Cults’ Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin were aimlessly working toward careers in the movies when music got in the way. Oblivion interned for hotshot movie producer Scott Rudin (The Social Network, True Grit) while enrolled at NYU. Follin, meanwhile, argued over the meaning of Citizen Kane as a cinema theory major at the New School. But, kids Oblivion, “We were film students — isn’t it expected that we’d drop out?”
After falling for the swooning sound of ’60s acts like the Shangri-Las — and each other — Oblivion and Follin (who had music biz hook-ups through her brother Richie, guitarist for L.A. garage-rockers the Willowz, and stepfather Paul Kostabi, a founding member of White Zombie) started writing their own modernized, spooky take on girl-group pop, including “Go Outside,” a sticky wad of bubblegum that pairs glockenspiel and funk bass with Follin’s sweet, airy vocals.
Posting songs anonymously on Bandcamp, and possessing a hard-to-Google name, Cults piqued the interest of bloggers, much to the bands’ chagrin. The shaggy-haired musicians, both 22, aren’t exactly outgoing. “I was in class when Madeline texted me saying people were picking up on us,” says Oblivion. “I had to leave. I was gonna be sick. I almost threw up on my way home.”
His stomach won’t be settling anytime soon. Late last year, Cults became the first act Lily Allen signed to her In the Name Of label. In April they scored a slot at Coachella. Indie rap hero Freddie Gibbs has also approached the duo about remixing their work, an acknowledgment of their subtle rap influence. “We build our songs like hip-hop songs, starting with the drum loops,” says Oblivion.
On Cults’ self-titled debut (distributed by Columbia), the songs range from female-empowerment gems (“Never Saw the Point”) to uplifting anthems (“Oh My God”). Oblivion says Cults’ throwback sound was partly inspired by listening to oldies radio station KRTH while growing up in San Diego. “They played everything: psychedelic, Roy Orbison, Ike and Tina,” he says. “It was the most awesome station. It made me like pop music again.”
This spring Cults are on their first headlining tour, but even with the band’s career going so well, Oblivion, whose last name is a tribute to a character from the 1983 sci-fi thriller Videodrome, hasn’t shaken the movie bug. His ultimate goal is composing soundtracks. “That’s my dream,” he says. “That’s the last hurdle.” And he’s already got a connection.
WATCH: Cults at SXSW