Interview: Cults

Cults

CULTS are a notoriously difficult pair to pin down – a fact I am now personally experienced in after hounding their PR man for a response.

But I’ll be nice and go with the spin doctor approach: it all adds to the mystery surrounding the infamously tight-lipped Californians.

The pair crept onto the lo-fi scene two years ago to little fanfare with a smattering of nostalgia-laden nuggets channeling the sound of 60s girl groups like The Shangri-Las.

Those paying attention however noted that the pigeon-hole method wouldn’t work to describe the former film students’ style.

The dead give away should have been that “Cults” – aka Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion – associated themselves from the off with a concept whose extra-curricular activities include mass suicide.

With a name like that, you can’t be blamed for thinking they’re a death metal band whose stage antics include setting their urine on fire. So you sort of feel a bit cheated when their candy coated sing-a-long methods kick in.

But once the sugar high wears off it becomes apparent that the whole album is the chocolate box equivalent of leftover coffee liqueurs: bitter tales of heartbreak etc, disguised in a sugary shell.

I sit down on behalf of arts blog Ballad Of and ask Cults to clear up a few things…

Ballad Of: Why did you choose a 50s/60s nostalgia vibe?

Cults: When it comes to the way in which our music sounds it just comes from the way we feel at the time.

We never set out to make our music sound any particular way or fit into any specific genre.

It’s just what we think sounds good to us at the time and works well with what we’re saying in our songs.

Ballad Of: What’s been the most exciting thing to happen to Cults in the last year?

Cults: Releasing our debut album, Cults, for sure.

It’s such an achievement to finally have it out and available.

I mean we’ve met a lot of amazing people and our latest tour this year has been incredible, but we’ve got to go with the release of the album for the single most exciting thing. 

Ballad Of: Which song best sums up Cults and why?

Cults: ProbablyScrews Get Loose by Those Darlings. We play it before every show we do.

Ballad Of: There’s a lot of hype around Cults at the moment – what’s the bizarrest thing you’ve read/heard about yourselves?

Cults: The most bizarre thing has to be that we’re brother and sister.

Ballad Of: What was the first gig both of you went to – what sort of impact did it make, if any?

Cults: It was Bowling For Soup, many, many moons ago – it was, as you can imagine, a questionable experience for one and all. 

Ballad Of: As you’re both former film students, do films inspire your music? Which films inspire you?

Cults: Film does inspire our music yeah, and now since the success of our music, we’re basing our films around the music we’re making.

We love doing our music videos it’s a great chance to combine our two passions together you know..?

…And that is all I managed to glean out of Cults. You’ll have to figure the rest out for yourselves.

Visit http://vimeo.com/26352476 to see the video for Go Outside.

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Viv Nicholson: still spending after fifty years…

 

Was she ever that miserable?

I RING the bell of Breadalbane Care Home – now the residence of the Cas lass who in 1961 vowed to “spend, spend, spend” – and a tiny, shrewd-looking woman stands boldly in the doorway.

She strides toward me dressed in what I can only describe as a power suit and heels and says “are you taking me out then? I’ve got no money”.

How ironic that a woman who won today’s equivalent of £5 million is asking me – a reporter on a trainee’s wage – to buy her a drink.

Viv Nicholson, who is by my reckoning more 75 than the 72 she admits to, dashes away from the Castleford care home and I have to break into a jog to keep up. I offer her the front seat of the car but she scrambles in the back and declares that she doesn’t want to go into town, she wants to go to a pub.

“Which pub?” I ask. She can’t remember but knows the way, apparently.

In the process of being kidnapped by a pensioner I realise I’ve forgotten to meet the photographer at the home. I call him with vague instructions to drive out of Castleford to a place as yet unknown because Viv still can’t remember the name of it or the village that it’s in. She doesn’t seem bothered, she’s is in the back slagging off Castleford.

“Castleford?” she spits. “Hate it.”

Finally we arrive at a Ledsham pub. Naturally, she leads the way and asks if I’m buying lunch. No, but I fear I may be about to. She, orders half a lager at the bar and takes a seat – a well-trained 60s celebrity used to the media spotlight.

Viv shot to fame alongside husband Keith on September 27 1961 when they won Littlewoods Pools. They were down to their last few pennies when they hit the jackpot and it was the first and last time they played – a move that netted them a cool £152,000 – a fortune for a miner and his wife.

Suddenly all eyes were on Viv and her frivolous frittering – when she was asked what she planned to do with the money she coined the phrase that would be forever associated with her: “I’m going to spend, spend, spend.”

“I regret those words. They sound awful, like labelling myself,” she grumbles, “When we first won the money all we did was drink. I was drunk every day of the week. I used to fall over, I was falling from one table of drinks to the next for the first month of two.”

Viv laughs – the raspy belly-shake of a Yorkshire girl born and bred on cigarettes.

“I had never tasted whisky or champagne. We had lived poorly. We got the money and did what we did and jolly well enjoyed it. The only thing I didn’t do was end up in prison.”

£152k smile

Viv recalls her first purchase – a green suit – the day after she was handed the cheque. The Nicholsons then bought a home in Garforth, ate, drank and splashed the cash.

“I’d lived in Castleford all my life and when I got some money I went to Leeds and it was another world,” said Viv, “I went in my new suit and I got my money out and said ‘keep the change darling’ and did all that swaggering about. I didn’t know how much it was. I just spent it. We had a fabulous time.”

She stops for a moment and waves her hands like she’s brushing memories off her shoulders.

“All those memories are my favourites. We did it all together. We wanted this and got that. I bought two houses, clothes, three or four cars. It was horrible to drive,” she chuckles, remembering the ostentatious pink Cadillac that made her infamous.

The high life wasn’t to last for the happy couple and tragedy followed when Keith died at the wheel of his Jaguar just four years after they struck it lucky. The taxman swooped in and took what was left – a hard lesson which left the mum-of-three a fitting poster girl for The Smiths’ single, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.

“After Keith died I’d go driving my car screaming down the lane and wanting to die. I only ever loved him, having him was the real thing.

“It was horrible. I was all alone, the kids were at boarding school, there were a lot of bad days and evenings, walking around not knowing what to do.

“I was crying all the time in a big horrible house where I used to be loved. I used to scream ‘Come out Keith I’ll play hidies with you’.

“Money couldn’t fix that. If you had walked in then and said ‘Viv, here’s 100 grand’, I couldn’t have taken it. Money doesn’t fix everything, it just buys you what you want.”

Viv pauses to sit obediently for pictures. She grumbles and calls the photographer a “grumpy old bastard” for making her switch positions.

I ask her whether she’s sick of the attention – of reporters asking her the same questions, hoping she has regrets.

“I don’t know why people are still interested. I just got used to it, reading of my ‘worthy news’.

“People used to see the house and they would say, ‘that’s Viv’s house, that’s Viv’s bedroom.’ I would stand there smoking and laughing about it and people used to come in and look around.

“I quite liked being a bit famous. I can’t believe it’s been 50 years…where’s my money gone?” she jokes.

I ask whether the money changed her and she practically snorts with derision.

“I didn’t change. I am what I am,” she says shrugging her shoulders. “People thought I was a tart and a hussy just because I drank, but it didn’t bother me. People were very jealous.”

I ask the question I’m sure all journalists ask – If she had her time and money again, would she change anything?

Again, she shakes her head and looks confused by the question.

“I wouldn’t change it,” she says. “People say “what have you bought Viv?” and I say, ‘nothing.’ I did what I did and it was a marvellous life.

“I might not have money now but I don’t want any. I’m sitting in that care home, no work, and I can stay there for as long as I have left.

“I’m very happy. I fight if any old biddy gets to me, I give her a clout then I pick her up and say sorry and play nice.”

She swigs at her half a Fosters and grimaces.

“First drink in five years that, taste horrible. Yeurgh!”

I look in horror at her half pint and wonder whether I was allowed to ply her with booze.

Viv-acious lipstick

As we walk back to the car she mentions the stroke she had about a year ago and waves it off as something of a minor inconvenience she once had to deal with. She then declares she wants to buy a new lipstick to wear to Kingdom Hall – the Jehovah’s church she attends.

She says it’s fine to drop her in town, then ten seconds later says she “won’t tell the nursing staff” which sets off several different types of alarm bells in my head.

I let her out the car in the town centre and as I watch her dash off – running like a woman making a bid for freedom – fear takes hold and I give chase.

I track her down to a branch of Yorkshire Bank where she strides up to the counter and demands £100. I nervously ask why she needs that much money and she repeats her lipstick request.

A woman behind me shouts Viv’s name. I jump out of my skin and say “oh she’s with me, sorry!” The woman laughs and says “oh I work at the home, I thought she’d escaped.”

A cold film of sweat settles on my neck and suddenly I question the reliability of the last 90 minutes.

She dashes over to Superdrug and picks up a random lipstick and jogs to the counter. I run after her making whimpering noises and watch her pick up several chocolate bars and pay in two separate transactions.

We leave the shop and she picks the lipstick out of the bag and looks at it.

“I don’t like it,” she says. “You can have it.”

I return to the office and try to explain why I’ve returned with a new lipstick, three bars of Dairy Milk and a packet of Chocos. The newsroom weeps with hysterics.

As I recall Viv getting out of the car and sprinting off with barely a goodbye, I wonder whether she knew all along exactly what she was doing.

Was giving me the lipstick the act of someone completely nuts, someone true to her generous word, or the actions of a compulsive shopper with an incurable need to forever spend, spend spend?

I’m also left wondering what she’s going to do with that 90-odd quid in her coat pocket.

“If I won again today I would spend it, “ says Viv, in her parting shot. “Money’s not for saving, it’s not been for all the years I’ve been on this earth. When you die, what you going to do with it?

“I know what I’m doing,” she says, half squinting at me. “If I have money I will go out and buy someone a drink and I won’t have one. That’s my life. I have no regrets.”

Johnnie marks a musical milestone

THE first thing Johnnie Walker says to me is that he’s sorry for calling so late.

I’m genuinely confused for a second, because a legend of the radiowaves can be as late as he likes in my book.

The man on the other end of the phone is, after all, one of the last radio DJs of the 60s; responsible for a generation of sleep-deprived kids sneaking their cheap tranistor radios under the covers to tune into broadcasts way past their bedtimes.

The veteran voice of Radio 2– famed for such notorious behaviour as hosting pirate radio show Caroline in the 60s – takes the compliment with a bemused laugh.

But while my nostalgia is decidedly secondhand in nature,  he’s taking a personal tour down memory lane with his newest live show,  which he will be sharing with audiences in Bradford next month.

“It’s called Musical Milestones,” said Johnnie. “I play all the records that mean a lot to me, like the first record we played when my father bought home a wind up gramophone when I was five.”
“But there are some nights where I will come off and I’ll go ‘darn, I didn’t play that one’ or I say ‘I must use that one again’, so it’s constantly changing. I never know what I’m going to play but I doubt that it will be boring,” he added.

Johnnie began his radio career in 1966 on offshore pirate radio station, Swinging Radio England, before jumping ship, as it were, to Radio Caroline.

It was during his time playing plastic out at sea that he entered the history books on August 14, 1967, as one of the only DJs brave-slash-risky enough to carry on playing as the government imposed a ban on pirate broadcasting.

For Johnnie, it was a defining moment in his career.

“A really big moment for me was when I went against all the advice of my parents and friends and DJ friends, when I carried on broadcasting on Caroline after the government made it illegal. I played All You Need is Love by the Beatles and became a criminal for playing records.”

His decision to keep on playing was a likely combination of part protest/part dedication, based on an unshakeable passion for the job and the music itself:  a feeling he wasn’t about to give up so easily.

“I managed to get a job on a radio station so I could play all my favourtie bands and share that experience of good records with the Caroline audience,” he said. “All the DJs in those days wanted to find that next big thing because it’s exciting, it just shows you’re doing your best to discover new music.
“I used to go through 60 or 70 new singles every week in the 70s searching for that gem. A lot of it was really bad, then you come across a gem and you think, ‘wow, this is brilliant’.
“Finding the little nugget amongst all the other stuff is brilliant. I remember when Walk on the Wildside became a hit, I thought, ‘I knew that music had something and lots of other people did too’,” he added. 

Audiences in Bradford have a lot to look forward to with such colourful anecdotes on the cards, but according to Johnnie,  no two nights are the same.

He said: “I’m really looking forward to coming to Bradford. The great thing about people in Yorkshire is that they will tell you what they think and I like that. 
“They’ll just shout, ‘Hey Johnnie you’re show is rubbish’.  I don’t mind a bit of heckling, it’s good fun. 
“We leave little index cards in the interval and people go off and have a drink then come back and write questions.  We get the house lights up and read them out – it’s the best part of the show for me and the audience I think.”

You would think after four decades on the airwaves, talking about his life in music would be second nature, but even someone with his experience gets the pre-show jitters.

“I’m always really nervous when I go on, I’m pacing up and down 10 minutes before a show,” said Johnnie. “It’s very different to doing it to a live crowd, it’s more embarassing it if bombs, so there’s more tension.
“You can take some great artists like Paul Simon or Neil Diamond and they all get nervous, because they care about what they do.
“If you pull it off then it’s a wonderful feeling.  But I put everything I have into it because I want people to have a good night, and if it goes well I’m happy.
“I don’t want to big it up too much though,” he laughed, “in case I have a bad night in Bradford.”

Johnnie Walker will play the Bradford Alhambra on Thursday, May 12.

California dreaming for local band

Euphoria Audio

Ben Hughes of pop band, Euphoria Audio, stopped by the Express office to tell us how he and his bandmates have been recording their album in the Hollywood hills at the home of former Guns ‘n Roses drummer, Matt Sorum.

In addition to holding Slash’s guitar on the sly (“he left it there”) the four Yorkshire lads have also taken to hanging out at rooftop parties and playing on stages once owned by Johnny Depp.

Ben, 26, said: “We’ve been in the studio for six weeks recording, doing photo shoots, interviews etc. We went to Matt [Sorum’s] house and recorded the demos. He’s a super cool guy, really nice.

“We got four tracks down so the first half of the album is done. They’ve got a more distinct American sound, more like the band Three Doors Down.

“We try to be quite accessible, we want to make music people want to listen to. It’s quite radio friendly but moshy enough to appeal to rock fans too.”

It’s all in a year’s work for the unsigned rock band, who came together seven years ago when bassist Ben, singer Matthew Shirtliff, guitarist Ben Lloyd and former drummer Daniel Wood met at Wakefield College.

They continued to make music throughout university and after a small line-up change to include Ben’s younger brother Josh on drums, the Featherstone band have spent months slaving away in studios literally all over the world.

Their stint in the Sunshine State came as a result of four tracks they recorded in Norway last year, which sparked the interest of record industry giants, Atlantic and Sony.

Taking the advice of those behind big name successes like Korn and Linkin Park, Euphoria Audio sought inspiration in the sun and began recording their album stateside, tying in a number of gigs at venues like the House of Blues and The Viper Room, formerly owned by Johnny Depp.

Ben, of Willow Lane, said: “Motley Crue still play [at Viper], so that was really cool, and it was nice to see people dancing.

“There was round about a hundred girls swarming the stage after the gig trying to get some free CDs, it was a bit frantic. When it’s over you think, ‘this is creepy…’ but it’s good.”

Euphoria Audio may be playing hip Californian clubs but Ben still hopes to squeeze in a number of gigs on home turf.

“We are in the process of booking some home town gigs, You always get a good reaction at home, so we might be booking a venue in Wakefield like The Hop.

“But the next thing for us is maybe being put on in New York for a showcase and one in London. We’re hoping to do some festivals in the UK, we would like to do Leeds, Reading, Glastonbury, Download.

“I don’t know how we would go down at Download but I think we would do alright. We’re not soft enough to get bottles thrown at us.”

With publishers nipping at their heels, the band is hoping to have some of their tracks picked up for TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy and film soundtracks.

There is even the rumour that a certain vampire franchise is showing an interest in a Euphoria Audio track.

“We have got a lot of publishers interested at the moment,” said Ben, “There was even talk about putting one on the next Twilight movie, but we’ll see.

“There’s lots of stuff on the cards. We expect next year to be our year in terms of where we want to go.”