Cults @ Johnny Brenda’s 3/26/11: Live Review and Interview (in a van)

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Making the last-minute switch to headliner at Johnny Brenda’s on Saturday night, Cults took the stage after 11 pm and played a brief set (under thirty minutes) of the catchy, charmingly dark music that’s garnered them so much ‘buzz’ over the past year.

Read on for our exclusive interview with Cults where they reveal how they really feel about SXSW, their cult-like obsession with Twin Sister, and the (before unreleased) title of their upcoming album:

On Saturday night Cults (albeit briefly) turned JB’s into a sort of warped, hard rocking sock-hop, all while projecting black-and-white footage of what I’m guessing was vague (symbolic?) cult-like activity behind them. Their performance certainly did justice to the innate catchiness and well-constructed tension within each of their songs, and I have a feeling it’ll only get better as they expand their shows to include more from their upcoming album. The band’s six-piece live setup incorporates standard 50’s drum-beats but amplifies them to the point of danceability, mingling the implied clichés of retro pop with sinister chord patterns and Madeline Follin’s ability to seriously belt it out; highlights of the night included guitarist Brian Oblivion’s huge guitar presence on You Know What I Mean and Madeline’s sweetly articulated vocals on favorites Oh My God and Go Outside.

I had a chance to sit down post-show with Brian and Madeline, who were having a great time on the last stop of their tour with Asobi Seksu. After hanging around the merch table and talking to fans for a few minutes, they-accompanied by three members of Twin Sister-led me outside to their van where we discussed real cults, how film has inspired their music, and their new album (read below to find out what it’s called). Yes they may have fabricated some stuff (no Twin Sister didn’t play at this show), but the following conversation showed me that Brian and Madeline are two creative, congenial people with good senses of humor and a unique take on the musical process.

WQHS: Right now we’re lucky to be here with Cults AND three members of Twin Sister. So Cults, you guys just got done at SXSW. I saw pictures of you playing in a church. How did that go?

Madeline Follin: It was cool but we hated every second of it. It was good…we played ten shows in three days. It’s kind of hard having people come out to review your shows when you’ve played four shows that day. You get tired; before that the most we’d played is one in a day, and at Soutby they’re like “you’re playing four shows today.”

Brian Oblivion: I’m only going back as a fan.

WQHS: Did you meet cool people there?

BO: No. I just played and was carted around to the next show, and to the next show, and to the next show, and passed out drunk every night. It was terrible. But it was fun that we got to see James Blake, Toro Y Moi, we saw guys from Dom passed out in the street and that was pretty cool.

WQHS: Cool—so this is your second time in Philadelphia?

MF: Third time. First with Maps and Atlases, and then we came with Best Coast….who’s the best. Now we’re here with Twin Sister, who put on an amazing show tonight. It was a surprise; we didn’t really advertise it or anything. But when they got onstage it was insane.

WQHS: We were really surprised to see that. So what do you think of Philly?

MF: We love Tony Luke’s. It’s the best place on Earth. We’re going to Paesano’s next time.

BO: The new Twin Sister record is actually based on Paesano’s. It’s called “Paesano’s is Great.” There’s a song for every sandwich.

WQHS: So Cults, the band name, how’d you come up with that?

MF: We came up with it when we met Twin Sister. It felt like they were a sickening cult, and then we just wanted to start our own.

BO: It’s been a dream of both of ours for many years to be a charismatic cult leader. And it’s closer to coming true then it ever has been before.

WQHS: I actually took a class on cults last semester so I’m into that stuff.

BO: What’s your favorite?

WQHS: I’d say Hari Krishna.

BO: That’s like borderline. I’d call it a cult, but some people wouldn’t.

WQHS: I noticed you guys have a Jim Jones quote at the beginning of Go Outside. What’s the significance of that?

BO: It’s just that quote. “To me it’s not death, but living that’s treacherous.” You know, everybody feels that way sometimes, and that’s what that song is about, being afraid of living and doing anything that’s outside of your comfort zone or taking a risk, like making music. It’s like, just do it.

MF: Our favorite cult is Nike.

WQHS: So I don’t know if you know this but you guys are really popular on the internet, especially in the past week with the new song coming out. What do you make of that type of popularity?

BO: Well, ever since I saw the movie Hackers I felt like I had a full understanding of the internet and how I could move through the internet with success. The whole speeds of light thing. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration in that, and our knowledge of the internet has been very crucial to our success with the internet.

MF: We watch a lot of hacker movies; we watch Swordfish, Hackers, War Games, Gamer. Our whole band is based off of Gamer.

BO: But really we’re very appreciative to everyone who’s championed our music on the internet. I actually don’t read anything because when I read something about it or that it’s good it makes me feel emotionally weird or something. But I’m aware of the fact that there’s been some stuff going on and that people are coming to shows is part of it. That’s all I really care about.

WQHS: You guys were also film students—how has that contributed to your music?

BO: We’re not afraid to be really dramatic with our songs and kind of goofy. Some of our songs are based on character or setting or place and I think a lot of bands would be afraid of that. We’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the films of Twin Sister. We internalize them and then regurgitate it in our own style. But yeah, we think about our songs the way you’d think about a short film, like here’s a character and this is the kind of mood you want to make. That seems easier to do than just sitting down with a guitar and pouring your heart out, which would be really difficult because I don’t have a heart.

MF: Ask us for the dirty details about our tour with Twin Sister.

WQHS: Give us the dirty details on your tour with Twin Sister. And where is Andrea Estella? I have a big crush on her.

MF: Why wouldn’t you?

BO: People need to watch their daughters around the drummer of Twin Sister. Every time I go to hang out with him I’m like ‘let’s meet up as this bar’ so we meet up, take a couple of shots, we’re starting to get into a conversation and I look around and he’s gone. With somebody’s daughter. Within an hour of every place that we go. He stares deeply into their eyes and tells them how he likes to live a minimal life and how art is important for the fabric of society. And it’s like magic…

MF: On the new Twin Sister record, Dev is going to have some pretty serious keyboard solos. You’re gonna have a heart attack when you hear them. When we went on tour with Twin Sister in October and we saw Dev play were like: this is amazing. (makes keyboard noises). Fucking amazing.

WQHS: Can you tell us about the new Cults album?

MF: No.

BO: I can. It’s gonna take over the world.

Dev (Twin Sister): It’s gonna rule the airwaves, everywhere you hear music.

MF: And it’s self-titled. One day we will be on Wendy’s TV.

WQHS: I didn’t know Wendy’s had TV.

MF: When their record comes out, Twin Sister will unite the Middle East.

BO: You heard here first that it’s self-titled. That’s a scoop. Nobody knew that yet. It’s eleven songs.

MF: It’s actually called ‘Eleven songs by Cults.’

BO: That’s just a lie. But yeah eleven songs, it’s self-titled, three of the songs we’ve already put out are going to be on the record along with seven new songs. It’s kind of fucked up and weird compared to what we’ve already done—wait yeah that was bad math—but I hope people are down to take the journey into darkness. And there’s one song that’s a secret track. I’m sorry to ruin the surprise.

WQHS: Sounds crazy.

MF: God bless you! That’s how we end interviews.

WQHS: Thanks for your time guys.

BO: Let’s all get out of this van.

Elliot Rambach; originally published March 30, 2011.

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