Last fall, Paste named a brand-new New York duo a Best of What’s Next band on the strength of their first single, released appropriately enough by blog Gorilla vs. Bear. The song “Go Outside” by Cults was so immediately catchy and full of joy that it exploded onto the blogosphere faster than Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin could write and record the rest of an album.
But write and record they did, this time at the opposite end of the spectrum, signing with Columbia Records and hiring engineer Shane Stoneback, who’d worked with other blog sensations Vampire Weekend and Sleigh Bells. The self-titled, reverb-drenched debut somehow finds the median between ‘50s girl groups and Animal Collective. And it’s anchored by that unforgettable melody of “Go Outside,” the first song they ever wrote—in about an hour.
Paste: You’ve been on tour a while now. Is this the longest you’ve been away?
Brian Oblivion : It’s been a couple short breaks, but I think altogether we’ve been on tour for like 45 days, so it was pretty brutal.
Paste: You guys got a lot of attention very early on, particularly from blogs for “Go Outside.” Did that feel like it was putting pressure on this debut album?
Madeline Follin: In the first month or so, I think we wanted to record really quickly. We didn’t really know what to do. But it was really really easy and fun for the most part.
Oblivion : We just put a bunch of songs together and weren’t really worried about the hype.
Paste: When you guys first started out did you feel like you were part of the New York scene up there? How did those early shows go?
Follin: Not so well. I mean it was exciting, like we got to play with Sleigh Bells our second show but it was probably, definitely hard for us. I mean we didn’t have a lot to play, at all. We had shows and canceled them; we weren’t ready.
Oblivion : I think it’s just through starting this band, we’ve been able to meet a lot of artists that we like and admire…
Paste: A lot of people out there now have kind of ignored the record label route altogether, but you guys signed with a major. What went into that decision?
Oblivion : Once again we were just kind of lucky to have good people around us that could help us think through decisions for us. When we got around to starting the record, it was like 85 percent of people being like, “Hey, what do you see happening, something like this, well you can change it like this.” Everybody had something to say.
Follin: Just letting people sit and listen to the songs that we had made and seeing what they thought about them.
Oblivion : People at work and on our record label were the coolest people, and the people that were like on label were like, “whatever you want,” and that sounded really good.
Paste: Over the course of making this record, playing out live, being the buzz, what have been some of the most exciting experiences you guys have had?
Follin: We are Spinal Tap right now, and something horrible keeps happening to our drummers. We’ve had three drummers the past two months, four starting tomorrow. That’s been stressful for us.
Oblivion : Broken arms, family crises, crazy girlfriends. The band has kind of been rotating drummers taking turns, but it’s pretty cool and fun. I guess what the most fun thing has just been making relationships with people and playing with bands you really like, like the Morning Benders, Twin Sister, Best Coast. We’ve had really good times performing with them.
Paste: When we first talked to you last October, you said that you never really planned to be musicians, you sort of fell into it. How did that happen?
Oblivion : We were sick of working and [film] school, especially after four years it becomes kind of soulless. We didn’t really have any interest in making movies in our free time because we were writing pages about them and tearing them apart. So we’re like “Hey let’s just go make some music, let’s just go have some fun.” I guess it sort of took off without our ever expecting anything. Now it’s been that we like making music a lot more. Did we want to be musicians because real life is so hard? “I want to be a musician, just like everybody else in the suburbs.” Making music, it’s like so much quicker and immediate, we can get the point across. You can work years and years on one thing and not.
Paste: Were you a suburban kid?
Oblivion : I’m a suburban kid from north San Diego. I was born in San Francisco, but from the suburbs there, lived in suburbs in San Diego pretty much my whole life.
Follin: I’ll never never claim the suburbs, he always says… I have never lived in suburbs. I moved from San Francisco to San Diego and lived in downtown area. My mom lived in New York my dad lived in San Diego so it was kind of back and forth.
Paste: So both of you did the San Francisco to San Diego to New York thing just a little bit differently?
Oblivion : We did it at the same time, both San Francisco and then both to New York after that. It’s actually a more common thing than you might think for San Diego people to do. Everybody kind of realizes that San Francisco is not the track.
Paste: How did you two meet each other?
Follin: We actually weirdly met in San Diego. We both were not living there at the time, but my brother would play a show down there, and he was tour managing. We both happened to be there, so we met at his show.
Paste: How would you describe your approach to music, when you decided, “Hey ,we’re bored. We want to make music?” Was there something that inspired you to go the direction you did?
Oblivion : It comes from both sides I think, because on the one end it’s kind of inevitable to use our film background when we think about music. A lot of times we’ll sit down, before we start any music, we think, what kind of songs are gonna be out, what’s the song gonna be about, what’s the mood, what’s the story, write stuff around that. The sounds, the words, like the clearness of vision…
Also at the same time all our first songs, all the songs that appear on the record, we wrote the bare bones to them in an hour-and-a-half sitting down practicing a little, quickly having the right idea and just putting it down. All the songs that ended up being a struggle, when you have to work and work and work and work on them, those songs just didn’t come out good, so we just put them in the scrap pile. With the first song we wrote, which was “Go Outside,” we wrote that in like an hour. We kind of trust our impulse—if it comes really quick and it comes really clear, then it’s probably gonna come out that way to people like that too.
Paste: Since you have that film background will you be involved in your video shoots?
Follin: No. We tried and it didn’t work out. We’re too picky and it was too scary making your own film over your own music, we were never happy with it, but I think that the same time, we were making a video for like four months and we were just never happy with it so we let it go. We let somebody else do it.
Paste: So have you made peace with your choice of music over film?
Oblivion : We love, like the first time I ever saw one of our songs, we got a song on the show “Weeds.” The first time that ever happened I saw the episode and I started tearing up, because this has always been my dream, to make music for film or bring the two together in some way. Any time we get an opportunity like that is great.
Doing it yourself is like, we love to do it with other bands. But on our own songs it’s just too personal. When we were talking to the guy, that video commissioner on our label, he was like, you might be surprised that people out there can have a lot crazier ideas than even you do, and we were like, “Yeah right whatever.” But then one of them came up with, was just like “the life cycle of a turkey!” It’s just like that crazy, awesome, nuts stuff that people come up with. They have that moment where they’re like inspired, you kinda got to go with that.
Paste: And now you’re in a state of constant touring?
Oblivion : At the least, as far as I know. That’s a big accomplishment, that’s a huge compliment for how that happens. We got a lot of stuff we’re working on, like right now we have some time off, and we’re working on doing a hip-hop mixed tape on the album. We’re also working on some videos and stuff, an art installation. Trying to cram in as much as we can before we hit the road, because once we hit the road it’s pretty much gonna be non-stop for the rest of the year.
Paste: Who’s on the hip-hop mix tape?
Well we’re gonna, right now what we’re trying to do is get a bunch of new rappers, hippie kids…it’s an exciting time for rap right now because a lot of those guys are distributed in way that doesn’t have to deal with huge labels.
Paste: Then you’re headed to Europe after that?
Follin: We’re doing UK, Spain and Amsterdam. And then we’re doing a U.S. tour with my brother…
Paste: Is there anybody on the video side or the music side that you’re just dying to work with?
Oblivion : Dr. Dre, Jay-Z. I don’t know, all the people everybody’d love to work with. I try to keep myself from getting too excited about it, because it might not happen but then if it does you feel great.
Paste: Well it sounds like the hip-hop project will provide plenty of those moments.
Oblivion : Recently we got to work with the band Fucked Up on one of their songs, it was amazing, really cool, fun.