Interview with Brian Oblivion from Cults
When I first heard Go Outside by Cults, I was hooked instantly. I dove into the album by Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion and liked it so much, it landed at the number 1 slot on our Best Albums of 2011 list.
The follow up album was a bit of a different story. The band experienced the pressure that all bands do to avoid the sophomore slump, and then some. Bandmates Brian and Madeline broke up with one another. Hurricane Sandy came to New York and totalled their recording equipment. The band couldn’t buy a break! Luckily, they still managed to put out an album, and a good one at that with Static.
After catching their Toronto show late in 2013, PeteHatesMusic caught up with Brian Oblivion (not his real name) over email to discuss the making of the second album, Hurricane Sandy, and getting shit from Ian Astbury of The Cult.
PeteHatesMusic (PHM): Given the success of the first album, how did you strike a balance between sticking with what worked versus pushing new ground and keeping things interesting?
Brian Oblivion (BO): I guess if you’re us you just follow your interests. I feel like there’s such a singular sound to the way that Madeline sings, and the way we like music to be produced that even if we thought we were making a heavy metal record it would come out sounding like Cults to everyone else. We didn’t consciously try to do anything different or the same, we just made the kind of music we wanted to hear and it came out like it did.
PHM: How did Hurricane Sandy and the equipment destruction change things for album #2? Did it affect the album or just the touring?
BO: Hurricane Sandy really, really messed things up for a while. I feel like an idiot saying it, because so many people had it so much worse, but it wiped out almost every single piece of gear we painstakingly acquired over the previous three years, and really messed up our recording schedule for a while. It’s funny how things cascade like that, you think that five days of confusion and loss of power would set you five days back, but it set everyone I know back at least a month. People’s schedules change, they get sidetracked trying to recover. Like all natural disasters there’s nothing you can really do, you just have to try and not freak out. I’m not sure it changed the album too much, but we did write a couple extra songs during the time off that ended up making the record.
Cults – I Can Hardly Make You Mine
PHM: How much do you think about the live show when writing the songs for the albums?
BO: Well weren’t thinking about it at all on our first record, because we wrote the majority of those songs without ever having played a show before. We love those songs and continue to play them with joy, but when we sat down to write this record I think it was pretty clear to all of us what kind of songs we wanted to write if we were going to play them beside the old ones. It’s never a song to song thing, because we always think about that in terms of the record, which is ultimately the most important thing, but as a general vibe we knew we wanted to make a record where we could flex our muscles a little bit more. The first album is so loop oriented, most of the drums and bass hardly change throughout the songs, and there’s not a lot of opportunities for improvisation or aggression. We were feeling a lot stronger and more technically able and we wanted that to come through on the recording and in our shows.
PHM: You toured extensively for your first album. Do all the shows sort of blend into one another, or are there a few that still stand out?
BO: There’s definitely shows that stand out, and for me it’s never really the ones you would expect. There’s the obvious nerves surrounding the major cities, or the big festivals or whatever, but for me it’s the small shows, where a little support goes a long way that are the most humbling and memorable. It’s also when you feel like getting a little weird. Something about a kid in Alaska paying 20 dollars to come see you makes you really want to put on a great show.
PHM: How did things back home change after being out on the road for a couple of years, in terms of friends, getting used to a routine, finding out your favourite restaurants have closed, etc.
BO: New York City is bizarre. We just left town for three weeks to the day on tour with the Pixies and coming back I barely recognize the place. The first thing I usually try to do when I get home is walk up to the East Village on Second Avenue, and check out all the new stuff. I swear even over a weekend I’m consistently surprised. In the band we all suffer from symptoms of PTD (Post Tour Depression) for the first week or so after returning. Symptoms of PTD include ennui, anxiety, compulsive Netflix addiction and a simultaneous desire to be alone and to be drowned by company. The touring life is hard, but its also easy in a way because you have so many people helping you and telling you what to do. It feels like as long as you hit all your marks, and put on a good show afterwards you’ve had a successful and productive day to be proud of. When you’re off tour you have to shift gears completely. No one is knocking down your door telling you to practice your instruments, write some more songs, or do anything productive for yourself. The shift definitely takes a while and if you’re not careful, you’ll end up making it just before you have to go out on tour again.
Cults – High Road
PHM: I was at your birthday gig in Toronto. Where did you go out and celebrate after?
BO: That was Nathan our bass player’s birthday night and mine was the next day. (note: I was not at Brian’s birthday gig) Kind of unfortunate that it works out that way every year because he tends to take the wind out of my sails. We went to some Chinese bar within walking distance and all had cake and everything. My birthday happened in a dressing room in Cleveland, half the band came in, sang Happy Birthday and then had me blow out a lighter. Probably the worst pageantry on memory.
PHM: How hard was it to not make a break up record for your second album given what happened?
BO: I’m not sure I even understand what that title means (note: Static). We as a band primarily write love songs, thats just how we feel and is closest to the music that we’ve always liked. The first record has just as many songs that could be interpreted as break up songs if you’re looking for it. I had a fan come up to me recently and ask me about the significance of how on our first CD we are facing toward each other, and then on the second we’re facing away. I started laughing hysterically because I had never realized it until that moment.
PHM: Switching gears a little bit – what is the worst Cults-related headline or pun that you have read about yourselves?
BO: Well we’ve gotten a little bit of shit from Ian Astbury of The Cult, about the name. In the beginning it was kind of brutal, but I read an interview with him recently where he was asked about it and he said that when he started out, everyone made fun of him because they thought he was ripping off Blue Oyster Cult, so he didn’t really mind. I guess its just a sign of our times that everything is mixing together and greater approaching a singularity.
PHM: What bands or songs should readers of PeteHatesMusic be sure to check out?
BO: Timber Timbre, Sacco, Mood Rings, Bill Callahan, CONNAN MOCKASIN, entire Numero Group label, The Shangri Las, J Dilla, and Goodbye Horses (Garvey).
A couple of lessons learned – hurricanes are not your friend, and neither are singers of bands with somewhat similar band names. Cults’ sophomore album, Static is out now, and given how much effort went into it, you should pick it up.
Cults – Go Outside