LAURA SULLIVAN, host: We're listening to the band Cults. Last year, they were just a couple of amateur musicians named Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin. Then they uploaded this song, "Go Outside," onto a popular indie music website, Band Camp.


CULTS: (Singing) I really wanna go out. I really wanna go outside to see your face.

SULLIVAN: It was a one-in-a-million chance. The song went viral. 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 their first album just out. And they're here with me in the flesh. Madeline, Brian, thanks so much for coming in.

MADELINE FOLLIN: Thanks for having us.


SULLIVAN: So tell me, what's with all the secrecy in this past year? Were you concealing your identities on purpose?

FOLLIN: I think at first, it was not a conscious decision. We just put our songs up. And I was going to like, send them to my dad and like, send them to a few of my friends. So we didn't think it was necessary to put a picture of ourselves - like, here's a picture of us; this is our band.

OBLIVION: Yeah. Write a bio for our greatest friends.

FOLLIN: Yeah. So Dad, this is my story.



SULLIVAN: And even - I mean, even in the pictures that you do see the - you know, you guys have hair sort of concealing your identities, and you kept that up for almost a year.

OBLIVION: That's what kind of became more fun about it - was in the beginning, it was like, you know, kind of a non-thought. But then as things went along, it was like a - kind of a refreshing thing to see people like, genuinely connecting to the music and like, not really caring about the story or like, looks or anything like that. And once that started going down, we're like, wow, this is really cool. So we just tried to keep it up as long as we could, but they wore us down.


SULLIVAN: There's something very mysterious about the name Cults as well. There are some characters that show up in your songs, famous cult leaders like Charles Manson, Jim Jones. Patty Hearst even makes an appearance. Why the fascination with these cult leaders?

OBLIVION: I don't know. Yeah. When I was a kid, I was just like, as soon as I stopped going to Sunday school, I started trying out a bunch of different religions, like any idealistic teenager. I was like, I want to be a Buddhist now, like, you know.

SULLIVAN: So blame it on Sunday school.


OBLIVION: Transcendental meditation. Yeah. Exactly.


OBLIVION: Yeah. That set me up for it.

SULLIVAN: So it's a fascination? Is it...

OBLIVION: Yeah. Definitely.


OBLIVION: You know, I think a lot of our songs have to do with post-teen angst and like, dealing with control and feeling at odds with the real world. I think that's like, a lot of reasons why people do go to join cults. And at the same time, it's kind of the reason why they shouldn't.


SULLIVAN: Do that in the first place....

OBLIVION: So it's like - it's back and forth, you know what I mean? I think we just have really like, ambivalent, fascinating feelings about the whole concept, so...

SULLIVAN: Sounds like in some ways, you have a conflicted feeling about cults.


OBLIVION: Yeah. Absolutely. 'Cause I mean, there's a beauty and a romanticism to the idea of somebody living such a violently different life - just deciding like 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.

SULLIVAN: And often very dark, if not violent...


SULLIVAN: ...which is one of the themes that sort of plays out in a lot of the songs and lyrics that are on this album. Let's talk about the song "Abducted." It's an incredibly catchy song, but the lyrics are pretty dark. Let's listen.


CULTS: (Singing) I knew right then that I'd never love her. The reasons I hope the dream hasn't left her scarred. He tore me apart because I really loved him. He took my heart away and left me to bleed out, bleed out.

SULLIVAN: I'm not sure if I want to play it for my kid, or sort of run and hide. What are the lyrics in this song?

FOLLIN: I guess it's just a relationship gone very wrong.


OBLIVION: Yeah. There's like a bad-guy character who's like - you know, uses girls and is aware of doing it. But it's also kind of about that same concept - that like, drama and possibly even badness is always preferable, at least in the eyes of young people to like, stasis.

SULLIVAN: But she ends up - the girl in this particular case ends up bleeding out. I mean...


SULLIVAN: ...in some ways, almost dying. I mean...



SULLIVAN: ...that's a sort of - a very dark, very dark theme.

OBLIVION: Tragic love.

SULLIVAN: One of the most interesting things about your music is that there's so much going on in this music. How do you actually put these songs together?

OBLIVION: I mean, it's pretty like, ground up, I guess. I mean, it's all electronic music. Really, try to start with like a danceable, kind of like hip-hop drum beat. And then build up like, a bass line and a core progression. And then I'll just be working on it and Madeline will be in the other room, just kind of like, thinking up melodies and words while I'm kind of piecing a song together.

SULLIVAN: Is there a particular song that you think best exemplifies that?

OBLIVION: Maybe "You Know What I Mean."

SULLIVAN: Let's listen to that.


CULTS: (Singing) Help me 'cause I'm feeling shaky. Tell me what's wrong with my brain 'cause I seem to have lost it. 'Cause I am afraid of the light, yeah, you know what I mean. And I can't sleep alone at night, yeah, you know what I mean.

SULLIVAN: When you guys finally posted onto Band Camp, what happened from there?

FOLLIN: Well, I posted it on my Facebook, and one of my friends sent it over to the - GorillavsBear. And I was in class one day...

SULLIVAN: And GorillavsBear is a very popular indie website.

FOLLIN: Yeah. Yeah. And I started getting emails. I was like, what? Why are people emailing us? Like, hey, I love this. Who are you guys? And then I realized that it had been posted on a blog. And I, like, left class early and went home and it was like...

OBLIVION: I was sleeping through class.

FOLLIN: He was sleeping. And I was like: Oh, my God, we're on GorillavsBear. This is crazy - because we had just made those three songs like, two weeks before; put them online a week later. They had only been online for a week.

SULLIVAN: Well, now that you have come out of this period where - sort of anonymity, and you've come up with this major record label, you have to go live with a lot of this now. Does that make it difficult?

OBLIVION: I don't think that we really hang ourselves up too much on like, being, you know, exact. I think that like, a lot of my favorite bands growing up, you know, were bands that brought something else to the table live, something - you know, like, we change a lot of the drum beats up so that it's not like, so hypnotic, and it's more danceable. And there's parts that we like, extend and parts that we, you know, shorten. And we didn't get caught up in our own like, hype or fascination. We just kind of thought, like, OK, well now we can try and do this for a living. So we just took it really seriously - as seriously as we can.

SULLIVAN: Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin of the band Cults, whose album has just come out, thanks so much for coming in.

FOLLIN: Thank you for having us.

OBLIVION: Thank you.

FOLLIN: We love NPR.

OBLIVION: You're welcome. Thank you.


SULLIVAN: You can hear songs from their debut album at nprmusic.org.


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