It was all a bit of an accident – the joking/singing, the band, the overnight success . . . Brian Oblivion, one half of Cults, explains the story so far to SINEAD GLEESON
COUPLE BRIAN Oblivion and Madeline Follin found overnight success after uploading a handful of songs online. Their anthemic single Go Outsidedemonstrates their love of 1960s surf music, but Madeline once sang on a Dee Dee Ramone song.
You’ve said in the past that Cults are almost an accidental band, how did it all start?
Madeleine’s stepdad would make music in the basement and sometimes when he was working on vocal tracks, Madeleine would go down and make fun of him by singing them really loud – but he really liked it. The same kind of thing happened with Cults, in that I would work away at making beats on the computer and she’d jokingly sing over them and then we realised that maybe we could make something out of it.”
The band’s sound has a very 1960s, surf-pop feel, but you say that you’re very anti the idea of retro...
“Retro was a banned word when we were working on the record. I guess we wanted to build on things we liked, not imitate them. When you look at all the music you love, you really want to do better. If we had gone down the track of doing something that was the same, people would have heard it all before.”
After you initially posted your songs online, music blogs and sites like Pitchfork went into hype overdrive about the band. All the attention must have been quite daunting...
“We put those songs on the internet purely to share them with friends, and if people hadn’t responded in the way they did, I don’t think we would have done this. I don’t think we’d have taken it seriously because our lives were on such a different paths. Sure, we’d have made more songs and had fun, but we wouldn’t have played shows or handed out flyers. Having a platform where people can immediately respond to something can be very gratifying as an artist.”
Was there a downside to that kind of high-profile, instant fame?
“It’s funny, because at the height of our so-called internet fame, when people were writing about us a lot, we were still playing shows to nine people. There’s definitely a disconnect between reality, and the hype that is the internet. We toured after the first songs came out and we never played to more than 15 people. So we focused on doing more shows, making more music, making videos... which is the old school way of doing things. If we hadn’t put that work in, and believed our own hype, we wouldn’t be anywhere today.”
Since then, the album has been out, touring a lot – have you had time to take it on board, and how much has it changed?
“We never started this band thinking we were going to be a band. It was like an art project that we worked on at the weekend. That’s how we view things now. We have an opportunity to be artists. We’re a studio band and we make this music with technology, do our own artwork, commission videos. It’s great that people are hungry for more, because it allows you to make more art.”
You both started as film students, would you like to get involved in soundtracks?
“Madeleine and I were studying film, but in retrospect, we confused wanting to make films with liking to watch films. To make a film, you have to be a long-distance runner, it’s a very bureaucratic, painful process. You have to be tough to see it through. “I like that with music, you can record something and play it for someone 30 minutes later, but sound for film was always one of my long-term dreams. We’re also working on this abstract, storytelling project involving short films with Jim Jarmusch, which is really cool.”
Will it just be the two of you when you play Dublin next week?
“We tried to do the laptop thing with just us, but it didn’t feel right, so we’ll have five people, and that makes it cooler for the audience.”
Cults play The Grand Social on November 20