Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion of Manhattan (not Brooklyn, for you Williamsburg-to-DC transplants pretending the band’s futuristic doo-wop sound is completely drenched in hipsterdom), spoke to me while on a rooftop in NYC. Because they are the famous pair that together make up the indie pop band Cults, they probably do these press conversations together all the time. And because of their national status, these interviews likely take place over the phone. These two were experts.
To avoid a snafu with cell reception, they stood several feet apart from one another. Without thinking, my first question had nothing to do with their music – absolutely zero pertaining to their new album Offering (their first album in four years, by the way). Instead, I asked: “Are you two making funny faces at each other?”
“Madeline actually just turned around, and is now facing a wall,” Oblivion said, chuckling.
The answer was yes, without saying yes.
The music on their first two albums Cults (their 2011 debut album, which started as an art project), and Static (their 2013 personal relationship breakup album), is sort of vintage. Not so much in the way it’s made, but in the nostalgia they dug up. No one knows this better than the two who cultivated the sound; they even went as far as calling their new album a Technicolor version, as opposed to their previous black and white iterations.
“For me, this is the most authentic record we’ve made so far,” Oblivion, who plays guitar/percussion, said. “The band started as an art project for the two of us, where we wanted to take the retro sound we love and screw with it. This time there was no pretense, and it’s a new thing, because we’ve had album art before we wrote a song. Even in the lyrics, the songs are more complex and deal with more existential issues.”
The album art he refers to is a pair of glowing hands held up toward the sky, which is kind of the perfect album art for a band titled Cults. And though I couldn’t listen to the album in advance, you can feel the difference in the band’s approach to music, and they explained as much, from their growth as a) people living at home instead of on a traveling tour bus and b) musicians stretching their comfort zones with genre boundaries and instruments.
“I think we definitely needed the time to just grow as people and as songwriters also,” Follin, the band’s singer, said. “It was really important because we’ve been touring since we were in college. We haven’t been in New York as normal humans living a normal life. We needed that time to have normal experiences to create this record. It was great not having a schedule really; I could just write whenever I felt inspired to write. It wasn’t ever a forced thing.”
Follin says the time helped in the creative process too – the blank calendars hanging on the walls, the freedom for her and Oblivion to somehow birth more than four hours of music, and then the lack of outside pressures to actually sit and sift through the gargantuan back catalog in search of an album.
Offering is now complete, and will be released on October 6. Fans of the band, including myself (who pondered the deeper meanings of the song “Outside” in a little newspaper office, which had no windows), have had to get by on the three singles: “Right Words,” “I Took Your Picture” and “Offering.”
“We’ve played these songs a couple times so far, and they go over better than anything we’ve written so far,” Oblivion said. “They bang way harder, so they’re really fun to play live. We play the old songs way differently now too, so we’re excited to show them [to] crowds as well. It’s completely different.”
The two also released a music video in mid-September, which combines the first two singles into an oddball video where Follin undergoes an almost out-of-body experience while Oblivion repeatedly knocks on the door, as if he’s being left out of the fun purposefully. As former film students from the mecca of New York University, one would have to wonder if a true visual album for Offering was on the horizon. They’ve already dipped their toe in the short film water, so why not go full-on Kanye West (Runaway) or Frank Ocean (Endless)?
“We’re kind of edging toward it now, and we put out a video with two songs that sort of meld together,” Oblivion said. “Our joke is that we’re going to do them all, and call it Arnold Palmer.”
So we have no visual album (yet), and the actual record hits shelves early this month. It’s almost like the band is getting a twisted thrill in making folks wait (I’m mostly joking). You’d imagine that ravenous fans were probably lighting the band up during this waiting game; I’m sort of doing it right now.
“The coolest thing is that we’re just now starting to become active on social media, so it wasn’t that tough for us,” Follin said. “Whenever we tweeted we were playing in Texas, people were like, ‘Where the f–k is the new music?’”
Oblivion adds, “If you look around lately, the records coming out take longer now. Look at The National, Frank Ocean and Arcade Fire. We’re not sure if it’s people just recording at home, or just wanting to sift through their music for the best stuff. I don’t think anyone out there is starved for good music; there’s a ton there.”
It’s true, I suppose. There isn’t a dearth of well-crafted music, but right now, all the folks in the Cults’ cult are waiting for the latest offering in Offering. And luckily for us, we won’t have to wait much longer.
Cults play at Rock & Roll Hotel on Sunday, October 15, 8 p.m. show. Tickets are $21. For more information on the band, visit www.cultscultscults.com.
Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; 202-388-7625; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com