Indie-pop duo is no longer a couple, yet it’s a stronger band than ever.
Don’t call it a breakup record.
That’s what Brian Oblivion says of “Static,” the new album by his Phil Spector-ian fuzz-pop band Cults. He and the group’s candy-voiced singer, Madeline Follin, finished off their sophomore effort and are back out on the road despite breaking off their romantic relationship last year. You might call them the Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham of Brooklyn indie-rock.
“The operative word is ‘working.’ We’re still working together, and the work takes precedence over everything else,” said Oblivion.
Cults returns Friday to First Avenue, a venue that caused the guitarist and co-vocalist to vomit the first time he played there in April 2012. No, really.
“It happened right before we played,” he remembered with a pained laugh. “I don’t get freaked out by large crowds at big festivals, but I do get freaked out by history. Playing a place like First Ave or the Fillmore and knowing all the people that have been on that stage, it makes me feel insanely adequate.”
Only 24 years old (as is Follin), Oblivion can rest a little easier this time around. Cults honed its craft over an ambitious two-year road campaign behind its eponymous debut in 2011. Part of the reason it toured so much, Oblivion explained, was because “the tours kept getting bigger and bigger, and it gets kind of addictive when things are going well.”
Things went great from the get-go for this young duo, which expands to a septet on tour. After they both transplanted from San Diego to study film in New York, Follin and Oblivion posted a few tracks on a Bandcamp page that quickly earned attention from Pitchfork and other indie music sites in 2010. It was so immediate that the band’s lack of a press bio and other promotional material was mistaken as coy, “mystery band” underground marketing.
“We honestly just didn’t have our [stuff] together,” Oblivion admitted. “Once the train started rolling, we held off for a while going public just because we thought it was funny. But three years later, that idea has been almost done to death and feels hokey.”
Cults soon caught the attention of Columbia Records (via Lily Allen) and signed in time to issue “Cults” a year later. Much more attention came with its flittering, insanely catchy hit “Go Outside,” featured everywhere from PlayStation’s “MLB 11” to a ubiquitous, hipster-targeted Nokia commercial starring neon scooters. Although he claimed never to have seen the commercial (“I don’t watch TV, but I understand it’s been shown a lot”), Oblivion said the band was thankful for the Nokia ad.
“That commercial allowed us to go buy all the gear we needed after everything we had was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.”
“Static” benefited from all that road work. As evidenced by the organ-hazy single “Keep Your Head Up,” the band is more well-rounded now, with fuller arrangements and a rockier edge but the same lo-fi bedroom-pop charm. Oblivion said they were writing songs all the while on tour, “so when it came time, we had more than enough songs.”
His relationship with Follin, however, deteriorated in that time. He said the personal circumstances did not play heavily into the songwriting, but “obviously it was there.”
“With Madeline’s method of writing lyrics, the songs more often relate to some imaginary scenario about a fictitious girl, or about friends of ours,” he explained. “It’s rarely about her own life, or our life together. But you see yourself in other people and the things you imagine, so it’s hard to deny it didn’t have an impact.”
After a few months apart once the touring ended, the exes “pretty easily” found a common bond in the studio.
“There were always other people there, and something to do every day, so it was never about us,” he said. “Working together like that allowed us to get to know each other again as friends and rebuild our relationship into something good again.”
Just when you thought this band couldn’t be any sweeter.