Cults: Reconnect – Interview with Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Sep 27, 2013 Photography by Tommy Kearns Issue #47 - September/October 2013 - MGMT
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The last few years have seen a lot of changes for Brian Oblivion, Madeline Follin, and their New York City-based indie pop outfit, Cults. Born California kids, Oblivion (real name Ryan Mattos) and Follin began dating and moved to New York City a few years before releasing Cults' eponymous 2011 debut. That album, steeped in Motown and glorious '60s pop/soul sounds, led by Follin's enchanting vocals, became an indie sensation, and the couple assembled a touring band and began to promote.

"We toured on that last album for over a year and a half," says Oblivion, speaking with Follin a day after a delayed flight from Florida stranded the band in Atlantic City. "I think we played 300 shows in one year. Everyone likes to say that it is grueling and so exhausting. But it wasn't exhausting for me. It was just really fun. But at the same time, you lose a sense of who you are as real people. Coming home, all of our friends felt alien for a while. Even family. And that's not a good place to write a record from. So we decided to take three months off and just live normal lives."

Oblivion describes this time as "a dark period" and says that, at this time, the band wasn't talking much. However, when they did reconvene for what would become the band's new album, Static, Oblivion and Follin found that they were on the same page. Whereas they began their personal and professional relationship with different musical backgrounds and musical tastes, they found they now had more of a mutual understanding. Follin, who hadn't been in a band previous to Cults, had become more adept in the studio, and generally the pair found that touring had molded them into a tighter, more cohesive unit.

Differentiating it from the last album, where many of the songs were written on acoustic guitar, Static was born out of Oblivion's obsession with rhythm: most of these songs started on drums. Perhaps as a result, Static is a more moody and diverse album. The songs retain the innocent, '60s girl pop-esque quality of the band's debut, but most tracks, such as the danceable "Keep Your Head Up" and beat-driven "Were Before," add a certain hazy atmosphere, sweeping feel, and more complicated aural dynamic. To put it simply, whereas Cults sounded like California, Static sounds more New York.

"Lyrically, I definitely feel like this album was more inspired by our experiences here whereas the last one was more inspired by experiences in California," says Oblivion. "We had a lot of conversations about the lifestyle here in New York and the kind of entitlement people feel here and the selfishness and the need to succeed and the never accepting of anything good. That, to me, is what the album is rebelling against, the idea of your life as a cookie cutout of what you're told is success, and how people quest after that while doing things that burn great relationships with people or communities, which could lead to a totally different kind of happiness or success. We're 24 now and people are starting to start their lives, and it's depressing to see people fall away from everyone in search of something that they never really wanted in the first place."

As the interview is about to conclude, Oblivion and Follin reveal another detail about the last few years of their lives that puts Static into a more global context.

"I'm kind of loath to speak about this, because I know that it's going to be blown up into a bigger thing than it really is," says Oblivion. "But Madeline and I stopped dating a year ago and moved into different apartments. That was, honestly, part of taking time off and rediscovering what's going on with ourselves. But our [work] relationship since not having a [romantic] relationship has been just about as good as when we had a relationship."

"Maybe better," interjects Follin, who has been relatively quiet up to this point.

"I think we're a much more effective team if we both have our own lives," says Oblivion.

"I think the whole thing is wrapped in having to spend every single waking second together, while also making creative and financial decisions," says Follin. "It weighs on you. You don't ever really have a break from work."

After Oblivion makes sure it's known that the band does not intend to create art derived solely from personal experiences and emotions (to be true, Static does not present as a break-up album), Follin continues: "Things were probably better than they were in the studio last time. Because you can just have normal conversations. Without letting emotions get the best of you."

[This article first appeared in Under the Radar's August/September 2013 print issue.]


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September 30th 2013

I have not been so excited about an album probably since I really started to get into music. This is it for me. I absolutely can not wait to see this all live.

September 30th 2013

Aww, I’m cheering for Cults from Honduras. I know they’re not coming here but it’s nice to know I followed this band since their first album.