A GoPride Interview

Brian Oblivion

Cult following: Brian Oblivion on the success of the band Cults

Thu. November 21, 2013  by Jerry Nunn

We want everyone that can possibly hear our music to hear it.
Brian Oblivion
New York City band Cults continues to cultivate a following. The haunting vocals of Madeline Follin combined with Brian Oblivion's retro stylings have created a sound that is unique in music today.

They were signed to Columbia Records and their first video for Go Outside starred Emma Roberts and Dave Franco. They raised AIDS awareness on the charity album Red Hot + Rio 2 with a track and just released their sophomore album Static.

Jerry Nunn called up the man behind the music to learn a little more about the band that is definitely one to watch.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Brian. Are out currently on tour right now?

Brian Oblivion: We are and at the half way point. We started at the East Coast and swung down through Texas. We go to the Northwest then head back home.

JN: How did you two meet in the first place?

BO: We met through Madeline's brother Richie. He is also a musician and a long time friend of mine. He plays in a band now called Guards. They are doing very well. I was catching a ride out to California when I was going to school and we met at one of his shows. We hit it off and wound up making songs together.

JN: Did you realize what a find Madeline was? She is really something special.

BO: Yeah, definitely it is part of her personality that she is just singing all the time all day. After watching her I just thought about the songs I had and hoped I had found someone to do it.

JN: You do most of the songwriting?

BO: I do all of the instrumental stuff. She does the vocals and lyrics.

JN: Where does your unique sound come from?

BO: I think it started off realizing that we both had pretty divergent musical tastes at the time. I couldn't really get her into electronic music and she couldn't get me into folk but we both had a secret passion for late '50s and early '60s kitschy music. The music that people in our generation find annoying [laughs] like Lesley Gore, Gene Pitney, or Patience and Prudence. We listened to that and tried to do a modern take on that.

JN: Where did the name of the band come from?

BO: We were working on this thing for school with a video art project about San Diego and the religious environment that we grew up in. I grew up five blocks from there the Heaven's Gate happened. People there have too much sunshine, too much money, and too much happiness for these new age head spaces. I have watched a lot people get weird over time. I am fascinated with it and we just rolled it into the songs we started making.

JN: You performed on a Red Hot + Rio album pretty early on.

BO: That was really fun. It was awesome to be a part of such a good cause. It was a very bizarre situation because Madeline had to have a dialect coach there to help her sing because we obviously don't know Portuguese. It was this big burley guy that made her do it over and over again to get the right pronunciation!

The song turned out well and that compilation is really good.

JN: Well, your LGBT fans appreciate the help to the cause. Let's talk about new music. The video for "High Road" seems like a David Lynch movie.

BO: Yeah, that video was really challenging to get to the point of where we got with the video. The last record we made three videos not only in a refined esthetic but with the same actors. We had one universe with that one and had to come up with a new universe from scratch for this record. I think a lot of the ideas that we worked through with the first version was another idea of what we did before. When we met up with Hiro Murai, the director, we picked something that was black and white and graphic. It plays toward your subconscious and not necessarily something narrative. That was more of the feel of this record.

JN: My favorite track is "We've Got It."

BO: That song went through a lot of revisions. That was one of the first songs that we wrote for the record. It has this weird drum break that I dug out of a vinyl collection that I had. I loved it. We ended up replaying it then used different baselines and chord progressions over it until we finally liked it. That song is about addiction and people we have seen go off the deep end with whatever they are into. It is reminder to not think that you are so important and be more open to people.

JN: I need to listen to it again is what I am understanding now... [laughs]

BO: Yeah.

JN: Are you singing more on this record?

BO: I think about the same as the last album. I like singing on records but honestly I don't like singing live because I have so much to do. I am playing keyboards and guitar. Singing just makes my whole event more stressful. I try to sing less on the record so I don't have to sing so much live. I'm getting more comfortable with it so in the future there may be more of it.

JN: I have seen the group play many times in Chicago like at the Empty Bottle. I met Madeline really quick and she was adorable.

BO: Awesome.

JN: I had seen you play at Metro before so this is a return gig at the same venue.

BO: It is. I have relatives that moved to Chicago so I have a whole bunch of family there now. Metro is a special place. We got to meet the owner last time and he is a really cool old school Chicago guy. The feeling there is great.

JN: Joe Shanahan is a really nice guy. That show was great. It is a good venue for you guys. The live act is a hair show! Would you ever cut your hair?

BO: With the third record we all getting bobs! I'm actually getting sick of my long hair. I have had long hair since I was thirteen years old. I'm wanting to experiment but I feel like I am trapped in the image of the band. We need to reinvigorate our hair game!

JN: I love it. I watched the movie remake of Carrie and that was the best part when they played your song at the end.

BO: That was exciting. Actually the song that they licensed was the last song on the record called "No Hope," which is a funeral prom song. I though it would be awesome then I went to the movie and it was "I Can Hardly Wait to Make You Mine." They had switched it but it was way cooler. Watching those images with the song made it sound like Black Sabbath or something. In our small way we were trying to be influenced by something like that so it is nice when it comes out.

JN: It was a perfect fit for the movie. I interviewed the director of Carrie recently so she must be a fan of the band. What is the goal of the band? Do you want to become more mainstream?

BO: I think we are very ambitious. We want to play big shows. We are not nervous anymore. We want everyone that can possibly hear our music to hear it. We are not naïve to the reality of being a rock and roll band in 2013. We are not like Tiesto in Vegas blowing up nightclubs! People are into that but we would rather make our own sound and if people enjoy it that's great.

JN: For me you are this band that I want to hold onto and keep private for my music collection. If everyone knows about it then its not as special anymore.

BO: That is true.

JN: Cults are opening for Pixies in January I saw.

BO: Yes, we are and will be coming back to Chicago then too. "Where Is My Mind" is the first song I learned to play on guitar.

JN: I just saw them perform that at Riot Fest.

BO: Yeah, they still have it, man!

That is the most fun thing about being a musician sometimes you will just wake up in the morning and there will be a weird email in your inbox that we have a show in India or asking if we want to open for the Pixies. It doesn't happen everyday but once a month hopefully. It just makes your outlook so much better!

Cults rock at Metro, 3730 N Clark Street, on November 23. Get a ticket at www.metrochicago.com.

Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.