Static is a breakup album. Just not in the way we think of a breakup album. That cold knot in your stomach when you lose someone? That is not longing for a person. That is dread, uncertainty of what comes next. Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion of Cults are both 24 years old. Today most people of that age, if not all of us, carry this cold knot inside.
â€śThereâ€™s a feeling our generation has. The feeling thereâ€™s always something better around the corner, that everyone is born to be a star,â€ť Brian says. â€śThe feeling that life is waiting for you, and yet itâ€™s not happening. All of that is static.â€ť
Static. The white noise that comes when a signal is lost, or when there are too many signals. What causes an electric shock when two people touch. But also, immobility, distortion.
Television is a heavy influence on Cults. Before the first Cults show, Brian ran to the Salvation Army to pick up old TV set to decorate the stage. Brian Oblivion, his stage name, is lifted from a professor in the movie Videodrome, a guy who only appears as a face on a television. Brian has five televisions in his house. Brian says, â€śI was thinking about the idea of static being all possible frequencies at onceâ€”the everything. I could just stare at it forever.â€ť The final track on this new Cults record, â€śNo Hope,â€ť opens and ends with the sound of broadcasting static. â€śBurn down the bridgesâ€¦forget tomorrow,â€ť Madeline sings sweetly on the song.
Cults has always been a band to look to both past and present. When the young duo arrived on the New York scene in 2010 with the perfectly formed debut single â€śGo Outside,â€ť it was described as Phil Spector with hip-hop sensibilities, glee soaked in reverb. Sometimes, when Madelineâ€™s friends heard the song, they asked her how they got little boys to sing on it. â€śThatâ€™s just me!â€ť she told them. In fact, if you ask Brian to name his favorite album, heâ€™ll name Home Schooled: The ABCs of Kid Soul, a compilation by the Numero Group, a collection of lost, old R&B recorded by children. Brian adores the the crate-digging Chicago reissue label and its dusty, forgotten music. â€śWhenever we make songs, I picture imaginary bands,â€ť he says.
What make-believe bands can be heard on Static? â€śI Can Hardly Make You Mineâ€ť is Petula Clark pounding a â€śDowntownâ€ť piano beat while fronting a Jesus and Mary Chain maelstrom. The bouncing, shimmering â€śAlways Foreverâ€ť and â€śWeâ€™ve Got Itâ€ť rocket girl-group doo-wop into the shoegazer dream-pop stratosphere. â€śHigh Roadâ€ť gallops through a spaghetti western soundscape in a sandstorm of strings and organ, like Morricone teaching us how to walk like an Egyptian. Though such fantasy might be too shallow for the recordâ€™s emotional centerpiece, â€śWere Before,â€ť a duet that is quintessential Cults. â€śWe both needed our own world, just the way were before,â€ť Brian and Madeline sing at the same time, though not necessarily together.
Static is funkier and denser than its predecessor, something immediately apparent from the cool strut of â€śHigh Road.â€ť â€śI started out as a bass player,â€ť Brian says. â€śThatâ€™s how I write songs, on bass.â€ť Oblivion then fleshes the songs out with drums, guitar, piano, farfisa, strings, layers and layers. He plays just about all of the sounds on Static himself, save for slide guitar. â€śEverything today is party, party, dance, dance nonstop,â€ť Brian says. â€śThereâ€™s room for more moody and introspective dance music. We wanted to make a groovy record.â€ť
Thereâ€™s a clichĂ© that claims you have your whole life to make your debut album and one year to make your second. The immediacy of internet fame has killed that. Brian and Madeline were raised in San Diego and both attended film school in New York City. At 21, the two moved in together in Manhattan. Cults began merely as apartment hobby, with Brian fiddling with fragments of tunes and Madeline trilling on top. They put songs online. In a matter of days, the two were receiving fan e-mails and gig offers. From there, the blogs quickly sniffed them out. Soon, a contract with Columbia. A tour that lasted nearly three years. A self-titled 2011 debut recorded in schedule gaps. Lollapalooza, All Tomorrows Parties, Bonnaroo, Pitchfork. MalmĂ¶, Singapore, Buffalo, Melbourne. By the end of the cycle, Cults were exhausted and separated.
Brian and Madeline began recording Static with friend Shane Stoneback, who co-produced their debut. The process was the same as ever. â€śIâ€™d be in one room working on lyrics. Brian would be working on finishing a song. Weâ€™d come to the point where we couldnâ€™t get any further and switch places.â€ť Madeline enjoyed having a set schedule. She stopped having panic attacks. The former couple found they worked better than when they were together. â€śWe were not as afraid to speak the truth.â€ť
Despite any newfound ease with internal criticism, Cults were bursting with ideasâ€”and recordings. The group found itself with six different versions of songs. â€śIt was my fault,â€ť Brian admits. â€śIf youâ€™re working with a friend, itâ€™s easier to forget youâ€™re spending money.â€ť So the two decided to finish the record with someone they have never worked with before.
Cults took the tracks to Atlanta and producer Ben Allen. They worked in a studio filled with vintage lunch boxes and a control room made of an abandoned boxcar. The fun part in Georgia was hacking away. That string part they worked on for two days? Fuck it, throw it out. Slashing at the songs felt invigorating.
Because really, that is the question lying beneath Static: What can you live without?
"Static" - octobre 2013