Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

Interview: Cults

| August 1, 2011

Frame By Frame

The eponymous debut from joyfully jangling New York duo Cults is easily one of the best records of the year, full of Spector-plush arrangements, sugary Crystals/Ronettes choruses, and hooks so huge they reverberate inside your skull for days after just one listen.

Appearing: August 4th at Empty Bottle and August 5th at Lollapalooza in Chicago.

No joke – it’s musical magic when they come together, singer Madeline Follin and beau/multi-instrumentalist bandmate Brian Oblivion (after a TV-prophet character in David Cronenberg’s still-creepy classic Videodrome). And it helps, of course, that they’re one of the first signings to Columbia offshoot ITNO – U.K. pop star Lily Allen‘s new vanity imprint, In The Name Of.

Everything about Cults is memorable. Like the Robert Longo-ish cover photo, a black-and-white shot of a dancing Follin and a guitar-strumming Oblivion in motion, their wind-buffeted hair completely obscuring their faces. Or the summery chime of essentially dark-themed tracks, such as “Bumper,” “Bad Things,” or “Never Saw The Point.” Which they hone into chandelier-tinkly points on “Go Outside” and “Oh My God,” two tracks that – when they quietly self-released them last year – first created an online “Who are these guys?” buzz. After which the keen-eared Allen “just sent us an e-mail,” Oblivion recalls. “Or one of the people who works for her sent us an e-mail, when our first tracks came out.”

“And it said, ‘I want to fly you out to London’!” Follin adds, still dumbfounded at how quickly their home-recorded ditties caught on.

Oblivion picks up the story: “And we both thought, ‘Oh, my God – this is gonna be the funniest thing that’s ever gonna happen to us! We’re gonna go over there and spend all their money and have a crazy vacation!’ And I’d never even been out of the country before. But we ended up meeting with [ITNO] and they were super-cool, and super artist-friendly.” And thanks to Lily Allen’s own ups and downs in the topsy-turvy showbiz, he says, “she knows everything that artists hate about the recording business, so she’s well-qualified now to work on the other side of it.”

The two were driven to form a band by their mutual love of film, though not in the way you’d imagine – and with loads of undue irony. Follin was attending film school in San Francisco at the same time as Oblivion, yet they never once bumped into each other. Then they both relocated to San Diego – didn’t run in the same circles there, either. That is, until the last possible minute, just as both were simultaneously preparing to fly out to study cinema in New York. But one strange concert changed everything.

Follin had gone out one final San Diego night to catch her brother Richie James Follin’s band, The Willowz. Serendipitously, so had Oblivion. “And I was in a really delirious state where I hadn’t slept for three days,” Oblivion admits, sheepishly.

“So he had a severe lack of good judgment!” giggles his girlfriend, who’s now recruited her sibling into the Cults touring ensemble.

That fateful evening, Oblivion continues, he did everything wrong. “I was really on, all super-energetic and crazy, and when I saw Madeline I was like,’Ohmygawd-I’mgonnagotalktoher!’ And I just ran over to her, grabbed her drink, and started drinking all her whiskey and just screaming at her. But somehow, we ended up getting along.”

Then the gentlemanly Oblivion volunteered to drive his new acquaintance up the coast to retrieve her last remaining clothes from the Bay Area, and by the time they’d hit the Big Apple, a romance had blossomed. Their tastes in movies diverged on certain titles – Oblivion was obsessed with Cronenberg, and hails Bergman’s Persona as his all-time favorite; Follin is more fond of Zoolander and Todd Solondz’s 1995 camp classic Welcome To The Dollhouse (“Her dad even used to call her ‘Dawn Wiener’ when she was a kid!” Oblivion cackles). But they dovetailed nicely into a shared fondness of ’70s schlock. “We just watched Bad Boys with Sean Penn not too long ago,” Oblivion says. “And afterwards, we were both paralyzed with happiness. It’s the best movie we’ve seen in quite a while. And seeing movies whenever possible is pretty much all we do when we’re home. I mean, nonstop. From literally 10 o’clock in the morning to 4 a.m. the next morning – we’ll just sit on our couch and watch movies and catch up on everything.”

The pair – of course – also shared a love of conspiracy theorists, and can rattle off surreal dogma from every possible source, like the Illuminati or even relative newcomers to the field like Alex Jones, who swears that the middle class is systematically being destroyed by a handful of America’s wealthy to create a New World Order. Naturally, when Follin began singing over Oblivion’s tunes, they quickly dubbed themselves Cults. “All that conspiracy stuff was really popular in San Diego, for some reason,” Oblivion remembers. “So we both had points in our lives where we were just obsessed with it. But now we just don’t have the energy for that anymore – it kinda leads down a bunch of blind alleys, so I’m much more fascinated with it than actually involved with it.”

“And now we’re stuck – stuck with the name!” Follin chirps, jokingly. Sans any apologies to Ian Astbury’s outfit The Cult, she adds. “Because Hey! It’s a totally different name!”

– Tom Lanham

For the full interview, grab the August issue of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.

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