Last year, Cults was just a couple of amateur musicians named Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin. Then they uploaded their song, "Go Outside," onto a popular indie music website. The tune went viral and they became an instant indie success story. But no one knew who they were, where they were from, what they looked like or, for that matter, their real names.
Now they're in the big leagues with a record deal from Columbia, and they're touring the poppy, xylophone-twinkling songs from their debut album. They joined Weekend All Things Considered host Laura Sullivan to talk about what inspires them.
Against the bouncy sonic backdrop, Follin sings lyrics that go down dark hallways of dysfunctional dystopias and teenage angst. Oblivion says the songs came out of a fascination with the idea of joining a commune or a religious cult. Cult leaders and members like Charles Manson, Patty Hearst and Jim Jones populate the songs, which he says are both "cautionary and romantic."
"We have ambivalent, fascinating feelings with the concept," he says. "There's a beauty and romanticism with someone living such a violently different life. Just deciding, 'Well, I'm going to pack up my bags and go believe in something that nobody else is going to understand.' If that's peaceful and progressive, then it's kind of an amazing concept, but usually it doesn't end up being those two things. It ends up being just a greater system of control for weak people."
Follin first met Oblivion while he was on tour with her brother. From then on out they were together as friends, lovers and roommates, and eventually became musical partners. The duo says that going from being virtual unknowns to a band with a major label record deal has taken some adjustment and experimentation. They've expanded the band to include three more people, and they've gone through four drummers while touring.
"We don't hang ourselves up too much on being exact. A lot of my favorite bands growing up were bands that brought something else to the table live," Oblivion says. "We change a lot of the drum beats up, so that it's not so hypnotic and it's more danceable. Because the experience you want on a record is very different than the experience you want standing in a room with a bunch of sweaty people. And that's more fun, because once your record is done, what other chance do you have to be creative then to keep working on your live show?"
While Cults story can sound a little too serendipitous at times, they seem to have stumbled upon something that they both believe in. Oblivion, who used to be in a Slayer cover band, says this is the first time he's taken being in a band seriously.
"All the bands that I was in were joke bands — bands where you could hide behind something, some kind of concept. Like, oh, let's go start a band that sounds like Black Sabbath, or let's start a rap band. And when everybody doesn't like it, you're like, 'Well, I was just kind of joking around anyway.' I think this was the first band that we were in, that we're like, 'We're not joking anymore. This is the music that we'd want to hear.' So, it was exciting. I have too many friends that wallow in weird realms of irony and waste their talent. So I'm glad that we could get over that."