It's mid-October and the shops all along Shoreditch High Street are already putting up their shop front decore ready for Halloween. Not that you'd usually be able to tell otherwise, as an acquaintance joked just the day prior: "It's constantly fancy dress round these parts all year long".
I arrange to meet Manhattan's internet-propeller two-piece Cults in a trendy bar and get ready for what might make for a very stunted interview. Cults are a band at a sort of journalistic crossroads - their album came out back in July and they are in the middle of the ensuing tour on the back of that. It's definitely too late to discuss their debut at great length and it's probably a bit early for detailed discussions of a follow-up.
As we greet, guitarist Brian Oblivion (perhaps his real surname, perhaps not) orders an espresso and remarks that it's one of the only days he'd opt for coffee over alcohol but he's just so jaded right now. Doesn't bode well for the interview then, does it?
Well, wrong. Cults, the other half of the duo consisting of singer Madeline Follin, are an interviewer's dream but probably readers' worst nightmares. Conversations venture in and out of musical matters as well as on and off topic. We decide to just get the drinks in, relax and let the conversation take us where it may - including maniac sports fans, imaginary bands and where to get an Elvis costume for Halloween.
Luke Britton talks to New York band Cults for Gigwise.
So, I guess for anyone unfamiliar - how did you two first start out as a band?
Brian: Well, we both grow up in San Diego and San Francisco and had loads of mutual friends but actually met at a gig.
Madeline: What gig? It was my brother's actually. He was in a band and we met at their gig.
Madeline: Then we were suddenly living together within a month.
Brian: This was in New York. I had just moved to the city and she was just moving there.
Madeline: It wasn't like it was planned or anything. I don't know, it kind of just happened. My brother and step-father had always been musicians and I used to look at them and think, I can't do that! But we were just really bored, doing internships and having dead-end jobs and just ended up making music. We used to head over to my stepdad's studio and record a few things – so we're weren't completely a bedroom band as the internet would have it.
Brian: I had actually played with them a few times. But I had played in a few bands before that too. I used to play in this joke Black Sabbath covers band. I even played with my top off – or maybe I just felt like I did. That could have perhaps not have happened at all.
Madeline: I hadn't been in any bands before this, unless you count 6th grade type “bands” you'd form without writing any songs, just designing the album artwork – that kinda thing.
Oh yeah, I used to be part of one a band like that in lower school. We were called 'Crossfire' and we used to mark down how each imaginery song did in the charts. Some got to number 2 sometimes, which is weird because we were the ones deciding how well they did!
Brian: Haha, I remember those things. The trend in my high school was to print t-shirt and pin buttons before you'd even strummed a note. Just loads of empty Myspace pages with no songs on it. But I guess that could be quite funny, People would be like “Oh yes, I've heard of them. They're good” and you could be like “Really? You know them? What songs do you like in particular then?” The original buzz bands!
And your first record, your self-titled debut, was released on Lily Allen's record label - which is an offshoot of - which seems quite strange. How did this come about? Did you know of her before that? I'm not sure if she broke America actually.
Madeline: Oh no, she did! We knew all about her and her music career. It all began when we recieved an email from Lily herself actually asking to fly over and talk. And she was so sweet and personable, took us out for dinner and all. It actually felt like she wanted us for the music and not like some labels just seeing you as a product. She's been through hell with labels in her life so she understood those things and just said to go back and have a think about it. But of course we were going to say yes!
Brian: Yeah, it was a total '80s style job. We stayed in this fancy hotel, got loads of free beer and we're like “WHERE CAN I SIGN?!"
The video for your breakthrough hit 'Go Outside' is an interesting one and really links in to your band name really well, being about the Jonestown Massacre and what not. Could you tell us a little about this?
Brian: Well, the theme of all that started with an art project I did on mass control and indoctrination. I guess the band is a bit of an offshoot and extension on my interests taken from that.
Madeline: But it's not like we ever wanted to consciously make music or an album with a grand theme or motif of cults running through it. These are just things we're interested in.
Brian: The video was directed by Isaiah Seret and when he came back with the final edit we were really pleased with it. It's based on the religious leader Jim Jones and his cult the Peoples Temple. Isaiah spliced in footage of us playing as part of the congregation, it came out really well. We were conscious not to exploit the events, we wanted to be really respectful and just raise questions about the power of mass indoctrination - which is sort of what music is, really.
A lot of people see you as one of the first "blog bands" to truly blow up, I know a friend of mine definitely believes this and repeatedly jokes about how you're "living the dream" and he still stuck writing about bands who have never even played a single show yet. When did you first realise that things were getting out of hand?
Brian: It's probably a lot easier for other people than the actually band to judge how big one is. The internet can be so deceiving about how big you actually are. It's easy to live in your own bubble a lot. The internet seems to kid itself into thinking that it represents the actual world – but that isn't the case just yet.
I actually went to a show like that last week. The billing was full of bands that I love and acts that I naively think will soon be huge and everyone will remember seeing them for the first time. But in reality it was just a handful of people upstairs in a pub, watching bands that maybe have one or two songs that they've posted on Soundcloud. It makes you think "actually this scene is very contained and insulur".
Brian: Yeah totally, I remember when we started getting “internet big” and playing a show to like 19 people in Kansas City. But also, when people say that we got big online it's kind of not totally true because we did a whole lot of gigging before getting to this point and I think the going out and actually playing part of things were just as - if not more – important than our internet popularity.
Madeline: I really think the only judge of how things are going is actually at the gigs. Seeing your fans there is the only judge of how many people like your album. And I guess it's going alright because we got to play here and across Europe.
So, the New York thing.. I know you probably get asked this a lot but you guys are from Manhattan and it seems like that community, along with Brooklyn, seem to be putting out all the great bands at the moment. Like the band 'Friends', who are one of my favourites right now.
Madeline: I actually haven't heard of them. But I'll definitely check them out!
Brian: About New York I don't know if it's particularly about the place or just the people there. Everyone is so creative that it's just gives you the urge and drive to do things. Everyone is so much more ambitious than other place. But it's also through envy, you see other people doing things and you think that you should too. But it definitely pushes you.
Madeline: Plus there is everything easily accessible to you within one block. And everything is delivered to you. You want chinese food, you got it. You want a studio, there's one right there!
You play London on November 15, are you acquainted with this city well?
Brian: I think London is a lot like New York in the way that it seems like all the creative people flock here from the surrounding areas.
Yeah, I just moved here recently. Not that I'm saying I'm one of these uber-creative types or anything...
Brian: Haha, but we've only played London a few times before actually. We've played a lot of the smaller cities in the UK, which I'm told is very atypical for a US band. Normally people just do Manchester, Birmingham and London but we've gigged at places like Sheffield, Brighton, Bristol – the more neglected places. It's cool to see other cities and not just the same places over and over.
I moved here from Bristol actually. You're playing there soon aren't you? At Thekla, which is this really awesome boat!
Brian: Oh yeah, I'm super excited for that. The last time we played Bristol, it was at this festival called 'Dot To Dot' and there was some sort of football tournament going on at the same time. The venue had been empty for all the support bands and we were like 'Oh no, nobody's going to show up' and then suddenly at the end all these drunk sports fans show up and it went a bit crazy
Yeah, people go a bit wild. I think that must have been the FA Cup or something.
Brian: Our friends are in the band MGMT and they were recently playing what is like the 'US Open' of surfing. It was set on a beach and nobody was interacting so they were like 'Hey, everyone throw their shoes on stage' and the whole crowd just started chucking their shoes onstage. They looked like they were being attacked.
Madeline: There were literally thousands! Lucky they were on a beach and so it was only a mass of flip-flops.”
Brian: Sports fans are crazy, man.
What are your plans before the London show? There's a couple of weeks from now until then.
Brian: We play a few shows in France and elsewhere in Europe in between. We've played France a hell of a lot. That was the first European tour we did – supporting Madeline's brother's band. This tour we're going to be visiting some other towns and cities there. That's a nice part of the travelling aspect, despite constantly needing coffee, is seeing new places.
Madeline: Yeah, this time round we get to play Switzerland, Belgium and Ireland – none of which we've ever been before. So that should be fun.
Brian: We're really looking forward to Halloween. I was thinking - do they have Halloween in Europe? Is there anywhere around here I can get a Elvis costume? Or am I going to have to settle for a Scream mask? It might be a bit difficult to play guitar in a Scream mask - not impossible though!
No, I think they have Halloween on the continent. Because All Hallows Eve was a Pagan festival which Christianity subverted to make it evil. Or at least that's what I think I've read somewhere before. Could just totally be making that up though.
Brian: No, I think you're right. But you have to think about these things when you play to foreign audiences: "Is there any way this could be lost in translation?" That's why I've stopped telling jokes on stage abroad. Too much hassle for limited response. First they have to translate it in their heads, then there may have been a slight turn of phrase that's puzzled them, leaving a long awkward silence and by the time they've worked out the joke we've already started the next song.
You're also playing an All Tomorrows Parties show around Christmas time. You've done a few of those before already, are you excited for that?
Brian: Yeah, I love doing ATP-curated shows – those guys treat you so nice! They give you so much free beer and stuff, it's great. We've done about five gigs they've put on so far, including one of the festivals already and are about to do the Battles-curated one, which we're super excited about. When I heard we had been asked to do that, I was like 'Oh, they couldn't have chosen us to play. It's probably the festival organisers or PR or whatever'. But no, they handpicked us. It's such a honour – I love that band! And they've been in touch with us through Facebook and we've gone for drinks since!
Cults play XOYO in London on Tuesday 15 November, followed by Bristol's Thekla venue on Thursday 17 November.