Cold War Kids’ Soul Punk

SOUL PUNK FOR YOUNG SOULS: Cold War Kids (click to access pdf)
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.

Photo By: Matt Wignall

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.”

Young Souls Seeking Soul?

I LOVE Cold War Kids. Their bluesy-soul, punk-rock tunes have always piqued my interest and I of course ran to see the guys live when they performed near me. This fulfilled the fan in me and made all of my hours listening to their music in my car, at work, in the morning while I brushed my teeth all the more self gratifying. Than came the opportunity to interview lead singer Nathan Willet (dude on the right in a semi-growl)…

*commence heavens opening and wee cherubs playing harps

Never fear, I did not act like a weird stalker girl, but maintained my composure and tried my best to ask Willet an array of questions that would give Blurt readers an insight on the Cali band. The end result, you ask? A fine feature interview by yours truly…an interview I am most proud of. And be sure to listen to Cold War Kids if you have not had the luxury of listening to their songs!

Love is All Interview

Article Published w/ Artrocker &
Loose Record

Love is All
01.09.07
Q&A
words: April S. Engram
photos: Official Band Site

Having missed their explosive tour through the States towards the end of ’06, I felt terribly deprived when I missed seeing Love is All in action. All the buzz concerning this Swedish punk-pop band not only rested on their energy-packed debut album Nine Times That Same Song, but their equally, if not more, dynamic and LOUD live performances — just my luck for living where you see more cows than people. Nonetheless, I had the luxury of sharing a conversation with lead singer Josephine Olausson… via internet; time difference, Josephine’s sudden bout of nausea and my busy schedule did not stop this momentous event. An especially accommodating person, Josephine worked with me to make this happen and I truly appreciate her kindness.

Loose: I read your website’s bio about the “birth of the band,” if you will; would you claim your fame to fate?

Josephine: Fame… I don’t know. Everything has sort of just happened though without us interfering too much. It’s just been an endless period of good news. I’m not sure why this is…

LR: I guess fame is a word that alludes to many stereotypes about being in a band: making loads of money, partying to the wee hours, etc., so I’ll say the “reception” of the band; it appears that Love is All have been received very well from the press and new fans alike…

Josephine: Yes, that sounds better; but I still don’t know why that is. I sometimes think that we’ve been plain lucky.

LR: The cosmos are in your favor!

Josephine: Yeah. We must have done something right.

LR: Well, from my perspective, I heard “Busy Doing Nothing” on the radio and I had to stop what I was doing to see who did that song. It is a very infectious sound you guys have created!

Josephine: Well, that’s such a great compliment. That is my favourite way of discovering new stuff.

LR: Did it take you all a while to hone in on the sound you wanted to create?

Josephine: Not really. The messy part of the sound comes naturally since we are five people who are all really eager to be heard. And that reverb was really the work of our “producer” Woodie Taylor.

LR: Isn’t it nice when accidents come together nicely? So the lo-fi sound was Taylor’s idea?

Josephine: Yes and no. It’s all lo-fi because the songs were recorded in our practice space on pretty shitty equipment. It’s only recently that we’ve bought some “proper” microphones and stuff, but to make it all drenched in reverb was Woodie’s work. Maybe as a tool to hide that the recordings lacked a lot of what you usually hear from bands recording in real expensive studios and stuff.

LR: I love the lo-fi sounds, so yay for shoddy equipment! It gives the album a garage, DIY feel to it, and whose idea was it to include the sax?

Josephine: I don’t really know. I like to take credit for it, but it might have been something we all came up with. Markus (our drummer) knew Fredrik, who used to play sax back in school (ages ago) and we just wanted to add some on one song. It sounded so good that he just had to stay in the band.

LR: Nice, we’ll say it was all you! Female intuition, that’s what we’ll credit the idea to!

Josephine: Excellent.

LR: Now what inspired the name? It’s unique…

Josephine: Actually, there are two stories, one that’s true and one that is not, which one do you want?

LR: Nice setup, I’ll take the untrue story first please.

Josephine: The untrue story is that it’s taken from a song called “Love is All” by Roger Glover with Ronnie James Dio on vocals. It’s a great song that we discovered long after we’d named the band, but these days we usually play it before we enter the stage.

LR: Nice, you have a ritual before you go on stage?

Josephine: Not besides playing that song and having a glass or two of pastis…

LR: Now I haven’t forgotten, I have to hear the true story now, you’ve piqued my interest.

Josephine: The true story is that I was watching an episode of The Man from Uncle one night and this episode was about some hippie sect, at the entry of the camp were gates with the letters “Love is All” over them. For some reason, I just thought it looked perfect and sounded so nice that I wanted to name the band Love is All. It took a while for the others to agree though.

LR: It would be hard to convince guys to be a part of a band with that name; they have to maintain their machismo.

Josephine: True.

LR: How was it recording the Peel Session? I imagine that it was pretty awesome to have the opportunity to record a Peel Session before you even had a full length album.

Josephine: Yes. It was crazy, but the thing was that some of us had already recorded one with our old band Girlfrendo (also with only a few 7-inches out). But, sure it was an amazing experience that I’m so happy we had the chance do.

LR: I bet! Your ’06 was filled with some great touring about the world, the long Maximo Park tour and your time in the States. How was the experience?

Josephine: I liked it very much. Sure, there were mornings when I was all grumpy and swore I’d never do anything like it again, and for our guitarist Nicke I think it was extra hard, because he has two kids at home… but overall it was so much fun. It’s nice to get to see parts of the world you never would see otherwise.

LR: Nice, traveling and seeing different parts of the world has to be the best benefit to touring, besides performing. Any places you guys would like to visit next?

Josephine: We’re off to Australia in February, should be pretty cool, especially since they have summer there during our most dreary time of year. I would love to go to Mexico too, but there are no plans for that.

LR: Ahh, yea, Mexico is beautiful… from what I’ve seen from Discovery Channel, and Nacho Libre, ok, the home stretch Josephine! For the new album, incorporating any new sounds or ideas?

Josephine: We’re currently working on some new songs, but I have no idea if what we’re producing has anything to do with what the final result will be like. We’re having trouble with our neighbors, so if we make any more noise we’ll be kicked out. Obviously that is trouble for us since we like to make a lot of noise. We’re currently looking for a new space, and when we’ve moved, I’m not really sure where the new songs will be heading.

LR: Oh geez, neighbors, go figure! Well, best of luck with that, hey, a lot of noise is what you’re all about and I love it.

Josephine: Thanks a lot.

LR: Just out of curiosity, are there currently any musicians you’re into right now, can’t get enough of?

Josephine: Fleetwood Mac.

LR: Really, nice! Have to love the raspy vocals.

Josephine: Exactly, I’ve been listening to them on my iPod every day on my way to the practice space.

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Viva Voce Interview

Article Published w/ Artrocker &
Loose Record

Viva Voce
10.16.06
Q&A
words: April S. Engram
photos: Alicia J. Rose

I am always mystified by duos and how they seem to create so many sounds with so few instruments and their multitasking abilities will put any uncoordinated soul to shame. Anyone who can strum an acoustic guitar and sing while still maintaining the bass of the drum and cymbals gains my respect. Such were the sights and sounds I had the luxury of taking in while watching Viva Voce take command of the stage in Rochester, NY’s Bug Jar on October 16th. On a Monday night, the crowd was sparse and I was a little frightened that a crowd would not develop. But as the evening progressed, and by the time the Voce’s took the stage, more bodies appeared to watch the Portland group blow them away. Before the show I had the luxury of sitting with Kevin and Anita Robinson and had a great conversation, and might I add, what an adorable couple they are.

Loose Record: First off, thank you for sitting with me, but where did you guys get the name Viva Voce? I love saying it; you have to say it with a flare…

Anita: You say it the right way, so that’s saying something…we used the Italian translation and Kevin actually chose it so blame him, why did you choose it?

Kevin: It’s Italian for ‘by word of mouth’ and it’s how people find out who we are, that’s why we chose it. I’ve always seen that word and used it every now and then, it just seemed like it would be a cool band name…

LR: And why not, I know band names are difficult to create and hey, it works…

Kevin: And we just didn’t want a “The something Band”…The Brick Wall or something…

LR: Exactly, The Word of Mouth, it wouldn’t flow as well. What other passions do you guys have? Music, I imagine, is just one aspect of your lives that you’re passionate about…

Kevin: Anita, she’s a good gardener, she’s got a real green thumb.

Anita: I like learning about different plants, I don’t know if I’m so great about keeping them alive, but I think it’s really awesome to know what their names are, their scientific names and all that lame stuff.

LR: I’m in awe of anyone who can pick out a flower and know it, so that’s not geeky at all, I admire you for that. And how about you Kevin?

Kevin: Well, music is all I’m about. I do like a lot of the art aspects of it all, down to the artwork and packaging, graphic detail and the business side. I really like just music stuff and whatever it involves, website design and graphic arts. That’s really about it; I just do one thing and try to do that on thing really well.

LR: What about Stars Wars, ehh, I hear you’re loving it…

Kevin, Yea, you can’ be a child of the 70’s and not love Star Wars, did you see that interview online?

LR: Yea, it cracked me up.

Kevin: I love it, I mean every kid growing up had Star Wars lunch boxes…I was one of them.

LR: I haven’t even seen the movie that would probably be a travesty for you to hear…

Kevin: Nah, that’s not bad, the 70’s ones were the only ones worth seeing.

LR: That’s always the case, stick with the original. I’m a fan of Spaceballs if that counts?

Kevin: The Schwartz…

viva_article.jpg

LR: You’ve got to love it! Now, what inspired your love of music? Was it a particular person or moment?

Anita: I think for me, I’ve always been surrounded by music, a large variety of music. My Dad is a DJ and a musician, he’s a luthier, he makes instruments, so that’s probably where that all stems from. I remember being as young as 5 or 6 and having a mini cassette recorder and tapes and sort of making my own songs, I just always loved to do that.

Kevin: My family wasn’t very musical; I’ve always liked arts and projects. Growing up I always had a project, whether it was drawing or something, and I just liked to record things. When I was about 17 I bought a 4 track and I just really got interested in that.

LR: Ok, and Anita, you’re father makes guitars…

Anita: Yea, he does, and he actually just made me something that he calls the ‘Viva Steel,’ it combines the regular, six string electric guitar with a lap steel, but you play it standing up, it’s slightly tilted, and you can switch between one or the other. So now that he made it for me I have to figure out how to play the damn thing, so that’s what I’m trying to do right now.

LR: Nice, so you still get that lap steel sound?

Anita: Yea, so hopefully that will be on the next record.

LR: Great, so dad came through! Now, Kim Baxter, how did you guys met her and how did she jump aboard?

Anita: I met Kim at the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls, we both volunteered a couple of summer ago for that and just became really good friends. Her band owns K Records, they’re really great, she’s in it with Kathy from the Thermals. Kathy out right now touring with the Thermals so Kim had some time off, so that worked out great for us. She’s super talented; she sings harmony, which is great. So it’s nice to have that sort of girlier harmonies on the record, Kevin can’t sing that…

Kevin: Can’t sing that high…

Anita: No matter how hard he tries.

LR: So do you guys have a ritual before you go on stage, methods to relax? Kevin’s shaking his head like, “Nah.”

Anita: No, I’m just always super calm before and after the show and I just don’t hold back when I’m on stage. I don’t really have to psyche myself up, it’s really just a matter of trying to reign in the adrenaline and just concentrate on playing and not, sort of, break all the strings and destroying my guitar.

LR: Gotcha! Now, I don’t know how you guys would describe your music. The lyrics are very tongue in cheek and the music is very lush, it’s like a rollercoaster ride…how would you guys describe your sound?

Kevin: That’s a very good observation; it’s cool to juxtapose really serious lyrics with kind of whimsical melodies. Or if it’s a real dark lyric, to put it with happy music, I like that kind of contrast.

LR: I’m the same way when it comes to music, I love it. Any great tales to share about your recording experience for this album?

Kevin: Well, we had horns for the first time, I wanted a stacked, funk horns kind of a sound on this one particular song and we never had real horns. And it was really interesting to record that, to explain to the horn players what I wanted, because I can’t write music, can’t read music, so I just showed them on a guitar what to do, that was fun…

Anita: Yea, neither of us can officially read music so we just have our own sort of language that we use to write out stuff.

Kevin: We’re both self taught on everything, I’ve never taken one lesson.

Anita: And we went to the Stonehenge on one of our UK tours and that was really cool, I think we got a little inspiration from that.

LR: I can imagine. I still haven’t crossed the pond myself so I’m looking forward to that.

Kevin: It’s intense…

LR: Now are there any songs one this album that hold a special place or have meaning to you?

Kevin: On this record…specials songs…well, they’re all kind of special. I like…”Special Thing” is kind of special, every record we have one song usually that’s, to me anyway, that’s like a sappy love song to Anita. I don’t try to make it flat out, say ‘you’ and things like that, but they are definitely songs that I wrote for Anita, and those are special to me and they’re fun to play. On out first record there was “Red D-lish,” on our last record there was a song called “High Highs,” those always stick out as really special songs to me.

Anita: I think probably “How to Nurse a Bruised Ego Back to Health,” it’s just one of those sort of grand, ambitious, epic songs that has three separate parts and it’s always really exciting and fun. You almost feel like you’re orchestrating, trying to conjure up different emotions, that’s really cool. Instead of just unleashing a pop song, which is awesome to do as well but this is a little more sophisticated and a little more music skill involved, I like to think that anyway, so I really like the way that turned out.

LR: Special Thing is my favorite song as well and are you guys aware of the radio station KEXP?

Kevin: Yea..

LR: Well just the other day they played Special Thing and I got all excited and told them I was going to sit down with you and they wanted me to say that you are getting a lot of KEXP love.

Kevin: Oh word, that’s cool! They’ve been playing that!

LR: OK, last thing! How would you describe Viva Voce in 5 words?

Kevin: 5 words…

Anita: Delicious

Kevin: Happy

Anita: Defiant

Kevin: Chortled

Anita: Chortled?!

Kevin: Chortled, I’m sticking by it…

Anita: Shrewd…that’s five words.

Kevin: No, that’s four, nauseated. Loud, noisy, rock, pop, good-stuff! Good-stuff is one word!

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