Cults

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.”

Nothing just happens overnight. QTY might seem like they arrived perfectly formed last October with the release of 'Rodeo' - a bright, joyous indie rock lightning bolt that feels as much of a force of friendship as that detailed in its narrative - but Dan Lardner and Alex Niemetz had been working towards that moment for most of their lives.

"I was always a songwriter," Dan smiles, explaining how he first picked up a guitar at 11 years old and started writing songs "about whatever" with a friend. Later, QTY bassist Peter Baumann would teach him how to play properly and, from there, they started a band.

Alex, meanwhile, was given her uncle's guitar when she was 12, practiced as much as she could and then formed her own band with her best friends. "We took different approaches to music," Dan explains. "I was thinking, 'Guitar's alright, as long as I learn some chords I can do whatever.' Alex took the approach of, 'I should be the best.' And then we met and it was perfect."

A few year later, as two 17-year-olds in New York City, the pair began conversing online and eventually met up in person. They instantly cemented a firm bond that would see them through a myriad of ups, downs and false starts with the band they formed together. It also eventually inspired their aforementioned debut single as QTY, which gained them immediate support and acclaim from the likes of NME, DIY, Paste, Radio 1's Huw Stephens and Australia's Triple J. Just as the lyrics depict finding your person, Alex and Dan found each other. "When I first met Dan, he embodied everything that I wanted in a partner in crime and his lyrics exhibited what I was trying to express musically," Alex explains. "They were like nothing I had ever seen before."

"Having a partner in Alex meant for the first time being able to put my lyrics to the music I had dreamed of one day being able to make, but always was out of reach from my ability," Dan agrees. "Al is my other half and has always been able to come up with and execute the exact right parts in every song. To me, she is what makes the band special. I wouldn't want to keep pursuing music without her by my side."

The early days of QTY couldn't have been more serendipitous. A short trip to San Francisco resulted in demos of three songs, which were recorded over two days. On their return to New York, Dan's then-roommate sent the tracks, including the original version of 'Dress/Undress', to Dirty Hit. A little while later, Dan got a call from an unrecognised British number. "I was like, 'There's too many numbers [in the phone number[' and I threw my phone somewhere," he recalls. Eventually, he answered and the path towards a deal was laid.

QTY's self-titled debut album is both testament to and justification of their perseverance and patience over the years. Recorded over six weeks in London, the band describe the act of making the record as something of a long-held desire. "Every day, just waking up and recording was so cool," says Dan. "Recording an album has always been a lifelong dream."

As is befitting of a band who'd worked tirelessly just to get the opportunity to turn that dream into reality, the duo weren't about to start slacking off in the studio, taking only a couple of days off in the entire time they were overseas. "We had to be in the studio early in the morning, which - as devout night owls - Dan and I were unsure of how we would feel," Alex explains. "But waking up and walking to the studio everyday was one of the best feelings we've ever felt - having that sense of purpose and running off that natural rush was exhilarating."

The album was recorded with former Suede guitarist and erudite producer Bernard Butler. "He was really good and helpful," Alex says. "He would help zero in on stuff. We had never done that or worked with someone like that before." With him at the helm, the duo's songs were brought to life as the gleaming triumphs that inhabit the album. Alex's guitar work mirrors the lyrics on each track perfectly. On 'Cold Nights'' chorus, she slides through notes that are fittingly frosty and glacial. 'Notify Me' features a tumbling melody that's as majestic as it is blistering, while she takes the lead on 'New Beginnings' - the album's penultimate and pensive track - bringing her soft, velvet vocals out of the background to make something soothing and stunning.

As debut albums go, 'QTY' is one of the strongest first steps a new band has released in ages. Each of its 10 tracks feel like a vital shot, from the second the record jumpstarts with 'Rodeo', through gently buzzing soother 'Notify Me' to 'Salvation', which steadily builds to a softly searing end that feels like some kind of heavenly interjection. It continuously references life and living in varying shades of dark and light, and Dan's evocative, storytelling lyrics deal out microscopic close-ups of the minutiae of his and Alex's day-to-day.

'Word For This' details nights that go on forever ("Some things you can count on/I've got a number and the night will end/Sometime, later on, when the couch is a godsend"), while 'Salvation' addresses the anxieties of dealing with the world he inhabits ("Came back from a night in to find myself in the world that I hide from"). The melancholy, '60s girl-group pop of 'Sad Poetic', meanwhile, is a self-deprecating, world-weary lament ("And I heard that time heals all wounds/I never knew that even time could bruise"). Each is shining proof that, what others might consider peripheral mundanities, QTY find the importance, beauty, meaning and - most of all - humanity in.

Fascinated with wordplay and double entendres, Dan's apartment is filled with notebooks that he writes in every day, jotting down lines about whatever's around him or is happening in his life. Those fragments only make it any further if Alex can understand what he's trying to say. "Alex is the smart one," Dan laughs. "So if it makes sense to her then it's okay. Then it can go in a song."

As QTY prepare to bring those specific-but-relatable snapshots to venues and audiences worldwide (live the band's line-up is completed by drummer Alan Yuch), the imminent release of their debut album marks a big achievement for Dan and Alex. "Having an album out has been our dream since day one," Dan says. "I look at it as a document of our lives and time together up until the point of recording it. It will exist out there and you'll be able to hold it in your hands and and pull it out from your collection on your shelf between your copies of 'Ziggy Stardust' and 'American Water' and play it. With this album, I am now more sure then I have ever been that I do, in fact, exist."

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