- Fri, 2011-06-03 14:31
After posting three songs anonymously on Bandcamp in Spring 2010, the attention surrounding Cults snowballed leading to sell out shows, an album deal with Columbia, record of the week on 6Music and praise galore for their lo-fi, rough edged indie awash with Spector inspired melodies.
Brought to our attention via the ATP created take-over playlist, which ran on I Like Music last year, we were excited to chat to the New York duo about their success so far, music they're into, how life has changed from film students to touring musicians and the story behind the track that started everything; Go Outside.
"I Like Music because… I like music.” Cults
ILM: You've been playing your first headline tour. How have the shows been?
Madeline: We played Amsterdam two nights ago, that was super fun. Then we played Brighton and Oxford.
Brian: Yeah, I think all the shows that we’re playing here, with the exception of one, are festivals. It’s been really fun and cool to see a lot of American bands out here playing to festival audiences which are our favourite, everyone is just really excited about hanging out and seeing a bunch of music, so yeah, the mood has been great.
ILM: What can people expect if they come to see you, how does your music present itself onstage?
Madeline: Knock ‘em dead! (laughs)
Brian: I think we try to make it more aggressive, more rock ‘n roll and more danceable. I think we take some of the repetition and the hypnotic qualities of the recordings and just step them up a little bit. It’s more fun to play that way. People should come to the shows with their dancing shoes on!
ILM: We first heard your music through All Tomorrow’s Parties. They took over a section of our site and included Go Outside on the playlist...
Madeline: Oh cool! They’re awesome!
Madeline: We love ATP!
ILM: Around that time a lot of people were discovering you and your music and there was a real lack of information out there - it was impossible to Google your name, there was no MySpace... Was that anonymity a conscious decision or just a result of wanting to get your music out quickly?
Brian: Definitely the second one.
Madeline: Yeah, the song was up on the internet and we weren't really expecting much to happen.
Brian: Yeah. That webpage we have up was just a way for our friends to access our music so we didn't have to send it to each of them individually! There was no conscious thought about being mysterious or getting people to hear it. I think the two just came together and then once people started discovering our music, we just kind of wanted to do things on our own page and just bring everything to light when we were ready.
ILM: You've had a lot of attention very quickly, well deserved we must add! How have you found that?
Madeline: Yeah we have... We’re finding it really exciting though.
Brian: Yeah, I mean it’s really awesome to have conversations with people about the music that you’re making. Also just being able to get it out to people and have them react is great. But at the same time it’s hard too, it’s not really in our nature to talk about ourselves much, it’s difficult. (laughs)
ILM: Right. I suppose it's always difficult to talk about any form of expression, particularly when it’s been quite organic. A sort of happy accident...
Brian: Yeah exactly. Especially with us! We hadn’t even been gigging, we hadn't put together a press packet or any of that stuff normal bands do. It was just the two of us with a guitar and a laptop, you know? I mean that’s it. Those are the other band members...the guitar and laptop. (laughs)
ILM: Where did the impetus come from to start making music? You were both film students, right?
Madeline: Yeah. Making music happened naturally. We were tired of writing papers and working internships and we just wanted a creative outlet, so we started working on music at the weekends for our friends.
Brian: It was just a release from our obligations. Doing something that didn’t have to be turned in, doing something that we enjoyed and could just be ours.
ILM: Did your knowledge and passion for film affect how you approached making music?
Brian: Yeah it definitely adds to it. We’re not afraid to be really dramatic in a lot of our songs because of all the film work that we’ve done. We think about mood and setting for all our songs and we think about our songs in terms of directors and stuff - it helps to externalise it, to think of the songs like a little movie with scenes. That’s been really helpful in working out how everything should feel and sound. All in all, it’s not really as black and white as it might seem though, really, music was just something we did because we were tired of doing everything else.
ILM: Go Outside was the first track we heard from you. Can you tell us about that track in particular. How did it come to be? What does it mean to you?
Brian: We just sat down, picked up a bass I had in the room one day and played the bass line all the way through. Then recorded it, put the drums in and the song was done in a flash! After a few hours…when it came time for the vocals, that came really naturally too. In one sense it is empowering, particularly through our drive to make art in the first place - we just had to stop sitting around and being satisfied with what we were doing, you know? Get extroverted and create something. But still, for us it’s more of a sad song than some might think. It’s about battling with yourself to do all that, the other side of you wants to be scared and wants to be lazy and that’s not a good way to go through life...
ILM: It begins with a quote from Jim Jones (cult leader of People's Temple, known for insighting the mass suicide of 900 members in 1978) To me, death is not a fearful thing. It's living that's treacherous. What was the decision behind including that?
Brian: Everybody feels that way sometimes. The world is a hostile place that won’t accept you if you go out into it and try to contribute yourself to it is what it's saying, and that's obviously just false wisdom coming from a bad person. So the track starts off with insecurity and fear and then it ends with...well, redemption and happiness I guess.
ILM: How would you describe the themes throughout the album?
Brian: Oh man! Well, it’s not a concept record, it’s not made out to parallel any sort of story other than the individual stories of the songs. I do think there’s a lot of anxiety in the record. There’s a lot of fear of growing up, there’s a lot of childish rebellion you know? A lot of “fuck you” to people who expect things from you or try to tell you what to do or how to live your life. The last song, Rave On, is sort of like a big ballad about all the things that you would give up to have your own personal freedom. I guess that’s a big thing for us thematically, because at the time that we were writing the record we were about to start searching for jobs, we were about to enter the adult world, which is something I think we’re both really terrified of. The band was our way of finding a way to continue living as children I guess...! And it’s a good thing, everyone should do that.
ILM: It’s released on In the Name Of and major label Columbia, how has that dynamic worked? How have you found working with them?
Madeline: Perfect. They really just leave us to do what we want to do and support us, they’re a good support system.
Brian: They’re the least pretentious label in the world. They have no ideas about how our band should be, they don’t think they know what people like. They just want us to have a record that we’re going to be proud of for the rest of our lives. They’ve never given us any criticism or critique that wasn’t extremely well deserved so it’s been amazing.
ILM: Now you've made a record, has that changed the way you listen to music?
Brian: It makes it easier.
Madeline: Yeah, you appreciate everything a lot more.
Brian: That’s the thing. As soon as you start making art yourself you stop being a critic. Understanding the way a record works and all the different intricacies of doing it and putting it out has changed the way I view things I used to be critical of. Now I’m just more understanding of them and more excited about everything. A couple of years ago I was one of the most frustrated, jealous musicians! I hated everything new and thought that it couldn’t be good because it’s new...but now I love new music! Yeah, I think we’re both just really excited about all the new sounds coming out right now.
ILM: How have those discoveries inspired your own music?
Brian: A lot of those discoveries have been with our live show. The next record is going to have to be made in a vacuum again, just like the first one. We feared listening to any music when making the record, just like some unspoken taboo. I hate listening to music when I’m making it, it derails me. But live, I think we’ve learned a lot from a lot of the major bands we’ve toured with, about how to use equipment properly and how to make everything translate really well, things like drum samplers and stuff like that.
ILM: What are your future plans?
Madeline: We’re pretty much booked up! (laughs) We’re booked up until December on tour pretty much constantly and then maybe in December we’ll go back and start recording again, hopefully.
ILM: And you'll record in the same place?
Brian: We’ll do every record until the day we die with the engineer Shane Stonebeck; he’s just the best person ever.
ILM: Okay, cool. What was the relationship like with him?
Brian: Initially, we were really snobby and didn’t want to take any of his suggestions! (laughs) But as time went on I think he pushed us to be riskier with the record, to make it more fucked up and danceable and push the electronics, make it sound more modern. That was kind of like a lifesaver...
ILM: Finally, what music have you been listening to recently?
Madeline: We’ve been listening to the new Those Darlins record a lot, Screws Get Loose.
Brain: That’s really good. We were listening to a lot of Gene Pitney (laughs), which is kind of embarrassing but really, really awesome. What else have we been listening to? I’m still listening to the first Sleigh Bells record almost everyday.
Madeline: We’ve been listening to Dinosaur Jr. (laughs)
Brian: I don’t know; we’re kind of all across the board.
Madeline: A lot of Yuck.
Brian: Yeah, we’ve been getting into a lot of new bands through touring, so we’ve become big fans of Yuck and Twin Sister, the Morning Benders too...