Cults are Working on Being OK
Madeline Follin owns one plate. Brian Oblivion just discovered Pink Floyd at age 28. These facts alone presented to one’s more settled Facebook friends (you know the ones — their baby has its own Instagram and they just bought a condo) might raise questions as to whether the duo is OK. But when you take into account that Follin and Oblivion make up the Brooklyn band Cults, and they’re preparing to release a brand-new album, Offering, said Facebook friends might alter their definition of “OK.”
Cults’ third album, the followup to 2013’s Static, marks a kind of maturation for the band. It’s an exploration of what it’s like to be in your late twenties during a time when the concept of being an adult has shifted. Just take a look at one of those “things millennials have killed” lists; they’re replete with products and services like homes, diamonds, banks, fabric softener, etc. Settling down as you creep toward 30 doesn’t necessary mean you’ve made it or that you’re happy. Priorities have shifted, and those shifts are reflected clearly in Offering.
The track “Right Words” in particular distills this late-twenties angst, a tension belied by Cults’ characteristically breezy sound: “We sit around/Debate the definition of OK/And I’m getting tired of hangin’ round/Caught in a replay,” Follin sings. That sentiment, questioning one’s place in the world as one ages, runs throughout the record; in “With My Eyes Closed,” she sings: “So much expectation/Is staring me right in the eyes.” In “Recovery, “ she croons: “Drifting through the silence/Searching for guarantees.” And, then, in “Clear from Far Away,” there are the rather nostalgia-laden lyrics: “All my time/Passed me by like a stranger.”
“Being in your late twenties, some of your friends achieve their dreams,” Oblivion tells TIDAL. “Some get closer. Some aren’t very close at all yet. You know? That’s OK.”
“There’s obviously no right way to be happy or satisfied with your life,” he adds. “Some of the happiest people I know roast coffee.”
And some, one can argue, might own one dish or discover classic bands at odd ages — and release records, go on tour and then do it all again.
Read on for more on Cults’ definition of “OK” — and their new record.
I know you’ve had other projects and played with other bands, but what’s been happening with you guys and Cults specifically in the last four years?
Brian Oblivion: I feel like we toured on that last record for almost two years pretty consistently. And then took a little time to get apartments and get our lives somewhat situated as adult human beings. And then we wrote for like a year and here we are.
Madeline Follin: After an album comes out, people don’t realize that you are touring for two years on that record. So, in reality, we didn’t take much time off. We took maybe a month off after touring and then started working. But, we weren’t forcing anything, so we decided to just take it slow and meet up on the weekdays and just work on stuff. Treat it like…
Oblivion: Like a job.
Follin: Like a fun job.
Not counting the time on tour, what experiences were you drawing on when you wrote this record? I write fiction, and I know I have to give myself time to live between each story — time to have things to even write about.
Oblivion: Sure. That felt very much like what we were trying to do — taking a little more time. We didn’t want to write an album about sitting in the back of a van. We both found romantic partners and moved in with them and caught up on our friendships and world events and learned how to make our own food. You know?
Follin: Making friends that aren’t in the music industry.
Obilivion: Not getting drunk every night.
Follin: It’s hard when you’re on tour to keep up with your friends that are at home because you want to see them when you come back, but you’re only here for, like, a day, and you’re like, ‘I just want to sleep!’
Oblivion: I think a lot of the lyrics and themes in the album are more outward-facing this time, and I think it’s because we could finally cool down and take a look around instead of just being obsessed with ourselves all the time.
Regarding the title and title track ‘Offering,’ I’m wondering what that word means to you. How does it function in your lexicon?
Obilvion: There’s the obvious relationship of what that word means relative to an artistic object, you know what I mean? You’re kind of distilling down a small piece of yourself to give to people. And it’s a scary process because you never know if it’s going to work or not. But, you’re still giving up a pound of your flesh every time you do that stuff.
It’s also kind of a joke. When I’m not making music, I read a lot of music websites, and they always refer to [releases] as, ‘the latest offering from Grizzly Bear.’ Or, ‘The latest offering from Cults, “Offering.”’ Why are they using that word?
That’s such an accurate word, actually. You’re giving a piece of yourself to people when you make music. It must be stressful, each time that you put something out into the world. Especially since it’s been a few years.
Follin: Yeah. It wasn’t stressful at all. But now that the record’s about to come out, I’m starting to get a little bit of nervous energy, just because it has been a while since we put anything out.
Oblivion: I think the reality is, with us, it’s not stressful because we love [making music] and we don’t ever picture ourselves not doing it in some way. Even if we’re in our forties and end up working as accountants, I think we’d still meet up and make music. It feels so freeing to just let it go. I’ve never listened to one of our albums front to back after it’s been mixed.
When you’re playing it live, it’s exciting because you’re dynamically interacting with it, and you can say, ‘Actually, no. Play that!’ And then things change. But, as far as the recorded version… When I have a kid or something, I’ll spin everything for him. But, until then, I think it just feels so good to let it go and move on to the next mindset that you’re going put yourself into.
Some people love it. Our drummer — our sometimes drummer — if you ever go over to his house, he’ll just play you his whole discography. Front to back. But, I think that’s easier because he’s a drummer. Whereas, if you’re a songwriter or a singer, it gets really personal. I don’t know why it feels easier to do it in front of thousands of people than it does to do it in front of your friends.
Follin: Playing shows, when your family is there, or playing the music for your family, it makes me feel so uncomfortable. I know that they are always trying to figure out what the song is about or who I’m talking about or something, and I’m like, ‘No. Don’t do this.’
There are a lot of ‘you’s on this record. I assume people hear songs and ask, ‘Is “you” me?’
Follin: Totally. I’ve actually had people reach out and be like, ‘Is this about me?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m just not even going to respond.’
Oblivion: I’ve had the bizarre experience of having a song written about me by one of my old friends. And it was not good. It was a very rude song, but I frickin’ love that song. I don’t know why, but I listen to it all the time! And, it really emotionally affects me. I mean, everyone kind of wants a song written about them — whether it’s good or bad.
I know you guys have been playing music together for a while. Do you have your own shorthand or language for what you want out of a song?
Oblivion: The first part is — I’m so amazed that she humors me and has the patience to be there for every moment of it — is just getting sounds. We probably spent three months in a studio next to Port Authority just making weird sounds. We’ll build a session of, you know, maybe 20 instruments and say, ‘OK. That’s the band for this record.’
We try to not go out of that because there are so many possibilities when you’re working track by track with just two people and not playing as a group. It can be paralyzing. So, you have to find a new Sergeant Pepper imaginary band each time and work with that. Otherwise, I think we would just go nuts.
What was this imaginary band like for this one?
Oblivion: It was much more electronic for one. More ’80s. Ponytails. White suits.
Oblivion: For the second record [Static], we were like, ‘OK, the bass player is, like, 400 pounds.’ We’d always think about that. He’s not going play too much because he’s 400 pounds, but he’s going to be steady. He’s going to hold it down, you know? Sometimes coming up with those ridiculous constructs actually can push things forward.
I heard someone discovered Pink Floyd while making this record? Brian?
Follin: I feel like, before each record we’ve done, he’s come up and been like, ‘Have you heard this?’ And everybody in the van is like, ‘Yeah. Ninth grade, dude. Where were you?’
Oblivion: I had a weird musical history because I wasn’t raised in a musical family at all. Most of the music I heard was probably at church, or my dad would sometimes put on the Doobie Brothers or Sheryl Crow or whatever was on the radio. So, I had to figure it out for myself.
I think that led me to, when I was a teenager, go in the total opposite direction and listening to, like, John Zorn and bands like Battles. I was just trying to listen to the weirdest stuff I could. I thought that made me original. I guess a lot of people go down that path at some point in their life. But, I totally skipped…
Oblivion: Everything. That’s how this band started. [Madeline] played a Leslie Gore song and I was like, ‘Wait, what is this? This is incredible!’ And she was like, ‘What? You haven’t heard “You Don’t Own Me”?’ I was like, ‘I want to do that!’
I think, for the second record, it was a lot more garage and classic rock stuff, and this one, I found Pink Floyd…but also the Cocteau Twins and a lot of new wave I had never listened to on principal. I thought it was lame. And then I started listening to Tears for Fears, and I was, like,… jamming.
I literally listened to Dark Side of the Moon in the van coming back from a show on my headphones. And I took my headphones off, and I went, ‘Guys.’
I’m interested in how time functions in the record. There are a lot of references to time and — it running out, etc.
Follin: Definitely growing up and feeling like you don’t have enough time. I guess with the record and for me at a certain time, I’m like, ‘I need to rush.’ It’s maybe about realizing you have to just do you and not let other people pressure you or push something. It’s just going to come when it’s going to come.
I liked the line in ‘Right Words’ about sitting around and debating the definition of being ‘OK.’ What is that for you?
Oblivion: That song is more than anything about time, but it’s also about looking around and watching… Being in your late twenties, some of your friends achieve their dreams. Some get closer. Some aren’t very close at all yet. You know? That’s OK.
I don’t know. That’s something I’m sure you feel in your friend group and we struggle with in ours, too. It’s like there’s obviously no right way to be happy or satisfied with your life. Some of the happiest people I know roast coffee. They just wake up to work and love it every day and go home and have their time to themselves. And then I know people who are very successful and very miserable and everything in between. So, it’s about finding your own way.
(Photo credit: Shawn Brackbill)
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