Cults Horrify Them
(But They Love Cult Classics)
(And Other Curious Things to Know About Cults)
New York duo Cults are a hip, photogenic young couple adored by much of the online blogosphere. They’re signed to Lily Allen’s record label (via Columbia) and sorta fit in with this whole beachy/reverby trend. Still, am I the only one who thinks of Ted Nugent’s Free For All when I see their album cover?
Despite all that (or maybe because of the Nuge thing), I think they’re tremendously refreshing. Their mix of timeless ‘60s girl group vocals and production styles with tasteful modern flourishes strikes a stirring balance, and despite little professional musical experience (they’re only 23) they manage to craft some fairly impressive indie-pop confections. Brian Oblivion (guitars, percussion, vocals) and Madeline Follin (vocals) claim to have started the collaboration two years ago simply as something to do while their other musician friends were off on tour, yet they became quite the sensation in short order, subsequently dropping out of film school, recording a well-received self-titled album (released last June), and expanding to a quintet for their live shows, many of which (including their March 6th date at the EARL) sell out weeks in advance.
Want to know more? Read on…
* Madeline’s mother, Heidi, played in a few random bands but is primarily known for her work in the art world. Now a New York-based dealer and curator, she at one time managed Dee Dee Ramone’s art career!
* Madeline’s stepdad, Paul Kostabi, is an artist, musician and producer, and was a founding member of White Zombie, Psychotica and Youth Gone Mad. The latter recorded an album with Dee Dee when Madeline was eight, which led to her recorded debut. “[The Ramones] were always over at the house. I knew they were a band, but it wasn’t like something I fully understood. [Dee Dee] was just one of my parents’ weirdo friends. My stepdad was setting up a session at the house, and he was setting up mics and had me check-talk into it, and I just started singing the song that he was gonna record into the microphone, and he was like, ‘Oh, that sounds good!’ And he ended up keeping it. Just completely random!”
* This led to an as-yet unreleased (and likely never-to-be) set of songs she recorded as a kid. “I need to find it – I haven’t actually heard it since I was like ten years old, but it’s pretty funny. You know – eight-year-old moodswing punk songs. I did a cover of the Adolescents, and I covered one of my stepdad’s bands, Hammerbrain, and just weird little songs that [Kostabi] had written.”
* Madeline met Brian in San Diego when the latter was tour managing Madeline’s older brother Richie James Follin’s band, the Willowz, whom, naturally, Paul Kostabi had produced. Kostabi also contributes to the production of Cults.
* Brian Oblivion took his performing name from the cathode ray doomsday prophet Brian O’Blivion in David Cronenberg’s film Videodrome, appropriately regarded as a cult classic. Brian’s given name is Ryan Mattos, but he’s not the Ryan Mattos from California hardcore band Ceremony. He’s Brian Oblivion, dammit.
* Though they studied film in college, they don’t make their own music videos. “We really like watching movies. But making movies is not really our thing, I guess,” Madeline says. “We actually tried to make our own video for ‘Go Outside’ a year ago, and it just turned out so horribly, ‘cause we couldn’t make any decisions. We were too closely related to it. But we do have a lot of input into what our videos are gonna be.”
* The Cure were Madeline’s favorite band as a teenager: “I wore a lot of black,” she laughs. Still does, from the looks of Cults’ photos.
* Madeline says that while she’s always been aware of the Phil Spector/’60s girl group sound that is so much an influence on Cults, “I started getting [more] into it at some point in college, realizing that it wasn’t just pop music about a nice summer day, but was about much darker shit. I love the sound of so many records from that time – the production of Phil Spector and Joe Meek… I love that it’s coming back. One of my favorite bands today is Best Coast – she’s definitely doing that.”
* Cults received rapturous praise from numerous online blogs within a couple weeks of posting their first three songs on their Bandcamp page, which, while appreciated, sorta fucked them up. “In the beginning, it was definitely very negative for us,” Madeline tells me. “We’d started [Cults] just because we were bored – we were like, ‘We should do something creative together, we should make some music. Maybe one day… we’ll play at the hundred cap venue down the street from our house where everyone plays.’ We just thought it’d be something we were doing on the weekends or in the summertime. We’d only written three songs at that point, and people were emailing us and were like, ‘We want more Cults songs!’ And we were like, ‘Oh shit! People want songs!’ So we went in to write songs immediately afterwards, and they turned out just not good at all. So we took a step back and didn’t really do anything, interviews or anything, for a few months, and took our time, slowly working on the [album], and figuring out what we wanted.”
* In case their name, the inside-cover photos in their CD and various samples of cultists (including Jim Jones) on their recordings didn’t tip you off, they’re sorta fascinated by cults…from afar. Just not the Ian Astbury kind. “We definitely went through a phase of sitting at home watching a bunch of BBC documentaries on YouTube clips of people in cults,” explains Follin. “It’s just horrifying. These people who are at shitty places in their lives go to some person like Jim Jones, for example, and think that he’s gonna save them and change their lives, and they’re so vulnerable and have their lives totally ruined. It’s really, really horrifying,” Brian’s once-planned compilation of music by cult members recorded on location may or may not ever come to fruition.
Photo by Martin Sam Miguel.