Everyone knows music’s as integral a component to the culture of skateboarding as the damn skateboard itself, which is exactly why after months of diligently wanting to do so, we’ve finally decided to introduce a music column. Why, you ask? Because quite frankly, we dig music around here. Plain and simple. (Try spending eight plus hours cooped inside an office, staring at the computer screen without iTunes playing… ain’t gonna happen, bub.)
And since the New York City-based band Cults—a duo whose sound is a shoe-tappingly catchy mix of 1960s Phil Spector-styled girl group melodies and ’80s synth-pop atmospherics—graced this month’s “Main Ingredient” in our mag, we figured they’d be perfect candidates to kick off Reverb. Moments before their first headlining show in their native home of San Diego, we caught up with songwriter and guitarist Brian Oblivion–who, along with his girlfriend Madeline Follin, makes up one-half of Cults–to discuss Wes Kremer, touring with your girlfriend, and other nonsense.
That said, kick off your shoes, plug in your loudest headphones, turn those bad boys up to 11, and enjoy the pleasant sounds of Cults while you read a telling conversation with a very talented 22-year-old.
Words by Kevin Duffel. Photography by Blair Alley.
First, obviously since this is TransWorld, I’ve gotta ask the obligatory “do you skate?” question.
[Laughs] I used to skate a lot. I mean, in high school I got really into old school skating. Everyone was kinda doing that in San Diego when that Dogtown movie came out. I actually had skateboard P.E. in high school.
Man, I’m so jealous. I always wanted that at my school. Did you end up having it with any guys who eventually got sponsored?
Actually, yeah, that guy Mario was my neighbor.
Yeah, Marius. Shit [laughs]. Marius and Wes [Kremer]. I hear they’re killing it now. I remember when they first started skating. We lived in the same neighborhood. So, those kids were in there. There were some other kids who were really good, but Marius was the truth. But I would just mostly smoke a lot of weed and fall asleep under the halfpipe. I was kinda done with skating at that point. I’d just go to bed and they’d come wake me up to go back to class [laughs].
So you haven’t skated for a while then I take it.
Yeah, as soon as I got into music I kinda got out of skating. Our first tour we went on we brought skateboards, and we cruised around and checked out the town. But now I’m so paranoid about breaking a finger or arm. You don’t wanna be that guy to f—k everything up. Our old drummer broke his arm skateboarding. It broke through the skin, both bones, and then he had to have a metal rod to replace it. Then the last tour we were on, he was doing this [makes a drumming gesture with arm] so much that he broke the metal rod. He played five shows like that. He didn’t really tell us that it was a problem, and then the moment we got off stage after playing Coachella, he got in a car and went straight to the hospital [laughs].
His bionic metal arm just snapped in half?
Yeah, there’s a picture of it just totally bent and snapped.
How sick of explaining the meaning of the name Cults are you by now? It seems like every interview you ever have has that question thrown in there.
Yeah, we try to come up with different explanations every time, because there kind of isn’t really a definitive one.
Did you have all those answers in mind when you chose the name? Or was it just a name you were psyched on?
We kind of stumbled upon it. “Go Outside” was the first song we ever wrote, and then that [Jonestown cult] sample made its way in there because we were watching the Jonestown documentary when we were doing it, and that quote just felt so right. I studied sound for film in school, so I was always trying to find ways to bring in sound effects and other voices. And after the first one, it just kind of became something like, “Oh that could be cool. We could do that.” And my whole friend group in San Diego, we were all really into alternative religions. San Diego’s kind of a cultish place, with all the self-realization centers, and Heaven’s Gate, Masonic temples. People get into some weird shit here.
You guys basically exploded onto the scene. How’s it feel knowing that you can instantly blow up overnight just by putting up a couple songs on the Internet and have everyone out there watching you?
I think it’s cool. It doesn’t feel instant. Our first songs came out in February of last year. And in that time we’ve been on five or six tours, just in the U.S. And we spent all the time in between then recording and making videos. I’m only 22 and I’ve spent almost two years of my life doing this now. That’s like one eleventh of my entire existence [laughs]. Some people forget about your band for a little while, and then they come back, and they’re like, “Oh you blew up.” But it’s like, “No, I’ve been doing shit the whole goddamn time. I’ve been working double-time.” The answer everyone wants to hear is, “Oh my god, it’s so humbling. I’m so fortunate.” But the real answer is, I spent years in bands before this, touring in mom’s minivan, trying to get people to like music that wasn’t good [laughs]. You know what I mean? And then reality today is, good music can get heard. It’s great. And my advice to a lot of my friends trying to be musicians, maybe doing the same things for a while, is just maybe start a new band [laughs]. It’s kind of a harsh reality, but today things get heard really fast, and maybe if they don’t catch on, maybe it’s because you didn’t work hard enough on the recording or maybe you’re not being true to yourself with what you’re doing.
Yeah, I think people forget how much work goes into putting together a band and record.
Yeah, my parents recently gave me the backhanded compliment, like I went home and they looked at my schedule, and were like, “We didn’t know you could work this hard. We’re really proud of you.”
How is it being in the band with your girlfriend?
It’s cool. It’s really good actually. We only have 12 days off until December for the rest of this year. By comparison the rest of the dudes—most of them have girlfriends—and they just never get to see them. So at least I’m not sexually frustrated all the time [laughs]. But at the same time it’s tough. I’m always keeping my eye on Madelline when all these dudes come up and try to talk to her. And I avoid girl fans like the plague, just coming up to you, and Madelline looks over from across the room, just like, “No” [said in an ominous voice]. But we’ve gotten more mature about that.
How’s it go with songwriting? Most couples are bickering over who’s gonna do dishes or pick up dinner. How’s that translate to the songwriting process?
It’s the same. It’s gnarly. We fight a lot. I mean, we do compartmentalize it. Mostly I do the music and Madeline will do the lyrics and vocals. So sometimes I’ll give her some suggestions for lyrics and she’ll get really pissed at me. Or she’ll tell me some song I’m working on sucks, and I’ll get furious. But that’s a good thing I think. If you’re not fighting, that’s when relationships kinda wither. It’s not making yourself known what you want.
So what happens if, hypothetically…
If we break up?
Yeah. Do you pull the full Fleetwood Mac and make it happen anyway?
We’ve had that conversation. We’d be mature about it. We’ve both talked about how if anything went wrong, we wouldn’t let it get in the way of what we’re doing. But I don’t see that any time in the future. We just rounded the two-year point, so I think it’s solid.
On a different note, do you ever read the reviews?
The metaphor that works for me is, “When you read stuff that people say about you, it’s like planting little seeds in your brain. And then they kinda grow mostly into nice little flowers, and you’re like, “Wow, this is so great, I’m so awesome.” But then at the wrong moment they turn into like a venus fly trap and they’ll just grab an idea out of your head. You’re like, “I’m gonna write a really sad song.” And then you think, “Wait, this guy wrote that he likes really happy songs. I’m gonna bum this guy out if I do this. This guy said our songs are really dark…” So you start f—king yourself up, so I try to stay out of it as much as I can. Plus, I’m just self-conscious.
For more on Cults, go to cultscultscults.com