Standing amongst a crowd of cheering students and a surprising amount of couples, I silently watch guitarist Brian Oblivion and lead singer Madeline Follin of Cults make their way to the spotlights at the front of the stage. Behind them, several TVs mounted on the wall play black and white static as several backing musicians pick up their instruments and prepare to play.
Without a word to the audience, the band launches into a song from its new album, Static. Oblivion, wearing the standard black and white suit (does he ever wear anything else?), confidently nods his head and plays his guitar. Alongside him, Follin, wearing all black, clutches the mic stand with both hands, her hips swaying as she belts out lyrics into the mic with her high, melodic voice.
If it weren’t for the TVs in the background, the synthesizers scattered throughout the stage and Oblivion’s black hair that dangled down below his shoulders, I could have convinced myself I was witnessing a band from the ’60s. The band’s early music, with its dreamy ballads and upbeat, boppy singles, is certainly reminiscent of the era.
This is a different image from the beginning days of Cults. When the band first started in 2010, Follin and Oblivion were dating, living together in New York and recording what ended up being their first big hit “Go Outside,” completely unprepared for how the Internet would instantly respond to their nostalgic ’50s/’60s pop sound in an almost cult-like manner.
Since then, Cults picked up a record deal with big name label Columbia Records, went on an exhausting two-year tour and released two albums: 2011’s successful self-titled Cults and last month’s Static (released Oct. 15). Now, Follin and Oblivion have broken up, but the band is still together and playing darker, more mature songs instead of the innocent, sugar-coated duets on Cults (which, I presume, is what attracted so many starry-eyed couples to the concert in the first place).
A few days before the Nov. 23 show at the Metro (3730 N. Clark St.), The Loyola PHOENIX had the opportunity to talk to Oblivion about the new album, the new tour and his obsession with broken TVs.
Loyola PHOENIX: What’s different about the tour this time around compared to the last time?
Brian Oblivion: Well, I’d say most obviously and most exciting for us is we are playing new songs. Because of the way our band ended up getting a lot of attention off of some songs that we wrote really early on in the process with just a 7” [single], we were playing a lot [of those] songs, [when] we performed for two years straight. So it’s really incredible to be able to play… more than like 40 minutes [and] also just to be able to mix it up every night and play new songs that we’re really excited about. And we’ve gotten a lot better with our production, our visual show, which we’ve spent a lot of time on and it’s really fun to work out. So we’ll be bringing some different looks, too.
LP: I saw on your last tour you guys played around 300 shows. Are you guys planning on cutting back at all this time around?
BO: Yeah, we’re much more mature now and kind of smarter about what opportunities to take and what ones don’t make sense. I don’t think we’ll be playing that many shows, but currently we’re booked to play shows all the way until May, and I don’t even know how that happened. It gets crazy and we’re all up for it. It’s a lot easier, I think, for us than a lot of other bands because we’re all such good friends and we really like hanging out with each other, so it’s not like a chore.
LP: So there haven’t been any difficulties on the road?
BO: There have. We’ve probably had more blow ups at each other on this tour than we ever had before, but I think it’s just because we’re striving for a level of consistency and perfection. I mean we’re still learning a lot every time we play, but we expect to learn faster and to do better and we blow up at each other all the time. Within 10 minutes afterwards we’re all good.
It’s funny, the opening bands that are on this tour, they’re, like, afraid to talk to us. They thought we were crazy for like the first four shows because the moment we get off stage we go into like 15 minutes of screaming at each other, even if it was a great show. Then we have a beer and forget about it. It’s a weird thing to watch from an outsider perspective, but it’s healthy, I think.
LP: For the new record, Static, were there any problems you encountered when you were trying to write songs for it or recording it?
BO: I wouldn’t say problems, but it was a big challenge for me to try and record with real instruments this time because last time our record was so laptop based. I never recorded real drums before. We have all these ideas in our head of where we wanted things to land. We were trying to create something new off of the pallette of things we really like, but getting those kind of classic sounding, almost vintage tones without making them sound cheesy really was a hugely difficult endeavor which paid off in the end, because now that we know how to do it, we can do it again faster.
LP: I read you’d have broken TVs wheeled into the studio? What was that all about?
BO: I don’t know. I mean, I guess I was inspired by Derek from Sleigh Bells. We work at the same studio with the same producer and when they were making that album, Reign of Terror, I walked in one day just to say “what up” and Derek had decorated the entire studio almost exactly like his room when he was, like, 15 years old…He had football posters and posters of hot chicks leaning up on cool cars and these plastic F-16s everywhere. And he kind of took the extra step to make the studio his zone, so we kind of did our own little way of decorating office space so that it felt not just like a generic studio. The kind of experience that we had where we turned the lights off and have the TVs around and listened to stuff was a good way of getting us into a headspace of where we want, what we want the sound to feel like in this space.
LP: People are always describing your band as a ’50s/’60s pop nostalgia band. This seems strange considering I read you were in a Slayer tribute band at one point?
BO: Yeah, that was my first band. We’ve grown up liking so many different bands and so many different kinds of music. I think that the ’50s/’60s thing for us is a good framework to work in because we just like that kind of songwriting, but I think we try to bring as many different elements to that as we can. I think as time goes on, even in this record, we’ve shifted away from that.
I kind of make a joke that we’re working our way up through the decades. I feel like the last record was kind of late ’50s, early ’60s and this one feels like late ’60s early ’70s to me. The fuzz guitars, the R&B funk rhythms, I think [of] our late ’70s, early ’80s album. … I shudder to think what that might sound like but … maybe we’ll get there.