Photography by Shervin Lainez
Styling by Megan Boyes
Cults were a fixture of 2010’s NYC: a pared down set up of one guy and one girl with a big and clever sound. Since finding fame on Bandcamp, the duo have ridden out various waves in the years since their first hit but they’ve still been surprised by their recent resurgence, courtesy of TikTok. We spoke to the band to discover what life looks like in 2023, how John Waters inspired them to start the band and why not quitting it is pivotal to their success. Singer Madeline Follin and guitarist Brian Oblivion are musing on the recent viral success of their song “Gilded Lily”, several years after its release. It’s clearly unexpected but they’re obviously happy to enjoy it, as Madeline says. “It’s just awesome that however many years later, a song that both Brian and I felt was one of the best songs on the record-one we felt wasn’t really given a chance, didn’t have a video or anything-was the one people eventually just found themselves. It’s a really, really amazing feeling.” We discuss how a shift has occurred for artists where there’s no longer a typical moment for an act at least in the traditional way but how that can be liberating too. As Brian expands,”I used to be like, “oh, when is that new Animal Collective record coming out” because when I was in high school that was a big deal. Now, you’re going to get the record for free when it comes out and there’s so much music all the time. Maybe I’m just getting older and more understanding, but I’m like, ‘oh, take your time.'” Madeline agrees. “Usually halfway between when we’ve put out the previous record and we put out the next record, we will have a few B-sides that we’ll release so it doesn’t feel like such a long wait. We used to get a lot of shit for how long we took and we’ve only really taken three years and that seems normal.” If their most recent release is anything to go by, their approach to timelines has shifted. Where their previous record closed on a track called “No Hope”, the new album is titled Offering. Madeline credits this as the simple function of downtime. Just having time returned to oneself after months spent touring on the road. The previous two years have been run on an agenda, and a fairly non-stop one at that. Seems like breathing spaces brought more joy into their more recent work which like most musical artists extends into visual spaces as well, as Brian explains.
“I think we think about music kind of visually and referentially. A lot of times when we’re making a song, we’re talking about what kind of space we’re creating or if something was in a movie, what would the movie be? Honestly, it’s kind of funny, circling back to the thing where we tried a bunch of ways to understand the TikTok success. The way that it makes sense to me logically is that once music became a part of making these little movies and became a visual thing, our music just kind of slotted in there. That ‘s kind of what we always were trying to do. So now that this platform has been invented, it’s great!”
Even with all that cerebral media assembly, they are a band who see themselves with a sense of levity. “We’ve always had a consciousness of not being super serious. It’s always been this kind of balance of gothic spooky stuff and then really funny campy things. That’s most of the stuff we like, so it kind of comes together and that’s the mov es we like too. So it all comes full circle.” They’re both renowned for having a dark sense of humor; two smart people with a nuanced perspective on their unique positions. Brian elaborates, “I don’t think people really understand our sense of humor in our music.” It even forms part of their origin story. “I remember it was a John Waters compilation that Maddie played in the car that started this band. I heard it and I was like, ‘what the hell is this music?’ And she was like, ‘oh, it’s a really awesome compilation of these wacky songs that John Waters put together.’ And I was like, ‘I need more of this kind of music. And who is John Waters?'” Knowing and a wry smile is a signature in their work. “There’s a one-two punch in a lot of the art that we enjoy, a silliness to it. If you can make something that’s fun and goofy and kind of perverse or something, but at the same time crossover with an emotional impact to it, then you have my full attention.” As a band their goal has been to enjoy what they’re doing but also Brian says there were some more esoteric aims. “We would say in the beginning that we were trying to make a record that people would find in a record store bin in 40 years and be like, ‘whoa, what the hell is this?’ And that’s kind of what’s happening. But it’s not a record store bin now. It’s a social media app.” While their TikTok success has surprised them, they still have some easter eggs amid their own work, as Brian reveals. “I’m surprised nobody brings up the fact that there are a bunch of Bible verses in our lyrics. Nobody has ever brought that up. And it’s like they’re right there in that “Gilded Lily” song. ‘Always the fool with the slowest heart’. That’s a Bible verse.” Though it isn’t a regular source of inspiration. “We have to take this time and go experience NYC, different artthings and grow as people. That’s valuable time too as an artistto really try to expand your horizon, especially in the world of consuming other art.” Like the recent horror movie bender Brian is on that’s delayed their writing until after Halloween ended.
As a tightly knit duo, collaboration is an act of a certain energy that can sometimes come as a hindrance but it seems they’ve grown more comfortable in spite of themselves given the world lockup of covid as Brian explains.
“We used to be more controlling about our stuff. We would have ideas for our album art and for our videos and our press photos. And as time’s gone on, I just realized there are so many awesome people you can collaborate with. We did a video for a song called “A Low” off the last record and one of my good friends said I have a vision. I want this to be a candyland. We could see it but we both thought’ I don’t know how he’s going to do this’. It was like the middle of covid and Madeline was filming it by herself on a green screen but then he just made this amazing video. He pulled this other amazing element out of the song that wasn’t obvious to us.”
The pandemic also got them into a structured writing routine. “We’re not going to make an acoustic record just because it’s ‘we’re locked up in here’. I don’t want to change our sound because of these circumstances. We’ve always just made music in a 10x10room in one ofour apartments” he adds. They’ve found that routine creates a repository for creativity and structure means songs can evolve meanings; they don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike. “This new record is more of a synthesis of all the records we’ve made so far and less of something totally different. It does sound like our band. We’ve been lucky enough to have this second act as a band” he says.
Self-assurance is usually rare from artists but the duo are tenacious and recall some welltimed wisdom from Madeline’s mom.
“When we first started the band and we were dropping out of college, she took us aside and was like, “I don’t think you should drop out of college but you can have a career in the arts and you can have a life doing it and it can be exciting and rewarding. The trick is you can never quit and if you ever see yourself quitting ever, then don’t do this. Don’t go down this road.” We were like 21, and were like, “we’re never going to quit”. But really that’s the story of our band. We’ve had so many times when it would’ve made the most sense to quit and we just don’t because we like doing it. We have had a chance to experience so many different paradigms of music in just the 13, 14 years we’ve been doing this. It’s insane. When we first started, there was no Spotify, there was no Instagram, there were no people. You were buying 99 cent singles on iTunes. The world has changed so much, and hopefully we just keep going for another 13 or 14 years.”
Doesn’t look like that’s going to be problem to us.
Read more in MARVIN Issue 12. Click HERE to get your copy.