This past week Cults set some time aside for us at Death and Taxes to talk about their new album, overnight success, and kids’ soul music.
New indie pop duo Cults have a lot to be thankful for. Within weeks of uploading their first song on Bandcamp, they were an internet sensation, with their earthy pop jam “Go Outside” making a name for itself with every music blogger with ears. From there, they had their pick of whichever label gave them the best deal, eventually settling on Lily Allen’s imprint, In the Name Of, run through Columbia Records. With their first album having just been released and continuing to receive a wealth of ecstatic reviews, the couple, Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, have no intention of stopping or even slowing.
The two took a few minutes to have a chat with Death and Taxes before the soundcheck at their recent performance at the House of Vans show in Brooklyn. The two are always visually striking; Brian, a towering figure with long black hair, always well dressed in black and white, while Madeline sports a bright red dress, her lipstick the same shade, highlighting her bright smile. Very friendly and unjaded by their recent success, they candidly spoke to me about their career so far. Here’s what I got out of them.
OK first off, I want to tell you my version of your story and then I’d like to hear it from you. I used to intern at a major record label in their A&R department. My boss there was listening to “Go Outside” one day early last year and when I asked him who it was he said, “It’s this new band Cults. I saw them last night. I think it was their first show ever, but it was weird because the only people there were record executives.” What can you guys tell me about that show?
Brian Oblivion: It was terrible.
Madeline Follin: It was basically an industry showcase.
BO: People were asking us to play those, and we were like “Fuck that, we’re not playing an industry showcase!”, but then by the time we played a show, it was just mostly record people who wanted to see us anyway [laughs]. We had a guest list that was 20 or 30 people long, and that was like everyone that showed up, so it was really awkward.
I then saw you guys open for Sleigh Bells.
MF: That was our second show.
How did you end up doing that show?
BO:They sent us an email. I guess they heard our music and liked it. They ended up becoming kind of friends of ours because we worked with the same producer.
MF: We thought it was a good idea but we didn’t realize it was their record release show.
BO: So our second show was us in front of 300 music industry people again [laughs].
I remember seeing you guys walk in because I recognized you from that press photo with the ping pong paddles.
MF: Let’s not remember that picture [laughs]
What happens from there? How do you get from the bedroom to Columbia Records?
BO: Gradually. I mean we did a lot of touring and a ton of recording before we signed a record deal. We had like fifteen songs when we were shopping around a label, which was a pretty awesome situation because we got to be like, “Here it is. Take it or leave it.” We started working with Shane [Stoneback] when we had no money, but he was like “Don’t worry, you’ll get money later.”
How did you get in touch with him?
BO: He sent us an email and was like “I really liked your music. I want to do your record.”
How did you record the first 3 songs?
BO: Just in our house with crappy $100 recording equipment.
When did you officially start the record?
MF: We started it probably in January . When we first put out those three songs we were basically working on the album.
BO: Yeah when we put up the first three, we were in the process of finishing seven, like “Oh, we’ll do a seven song EP,” but once the three started picking up, we were like “Fuck that, lets spread this out and work a lot harder.”
Is there a formula to the way you guys write songs?
BO: I’ll usually start the song. I’ll do all the music and Madeline will do the vocals, like the melodies and stuff. I’ll usually start it with drums and then bass and then some keyboard chord progression. We live together, so while I’m working on it she’ll be in the house listening, and coming up with stuff. It comes together really quick.
How long did it take to record the album?
MF: We were recording for probably a year, but were doing like two weeks in the studio and then three weeks on the road.
BO: It was really segmented which was nice because we were trying to figure out our identity as a band at the same time everybody else was. Because it happened so fast, we were like “What the fuck are we gonna do?”, so it was nice to be able to play the songs live and take some time to get perspective.
When did you sign the deal with Columbia?
MF: In November.
Was Lily Allen present?
BO: Nah, we had just met her once.
MF: It was just in our lawyer’s office.
BO: The whole time on our way to signing our record deal, Madeline kept singing this song, [to Madeline] was that a real song?
MF: No I just started singing…[singing] “Today is the day we sign our life away.”
BO: [laughs] I was like “Stop it! You’re fucking scaring me.” But yeah we met [Lily Allen] once before we signed and we’ve met her a couple times since, she seemed cool.
Madeline, your brother, Richie James Follin from the Willowz and Guards, sings backing vocals on “You Know What I Mean.” Has he worked with you guys on anything else?
BO: He played in our band for a long time, well until May which for us was a long time.
Madeline, did you always feel like this was something you wanted to do considering your relation to the industry, being that your stepfather was in Youth Gone Mad, and your brother’s work in the Willowz and Guards?
MF: It was definitely something I always wanted to do…I think everyone sort of does; I just didn’t think it would ever be possible.
How did you two meet?
MF: We actually met at a Willowz show.
BO: Yeah we didn’t go to the same high school. Ours were like thirty miles away from each other so we didn’t know each other then.
MF: We just met like two years ago.
BO: When I met Madeline, she was moving to NY the next week to go to a school that was three blocks away from my school, so we’ve had like the same life path which didn’t really cross until 2009.
Did you both go to NYU?
MF: I went to New School.
BO: I kind of cheated and lied my way into everything I’ve gotten in life. I dropped out of high school when I was 17. I then went to community college for a year. And then I lied my ass off on my application to NYU.
Are you serious?
BO: Yeah, I didn’t even graduate community college. I told them I was a pacific islander and I wrote this essay about all my accomplishments and then I grabbed a lot of my friends coolest videos they made and it ended up working out.
Were you guys both film majors?
BO: Yeah I studied sound for film. Part film criticism, part recording arts.
You guys aren’t doing that anymore I’m assuming?
MF: No. Absolutely not.
What are your influences? Favorite artists?
MF: My favorite band is Sonic Youth.
BO: I don’t know, maybe Roy Orbison.
So would the oldies influence be more your thing Brian?
BO: No, it’s her all the way too. She’s the one who turned me onto Lesley Gore, who’s become one of our mutual favorite artists. We’ve always king of listened to a lot of different things, but a lot of 60’s pop and 90’s guitar noise bands.
Do you have a favorite Sonic Youth record?
BO: Lately it’s been “Rather Ripped” for me.
Do you have a favorite song at the moment?
BO: My favorite song right now is called “I’m Not Ready For Love” [by Promise] which is on this Numero Group compilation. They release archival recordings…there’s this one called “Home Schooled: The ABC’s of Kid Soul” that’s full of these artists that basically wanted to be the Jackson 5. You know these dads who were musicians that were like, “Kids, we’re starting a band!” …That record is really influential on our band.
Is it too early to ask what’s next?
MF: Just a lot of touring
BO: We actually got to go into the studio this week to get started on the next record which is awesome. We’re also doing this remix EP coming out soon where we’re turning our songs into hip-hop remixes and having up-and-coming rappers rap on them. Like people like Alicia Keys and B.O.B. will do stuff like that, but indie people don’t do that. I mean indie rap has been having its first resurgence since the 90’s so I figure let’s all get together and make some bangers!