While recording Static, the followup to their wildly successful self-titled debut, Brian Oblivion and Madeline Folin of Cults dragged dozens of TVs into their recording studio, turned them on to channel one, and just let the crackling of grey static fill the room. The effect permeates the new LP, which maintains the wisps of ’50s soul heard on their earlier recordings, but now adds a cool, jagged danger. Now, the band sounds sweet and eerie at the same time.
In order to get the deets on the TV fixation, Hive spoke with Oblivion and Folin about the new record, collecting old boob-tubes, and, of course, fart jokes.
When your first album came out, both of you expressed that you were somewhat nervous before taking the stage. Are you nervous now that your new album is going to be released?
Oblivion: We were nervous about it until the moment that it was finished. As soon as it was mastered and took off to the plant, or wherever they make CDs these days — China or something — we felt pretty confident. I listened to the whole thing just now for the first time in three months. I felt that we got our statement across.
What did you think while listening to the playback?
Oblivion: It’s really funny, when looking back at the music, it is like a memory. Every little string, every organ sound, it’s like revisiting a whole time. I remember when we did this, when we hit this snare. It’s very nostalgic to go back and listen to it, but it’s also like reliving fun night with your friends.
I’m surprised that you refer to the album as something from the past. Do you think that you’ve grown up a lot while making this album?
Folin: Definitely. There’s no question that we’ve grown musically and as people. Being on the road, you grow as a person. We’ve definitely leaned how to do certain things that we want.
Oblivion: I hate saying grown up. I feel that once you’ve decided that you’ve grown up as a person, where the hell do you go from there? The rest of your life is just dull. I don’t want to grow up until many years from now.
Very true. What’s the last immature thing that you’ve done?
Oblivion: Oh, my gosh. We have a pretty low level of maturity in general in our band. Everyone in our band lives within, like, an eight block radius and we pretty much only hang out with each other. We’ve known each other since high school, so it’s like we’re in arrested development
Folin: We’re not above fart jokes.
No one is ever really above fart jokes. “High Road,” on the new album, seems to mix sweet sounding music with meaner lyrics. You have the lyrics, “’Cause it it’s all spinning up the wall/and if it goes for you, crack a skull.”
Oblivion: That song is especially about, at least for me, the trouble of growing up and people who can’t get off the parking break. People who are not ready to commit to anything. That’s a problem that we have, too. The music, like the last record, came first. A lot of the references that we had were early ’70s exploitation movies. We had a lot of that Bond music, bombastic music, then Madeline comes in and takes it into another direction.
Can you explain a little bit about the concept of static?
Oblivion: We like to leave it mysterious. I love how many connections you can make in a whole bunch of different ways. It’s about direction, noise, mythology. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. For us, it was about an overarching visual theme for the record. From the very beginning, one of the first things that we did was drag a bunch of old TVs into the room. When we hit a wall or wanted to playback, we’d turn the lights off and turn all the TVs on and try to create this environment and see if the songs fit the space.
You actually surrounded yourself with old TVs?
Oblivion: Yeah. It’s kind of a sick obsession of mine in my house and studio. It’s embarrassing
Folin: He literally had all these static TVs blasting the static noise in his house 24/7 the whole time, even when he was sleeping.
You know, in horror movies, they have serial killers do that a lot.
Oblivion: I like that you hear pretty much every frequency at once. It’s the mass that we pull away from and create noise from. You’re listening to it and that’s the wellspring from which all sound comes from.
Well, speaking of static, Madeline, your stepdad was in White Zombie, a band that often used static in its recordings!
Folin: Yeah, definitely! He was only a part of them for the first record.
What’s it like having an early member of White Zombie for a stepdad?
Folin: It’s wild. He’s a real character. He’s an artist also.
Oblivion: He’s like the splinter to our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He’s the wise old man that guides us around.
What’s some good advice that he gave to you?
Oblivion: Here’s one thing that really stuck with me. When we were recording, we had read a bad review about one of our live shows, and he said to me, “You know how Elvis got rich?” And I said, “I don’t know, ‘Hound Dog’?” And he said, “No, Elvis got rich making buttons.” He said, “Elvis made two buttons. He made one button that said, ’I love Elvis.’ He made one million of those and sold those. Then, he made one button that said, ‘I hate Elvis’ and sold one million of those. That’s the only way to be a successful artist.”
Publications used to make a big deal out of the fact that you two used to date.
Oblivion: It’s just the reality of things that it comes up. Madeline and I are no longer dating and I hope if I say it enough it will stop coming up. It did play into the process of the record and it would be a weird thing to lie about. But, it’s not headline news.
A few publications have said that “the mystique” around Cults has disappeared. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Oblivion: I think it’s a good thing, man. The one mission we’re on — well part of the mission — I hate the way the music scene, people are centered on reviewing a band’s marketing and how they present themselves and their intentions, not the music. I look at people like James Murphy and they’ve made a career out of being super normal people and they don’t play into their own mythology. It’s just kind of bullshit to pretend that your some kind of fucking rock star. I know people in the scene and they’re not fucking rock stars. It’s just a bunch of kids that walk around and make music. I think we’re more humble instead of just trying to make headlines.
So, the age of trashing hotel rooms and throwing TVs out the window is over?
Folin: We don’t trash hotel rooms. We do take all the TVs back to the studio with us, though.
Static is out October 15 via Columbia Records.