Richie Follin of Guards, Willowz & Cults // the YANP Interview

Photo by Karly Grawin

I didn’t put it together until this year, but I admired Richie Follin’s work years before Cults or Guards put Bandcamp on the map. When I went to CMJ in 2006, his band Willowz opened for the Mooney Suzuki and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately for me I didn’t follow up, otherwise the greatness of Cults might not have been such a shot from left field in early 2010.

MP3: Guards – Sail It Slow (feat. Madeline Follin)
MP3: Cults – Most Wanted

In the past 13 months, Cults have shot into major label orbit, Guards went from bedroom project to critically-acclaimed effort and Willowz quietly prepared to tour and record again. Yet when it’s time for Richie to chat, he makes it seem like he’s got all the time in the world — the true sign of a great guy.

Richie Follin of Guards, Willowz and Cults :: the YANP Interview

Guards and Cults both went from zero to sixty thanks to internet exposure. What’s that sudden lift like? Do you remember how you found out or realized that your EP was being posted all over the internet?

It’s really weird for me to see how it all works now just compared to just 10 years ago…It’s amazing how fast from the time you record something to posting it up on the internet people get to hear your music. It eliminates the need for touring every city to bring people something. I guess the internet has done that with everything…no more door to door salesmen. My step father has a saying now that goes, “everyone will be famous in 15 minutes”.

When your bandcamp page really got a lot of attention, there wasn’t much info to go on. Did any over eager writers or new fans get anything hilariously wrong?

The bandcamp format just has no “bio” section so I think a lot of people thought Cults and Guards were trying to be a lot more mysterious than we really were. People are still getting stuff wrong haha…a lot of the live reviews we get the writers seem to think Madeline is in Guards , but she isn’t…When Cults first posted that bandcamp page a lot of people were emailing the manager asking if it was me…So there has been a lot of confusion, but that seems to happen even when you post a bio. hehe.

Read the rest of the interview after the break.

You seem to be a big proponent of what many think of as “the future” of the music industry — free downloads, no label support, etc. Is there anything that you envy about bands who are in the opposite situation of yours?

I do envy tons of money and corporate push behind a band, but I think that can really only get you so far before you have to actually make good music…or maybe not.

“Sail It Slow” was one of my favorite songs of 2010 (#7!) It fits in well with the rest of the record, but clearly stands out. Were you drawing from a different group of influences for that track?

That was the fist song I wrote on the omnichord and it just turned into what it is organically…i didn’t set out trying to really write something like it…the augmented 4th “devil tone”. It’s funny because people could tell I was writing it on something different, when I first showed it to Brian Oblivion he knew I didn’t write it on the guitar because of the changes… the only 2 direct influence that I can think of that had a big effect on the song was a wanted that arp sound, and the guitar I wanted to sound like something i would hear on an Ennio Morricone soundtrack or in a Can song. My step father says it sounds like Bela Bartok or Chopin haha.

I’ve heard you mention a couple times that you originally wrote the songs on your EP with the idea that your sister Madeline would actually be doing vocals on the finished tracks. Did that wind up giving you any freedom to be wild or experiment with your style when recording vocals rather than how you might have sang for a final version?

Well it gave me a lot of freedom to not think about my voice as I had traditionally done…I stepped away from what I had gotten used to and it sounds weird but I thought about what people might like rather than what I wanted to hear and it helped me focus less on trying to sound original with my voice and different. I just really focused on what fit the song best. I try singing on the songs now in a few different ways before I settle on something where as before I would just sing in this one way always. The only other time I have worked the way I do now is on the first Willowz record.

What’s the current status on the next Guards release?

We just put up a free digital 7 inch of covers on our bandcamp site, and are doing a single with Kitsune in the coming months…as far as a full length goes I hope to have one out by the end of the year.

Has anything changed in the recording process for Guards? Are you still doing a lot of heavy lifting during the recording or do you have a regular cast pretty much in place now?

I have still pretty much been doing it all with Ted on drums…mainly because I have gotten in a rhythm of doing things a certain way and just get frustrated doing it any other way now…it is extremely draining. haha.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to remember you being from LA when I saw the Willowz at CMJ 2006 (you opened for the Mooney Suzuki, right?). What prompted the move to New York? Has there been any difference in being a musician in one city versus the other?

I have been back and forth from coast to coast since I was a little kid because my mother lived in new york. Willowz came out here to do a record and we were going to Europe a lot at that time and the flights were cheaper and we just ended up staying. The difference between being a musician in the two cities is that in LA you are separated from other folks and can be as loud as you like and it is much cheaper as far as rent goes. In NY it is a lot easier to get things done and you are a lot closer to a bunch of good cities to tour…you are also closer to Europe. I also feel like the NY music community is a lot tighter…everybody seems to know each other.

Any under the radar groups you’d advise us to seek out at SXSW?

I don’t know how under the radar these bands are but I’m always excited to see the Strange Boys and the Oh Sees. A band we just played with in the UK that I would like to see again is Young Buffalo. Kaylie’s (Guards omnichord player) brothers band, White Arrows, are playing as well and I will be going to see them.

You toured a lot with Willowz. Is there any milestones or events that you’ve been able to take part in with Cults or Guards that never happened with Willowz?

Good question! The answer is playing Coachella! Madeline, and I used to sneak in to Coachella every year and a year ago I said I wouldn’t go back unless I was playing, and now I am and am very excited. It’s kind of funny because with Cults we we ended up dealing with a lot of the same people Willowz were dealing with early on and this time we knew who to tell to take a hike. I am happy I had the experience to make sure my little sister wouldn’t be jerked around.

During your musical career, you’ve toured endlessly, put together an album pretty much by yourself and made an unannounced side project one of the most buzzed about groups of the year. What’s one piece of advice you think every young band needs to hear?

Keep writing and recording and be nice to people…

What’s 2011 got in store for you?

SXSW is next for us, and then Europe in May…hopefully a full length soon!

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