On Offering, NYC based duo Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, known musically as Cults, have put forth their most developed album yet. This is much in part due to the great amount of time spent on the album—it comes to us four years after their 2013 album Static. Offering is the most lyrically and musically complex piece of work Cults have put forth thus far.
In place of the dancey morbidness that quite obviously defined the band’s first two albums, Offering sonically portrays a sort of eerie hopefulness. On the track “With My Eyes Closed” Follin sings of long-awaited love, with the underlying worry that what awaits her won’t reach her expectations. The song features a nuanced and unnerving synth beat, one that is the result of Oblivion’s replacement of Garageband and Logic with actual synthesizers.
After years spent touring, and the stressful process of switching labels, Follin and Oblivion finally had some room to breathe. Alongside their producer, Shane Stoneback, Follin and Oblivion returned to a more natural artistic process, writing songs and melodies without any real expectation or deadline. The result was over four hours worth of completed songs, which the band then narrowed down into the eleven songs that comprise Offering.
I sat down with Cults to discuss Offering, synthesizers and returning to a normal life after touring.
Let’s start with the album cover for Offering; your first two album covers were so consistent in style and I wanted to know what caused this change in style visually?
Madeline: I actually don’t know what people think is the Static cover, because we have two – there’s the one with the dancing people, but then there’s the actual cover, which was of the TV Screen.
I always thought of the cover for Static as the dancing people.
Madeline: Ok yeah, so the actual album cover was a TV screen with static on it and we did a special run of CDs with the dancing people. As for this cover, it just seemed like a natural cover for a record that’s called Offering, with hands up in the air. [laughs] It was pretty literal.
Okay, tell me about the name of this album.
Brian: In contrast to naming our second album, which was very planned—we knew what the album was going to be called, that it was going to be distorted, and have this spooky vibe, and then we started writing the music acordingly—this new album we just wrote a bunch of music and were just going to figure out what to call it later. We probably wrote 40 songs, maybe more. It ended up being 4 hours and 45 minutes of music. So when we assembled the album we were like, “Oh wait these ones have this vibe, this is what we want,” and then there was that song “Offering,” which we started really early, and when we finished the song we all looked at each other and were like “what’s this record gonna be called?” And we all kind of thought “Offering.” And our producer Shane and our bass player Max were thinking the same thing! So it was kind of like a game-time call, I don’t know. It’s also kind of like a joke to us, because we like to listen to a lot of music and read a lot of music websites and articles always say things like, “the latest offering from Grizzly Bear,” you know? Like the common parlance for a musical piece of work. I think there’s kind of a weird relationship for why that word is used for in that instance.
Madeline: It is your offering, you’re offering a piece of yourself.
Brian: Also, you obviously don’t want to put out a record called The White Album, and then be like “Oh damn! It’s taken.” The only record that we found with the name “Offering” was that the first Carpenters’ record was initially called Offering, and then when tickets arrived, the cover took off, and they changed the name, so we thought that was pretty cool too, that it was based off the original Carpenters’ album because we listened to a ton of The Carpenters while making this.
What else were you guys listening to while making the album?
Madeline: We were listening to a lot of Cocteau Twins. Brian had just found out about a little band called Pink Floyd, The Cure, what else were we listening to?
Brian: We stayed with our engineer and producer Shane, who had this 80s radio station that he loved in San Francisco. We were recording in Berkeley and would listen to The Motels in the morning and on our way home. He was just blowing my mind with all of this music. It’s like my parent’s music, so I never listened to it. Stuff like Tears For Fears, even Prince, and a lot of stuff that I’d never really heard before.
Madeline: And ZZ Top.
Brian: But yeah, so definitely that radio station, I wish I knew the name of it, but that was a guiding light as well.
You guys released the first two albums so quickly, I was wondering if there was any reason why this one seemed to take a little longer?
Madeline: When we first made those first three songs, we were in college, like in the middle of my second to last semester. We dropped out, and immediately hopped into a tour van, and we didn’t get out of that van for years. We were doing like 250 shows a year, and after Static, we didn’t ever really take a break. So rather than rushing and being like, “We need to come out with an album right now!” We took our time and worked normal hours, and we would work two weeks, and then take a week off, and we were just kind of learning how to live a normal life because we had never had time to do that before. We did really boring things like cooking.
Brian: It’s true. We switched labels and even though this record was done in February, logistically everything just takes time. All that time was great though, it allowed us to explore things we hadn’t before. I was able to actually sit and play with synthesizers for a month. I’ve never used a real synthesizer before, everything on all the previous records was just stock Garageband or Logic instruments. We gave ourselves some time to practice and grow, and just make sure that what we were going to do next was something we would be proud of for a long time.
Where did you guys record the album?
We recorded all over. We recorded in New York, at my parents’ house, in both of our apartments, at a friend’s studio in New York, we went to Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego, it was just kind of like we didn’t have a label, and we just kind of went wherever they would have us. Our producer lives in San Francisco, so there was lot of back and forth between there and New York. He would come out to us for two weeks, and then we’d go out to him for two weeks.
Yeah, so whenever we’d go down to San Diego, we’d fly him down. Wherever we were we’d find a way to work there while we were there.
So, my favorite song off of the album is “Nothing Is Written,” and I’d love to learn a little more about that track in particular.
Brian: To me that’s the craziest song on the album.
Madeline: That song was me begging. In one of the last sessions we were doing, I was begging to work on this one. Brian was hesitant, but I insisted.
Brian: Yeah, it was a weird last minute kind of thing where we found this weird drum break, and then we replayed it and made this whole song. Then as a joke, I put this really long filter sweep on it, and there was a moment where we looked at each other and were like, “Is this too crazy? Or is this cool? Does it sound like Broadcast or does it sound like Calvin Harris?”
I don’t think it’s too out there…
Madeline: I mean I love it.
Brian: I love it now too, but we were kind of scared because it was a pretty radical stylistic decision.
I think it paid off
Brian: Ok cool, I’m glad.
I also saw that you guys described “Gilded Lily” as “about finding hope in a hopeless situation.”
Brian: I think that’s more of a general theme of the record when it comes to almost every song. I think we tried to make it so that musically and lyrically there were a lot of dialogues. A lot of the lyrics will switch from “I” to “you,” and there will be different perspectives, and some parts that are really quiet and others that are really loud. To me, that song is an acceptance of the transient nature of life; knowing that things are gonna keep changing, but you can deal with it in your own way if you try to remember that nothing is as important as it seems in the moment.
What’s next for you guys? Have you started touring this album?
Brian: We’re already on this tour, and then we’re going to Europe in January, and we already have time in December scheduled to record the next album, we’re so excited to be back in action.
Don’t miss CULTS on the last leg of their tour for ‘Offering’, and follow them on Instagram: @cultscultscults.