Cold War Kids first hit the indie music scene in 2005, and with the release of their fourth studio album, 2013’s Dear Miss Lonleyhearts, lead singer Nathan Willett says the band has the clearest vision of where they’re headed. With a new band member on keys and a return to classic sounds, Cold War Kids are clearly on the precipice of a rebirth.
As the band looks ahead to that future and to their fall tour, which swings by The Wiltern on September 19th, Willett took a moment to reflect on the significance of “Miracle Mile,” his affinity for Miss Lonleyhearts, and the cover songs you can find on the band’s forthcoming Tuxedos EP, out this Tuesday, September 17th.
You’ve been touring a lot this summer, so let me officially welcome you back home to SoCal.
Are you guys a rowdy bunch on tour? Any anecdotes you can share from the road?
We have Matt Schwartz, who started playing keyboards with us starting with this record. He’s like 23, 24, and he’s causing a bit of trouble in a way that I think is making everyone smile.
You’re kicking the fall tour off with a “hometown” show here at The Wiltern on the 19th. The last time you played LA was a very intimate gig at The Bootleg in February. What was that like?
It’s funny. Those shows are often times the hardest, I think. You get in full tour mode, you perform a show, and it’s very natural and easy. You get in your routine, but those moments with smaller groups of people where you’re looking them square in the eye… Yeah, this one [at The Wiltern] will be easier.
The lead single off the album was “Miracle Mile.” Can you talk about the genesis of the track?
It was actually the very last song that we finished on the record. We did a couple songs for an EP with a bunch of covers, and our friend Richard Swift came down to play piano and do some background vocals. “Miracle Mile” came from that. It came together really quickly and was a really fun, easy one.
Can you share what those covers were?
There was an Antony and the Johnsons song, “Aeon,” a Depeche Mode song called “Condemnation,” one from The Band called “You Don’t Come Through,” and a Nick Cave song called “Opium Tea.”
Do you guys play any of those live?
Of those I think the only one we’ve done is “Aeon,” which has been really fun.
Speaking of covers, Florence + The Machine has famously covered “Hospital Beds.” What was your reaction when you first heard it?
I like it a lot. I dig her, and I love what she does with that song. When she was playing Coachella a few years ago, I actually went there and sang it with her, which was fun. She has an incredible, powerful voice. It’s funny because from the first record, I think Kate Nash was covering “Hang Me Up To Dry” for a long time, and then Florence started covering “Hospital Beds” — a lot of these British female singers covering our songs. It was this cool, bizarre thing.
Dear Miss Lonelyhearts nods to the fictional Miss Lonelyhearts of Nathanael West’s Depression-era novel about an advice columnist demonized by the troubles of his readers. What drew you to the character?
I think the idea of a main character who is an advice columnist and is answering these letters from really desperate people who want some kind of help, and the idea of the songs being little letters or attempts to ask for help — something really resonated there. Something about the advice columnist having this kind of spiritual crisis about how to answer these peoples’ really sad letters struck me as being very timeless and inspiring.
Loyalty to Loyalty was also very academic. Are you a voracious reader?
“Voracious” may be too extreme. I like literature, but I don’t consider myself too academic about it. I majored in Literature in school and I loved Dostoyevsky or, you know, there are little references to Kierkegaard — one of the songs on the new record is called “Fear and Trembling,” which is actually a famous philosophical Kierkegaard book — but I think that the great thing about songs is that you get to make deep things a little more shallow. You get to water them down a bit and do a little simpler poetic twist on them.
Are Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky the authors you generally find yourself drawn to most?
I’m really all over the place. I really love the writer David Foster Wallace. Let’s see, who have I been reading… I love J.D. Salinger. I love Jonathan Safran Foer a lot. I like Jonathan Franzen, things like David Sedaris — lots of stuff.
I always find myself drawn to your music because I love the devastating poetic beauty of your lyrics. Though Dear Miss Lonleyhearts is more lyrically abstract, does living in those darker spaces while writing ever get to you?
You know, that’s interesting. I guess I didn’t really think about it so much earlier on, and I think it was our bass player, Maust, who was saying he was at a family reunion and his cousin asked him, “Man, does it ever get to you guys playing darker music?” I remember him saying that a few years ago and thinking that it probably does, but I guess to a certain degree you’re just inside of it. I don’t know if I’m aware of it, but I also think it’s a reflection of where I am, to a certain extent, so I just kind of go with it.
What was the feeling going into the studio for Dear Miss Lonelyhearts coming off of Mine is Yours?
Good question. It’s kind of a hard one. I think there’s this thinking that Mine Is Yours was pretty misunderstood and that what we needed was to continue the journey that we were on with the last record but also embrace some of the qualities from the very beginning of the band. I think that’s why “Miracle Mile” was really healthy for us; it had the energy of the first record and even early EPs but also was new and taking things further than where we’d gone before.
I know a lot of artists write their new material while touring for their latest record. Have you been fiddling with new material this summer?
Yeah, definitely. Going into this record we had a new guitar player with Dan [Gallucci], who was also producing the record, and we were also doing it in our home studio in San Pedro, so there were a lot of new factors. It was really transitional for us, and because we worked through so much with the last record, I think we were excited to get into the next one and have our most clear vision of where we’re at and what we’re doing. We want to get started really quickly and be able to put out another full-length album next year.
You came up in the Long Beach area but were a bit of a departure from the typical sound down there. Have you seen that area’s sound change at all over the years since your emergence in 2005?
We have been living in the Silverlake/Echo Park area for the last few years and still have our studio in the San Pedro area, but in that time we have met so many bands that I think we’ve crossed that Long Beach divide out here. In Long Beach, Delta Spirit was living there, We Barbarians were living there, Tijuana Panthers…so many bands, and now a lot of them have come out this way. It’s nice just how many bands live around here where, you know, you go out to get a drink while you’re home, and you run into people that you’ve toured with. It’s really nice.
Cold War Kids Tour Dates:
09/19 – Los Angeles, CA – The Wiltern
09/21 – Flagstaff, AZ – The Orpheum Theatre
09/22 – Phoenix, AZ – Marquee Theatre
09/26 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
09/29 – Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue
10/18 – Boston, MA – House of Blues
10/19 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
10/24 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
10/26 – Norfolk, VA – The National
10/29 – Charlottesville, VA – The Jefferson Theatre
10/30 – Athens, GA – 40 Watt
10/31 – Asheville, NC – Orange Peel
11/01 – Louisville, KY – Headliners Music Hall
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