It's hard to resist asking Cults, the charmingly chiming New York alt-pop duo that just made its debut on British rock star Lily Allen's label, what's up with the band name. Especially when you consider how close it is to Ian Astbury's post-punk powerhouse band The Cult.
"Hey — it's a totally different name!" protests vocalist Madeline Follin, who first met future beau/bandmate Brian Oblivion when they were attending film school in San Diego.
"And we both had points in our lives where we were basically obsessed with conspiracy theories," adds Oblivion, who nicked his own moniker from the creepy TV-prophet character in David Cronenberg's still-vital Videodrome. "I don't know why, but all this Alex Jones/Illuminati stuff was really popular in San Diego for some reason — all my friends were into it, like it was rebellious psychedelia. But now we just don't have the energy for that anymore — it kinda leads you down a bunch of blind alleys, and it's just too crazy."
"And now?" Follin sighs. "Now we're stuck with the name!"
Not familiar with Cults yet? You will be. On the strength of web-posted demos like the Phil-Spector-plush "Go Outside" and "Most Wanted," the duo was snapped up by Allen for new vanity imprint ITNO, or In The Name Of Records. Last month, the label issued Cults' self-produced, self-titled debut (featuring the above tracks, plus nine more delectable fuzz-pop ditties). Even the cover photo is arresting: A Robert Longo-ish shot of Follin and Oblivion in kinetic, hair-whipping motion, the image echoing the energetic sounds within.
The pair's story is, appropriately enough, a strange one. Both went to film school in San Francisco, but never bumped into each other. Both also relocated to San Diego, and independently set their sights on the more challenging Big Apple. And on one of their last nights in California, Oblivion stumbled into a concert by Follin's brother's outfit, The Willowz.
"I was in a really delirious state of mind, where I hadn't slept for three days," recalls Oblivion, who spotted his future paramour, raced over to her table, and promptly drank all of her whiskey. "He had a severe lack of good judgment," adds Follin.
Somehow, a relationship blossomed. They relocated to New York, moved in together, and continued their schooling. Follin soon began singing over instrumental tracks Oblivion had been composing, the music becoming an escape from the grind of cinema studies.
"We were always just writing essays and doing midterms and trying to de-mystify all our favorite movies," explains Oblivion. "And it just became kind of ... soulless after awhile. I think we just got really sick of the whole academic process, until it just wasn't that much fun anymore. So then we started making music because it was fun, it was different. And then we both dropped out in our senior year."
As Cult's online tracks started getting noticed, the fateful e-mail from their future boss arrived.
"We thought 'Oh, my God — this is the funniest thing that's ever gonna happen!'" says Oblivion of Allen's offer to fly them to London. "'We're gonna go over there, spend all their money, and have a crazy vacation!'"
Instead, the duo found themselves with a record deal. "They were super artist-friendly, which was awesome," adds Oblivion. "Lily knows everything that artists hate about the recording business. So she's very well qualified to work on the other side of it now."