Whether you love it, hate it, or altogether ignore it, there’s no denying the power of the blogosphere — especially when it comes to new music. Back in 2010, the almighty arbiters of tuneage over at Pitchfork Media posted a catchy little ditty called “Go Outside.” With its chiming glockenspiel, hazy production, and wide-eyed ’60s-inspired female vocals, the song seemed tailor-made for the indie-loving masses, and, sure enough, within a couple of days “Go Outside” had gone music-blog viral. To add to the excitement, the band behind the track revealed themselves to be an as-yet-unheard-of — and completely un-Googleable — duo from Brooklyn, New York, called Cults. A perfect, pure new music score, the pair had no Myspace, no Facebook, and, well, no live band to speak of, yet before they knew it, they had labels reaching out to offer them a record deal.
“We’d never even had a practice,” laughed guitarist Brian Oblivion, phoning in between gigs from last week’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. “The band had never existed,” he went on to explain. “Once that happened, we panicked. We started rounding up all of our friends who play music, and they kind of became the lineup. We had to kind of work backward through the whole thing.”
Back before the blogs caught wind, Cults was the bedroom project of Oblivion and girlfriend Madeline Follin. The pair met while attending film school in New York City (both originally hail from San Diego) and started jamming together as little more than a pastime. The sweet-voiced Follin had dabbled in music early on and, thanks to her musically inclined stepfather, even recorded with Dee Dee Ramone as a kid. Oblivion had dabbled and spent a chunk of his college career scoring films.
“I was just the typical teenage suburban kid with an electric guitar,” said Oblivion. “One week I was really into music; the next week I was really into making videos of my friends skateboarding. I never really had any focus until I got into film. That was my main thing; and then the music thing started happening, and it kind of switched.”
And as Oblivion remembers it, the switch happened fast. “We were getting contacted by labels almost immediately,” he exclaimed. With a handful of seasoned music vets at their side (namely, Follin’s stepdad and her older brother Richie, who records under the name Guards), though, the duo did as told and stayed patient. “If we had been doing it ourselves, we would have said yes to the first people who offered,” Oblivion said. “We were so excited.”
Instead, Oblivion and Follin took the opportunity to flesh out their vision. They spent months writing, recording, and self-producing a handful of new songs, then took to the streets with the material that would be Cults’ debut full-length. “We were just walking around to record labels and playing them the record. If they said anything critical we would just leave and go somewhere else,” laughed Oblivion. Still, it didn’t take long for the pair to find a label open to their vision, and in early 2011 Oblivion and Follin joined forces with Columbia Records imprint In the Name Of, run by Brit pop tartlet Lily Allen.
“It was kind of fun,” said Oblivion of the experience. “We kind of held the hour because we knew what we wanted to do. We were capable of producing our own music and our own artwork and our own videos. We already had songs, we already had plans — we didn’t really feel like we needed to give anybody anything.”
In the wake of much Internet buzzing, Cults released their self-titled debut in June of last year. Following on the heels of “Go Outside,” the record is brimming with Follin’s sugary sing-song, Oblivion’s moody guitar licks, and a whole lot of insanely catchy hooks. Stylistically, the comparisons to Phil Spector’s famous wall-of-sound production treatments are numerous, and more often than not Follin sounds like an eager youngster miming along to the Supremes. But rather than sounding trite or forced, Cults plays out as a sunny and sparkling debut that’s at times downright infectious.
Following their breakneck South By schedule, Cults head out on another nationwide tour, which finds them at Velvet Jones this Saturday, March 24. After that, it’s into the studio to begin work on a follow-up, which they hope to finish by sometime this summer. “The philosophy behind it is that we set out to try and make a dance record without any juicy dance beats and a funk record without any cheesy vamping or major-sounding chords,” explained Oblivion. “It’s about trying to find your own place in the world, even if it doesn’t fit everybody else’s mold.”
Cults play an all-ages show at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) on Saturday, March 24, at 8 p.m. with openers Mrs. Magician and Spectrals. Call (805) 965-8676 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets and info.