Aug 02, 2021
By Jennifer Irving
Photography by Ray Lego (for Under the Radar)
Issue #68 – Japanese Breakfast and HAIM (The Protest Issue)
Cults, the duo of Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, have been making music for over 10 years now. With three albums under their belts, the two returned last fall with Host, an album unlike anything they’ve put out thus far.
In the process of making the album the band hit a roadblock, and found themselves unhappy with a lot of what they had and also had no more new material. It was only when Follin let it slip that she had a bunch of unshared songs and brought them out that the album began taking form. After that, Cults say it was probably the easiest time they’d ever had finishing an album.
“It’s not saying much, but it was the most normal experience we’ve had making a record,” says Oblivion. “We’d never written a song before [our debut single] ‘Go Outside.’ We were just like completely faking it til we made it. We were terrified the entire time. And then for [our second album] Static, we were sleeping at the studio for six months, working from 4:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and just going insane. And then for [our third album] Offering, we’d made the record with no label, like totally on our own and in San Francisco and we were flying all over. It was crazy. And this one, we just made it mostly in my apartment and we just kinda met up every day and worked four to six hours.”
With their time split in between recording at a studio in Los Angeles and at Oblivion’s apartment in Arizona, the two felt like they had more freedom with Host. “Working from home on music, you feel less pressure to come out of the day with something really good,” says Oblivion, “which is a good thing I think because you end up just being more free.”
Although this was Follin’s first time bringing forward her own material, her songs not only fit wonderfully alongside Cults’ discography, they feel like the natural progression of the band. Follin says her songs are “about realizing that you’re in a bad situation and overcoming that and coming out stronger than you were before.”
Her favorite moment on the album is “Spit You Out,” a hazy, synthy track that explores how a toxic relationship can be parasitic. “I don’t think we’ve had a song that was so angry before,” Follin says, laughing. “And I get angry every time I listen to it. I feel like it’s the lyrics and the music together, it’s just, every time I listen to it, I get angry again.”
“Is that helpful for you, Madeline?” asks Oblivion.
“Yeah,” Follin responds, again laughing. “It’s okay to be angry.”
This theme of parasitism is found all throughout Host, an album that finds Cults expressing a more mature, righteous anger. Although the angst on the album is directed at specific relationships and situations, Follin and Oblivion say those themes easily extend to the world today, specifically the state of the U.S. over the last few years.
Oblivion says that “a lot of these songs are about…kind of outing shady fucking people” and there’s a hope that there’s a way forward now that Donald Trump is no longer Commander in Chief. “We can bring to light all of this darkness that we’ve had to endure over the last four years and quench ourselves in justice,” he adds.
When asked if they believe if it’s fair for fans of bands to expect their favorite musicians to speak out on social issues, it was a unanimous “yes.”
“Anybody with a platform should be speaking out,” Follin says. “Somebody actually just DMed me two days ago and said, ‘Hi, sweetie, I love your band, but don’t get involved in social issues. It’s just gonna ruin your legacy.’ And it just made me so fucking angry. I feel people should be speaking out right now.”
Oblivion feels similarly. “If you phrase the question in reverse—like, ‘Should you not speak out because you’re in a band?’—then it becomes kind of insane, right? Like, ‘Keep your mouth shut. You’re in a band, just stick to the band.’ Like, what?”
[Note: This article originally appeared in the digital version Issue 68 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now, as a bonus feature. This is its debut online.]
Also read our 2017 interview with Cults on Offering.