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Cults' Brian Oblivion On Being In A Band With His Ex And New York's Burrito Problem

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Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin of Cults (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for YouTube)
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Cults' Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin have gone through a lot of changes since their debut album was released four years ago: the once-lovebirds split up, became best friends again, and even their sounds changed from bubblegum, 60s-style pop to a grittier, more atmospheric album.

The indie darlings, who now live in New York City, are also some hard-working 25 years olds. For their first album, the duo played around 300 shows, and come October, they'll be winding down on a year-long tour promoting their sophomore effort Static. They're also concurrently working in the studio on their next album.

Multi-instrumentalist Oblivion talked to LAist about what the break-up with Follin was like, on playing with his idols The Pixies, and the debate between SoCal and NYC burritos.

Since you've been playing at a lot of festivals during this tour, what would you say was your favorite one?

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We just did a festival in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which for me was the 50th state [I've been to]. I’ve been to every state—and we’ve at least played in 48 of them, but for me at least I hung out and set foot in every state that we’ve played in. And the audience there that was really receptive and cool and it was a way bigger deal to me than I could talk about because I sounded like a huge nerd.

What was it like playing with the Pixies?

When the call came through it was pretty unbelievable. I’ve said it before but theirs were some of the first songs I ever learned how to play in the garage with my neighbor across the street when I was in eighth grade. And I’ve been listening to them religiously ever since and still am; I love their new record. They were so much nicer than they needed to be, actually. [It was] one of the easiest tours we’ve ever done. They were immediately like, “You guys can share our sound guy" and "Have you met our lighting guy? You can use him too.” And no bands ever do that, and there was no sense of like...a one upmanship or intimidation or anything like that because we could never touch them... They were super kind. That’s more rare than you would think in this world.

What sort of different influences did you have for "Cults" and "Static"?

The first record: we were obviously enthralled with the idea that we had just met each other and we both really liked a lot of music that our friends didn’t like and wanted to explore that kind of late '50s, early '60s pop stuff, and we kind of ran straight for it. And I think for the second record, we tried to get into more of the obvious influences we had growing up with bands like the Pixies and more of the '90s guitar stuff that we idolized throughout our youth. We also wanted it to be a more a disciplined and varied and distorted and tense record.

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Did your break up with Madeline influence the sound of "Static" at all?

It kind of influenced the work flow, but honestly by the time that we went to work on the record, we were totally cool. I think we ended up splitting up on the last couple of tours that we did with the first record. Then we took three months off from doing anything at all, really. I’m still writing and she’s still writing but we were doing it totally separately. She hung out here and started dating someone else. And I went to Japan, ran around and acted like an idiot. By the time we reconvened, we were totally on good terms and have been best friends ever since. I’m not sure if it was as big as a factor as VH1's "Behind the Music" lay it out to be.

Was there any point when you guys broke up where you considered not continuing with Cults?

For us, even though we’re the primary band or whatever, it’s such a bigger thing than that. I mean, we're doing what we always dreamed of doing and we don’t want to stop. The people that we play with are our best friends and the people that we work with are also now really close to us. There’s such a huge group of people and such a huge support system that I don’t think any problems that we had just with each other could have spoiled anything. I don’t think there was ever a thought of doing that. I think in a lot of ways without being too personal about it, that breaking up was a function of kind of deciding in a way that this project or this band was more important to us than what our relationship had become.

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And just going back a little bit, how did you two first meet?

We met in San Diego at one of her brother’s concerts, who’s been a friend of mine before I knew her, for a long time. When I met her she said, "Oh, I’m moving out to New York in like four days." I didn’t have anything to do, so I was like, “I’ll help you move because I’m going there, too." It was kind of a coincidence that we were both in California and both heading out to New York. So, she came on the rest of the tour with her brother and then I went to San Francisco and helped her pack her bags. So, when she moved to New York, we ended up just moving in together from the very first day since she lived there. And we had only known each other for a week. Everything with this band and relationships, we’ve been doing kind of fast. I guess that was just our vibe.

How old were you guys when that happened?

We were 20. I remember I had to sneak her into the concert and get her a wristband so she could drink. We are 25 now, but we started the band a year later when we were 21, so it’s been about four years now, which is crazy to think. Five years is going to be a real milestone we’ll have to celebrate. Yeah, it’s like the average NBA career. That’s pretty impressive.

Since you’re from California and New York, would you say your albums or your music were influenced by that?

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I think so, but in a way that doesn’t make any sense. When I grew up in California, I grew up in a scene where all the kids—I guess it’s kind of a San Diego thing where all the kids actually were listening to a lot of math rock and really weird electronic and technical music like Don Caballero, and Battles was my favorite band. And emo bands like Drive Like Jehu and Pinback and stuff. But that’s not really representative of what people think of when they think of San Diego or California—like Blink 182 or Beach Boys. I found all that stuff very late in life.

Madeline and everyone always makes fun of me because I just listened to the Dark Side of the Moon for the first time last week. I was sitting in a van and was like, “This is really amazing,” and they were like, “Shut up, you can’t say that at this point in your life”…

When you come out to L.A. what are the things you absolutely need to do, see, or eat?

Eat Mexican food...that’s it—that’s the be all end all. New York City just doesn’t have it figured out yet. It’s amazing how New York City—where you have literally everything at every moment—[but] you can’t get a burrito. And even L.A.’s style is different from San Diego, but we’ll take the closest thing.

Cults will be playing a free show at Santa Monica Pier on Thursday, July 10 at 7 p.m. as part of the KCRW-hosted Twilight Concert Series. More info can be found here.