Cullen Omori, Hideout
241 South 500 East
Salt Lake City, UT, 84102
This event is 21 and over
Cults made their name in black and white. A pair of film school dropouts who burst onto the New York scene with a perfect single and a darkly retro sound, the band’s first two albums play like noirish documentaries on a lost girl group. Four years after Static, Cults returns with Offering, an exciting collection of songs bursting with heart, confidence, shimmering melody and buzzing life. The time off has given the band new energy and new ideas–Cults are working in Technicolor now.
The core duo remains the same. Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion, both 28, still live in New York. They still finish each other’s thoughts and still share a love of catchy music and black humor (this is a band that sampled cult leader Jim Jones on their first hit). But the pair have put some blood on the tracks since their breakout debut: they’ve toured the world, built a devoted audience, survived a breakup, grown up in green rooms, parted ways with their old label and made a home of their new one. After the whirlwind of Static died down, Follin and Oblivion made a conscious decision to shift gears:
“I feel like we stepped into a tour van when we were 21, and basically didn’t get out of it for the next few years,” Oblivion says. “We wanted to give ourselves some space to have normal lives, and wait until there was something new to say.”
“It was exciting, because writing stopped feeling like a homework assignment. I was able to sit down and do it only when I wanted to,” says Follin. “These songs are less art projects, less thinking ‘this is a heartbreak song, what would Lesley Gore do?’ and more reflective of things that have happened in our own lives.”
Cults took their time, going through a few dozen discarded demos before arriving on a pair of songs that felt special– the rollicking, sweet-but-dark “Right Words” and the buzzy earworm “Recovery.” Once they had a direction, Follin and Oblivion enlisted longtime engineer Shane Stoneback to help guide the sessions, working bit by bit, never rushing, letting the material develop naturally.
Offering will thrill ride-or-die Cults fans. Songs like “Natural State” and “Good Religion” balance on the same after-hours wall of sound that brought the band its early audience. The title track, a rolling goth-ed out anthem for the kids in the back of class is surely, somewhere in an alternate universe, soundtracking an 80s prom movie directed by Jim Jarmusch.
But Offering goes places Cults haven’t gone before. Pink Floyd was a big inspiration, freeing up the band to try new song structures and play with vintage synths, notably on the gorgeous, aching “With My Eyes Closed.” “I had the classic high school discovery of Pink Floyd, only I was 24,” laughs Oblivion. “I was in the back of the tour van, listening to Dark Side of The Moon on headphones for the first time, and I turned to the band and said ‘guys. GUYS.”
New Wave was also a touchstone, you can hear The Motels and Gary Numan’s influence on chugging pop gems “Clear From Far Away” and “I Took Your Picture.” None of these gestures are accidental, the band has developed a confidence in the studio and a strong, full sound. Gone are the days of chancing upon Garageband alchemy; Offering is the work of two artists who know what they want and how to make it happen.
Offering also marks the beginning of a more collaborative phase for Cults. The pair have always traded ideas, but for the first time they sat down to jam out ideas together in a room. Follin, who has always written her own parts, came into her own as instrumentalist during the Offering sessions, playing drums and keyboards throughout. Her equal partnership with Oblivion flies in the face of a far-too-common industry assumption that women are passive participants in their own art.
After three years of work in New York, LA, San Francisco, in studios and sweaty living rooms, the band finished the bulk of recording. But it was a classic “last day in the studio” demob-happy session that gave the album its opener and title track, a hope-in-darkness song that Oblivion calls “one of the most outward-looking things we’ve done, it’s a lifeline.” Follin adds: “we both decided independently of each other that it had to be the title.”
“These songs have both instability and solutions for how to deal with instability,” Oblivion says. “I think my favorite lyric is from “Took Your Picture”: Tinge of blue/To the end/left our hearts/With regrets/I’m learning. That’s as close as you get to a thesis statement for the album.”
“We’re in a happier place,” Follin adds.
“I mean, the last track on our last album was called ‘No Hope,’” Oblivion says, and they both laugh. “The first track on this record is called ‘Offering.’ That pretty much says it.”
Cullen Omori knows it's a false cliche to say there are no second acts in American lives, but after the 2014 breakup of his acclaimed band the Smith Westerns, living that cliche was his greatest fear. His solo debut New Misery, out March 18 on Sub Pop Records, is a direct challenge to that anxiety: an album that goes beyond the glam punch of the Smith Westerns to new sounds, new sources of inspiration, and greater self-awareness.
"I had this overwhelming feeling that perhaps the apex of my life both as a musician and as an individual would be relegated to five years in my late teens/early 20s," says Omori, who was launched into the music industry when the Smith Westerns, who started in high school in Chicago, became fast-rising indie stars. "This fear really forced me to work hard as to not see the Smith Westerns as an end but as a point along a bigger trajectory."
While New Misery grew out of a difficult personal and professional time for Omori, he says the title reflects "not so much the distress that comes with failure, but the troubles and complexities that come with any type of success. No matter what you get you're going to want more, you're going to want something different. That's the catch."
The title track is a dreamy, resonant reflection on these feelings, but is also a guidepost for Omori's musical evolution. "The song starts slow and then builds with two solos," he says. "There's the guitar solo which is very much a Smith Westerns thing. The next solo is on the keyboard, which is a shift to a lot of what I'm trying to do." Synths play a much larger role in Omori's new music than in the Smith Westerns' guitar-fueled rock, as do a wide range of influences including Roxy Music, INXS, Spiritualized, Wilco, Garbage, Hall & Oates, Kate Bush, U2, and Sparks. There's also a more deliberate pop streak, inspired by the top-40 radio that would play while Omori worked at a medical supply company cleaning stretchers and wheelchairs.
"There is so much dirt in hospitals and fuzz and lint and dried blood on these things. We'd clean them down, which in a way is kind of therapeutic, and listen to the radio. Then we'd go back to Adam's (Adam Gil, current live band member) house and record demos for what was to become the skeleton of New Misery. I can't sit down and say I'm going to write a Sam Smith or an Adele song or whatever. The closest I can get to that is making like this weird hybrid of what I think is a pop song." The strongest example of this is the new wave-tinged single "Cinnamon," which Omori describes as "dark pop--it's poppy, it's fast, but it also has all the colors and tones that are kind of dark. It's self-deprecating, which was kind of where I was at emotionally. That, you know, I could have this poppy song or whatever but I don't think I'm a pop star. I'm closer to thinking I'm a piece of shit than I am a pop star."
Along with Omori, New Misery features additional bass and keyboards from Ryan Mattos, drums from Loren Humphrey, and James Richardson on guitar. But unlike with the more distributed roles within the Smith Westerns, Omori wrote, played, and oversaw nearly every part of the new album, beginning a true new chapter of his long-term creative growth.
"People would be like, 'Oh man, your band is doing really well. I saw you on the internet.' But seeing you on the internet isn't equivalent with making hundreds let alone thousands of dollars or being really successful. When I was younger I believed that happiness came from success and now that I'm older, more seasoned I find myself believing that stability over a long time is also its own type of success. I came out of Smith Westerns at 25 with no real job experience, I only knew how to play music. Writing and recording these songs for myself was cathartic, and I didn't know my destination or future, but picking up my guitar and playing was the only way I knew I'd get close to figuring it out."
Hideout’s inception began on the road. Made up of Gabriel Rodriguez (guitar/vocals) and Cory Stier (drums), the duo are longtime friends from San Diego who grew up playing in bands both together and separately. Now touring members of Cults and living on different coasts, Cory and Gabe took advantage of time on tour by writing music. “Recently I've been playing in other peoples bands,” Gabe says, “however I've always been writing my own music. Cory and I have been collaborating for years. We mostly would work on songs for fun with no real idea of what it would become.” Fast-forward to present day and Hideout is gearing up to release their debut album, Hideout - Rookie.
Hideout - Rookie is comprised of eleven tracks written and recorded over the course of the last 2 years. “Cory and I live on opposite sides of the country, so writing and recording takes time,” notes Gabe. “I start with demoing songs in my apartment, usually just a guitar riff and a melody. I then send it off to Cory who works on rhythms. We talk about it on the phone, and in person when our schedules allow us to meet up. We both tour in Cults so sometimes we work in hotel rooms or backstage or in the van.”
Reminiscent of early Bowie, Hideout - Rookie is complete with gritty guitar loops and ethereal vocals singing tales of abduction and space travels. “I’m really into Sci-Fi,” Gabe laughs. So much so that three songs on the album are actually an interconnecting story, starting with Skylights, which tells of a young boy’s kidnapping by “lights in the sky.” The boy is returned home with no recollection of his family or life before the lights. Battle Lights gives the listener a peak into the boy’s life a few years after his return. Now having visions, the boy hears voices that tell him to preach the lessons learned during his space journey. And of course, he’s seen as delusional. Stronger is told from the perspective of the boy’s mother. After he is committed, she sits in his hospital room wondering where she went wrong. Was there more she could have done? The visions have taken over.
Hideout - Rookie transcends listeners to a world of fantasy while evoking sounds of one of rock’s greatest eras.
Hideout - Rookie hits streets November 4th via Thrill Me! Records.