Interview: Cults

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Cults during NxNE. Cults had played a packed show at Lee’s Palace the previous night and were gearing up for another set at Yonge & Dundas Square.

Looking forward to enjoying their time in the city a bit, Madeline Frollin says, “We just got in last night and played, so we haven’t really had a chance to get off this block or the Lee’s Palace block, but I think today we’re going to have a little bit of time and see all the bands, eat tacos and stuff.”

Brian Oblivion described the Lee’s Palace show, saying, “Last night the venue was, like, 500 people but there was, like, 3000 people trying to get in. Super cool, seems like a lot of people are into it.”

Brian describes the origin of their band name. “I think in the beginning it was just something that was a fascination that we both had. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been really interested in alternative lifestyles and different religious groups. I tried out quite a few and Madeline had also been fascinated with the idea, so we watch a lot of movies and documentaries at home. And then I think we wrote “Go Outside” without any concept of what the band was going to be. And when we wrote the song there was this intro section, I was like, ‘You know what would be really good? That quote from that movie. That would really drive the whole thing home.’ And for “Most Wanted” we were like, ‘What about these kids? Let’s get some samples in here.’ And by the end, we were like, “Why don’t we just call our band Cults?”

Cults has had an explosive year, but they remain level-headed. Madeline says, “We’ve just basically been touring through it all.”

Brian then adds, “The thing that seems like a lot of people have a hard time visualizing is that whether or not things go a certain way with press, it’s all just pretty much the same. You go out, you play shows, you go home. You go out, you play shows, you go home. It’s been just a fun year because we’ve gotten to play for really good audiences. That’s been really cool.”

Madeline and Brian met as film students at NYU. Brian speaks to how this has influenced their music. “ I think a lot of the stuff we had to do in school was about being very focused. We never made a movie, just working with really small scenes. I think that we got better at, as far as songs go, trying to create a really small moment with characters and a tone and a setting and thinking about songs as little units of something.”

He then mentions an incident while recording a song that didn’t have lyrics at the time. Madeline quickly wrote up the lyrics and their engineer was quite impressed. Their response was, “Dude, I’ve been doing homework for the past four years. I just power through this stuff.” He adds, “So we know how to get things done fast.”

Their songwriting is not usually that last minute. Madeline says, “It starts of usually in the van. He’ll be working on just making a drum beat or something and we’ll build off of that with keyboards, bass and stuff like that. I’ll be hearing what he’s doing through the headphones, getting the vibe of the song and coming up with the lyrics. And then we’ll take it to a certain point just at home or in the van on tour and then we go into the studio and work on guitars and vocals in studio.”

Brian comments, “It’s nice ‘cause the way that we have it put together we get to do 90% of it just at our house and then we go and work… We’re actually going back into the studio next week. So awesome. We hang out with our engineer/producer Shane and the process after that is just me and Madeline throwing out a bunch of insane ideas and him kind of begrudeoningly appeasing us.”

He provides this example:
“What if we got a professional whistler for this song?”
“Alright, I’ll look it up.”

“And then usually cutting all that stuff out and making the song simpler.”

There are obvious influences by 60s girl groups, like Shangri-Las, Patience and Prudence, but Brian and Madeline have other widely different influences. Brian indicates that he likes a lot of electronic music. After a bit of a debate over Madeline liking Americana-style music, Madeline makes it clear what she really likes is 90s music.

Having toured a lot this year, the duo claims Austin, Texas as a favourite. Madeline also likes San Francisco and adds, “I like Portland because… the shows are usually not amazing, but I just like the place.”

Brian says he loved New Orleans. Describing the atmosphere, he says, “All the houses around the venue were boarded up and it was just tons of huge groups of dudes standing on the street corner.”

Madeline interjects, “Selling drugs.”

Brian continues, “By the end, we went back the next day and I was like, “My people!” and everybody was so cool and nice and totally awesome and down to party. Wasn’t freaked out by it at all, really fun city.

With more touring ahead, Brian says that he is strangely looking forward to playing in Florida, saying, “We’re playing there in September and I think the audience there is just going to be awesome ‘cause they’re all just like total bro college kids, but I think they’re going to be really fun to play for. No bands play Florida because you have to go all the way down and back up.”

Madeline looks forward to Australia and then Brian asks, “Are we playing Singapore on the way out to Australia?”

Madeline adds, “I think we might be, which will be a little scary. A year ago, if you got off the plane and your hair was an inch longer than below your ear, they would just either cut it or send you back home. Not allowed to chew gum on the streets.”

Brian comments, “I would be going back home. Wouldn’t even be a choice. I’ll probably end up in Singaporian jail for a while, but at least it’ll be a good story. I’ll be locked up abroad like I’ve always wanted to be.”

As far as drunken stories go, Brian says, “I feel like almost every night is an alcohol-related story. We’re one of the hardest drinking bands that we’ve ever encountered. I’m not very good at remembering them.”

Brian then comes up with an impressive story.

“It’s not the best story in the world, but we were on tour recently on the way out to Coachella. We had a drummer in the band who previously was playing softball and he ran and he slid into home plate and he broke his arm in two places coming out of the skin. He was drunk at the time. He had these metal rods put in his arm. We were all drinking at our parents’ house and they had this little arcade basketball game and so we were all shooting hoops and messing around and being rough with each other. The next morning and he wakes up and his arm is super swollen. He’s like, ‘What the hell did we do last night?’ and we’re all like, ‘I dunno, I think we were just hanging out.’

And so the rest of the tour and he keeps going we’re drinking a lot and he’s just kind of numbing the pain and he’s wrapping his arm every night. I thought he was wrapping his arm like 5 times because his arm just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger and by the end, after Coachella, he gets off stage at Coachella and unwraps his arm and I see it for the first time and it looked like he had Elephantiasis. His arm was like Popeye. He was like, ‘I need to go to the hospital.’ He goes right to the hospital and his arm was broken. He played 10 shows with a broken arm and he just kept talking so many shots and drinking that he just kinda let it go. But afterwards, I was like, ‘Dude, if there’s a purple heart for music, then I’m going to fucking track it down and give it to you.’”

Madeline adds, “‘Cause that’s crazy.”

Brian, still amazed, remarks, “Who can say they played Coachella with a fucking broken arm?”

Their shots of choice are Jameson (though Madeline needs a coke back and Brian says, “She’s like a sorority girl, she has to do it with a chaser.”

Then Madeline mentions Zubrowka. Brian describes it as “kind of rare bison grass vodka” and Madeline says, “It’s really good. It’s actually like a nice, classy vodka.”
There you have it, Zubrowka is Cults endorsed.

Brian then says, “Gimme a sponsorship.” Hint hint.


Categories: Interviews, NXNE 2011


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