Like many bands on the modern music scene, Cults started with the Internet –a cyberspace buzz on popular blogs that simply showcased their abilities. But it's their strong, throwback pop sound – almost a doo-wop flavor – that has carried them beyond being the buzz band of the moment.
While many contemporary indie groups have experimented with this unique sound, few have had as much critical and commercial success as Cults.
"It kind of manifested itself," says guitarist, percussion and vocalist Brian Oblivion. "We've always had an interest in the late-'50s, early-'60s sound. But it came to the surface when we met each other. Not a lot of kids were into that kind of music."
The "we" that Oblivion refers to is a slightly smaller grouping of individuals than you're probably imagining. It's just him and girlfriend/vocalist Madeline Follin. And we know what you're thinking – oh look, a duo that happens to be a couple who plays rock music. Well, the White Stripes this ain't.
First of all, they're from New York (by way of California, that is, because nobody is actually FROM New York). And secondly, yes, they're also dependent on more of a lo-fi sound, but it's not a one-dimensional brand of audio. They not only dabble with the unique doo-wop sound that they've come to be known for, but they mix in a little bit of bubblegum pop and a few more songs that have a tougher edge to them too. They're a fairly versatile outfit – capable of attracting more than just those looking for the next big thing.
Which takes us back to the power of the information superhighway. Cults may have gotten a boost thanks to the world wide Web, but they're certainly no flash in the pan. They're young, yes, but they've definitely been feeling their way through the industry rather quickly.
For instance, they're fresh off another year at SXSW, but this year was slightly different. "Last year it was a shit show," says Oblivion. "We played four to five shows per day last year, but this year we were able to take our time and see some great bands."
The other challenge of walking a straight line while trying to make music in an oversaturated market has a lot to do with the creative process. While the one-hit wonder has gone the way of the dinosaurs these days, albums that are strong and consistent from top to bottom are definitely a focus of music aficionados and record labels.
"When we make music, it's more like telling a story," Oblivion says. "It's an old-school way of making music. It's like an assembly line. We have a small home studio. I write the music first, then hand it off to her to work on the melodies."
Well, that seems pretty cut and dried. It certainly shows in the final product – and folks have most definitely taken notice, even if it's only to a certain degree. "You get 'Best New Band' on Pitchfork," says Oblivion, "but you're playing to 50 people in St. Louis."
We can imagine the frustration. But as their following has grown (ironic wording for a band named Cults), they've been able to gain a larger, more appreciative audience – and they've tweaked the live show to accommodate that. "There's five people in the band," Oblivion says. That's been the tough part. Making a record was easy. Figuring out how to be a band is complicated."
Back to that band name. Cults? That's a pretty ominous thing to name yourself. Some would say that it's a little taboo, to say the least. "It was kind of an afterthought, like a lot of things in this band," Oblivion says. "It's a total bad-guy attitude that people may be forcing you down a path you don't want to go. It was a whimsical decision. The name came after."
So then, what comes after that? "We're going back into the studio," Oblivion says. "We've got 10 or 11 songs so far. We're just going to go hit the books and try and record 30 or so songs. And then we'll try and put them out by October. You can really get cranking once you get started." Don't we know it. | RDW
Cults with Spectrals and Mrs. Magician • 4/22, 8 p.m. • Magic Bag • 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale • 248.544.3030 • themagicbag.com • $15