Conventional isn’t really Ex-Cult’s thing.
The Memphis punk outfit, which is set to perform Monday at The Conservatory, inked a deal with a hometown label within a remarkably short time frame and played its first show mere months after formation. In the time since, an unwavering deluge of momentum has hurled these five unassuming 20-somethings snugly under the wing of rock darling Ty Segall, producer of their self-titled debut album.
In all, it’s been a relatively seamless ascension for the band. So much so, that its most significant hurdle had nothing to do with music at all.
It was its name. “I came up with the name ‘Sex Cult’ when the band first started,” said lead singer Chris Shaw. “Maybe three months after our first single came out, this techno label from New York City called Sex Cult Records sent this email saying they were going to sue us … and all this weird shit.”
In light of this proprietary snafu, Shaw maintained that no hard feelings remain. He actually views the whole scenario as somewhat amusing.
“I’d like to meet the owners of Sex Cult Records someday,” he said. “That’d be funny. I’m sure they’d realize we pose no threat to their techno empire.”
With that controversy behind it, the band steadily has produced a catalog of searing vitality, garnering the endorsement of industry tastemakers and curious concertgoers in the process. Ex-Cult has drawn comparisons to some of punk’s most revered trailblazers, but has shown a similar proclivity for the genre’s more experimental acts.
“We’re pushing the envelope, but keeping in mind that we’re a punk band,” Shaw said. “I think once you have that mindset, it’s inevitable that other things like Krautrock, post-punk and psychedelic rock are going to seep into the stuff you’re doing, because you’re not constricting yourself by doing certain things.”
This stylistic development culminated during a recording stint in San Francisco — a trip the five were urged to make by Segall, who had befriended Shaw after a spell of shows in the Memphis area. The two crossed paths more recently at a South by Southwest showcase, when Segall expressed interest in producing Ex-Cult’s full-length debut.
Shortly thereafter, with a batch of songs already in their pockets, the band members departed for the Bay Area and commenced their session at the esteemed Bauer Mansion recording studio in Chinatown. The result: a raucous display of manic aggression and fractured accessibility — like an injection of rock ’n’ roll steroids shot squarely into the buttocks.
“The progression of the sound happened while we were still in Memphis writing it,” Shaw said. “It was really just a matter of recording the album in the best possible place in time that we could have.”
Conventional wisdom would have directed the group to record in the comfort of its own digs. But again, Ex-Cult doesn’t really do that. And it’s better that way.