A brief encounter with vocalist Nathan Willet, discussing his band’s recent EP and their plans for the future.
The number of artists melding blues, rock, pop and soul into one is on the rise. However, many musicians merely reenact sounds from our musical past and often remain in the confines of this paradigm. Enter California’s Cold War Kids: they have manipulated this fine equation to create a sound all their own, injecting a jolt of adrenaline into this evolving genre.
En route to Anchorage, Alaska, the last stop of Cold War Kids’ short tour in support of their latest EP Behave Yourself, lead singer Nathan Willet took a few moments in between flights to chat. So while sitting in an airport amongst crying children and chattering passengers Willet discussed future plans for Kids ‐ Willet, guitarist Jonathan Russell, bassist Matt Maust, drummer Matt Aveiro ‐ and the recent release of Behave.
However you’d like to define “success” it is fair to say Cold War Kids is on the cusp of it. When the Kids formed six years ago, they did not put the cart before the horse with delusions of grandeur. “We didn’t really know what our hopes were from the beginning.” Willet says, adding, “All we knew is that we liked the kind of music we were playing. Now we’ve kind of come into success and found our place, it’s very much what we’ve hoped for.”
Humbled by the experience, Willet admits, “I’m always amazed ‐ especially with this last record ‐ that people know all the words, even to the old recordings. It feels good, it’s incredible, it really blows me away. Over the last four years of touring it keeps growing and it’s really great.” However, from the other side of the mic, it is easy to see why spectators become enamored by the Kids; one live performance and they will reform naysayers and recruit new fans. (After having personally witnessed Cold War Kids in action, I can say this with assurance. Before the show began a security guard approached and asked, “What kind of music do they do?” After their sweltering performance I had to ask for his thoughts: with a shrug and smile the bouncer admitted, “Oh yeah, they were good.”)
And three EPs and two LPs later, Cold War Kids’ compositions improve with each release. A bridge between Loyal to Loyalty and their upcoming third LP, Behave is a collection of songs that did not make it onto the sophomore release. One listen to the short, four track EP it’s clear that these songs were not cut due to an inferior sound. “The last record had a darker, broodier sound,” Willet explains. “These songs are more uplifting… lighter, so we re‐recorded them and released them on their own so that people would have a different ‘feel’ before the next album.” Indeed a “lighter” affair, Behave Yourself triggers that happy place in your sonic pleasure center. However, Cold War Kids’ music has always incorporated an upbeat tone even when a sense of foreboding lingers; the key to this juxtaposition, Willet’s lyrics.
Whether a contemplative pessimist in “Something is Not Right With Me,” a lovelorn woman in “Every Man I Fall For,” or a thieving church‐goer in “Passing the Hat,” Willet is known for weaving creative, narrative‐styled words that unveil troublesome tales from unique perspectives. But since the band wants to explore new terrain for their upcoming third LP, this may change… perhaps. Willet chuckles as he stammers, “You know, I don’t know yet. I do know that [the lyrics] will be more personal and less narrative…maybe.”
Well, possibly it’s too soon to make a definitive decision on the future creative process. Yet, one thing is certain: for the first time the Kids will be working with a producer throughout the entire process of album creation. Jacquire King, talented mixer to musicians such as Tom Waits, Josh Ritter, Buddy Guy and more, will add Cold War Kids to his roster. “This is the first time we’ve worked with someone who has a say in the songwriting and helps to shape how things are going to sound. It’s going to be a great experience, having his wisdom,” Willet says. “The old recordings were quick and fun, not a lot of overdub. This recording will be a much more lush arrangement. I think that this is the first time we have a high expectation for people to really respond to a record.”
And with the upcoming LP hopefully the Kids will achieve their ambitions. Fans will have faith; the Kids have every element to make this dream a reality ‐ great music, unique lyrics, and a memorable live show. Willet, clearly, has confidence in his and his bandmates’ abilities when he observes, “I think we are incredibly unique as a band especially compared to the mainstream world. I think that our qualities, combining soul and punk, are unique to people and we are forging ground on a musical category that no one is really doing right now.”
Worth noting, too, is the humanitarian side of the band: Cold War Kids let a portion of their recent ticket sales aid those in Haiti ‐ in addition to a benefit concert recently performed in NYC. Also, they continually raise awareness for Water Wells for Africa. Says Willet, “When we were on tour with Death Cab for Cutie we did a running [competition] where we raised money for [the organization].”
Once back in the sunny hills of California, Willet and the Cold War Kids will soon begin work on the third album. So, on this cold day, resting in an airport before taking off for Alaska, Willet gets one final question from BLURT: If you could choose five words to describe your band, what would they be?
Willet’s response after a moment of deliberation: “Soul punk for young souls.”
When I had the opportunity to see Cold War Kids live, it was a dark set in Rochester, NY’s Water Street Music Hall. It was a difficult shoot for my 35mm camera but resulted in some moody, dark, and grainy shots that I don’t regret!