Cults: Drink The Kool-Aid

Text Hidzir Junaini
Image Allison Miller

Manhattan-based indie-popsters Cults seemed to have sprung up from nowhere but the truth is, this was no overnight success. Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin built Cults from the ground up through stellar songwriting and old fashioned relentless touring and as they say, good things come to those who work hard. The first ever song they wrote together, “Go Outside”, became a sensation and any fears that they couldn’t translate that magic into a full-length were quickly allayed with the release of their eponymous debut. The record was an earwormy ’60s-styled sugar rush that combined unsettling content with enough indelible pop to make us drink their Kool-Aid. So here’s the story of their rise, true believers…

As far as enigmatic band names go, Cults ranks pretty high. 
Madeline I guess we kind of had an obsession with Cults at the time were working on the music. We even ended up including a bunch of sample of cult leaders speaking in the record. We just felt it was fitting.

Do you both come from musical backgrounds?
Brian Not really, I came from the Californian suburbs and nobody in my family played music so I kind of found it for myself. But Madeline’s stepdad was in a lot of goth and punk bands in the ‘80s! Her mom was in a band too and her brother is in a band called Willows, so her whole’s family’s really musical.

How did you both meet then?
Madeline Oh we met at a show actually! My brother was playing and Brian helped me get in because I wasn’t 21 yet. (Laughs)

That’s cool! Was Brian a fan of Willows?
Madeline Well, he was kind of touring with them, hitching a ride from New York to California and enjoying tour life.

And now you both have a tour life of your own. Is it true that ‘Go Outside’ was the song began it all? 
Brian Yeah! Actually it was the first song that we wrote together for this band. But the first song I ever personally wrote was ‘Rave On’, which is the last song on our record. I wrote it three years ago. Then I had a hiatus for a bit before Madeline came along.

What was the process like, writing that first song together?
Brian It was easy; it all came together really fast. While I was working on the music, Madeline was coming up with the melodies and the vocals and it was all done super quickly. So that’s how we knew we worked naturally together.

And obviously it became this breakout success. Did that homerun of having made a big initial impression help alleviate or add to the pressure?
Madeline I think it added to the pressure because we had only come out with only two or three songs. And everybody had no idea what to expect and we didn’t know whether people would like what we had planned.

So considering those fears, what was the thought process behind the first album?
Brian When we nailed those first songs, we started stressing about how we were going to keep writing songs that were as good or better. We tried a bunch of different things, like working in different environments and it ended up being really bad for us. So we went back to doing it how we did originally, just working in our apartment with the same fun attitude.

What’s it like to experience a sudden surge in attention over such a short span? 
Madeline It doesn’t feel that quick to us because even though there are people on the Internet talking about us… there still weren’t that many people showing up at our shows. We’ve pretty much been on tour and working hard for the past two years, and its only now that we’ve begun to see the benefit. More people are showing up now. (Laughs)

And there’ll be lots more at your Singapore gig! Can you give us an idea of what to expect at Laneway 2012?
Madeline There’ll be a lot of dancing! You guys better like to dance over there. (Laughs)

Join the cult here. Cults will be playing at Laneway 2012 @ Canning Park, Singapore this 12 February.