going to go down both of those avenues for the next album.

If there was ever a Videodrome remake, would you guys do the soundtrack?

B: (laughs) Yes, man, we’ll do the soundtrack to anything. We’re trying to get into that world and Videodrome is one of our favorite movies.