Cults Talks 'Offering', Led Zeppelin, & Happiness as Fodder For Damn Good Music
The distinct chemistry between Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion of NY-based band, Cults, is both undeniable and contagious. In their latest album, Offering, the duo provides the listeners with a rolodex of anthems by way of Follin’s seraphic sweet vocals atop a bed of bubbly beats and hypnotic melodies. It’s an album that showcases a Cults 2.0 sound that reflects the happier place the pair resides in rather than their prior monochromatic dipped tunes from past releases.
Chatting with the two musicians feels akin to catching up with two old friends—genuine, relaxed, and full of laughs. On the heels of last night’s Brooklyn show at Music Hall of Williamsburg, MILK.XYZ caught up with the dynamic duo at the onset of their tour to discuss the making of their latest “offering” (pun intended).
Offering is the first album since 2013’s Static. So, how happy are you both with the outcome of it?
Madeline: It’s so exciting to finally be able to share it with people because I feel like we finished it maybe in the spring.
Brian: Like March or April, yeah.
Madeline: So, like, waiting that long for people to hear it kind of drives you crazy. [Laughs]
Yeah, I can imagine.
Madeline: Because it’s all done and you’re like, “Why can’t we just put it out there? Why can’t I just put it on the internet right now?”
Brian, you mentioned in a past interview that the album (Offering) is the most authentic one you’ve both made so far. Can you elaborate on how so? Madeline, do you feel the same way?
Madeline: Yeah, I feel the same way. Because we took our time and lived normal lives, we actually had stuff that we wanted to write about rather than, “I was late to sound check today.” [Laughs]
Brian: Yeah, I think for me musically it’s more of a distillation of all the things that we’ve liked our whole lives. When we started this band, we had only written three songs that we put up on the internet in the beginning and they were just kind of a little art experiment for us. We were able to bring in a lot more stuff that is personal to us musically on this record.
That is wonderful! How do you feel that this four-year space you guys had in releasing anything helped you to grow as artists and on an individual level?
Madeline: Well, for me, I think I grew as a musician. Honestly, we both just sat and worked on music. Definitely as musicians, we’ve both grown. By learning instruments better, I had more confidence to speak up or be like, “I have an idea, let me play that,” rather than trying to describe what I wanted him to play.
Brian: Up until October, I think for me the biggest change was just I felt like a much happier person. [Laughs]
Brian: Things were a little more stressful, but I think building our lives as adult New Yorkers gave us a lot of perspective to not being so selfish and finding a kind of serenity that the hectic life of being a professional musician doesn’t always allow you.
That makes sense. How has the process of making this project been different than the past ones such as Static?
Brian: It’s kind of in a way exactly the same.
Madeline: Yeah, the one thing that I would say was definitely different is we traveled around and spent time in a lot of different studios and cities.
Brian: We recorded this record in San Diego, San Francisco, Berkeley, LA and New York. It was cool because we would just fly out our engineer and producer who we’ve worked with in the very beginning, Shane Stoneback. Whenever you work in a new place, like when you get a new instrument, you just immediately kind of start doing something. You know what I mean? You feel inspired.
Brian: We got to shake it up a lot which was cool because we didn’t go to the same place for four months.
That’s cool that you guys studio hopped.
Madeline: Yeah, it was super fun!
Brian: We started working with our new label after this record was done. We made it totally on our own. So, we were free to do whatever we wanted to do. We would find the best deals of the places we could go—whether it was a house in upstate New York or…
Madeline: A house in LA!
Brian: Yeah, or a studio in Berkeley. We were free to do whatever we wanted.
Very cool. Getting into the album, I love it. It’s reflective and one of my favorite songs from the album is “Clear From Far Away”. I love the lyrics. Can you expound on what place you both were coming from in the making of that track?
Madeline: It’s weird because when you’re writing it, it’s not like you necessarily know what you’re writing. It just kind of comes out. [Laughs] Somebody’s like, “What is that all about?” and you’re like, “Oh, I have to think about that.”
Brian: As we’ve been playing some of the songs live and we’re hearing the lyrics over and over again, I think one of my favorite things – like that song for example too – there’s a real current in this record of dialogues. A lot of the songs are like two versions of yourself talking back and forth. You know what I mean?
Brian: I think in the verse of that song, it’s anxiety about aging and time passing and then the chorus is the wiser you coming back and saying, “None of these things matter because you have your life ahead of yourself.” It’s clear from far away in that there’s wisdom from age. If I talk to people my age and they’re like, “What are you doing?” Then, I talk to people in their 50s and they say like, “How are you doing?” and then you talk to people in their 80s and they’re like, “I’m glad you’re doing.”[Laughs] We always try to keep the perspective of managing anxiety.
I definitely get that vibe from the album. It’s very open dialogue. Kudos to you both! One thing that I like to ask bands in particular is what do you admire about one another. We’ll start with Brian. What do you admire about Madeline?
Brian: I admire a lot about Madeline, but I think more than anything…well, I think for both of us we wouldn’t just be doing this without each other complementary nature. Madeline is much more of the boss.[Laughs] She’s the one who keeps the whole train on the tracks. She quite literally inspires me. Without that extra push, I don’t think I’d ever get anything done.
Madeline: I don’t like saying this in front of him, but he does really stress me out a lot of the time. [Laughs] I say a lot of things, but he always manages to somehow follow through when he says what he’s going to do.
Brian: One way or another!
Madeline: No matter how hard it is!
Well, that’s one thing I really admire about you both. You can tell you both have great chemistry creatively and are cohesive as a project together. On an individual level, based off of Offering, you learn a lot about yourself. So, what’s something new you learned about yourself from working on this album?
Madeline: I learned that I previously had held myself back too much. When I finally started opening up and not being so self-conscious, everything felt better.
Brian: And the same thing—I think that I learned how to be more free and let go. I think on the second record, we spent probably two or three months working on just drum sounds and in the end they sounded the same as the beginning or maybe worse. [Laughs]
Madeline: I think for both of us we are over thinkers.
Brian: Yeah, I think we both got to the point to have more fun in the end and to be more free.
Over thinking is the worst!
Brian: Especially when computers are involved. If we were a band of five people and we were cutting it straight to tape like in the ‘60s, that would be the song. Instead, we’re two people in a room with a laptop. Some of these songs have 11 different versions. That’s where Shane, our engineer and producer, comes in. He’s our biggest cheerleader. He’ll come in and hear whatever the latest version is and say, “This is amazing! It’s done” and we go, “Oh, okay.” He’s our secret ingredient for getting over that mental hump.
That’s super helpful to have that extra person to push things along.
Brian: We’re so secretive. Our band never heard this record until it was done. Our managers didn’t hear it.
Madeline:[Laughs] I was like, “I swear we’re doing it! I swear we’re getting something done.”
So, it was a surprise for everyone then?
Brian: Oh yeah, definitely.
You both mentioned you’re working on the visuals for the live shows. So, what can attendees expect?
Madeline: Good question!
Brian: We’re figuring that out now. We’ve always been passionate about that stuff. We’ve always tried to kind of push the envelope with what we’re able to do with the sound and visuals. It’s like a passion project for us always. We love doing it. We’re trying to never repeat ourselves and we are creating a new show. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a lot of spotlights and it’s kind of based off of Led Zeppelin.
Featured image courtesy of Shawn Brackbill
Stay tuned to Milk for more NYC duos.