“I think Dear Miss Lonelyhearts is the most deliberate change that we’ve made to who we are, and the first time we’ve been unafraid to think ‘does this sound like us’ and push what that means…” Nathan Willett, Cold War Kids
As ‘buzz bands’ come and go, some transcending to the mainstream, others simply beaten by the hype, it’s easy to forget about the artists that were there when the blogosphere truly came into its own.
Back in the mid-noughties, Cold War Kids were one of the inaugural music blog successes. Their 2006 debut album ‘Robbers and Cowards’ received favorable reviews all round, whilst lead single ‘Hang Me Out To Dry’ came to define the indie scene of the time, with its visceral vocals and simplistic yet unbelievably catchy bassline (it still also stands up as one of the most emotive songs about laundry). Since then, the Californian quartet have released two more albums, developing their rugged sound by taking an increasingly more personal approach, incorporating electronic nuances and picking up a new guitarist on the way. Earlier this year we were enamored by single ‘Miracle Mile’, and its polished, yet urgent sound, and were keen to see where the kids’ next album would take them.
On a cold, wet afternoon in March, we caught up with frontman Nathan Willett on the phone from his house in Los Angeles (we’re not jealous, honest), to discuss sleep patterns, fiery Italians, and their forthcoming fourth album.
“Mine Is Yours was over-thought and over-produced…”
I’m at my home in LA, it’s 9am here though, so early rockstar hours.
Are you one of those people who lives up to the stereotype and wont get up until ridiculous o’clock?
It depends really, when you’re on tour you almost have to keep later hours, but at home I tend to keep a more normal pattern.
You’re heading out on tour soon right? Has it just become a normal part of your life now as you’ve been doing it for so long?
I guess so, yeah it all starts next week. We had a nice break making this record at home though, so I feel prepared.
So how long did Dear Miss Lonelyhearts actually take to make?
It was around nine months or so we spent actually making it in the end.
On your previous albums you would try to spend as little time in the studio as possible, was it the same for this record?
I guess in a way yes, on the last record we did a lot of it in the studio as we wanted to have that experience, and I’m glad we did. However we maybe over-thought things and overproduced. This record is a more of a combination of spontaneity and studio time.
When it comes to making your fourth record, is there pressure to step out of your comfort zone?
Yeah I think so. We’ve been able to do what we do for a long time, and have built up a pretty solid fan-base along the way, and really we’d like to continue to grow as a band. I feel we’re only really limited by our own restrictions, which is why we’ve been free to explore new territories musically on this record both arrangement wise and production wise with new sounds. Overall I think we felt free when recording ‘Dear Miss Lonelyhearts’, but at the same time we wanted to be heard and enjoyed.
That’s what I thought when listening to the record, as it brought new elements to your sound, yet still stayed true to the style you’ve established over the last three albums. How was working with Lars Stalfors on production?
It was great; Lars and Dann co-produced the record, which meant we had two different personalities to work with. Dann is a fiery Italian with a passionate personality, whereas Lars is a calculated dry Norwegian who knows exactly what he likes, so it was a great combination and interesting to work with both of their tastes.
Do you think Dann co-producing gave you more control than on the previous records?
I think we had the right amount of ideas coming out, and a good mix of input from both Lars, and us so we knew how the album should be, but still had a lot of natural direction that we couldn’t have planned.
“I wanted to combine some fiction and content that is less directly personal, but more abstract and poetic that follows a narrative, so I think if it is personal, it’s distanced…”
Like you said it bridges a gap, and we knew we had to put ‘Miracle Mile’ on the record because I feel it captures all of our strengths as a band, and forges a connection between our records. After we thought we were done with the album, we started recording a collection of cover versions with our friend Richard Swift, who was playing piano. Two tracks from the record, ‘Miracle Mile’ and ‘Tuxedo’ both came out of those sessions and had a great vibe, perhaps because we were just friends hanging out and didn’t have the pressure of making a record.
So Dann Galluchi from Modest Mouse has replaced Johnnie on guitar, was it a natural transition or has he bought a new dimension to your work?
With the style of guitar playing that Johnnie had, we knew we weren’t just going to replace him with anyone, and instead wanted someone who had a different style that could contribute to the writing. We’ve been friends with Dann for a long time, and love all the music he’s made. The fact that he’s older than us really changed the dynamic, as we were almost like brothers before, then when an older person comes into the fold you automatically look up to them. He took a huge role stepping in with his experience, and my goal was to ultimately let him have as much of an impact as he could on the record, which he definitely achieved.
The lyrical content in 2011’s ‘Mine Is Yours’ seemed much more personal, like you were focusing on yourself for the first time rather than other people. Have you continued this trend on Dear Miss Lonelyhearts?
I think in some ways this record has the quality of the first two records, and is fictional in parts. I wanted to combine some fiction and content that is less directly personal, but more abstract and poetic that follows a narrative, so I think if it is personal, it’s distanced.
So would you say your mindset has dramatically changed with each release?
In some ways yes, because the first two records were so organic, and they capture what it was like to be in the room, while on the third record we wanted to evolve. I think this record is the most deliberate change that we’ve made to who we are, and the first time we’ve been unafraid to think ‘does this sound like us’ and push what that means.
Dear Miss Lonelyhearts is out April 2nd via Downtown Records.