INTERVIEW: Cults

From the group’s inception in 2010, CULTS’ Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion have used their natural talent to be unpredictable. One stunning recording led to a mass amount of buzz at South By Southwest which spawned intimate performances exploding with bittersweet emotions (their group rendition of “Abducted” at The Horseshoe Tavern in April 2011 still stands as one of the decade’s best performances). But with the storm starting to be tranquil, the group has become solely focused on what’s next. Stuck in the middle of their recent Canadian gigs in Toronto and Montreal, Oblivion tapped into the band’s recent journey as “real” musicians, their addiction to create and how they plan to produce a rock n’ roll record that challenges the boring music currently dominating the pop charts.

As I was at your show last night in Toronto, I couldn’t help but like the note to David Lee Roth at the end of the night saying that you wouldn’t do an encore.

Yeah, we’ve never really been a fan of that, especially when we only have 45 minutes of music to our name. The idea of doing an encore is not really optional so we had to do that (laughs). To me, what an encore should be is a real moment where you think if you’re going to play more or not based on how the show went, and for us, we’re not there yet so it would have been kind of pointless to do one.
 
You guys have been touring very aggressively for the last two years and it’s showed that it’s paid off – for starters, your stage presence had more of an impact. Have you noticed a change in energy when you perform?

Absolutely. This tour has been amazing and has been really vindicating I guess as we were opening for Foster The People on the tour we did before this. We weren’t really ready to play those types of venues they were playing and their fans didn’t really give a shit about us anyway, so we did this particular tour to get the chance to play smaller venues and get the reactions we wanted again.
 
Since releasing “Go Outside” in 2010, it’s kind of been a whirlwind for you. Have you been able to pause and enjoy your accomplishments that have happened so far?

I’m not sure how other musicians operate, even though I do know some people that do that, but we kind of enjoy them everyday. We enjoy working; for me, I could never take an island vacation because I would either bring my laptop or my guitar and just be working on songs the whole time. We’ve been massively enjoying everything we do everyday and when we’re finally done with this tour, we’re going to be moving into that next stage where we will be recording the next record. For us, that’s our long-lost love at this point, so it should be equally amazing if not more amazing than what we’re doing right now.
 
Have you been able to work on material as you’ve been touring?

We always do but we’ve found that basically laying down sketches works the best for us. Every time we have an idea, whether it’s at soundcheck or in the van, we make sure to have the discipline to write it down or record it. Then at the end of tour – which was the same thing for our last record – we have a ton of these little sketches that we sit down with and process and put them all together to make songs.

Do you think this time you guys will be writing as more of a band?

It will always stay the same in a sense with Madeline and I, because when a band has more than one actual songwriter things get really dicey and confusing, like Beatles-style (laughs). I’ll always write the songs and Madeline will always write the lyrics and the melodies but I’m really excited to see what everyone else in the band is able to bring to the table and put their own unique aesthetics onto. Everyone in our band has drastically different music tastes and abilities to play instruments I wasn’t able to play the first time around, so we will have more of a chance to jam out the songs and write them that way. Having played the songs the way we do now, I wish I had the chance to record them that way. This time I think we’ll be able to pull that off.
 
It seems like you guys have found a good rhythm where you’re comfortable.

We’ve all known each other for about ten years so it’s become pretty easy.
 
Now that you’ve built up a reputation behind the name Cults, do you feel any pressure as a group to live up to the expectations that you’ve set with the first album?

I’m actually just ecstatic right now. I was really, really nervous about that exact thing but yesterday we had a sit down where we listened to the fourteen songs we have already and I’m jumping for joy now. I can’t wait to get them out because I feel like they’re so much better… I don’t know if “better” is the word…
 
Obviously it’s not your intention to write an album that’s worse (laughs).

Yeah, I know (laughs). It’s just.. it’s what we want to play right now. It’s the kind of sound that I want to hear in the music industry and I think it’s going to be awesome.
 
Is that Motown/soul feel to your music still going to exist?

Absolutely, but I think that if our last album was primarily referencing 1963/1964, then I think our next album is going to be more like 1969/1970. It’ll be a little bit more like James Brown-soul and have more danceable beats; it will still focus on melody but I think we’re taking the element of rhythm to the next level which will be great. The way I’ve been trying to describe this next record is our goal is to try to write a dance record without dance beats and write a funk/soul record without cheesy sampling and major chords. We’re trying to go somewhere in the middle there and create a rock n’ roll record that will stand up and challenge all this boring music that’s dominating the pop charts and making its way into indie, which I feel is really gross.

Gross” is a great way to describe it.

Even just the other day I discovered Alabama Shakes for the first time and learned how successful they’ve been and they’re kind of a part of the idea that rock n’ roll needs to make a statement again. It’s just trying to homogenize itself with pop culture right now and that’s not good for anyone.
 
There was a lot of talk about a hip-hop mixtape. Is that something that’s still in the works as the Freddie Gibbs collaboration was released or is it at least something you hope to do?

There’s still people that we are talking to about it but I couple things happened with that. One of them was we found out it’s extremely expensive to accomplish something like that (laughs), and also when I was working on a lot of the beats, it became clear what I wanted the next album to be. I was making these remixes and I didn’t want to waste any of the material on remixes and wanted to rather use them as tools to writing songs. I’d love to keep working on stuff like producing beats and making tracks for other artists, but maybe not release anything that’s “official”.
 
Do you think you’ll be doing any collaborations while you’re in the studio?

I was thinking about that recently but I don’t know. There are people I’d love to work with on a record but I think with this next one it’s going to be important to us to make it our statement. It’s going to be our chance to have another go at this and solidify everything we want this band to be and I think working with collaborators sometimes can dilute that. We’re working with Shane Stoneback who was the producer last time and we’re basically doing everything the exact same way. We’re hoping to release it sometime in October/November. There is that Christmas lull in December where everything is kind of dead so it might be after that (laughs).
 
Not too long ago you released a video for the song “You Know What I Mean” and I think it’s a wonderful representation of the darker side of ’60s pop you’re influenced by. I read somewhere that the video was meant to be darker than the initial pitch; is that true?

Well, Isaiah Seret – who worked on that video and the one for “Go Outside” – has become our brother and it will never not work with him because he’s a genius. He sent us an initial pitch about a love story between a stuntman and a girl, and it was really good as it was smart and cute, but we didn’t ask him to make it darker; we just told him to not be afraid to throw anything at us that’s weird and he was relieved by that. Because of that, I don’t think we’ll ever have a small issue like that.

With a background in film, do you like being involved in the creative process of videos?

To an extent but throughout the past while, we’ve been learning as a band to believe in people. We were such control freaks at the beginning of this band; we tried to make our videos, we made our own album art and produced our record. At the end of it, I realized that we missed out on a lot of cool opportunities by not involving other people. It’s really nice to let people come up with their own thing first and work on it after with them because then you get to play the role of being an editor which is a lot more fun than getting lost in your own creative bizarreness.
 
Well you don’t have to just rely on yourself, you can trust other people.

Our label sat us down a few months ago and we kind of had an intervention where they had to tell us, “We work for you. There are things we can do for you that you don’t have to do yourself,” (laughs). I totally thought we were going to get dropped but it was the exact opposite even though it was in a weird conference room nobody goes to.
 
Ever since you released a few songs on Bandcamp, you’ve received a positive reaction and it’s sort of been go-go-go ever since. How has that shaped you as musicians?

It’s been trial by fire and we definitely had a good amount of time where we had no idea what we were doing. We played a lot of shows we weren’t ready for and we just sort of jumped in and just did it. Madeline had never really sang on stage before and I had never really played guitar in a band, let alone play keyboards and samples. I think by challenging ourselves and never stopping, we just kind of got better without really noticing it. It’s been such a long time of doing this and now we’re sitting down to write a record with so many tools and skills we didn’t have before.
 
When a lot of these “buzz bands” come out, a lot of people tend to just watch them and hope they fail because they get a pleasure out of it, so I guess it’s nice now that you guys have established yourself. You don’t have that looming failure over your head anymore.

Yeah, we now have people that want to come out to shows and enjoy it and not just stand there with their arms crossed until they can go home and talk shit about you (laughs). The first two tours were definitely like that because the people coming out to see our shows we’re the people on the cutting edge of music and they’re not very… nice (laughs). It’s gratifying now to play shows and feel like we’re translating to just regular people who maybe only go to one show every four months and choose to go to our show.
 

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