Who Are…Cults

Marc Hogan

By Marc Hogan

Lead News Writer
on 06.06.11 in Who Is...?s

File under: Girl-group pop, refracted through an eerie, contemporary lens

For fans of: The Shangri-Las, Lesley Gore, The Pipettes, Dom, and The Go! Team

From: New York via San Diego

Personae: Madeline Follin (vocals), Brian Oblivion (beats, guitar, vocals)



If people join cults to escape adulthood, what Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion started looks like an exception. A little more than a year ago, the Cults leaders — who met when both lived in San Diego and then, later, moved to New York — were just a couple of 21-year-old film students haphazardly posting a few demos online. Now they’re major-label artists promoting a hotly-anticipated album, with all the grown-up demands that entails: constant travel (SXSW! Coachella! Buffalo, NY!), innumerable phone calls (um, guilty) and precious little free time.

But Follin, whose stepfather co-founded White Zombie, knows it’s nice work if you can get it. “I feel so much more free than when I was going to school and I would go to a party and people would be like, ‘Oh, so what are you doing after college?’ and I would be like, “I have no idea — still trying to figure that out!’” she explains. “But you know, don’t really have to deal with that anymore. We’re really lucky.”

That spirit of freedom extends to Cults’ self-titled debut. Like the initial demos, Cults is a rare mixture: There’s sunny indie pop with the heart-grabbing hooks of ’60s girl groups, sure, but it’s all built meticulously, from the beats up, with a note of darkness at the edge of every silver lining.

eMusic’s Marc Hogan reached Follin — who, boyfriend Oblivion has joked, “is quickly becoming the Nicki Minaj of indie rock” because of her numerous guest appearances (DOM, Fucked Up, Guards) — at a rest stop in Ontario, at the height of Cults’ first-ever headlining tour.

On what Cults do for fun these days:

At this point, we really don’t have any time for any hobbies besides music, you know? But I guess basically just watching TV. Usually we’ll load up TV shows before we get in the van. But right now there’s nothing really good on. Everything has sort of ended. We’re obsessed with Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Big Love — basically any HBO show.

On their relationship with San Diego beach culture:

I think Brian went surfing. He surfed a little bit. My dad tried to force me to surf a little a few times and I’m too much of a wimp. He’d put me on the board and I’d be like, “Stop, Dad, no! Please!” So no, not really surfing. I went to the beach a lot when I was little. We haven’t been to the beach in like four years.

On the differences between the East and West Coasts:

They hate each other! There’s a serious hate. I like New York a lot better because I hate driving. It’s like there’s really nothing to do in San Diego. It’s basically just sit in a car in a parking lot smoking pot and then go over to your friends’ house when their parents go to sleep. All of our friends back there, they still either live with their parents or we only see them when they come home to their parents’ houses. So it’s kind of depressing. But in New York it’s awesome because you don’t have to drive anywhere. Everybody can go to a bar and it’s not like, “Ughhhh, who’s gonna drive?” In California you drive from the Kmart to the Walgreens at the other end of the parking lot.

On recording a track with Fucked Up:

It was crazy. We did our record with the same engineer. The last two days when we were finishing our record we were up for 48 hours straight. Our engineer is a madman psychopath and that night we were up until like 10 o’clock in the morning and the Fucked Up guys were in the lounge sleeping getting ready to start at 11 in the morning. And so he’s putting the finishing touches on our record and the guy came in and heard it and he was like, “Whoa, can you call her? Can we get her in here and have her sing on a track?” I was so nervous! And I went in there and I was like, “What do you want me to do?” “Just sing like Damian [Abraham, Fucked Up frontman] does.” “Ohhhkaaay.” So I just kind of went along with it. But it turned out really, really awesome. Gonna be a really cool record.

On the role of that engineer, Shane Stoneback (Sleigh Bells, Vampire Weekend), in making Cults:

Brian explained it best: He was like our shepherd. We came in with all the ideas and he just helped us get exactly what we wanted. He’s the easiest, best person to work with in the world. He’s not like, “Oh, that’s gonna be weird.” He just kind of lets everything go and sees what happens.

On rap the couple has been feeling lately:

We just listened to Outkast for the first time in five years. That was awesome — I forgot how good that was. Lil B.
, Tyler, the Creator, of course.
Freddie Gibbs. The Neptunes. All the hits!