In Search Of The Perfect Name | Julian Casablancas On The Origin of Cult Records

Cult Records, the New York-based independent record label founded and run by Julian Casablancas, is set to release The Future Sugar this week, the new album by Mexican new-wave synth rockers, Rey Pila. The band first caught the attention of Casablancas after hearing the song, “Alexander”, and soon after released it as a single. Rey Pila is on tour now with Brandon Flowers of The Killers, and were just featured in the New York Times, which describes the band as a “grid of shimmering synthesizers, motorik beats and chirpy guitars.”

The release is merely the most recent from the label, whose artists include Julian Casablancas+The Voidz (Crave’s guest editors for the month), Karen O, Albert Hammond Jr., Har Mar Superstar, Cerebral Ballzy, and more.  

In a recent conversation with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange, Julian discussed the origins of the label:

Dev: When exactly and how exactly…what birthed Cult Records…I’m curious about it cause it’s one of those things that I would love to do, but I would never do it, because I feel like its too much work.

Julian: It is a lot of work. Umm, I’ve always had the energy to do more than one thing. You know? I’d always be thinking of five video ideas at once and twenty t-shirt ideas, you know what I mean? So. That’s not why I did it, but I guess I’m starting with the end. Sometimes people will want music advice and every time I’ve done that, from a distance, it’s just a disaster because I’ll mention something and they don’t fully understand what I’m saying, but they just kind of, “oh I got it!” and then I’ll think I made it worse in the end. You know what I mean? But I just want to see it through. So with Cult I guess I can…someone can ask for help. and if i say “ok I’ll do it” and then I can just make sure and see it through. I just like making cool things and helping others make inspiring things and it’s not just about money or anything, although it would be good to… it’s about, I don’t know, trying to help make quality things mainstream I guess…

Dev: Yeah

Julian:: But, uh… There wasn’t a label that I liked or that wanted me that I thought understood how I wanted to do things. That’s another reason… Ok, the real reason. How it began, in all honesty…I’m almost too embarrassed to say it. Is someone asked me umm, they said “I’m doing a label” and were asking me if I had any good ideas for names.

Dev: Yeah

Julian: I was kind of off duty at the time and I just kinda went deep in name-search mode, and I thought, “I’m going to find a cool label name.” And I had a lot of stupid names, funny too, I wish I could remember them, like um, “Heart-Broken Records,” a bunch of stupid shit. Yeah, so I thought “Oh Cult records, there is no label I know called that. That’s the perfect name.” And I was very excited. So I told the guy that name, but he didn’t go with it…

Dev: (laughing) He went with Universal BMG.

Julian: (laughing) Yeah he went with Sony. I was like “Big mistake buddy.” I’m 100 years old… Umm, yeah… So I started with the name. And then the more I thought of it, the more it made sense for all those others reasons I was telling you. Then I had my own record and i thought “Oh I can put it out.” Cult was only an imprint at that time tho…

Dev: Was that the first release on Cult?

Julian: Phrazes for the Young? Kinda. With RCA. Officially, the first one was The Virgins record.

Dev: Cool. I like Donald.

Julian: It’s kind of super ambitious, and probably a dumb thing, but my long-term dream is to create connections between all the cooler, more underground radio stations and record stores to be part of a more unified thing. So when there’s a cool record, it can have a bigger network and compete better… Because you’d think with the Internet great music would rise to the top, and it does, slowly, but it takes two or three years almost.

Dev: Yeah, definitely.

Julian: Some things explode, but I think there’s no…there’s this mainstream mega-machine and also a lot of really great indie artist struggling a bit at times…there is a place for pop music obviously, there always will be, but I think there should be two lanes. Even if it’s pop music 80% and indie music 20%, it feels like 99 to 1 right now.

Dev: Definitely. Huh, I’m glad I got an actual answer…I know a couple of people with labels. It just seems so crazy, but I respect it. Because I couldn’t. I’m like making tapes in my apartment and I feel like that’s just too much work for me. Like, that’s like just too much. I don’t know. It’s cool. Was it crazy? Is it weird releasing your own record?

Julian: Weird, no. No, it’s good because then I can experience first hand what its like to be on the label. I’m trying to… I’m always in the process of figuring it all out.

Click here to read the conversation in its entirety.