Cults are cloaked in contradictions. Captivatingly so. They are a duo who play with a pack. They are an internet sensation, who court the aesthetic of anonymity. Californian New-Yorkers, who channel sinister sentiments through sixties pop.
And then there is the name. Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin have been playing as Cults for over a year now. But far from an attention-grabbing affectation, their adopted moniker is a considered choice. It permeates their ideology, it’s embedded in their consciousness, and they know their Cult based trivia.
With their debut album out in May 30th (and a gig at Primavera Sound in Barcelona a couple of days behind), Cults disciples look set to multiply.
Where did your name come from?
The most startlingly beautiful things in life are pretty but fundamentally flawed. Notorious Cult leaders have proved to be the embodiment of this contradictive notion. Their charisma is so powerful and so seductive but– as history has unveiled –it often leads to evil eventualities. It’s completely fascinating. We wanted our music to be both beautiful and fascinating so Cults as a name made complete sense to us.
It's interesting that you have made it plural –rather than one definitive “Cult”– in a sense evading a specific doctrine. Musically, do you anticipate maintaining a fixed and definitive “sound”, or can we expect a shift with your forthcoming album?
At the moment we’re young and new to the music industry, therefore I hope that our music will evolve and grow naturally as we do.
I understand you have additional musicians who join you for live shows. How does that affect the sound of, and dynamic within, Cults?
It’s all about presence really. On our album we are present as a duo and this worked well when we were recording. When we play live we want it to be a dreamy experience, our aim is to coax audiences into a cult-like trance.
How did SXSW treat you?
We had a good time. It was fun being out in Texas and the crowds were really receptive to our music.
Your relationship to the internet is unusual. Although you have clearly benefited from the exposure it allows, you have rejected the compartmentalisation it calls for and (until recently) remained relatively anonymous. How do you feel the internet has shaped or affected the music industry? What role does it play for you specifically?
The internet has completely opened up the music industry. In terms of easy access and availability this is good, but in many ways it has had a negative effect. You know, twenty years ago if you wanted a record you had to actively and physically pursue it, then came giant chains of CDs stores and now we have the mp3 download. Musical interest used to require dedication. It’s a shame that this element has been lost but we wouldn’t be here without Bandcamp and internet publicity so I can’t complain too much, although had we have been musicians in another era I like to think we would have found a way…who knows.
The idea of anonymity is echoed in your early artwork – in many of the images your faces are covered. Was this a conscious decision and if so why did you make it?
It just came about that way really, but we always wanted to remain fairly anonymous, that way people could focus on recognizing our music.
You were celebrating Record Store Day by releasing a limited edition etched vinyl 7 inch of “You Know What I Mean”. With Mercury music reportedly ceasing to produce CDs and Vinyl, what is your attitude towards physical releases (as opposed to downloads)? What's its unique selling point?
Music nowadays is not about possessing a tangible object however if you ask many music lovers they’ll say they miss this element. Vinyl taps into certain nostalgia that we certainly feel, this is for all of our fans that feel it too.
Your choices of vocal samples are bold - Rev Jim Jones on Go Outside for example - how did they come about and at what point in the writing process?
It’s our way of experimenting with the sinister sentiment that lies at the core of cults such as Jim Jones. The backdrop of ghostly quotes are as integral to our music as the upbeat and uplifting melodies.
It's interesting that although the subject holds negative connotations, the individual samples are not exclusively dark – in a sense the darkness is re-contextualised. Accordingly, your work vacillates between innocence and experience - is this a path you actively explore?
It’s about innocence and experience to a certain extent and fears of growing up and facing adult responsibility. These fears are inspiring, they are what lead people to join cults in the first place. People want to escape the race to success and become part of something bigger, more profound and communal. In this way our band became our own cult.
Your sound infuses the unfiltered pop-melodies of California with the DIY ethic of NYC. To what extent, if any, would you say geography has affected your work?
Growing up in California we were tied through our local history to some of the world’s most notorious cults. Charlie Mansion and his “family” spent a lot of time in LA and were responsible for Sharon Tate’s murder there. Jim Jones set up shop in San Fran, David Byrne’s Children of God were roaming California too. New York provided the independence and the creative space we needed in order to start making music.
Your music certainly has a filmic quality. If your music could (retrospectively) feature on the soundtrack to any film which would it be?
“The Wicker Man 2”!
Is it true your music featured on “Eastenders”? Was that through Lilly Allen?!
Haha yes apparently, in Phil’s garage. And no nothing to do with Lily, I think it was Peggy who got us onboard.
Go Outside by Cults Enigmatic duo Cults unveil their debut album in less than a month. We chatted with them about anonymity in the internet era, 60s pop and listening to music rather than owning it.
Cults - “Cults”