Cold War Kids Find Solace in Simply Doing
“I think we’re feeling our way around not being a throwback bluesy, rocky band that could fall in line with a lot of other ones that are happening now,” frontman Nathan Willett says. “And we’re also definitely not a fey indie pop band. We’re trying to carve out our own space.”
Their October release Home showcases their widening palette, from the punchy psych-dance swells of “Hotel Anywhere” to the slow shimmying balladry of “Go Quietly,” the garagey title-track, and rousing album-opening soul-rock anthems “All This Could Be Yours” and “First.”
“We’ve expanded what we do lyrically and musically,” Willett confirms. “More narrative songs, more kind of abstract songs. There’s more stripped-down and blusier songs. There are definitely more modern-sounding songs on this record than we’ve ever tried before.”
The soundstage feels cozier and more intimate as they distance themselves from their overly slick third album Mine Is Yours. Some credit belongs with guitarist/producer Dann Gallucci (Murder City Devils, Modest Mouse) who replaced Jonnie Russell in 2012. A year later Joe Plummer, also a Modest Mouse veteran, took over drums and they added a fifth multi-instrumental member, Matt Schwartz.
“Matt freed me up to sing and dance and not try to be playing three things,” Willett says. “Just the presence—it’s funny it took me so long to realize if I’m at the piano for five songs in a row it stops being as interesting. And having Matt play keys and really adding a lot to [Hold My Home] was totally freeing for me, and let me think more about lyrics.”
Gallucci runs a studio with Lars Stalfors, which is what has enabled the band to work at their pace, recording when songs are fresh rather than waiting to assemble an album’s worth of material. That helped keep them from overthinking what they were doing and contributed to the album’s vibrancy.
Willett suggest that the band’s identity crisis leading up to and in the wake of Mine Is Yours played a big role in the lineup changes. What had begun as four disaffected 20-somethings sick of the O.C. beach culture promulgated by Sublime and No Doubt—“candy kind bro-eyed big tan greased hair surf pop,” as he describe it—had begun experiencing its own cliché issues.
“[There were] a whole lot of differing philosophies about where you can do this rock thing on a global touring basis and have it keep the intentions we started out with,” he says. “Basically the purity of what you start with is in many ways inevitably lost.”
That’s perhaps the toughest thing Willet’s had to negotiate. What grew out of artful collegiate fancy—“We liked to dress like we’re British, smoke cigarettes all night and listen to the Velvet Underground”—had grown into a real-life profession. And unlike most workplaces, rock’s characterized by the complete lack of boundaries, a fact that can be surprisingly disconcerting.
Willett longs for the simplicity of Fugazi’s steadfast ethos.
“You wish you had some rules to stick to, nobody drinks or the shows are cheap
prices. There is a hard edge to it that defines you,” he says. “What pokes
through is the ideals you had.
“Then you strip it down and realize you’re just a rock band,” says Willett. “It’s kind of a beautiful thing, a trial by fire where you thought you were the unique individual snowflake and you go, ‘You know, I am and I’m not.’ The songs that I’m going to write, nobody else is going to write, but it’s just four chords, man.”
That simple idea is what he hopes will guide them going forward, and keep them from getting too twisted up. It’s just head down, feet forward.
“We’re 10 years into this,” Willett says. “As long as it’s fun and good stuff is happening, we’re going to keep recording it as it comes and keep putting it out just as quickly.”
Cold War Kids play the Pabst Theater with Elliott Moss on Sunday, Feb. 1 at 8 p.m.