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FILTER 44: Getting to Know: Cults

By A.D. Amorosi on June 10, 2011


Calling your band “Cults” and writing eerily twinkling songs like “Go Outside” that benefit as much from a reverb-heavy chorus and chipper girl-group vocals as a sample of mad messiah Jim Jones’ death-trip rhetoric? That’s rich.

Rather than make Jones’ gloomily sacrificial fireside chats (and other borrowed speeches from creeps like Charlie Manson) into a gimmick, instrumentalists/singers Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin fold those mind-fuck notions into a provocative sound that’s equal parts hollowed-out shoegaze and stomping Shangri-Las-like pop on Cults’ eponymous debut full-length.

At 21 years old, Oblivion and Follin have seemingly come up from nowhere to a major-label debut, preaching raw powered rave-ups (“Abducted”) and icily weary trip-hop (“Oh My God”) to the world. But the Manhattan transplants don’t quite see it like that.

“It’s not so much that we’re mysterious,” laughs Oblivion just days after Cults wowed a burgeoning fanbase at Austin’s SXSW festival. “It just happens that we’re private people.”

The couple—yes, they’re in love and getting married—met in San Diego a little over two years ago. Odd, as both grew up there, both were in bands (“Barely,” says Follin) and both moved back-and-forth to and from San Francisco. Also, both had intentions of heading to film school in New York City—Oblivion to NYU to study documentary cinema, Follin to The New School. “I didn’t know exactly what types of films I was going to make,” she says. “I was going just to go, and The New School was a good place to go to go.”

Back in San Diego, while Follin had spent bits of her childhood in her stepdad’s punk band Youth Gone Mad (famed for its involvement with Dee Dee Ramone), Oblivion was a part-time bassist and road manager. Oblivion gigged as the latter for Richie James Follin’s garage band The Willowz, which is how he met Madeline.

The two started hanging out and finding common ground, like a love for Lesley Gore’s Golden Hits. “This was the first album Madeline and I really bonded over,” says Oblivion. “Gore’s whole career is an awesome story because, while singing these bubbly pop songs about boys and heartbreak, she was secretly a lesbian during a time when people couldn’t really handle that. There’s something punk under the surface of her songs, like it’s a big joke nobody ever got.”

Making music became part of Oblivion and Follin’s daily dating routine: watch TV, write and record songs, send them to their friends on the Internet. “It’s not like we were always making out in the studio or in front of the band,” says Follin with a big laugh. 

Non-stop giggling might seem slightly incongruent for a band with a name that identifies with the malaise of sinister, pseudo-religious mass gatherings. Then again, the pair is a gang of two, enjoying each other’s company and the exclusion of others. “This happened so fast,” says Oblivion. “It’s hard. We want it, but there are all these managers and lawyers in and out of our room. Sometimes, we just want to hang out with each other and watch television.”

The notion of a cult itself isn’t overly rapturous to the duo. Oblivion says something to the effect of how everyone is in a cult of some kind, how people would love to do things their own way without outside interference and how the band Cults is more about liberation than detonation, anyway.

Does it matter to them that some potential audience members might be put off to the religious zealotry or violence inherent in their name?

“Nah, I couldn’t care less,” says Oblivion with a snicker.

“Besides, I think I’m the weird one in the band,” jokes Follin. “I’ve made our keyboardist cry.”     F

3 albums that inspired Cults to make music 

Dr. Dre

The Chronic

We’ve learned a lot from hip-hop to make repetition feel dynamic. The way we build our songs on an MPC is basically the same as these dudes were doing a decade ago. BRIAN OBLIVION


John Waters

A Date with John Waters

This is a compilation that Waters recommends listening to on a nice date. There are a lot of fucked up covers of ’60s songs and bizarre country jams. MADELINE FOLLIN


My Bloody Valentine


The wall of guitars. The noise. The fuzz. This is an album we both loved immediately and one that changed how we—and a million other kids—think about music. OBLIVION

This article is from FILTER Issue 44