Cults' Madeline Follin on Dee Dee Ramone, Sneaking Into Coachella, and Inspiration for "Abducted"
Cults became a buzz band without even trying. Last year, the '60s pop-influenced group posted a couple songs on Bandcamp for friends to hear, not expecting bloggers to find and praise the demos. Content that the music spoke for itself, Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion decided against posting any additional information about the band.
A year later, the band released a debut album on Lily Allen's label, In the Name Of, and appeared at Coachella and Lollapalooza. Cults is about to embark on a tour with Foster The People, which kicks off at Venue Scottsdale on Tuesday, September 13.
We recently caught up with singer Madeline Follin to discuss performing with her significant other, recording with Dee Dee Ramone, and the meaning behind "Abducted."
Up on the Sun: When the seven-inch was first released, the band kept a pretty low profile and had minimal information available online. Was that intentional?
Madeline Follin: In the beginning, it definitely was not at all intentional. We wrote these songs just for fun and didn't expect that anybody was ever going to want to listen to them. We didn't even think our friends would ever want to listen to them, and then people started posting it on blogs and emailing us, literally, asking us 'who are you guys,' and we didn't really feel like it was necessary to post any pictures or write our biography or anything because we were kind of excited that the music was speaking for itself.
UOTS: Last year, I saw you guys open for the Morning Benders. You had a huge crowd at FYF Fest and sold out your show at Club Congress in Tucson about a month ago. How do you explain your sudden surge of popularity and have you gotten used to it yet?
MF: I don't know, I don't think it's ever something we'll be like totally used to. It just seems totally crazy to us. We were touring for a year before our record came out. I think people would come out to the shows before, and kind of go just to see what our record was going to be like and see what was up with us. After the record finally came out, it seemed like a lot more people were into it. All of our shows started selling out and having much bigger crowds. But, yeah, I don't think it's anything that we'll ever be fully used to.
UOTS: You guys legitimately played Coachella this year, but I heard you snuck in one year. Was that to play or just hang out?
MF: No, it was my freshman year of high school or something. I wasn't playing. Me and my brother snuck in like three years in a row. It was awesome to finally be playing it.
UOTS: You guys met in San Diego, but consider yourselves a Manhattan band. How are the music scenes different on each coast?
MF: I don't really think there is much of a San Diego music scene, it's just very local. There's a lot of cool bands that are originally from San Diego, but once their band starts doing well, they usually move out to L.A. or New York. There's not really much besides kids playing in their garages. In New York, it's a lot more competitive and you're driven to actually get things done rather than jamming everyday. You actually want to put something out there.
UOTS: Both you and Brian went to film school. How did you transition from film to music?
MF: It wasn't that tough for us. As far as the whole film thing goes, we always wanted to do music when we were younger, but it felt like a pipe dream that would never, ever be possible, whereas if we went to school for film, it would be easy to get a job doing anything. You could work as an assistant on whatever. I guess it was more of a relief, the transition, than it was tough for us.
UOTS: What's it like playing in a band with your significant other?
MF: It's good. It's good because we've been gone from home for almost two years straight now and I think it would be really hard to have a relationship if we weren't in a band together. It's nice being able to travel together and hang out all the time. But it's also, we've gotten pretty good about shutting it off. Not being boyfriend and girlfriend style when we are on the road. We don't want to make everybody else feel bummed.
UOTS: Do you still consider yourselves a duo, or is the touring band separate?
MF: We consider ourselves a band, but I think as far as the recording process goes, it will always be just the two of us because it's so much easier that way. If we were to have everyone in the band come in during recording, we'd have too many cooks in the kitchen. The drummer would be like, 'Oh, my drums are too quiet on this song,' or, 'My bass is too quiet.' It's easier to have the two of us sitting there making all the decisions, but we do definitely consider ourselves a full band.
UOTS: Cult imagery is big in your work. Why did you go with that theme?
MF: I don't think we really made a conscious decision like, 'this is what our band name is going to be and this is what the videos are going to be like.' It's pretty natural. In the beginning, one of the first songs we wrote was "Go Outside" and we had put the insane sample in the beginning of it. It was nice to have these really creepy cult leaders in the songs, and then have the songs talk about why are they are so horrible and why they're so wrong.
UOTS: Can you explain the inspiration behind the song "Abducted?" I kind of get a Manson girls vibe from it.
MF: Yeah, definitely. It's about a relationship gone horribly wrong where the girl doesn't really care, she just keeps going back to this guy. And the guy is an absolute dickhead and doesn't care about her at all. I guess I've never thought about it that way, but it is sort of Manson style. I'll say that from now on.
UOTS: I'm glad I could have a hand in that.
MF: Now in every interview, you're going to see that.
UOTS: Awesome. You have two very different videos for "Go Outside." How did that happen and which one do you prefer?
MF: The first video that came out was...MTV started a project where they pair up up and coming actors with up and coming musicians with up and coming filmmakers and they make a video. Best Coast just did one. LCD Soundsystem did one, and a bunch of other cool bands are going to be doing those.
That was a video that we didn't really have anything to do with. I guess I would say I enjoy the second one better because we had more input, more to do with it. But it's cool, everybody can decide for themselves which one they want to watch, the happy one or the creepy one.
UOTS: What was it like to work with Dee Dee Ramone when you were a kid?
MF: At the time I was so young that I had no idea who he was. I didn't understand how important he was, that he was actually a legend. For me, it was one of my step-dad weirdo friends. I didn't want to hang out with them, I didn't want anything to do with them. Now everybody's like, 'What was it like?' I'm like, 'I don't really remember, I was so young.' He died when I was probably in 7th or 8th grade, when I was starting to get into punk.
UOTS: I see you're a big Lesley Gore fan. Who else has been a big influence on you?
MF: I love The Shangri-Las, Patience and Prudence, The Crystals...huge Sonic Youth fan, Neil Young. I don't know, it really goes across the board. I have a wide range of musical influences.
UOTS: You and Brian listen to totally different music, at least that's what I saw in an earlier interview. Is that still the case, or have you found some more common ground?
MF: We've grown to accept a lot of things that we normally wouldn't accept. Before the band started, I wasn't against it, but I wasn't really interested in new music. I was really close-minded and everything's already been done before. This person did it, so nobody's ever going to do it better than that. Since the band started, I've been a lot more appreciative of new music and have gotten into a lot more stuff. But yeah, when we first met, Brian was into electronic music like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin and I can't handle that kind of music.
UOTS: Aside from this upcoming tour, what are your future plans?
MF: We are pretty much on tour until February I would say? March? A lot of touring and working on the record. We've been constantly working on the record ever since we finished. We haven't really ever stopped. Hopefully we'll go in the studio sometime in December when we have a couple weeks. Tour as much as possible, more videos....
UOTS: What will be your next single?
MF: I think it's going to be 'You Know What I Mean.' I'm not totally sure, but I think that's it.