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Cold War Kids

by Marcie Garcia

With their second full-length release, Loyalty to Loyalty (Downtown), Cold War Kids are no longer the new kids on the indie block. Their sophomore record, which dropped in September, has had the Fullerton, California boys blazing through concerts overseas, and have finally returned to North American soil, currently supporting Death Cab for Cutie this month at the sold-out Aragon Ballroom April 17 - and an intimate headlining performance at Schubas Tavern on April 16. Though Loyalty is no Robbers and Cowards – Kids’ previous blog-adored release who’s 2007 summer anthem, “Hang Me Up to Dry”, was its fist-pumping hit, Loyalty does hold it’s own, and in its entirety, may be more interesting as a quicker paced edgier record. 

“For us being in a place where the first record did so well, for the second record we didn’t think real hard about whether it would be received well or not, and I think it was a very hard record to get in terms of that there’s not a lot of softness to it - it doesn’t give a lot,” explains frontman Nathan Willett. “And that being said it has been received well, and with playing shows every night, people seem to know the songs or are becoming familiar with them.” 

Willett is every bit his yelpy-vibrato soaked tenor, but the urgency behind his intense vocals alludes to a newfound confidence that you didn’t hear on their first effort. As a musical outfit, the foursome of Willett, Matt Aveiro, Matt Maust, & Jonathan Russell is also unafraid to put the guitar down, instead giving way to heavy bass and drums that throb throughout many of the 13-track record. The music takes noticeably more liberties, injecting blues, freak-out jazz, and rolling gospel, intertwined with their staple punk-soul fuse. 

By listening to the record’s first release “Something Is Not Right With Me”, you may think you’re listening to a Talking Heads b-side with Aveiro’s drumming disarray and Willett’s quickly barking chorus that jumps down your throat as he picks fun at folks who try too hard to keep up with what’s cool, but are just too out of touch: “I tried to call you collect, you said you would not accept; Your friends are laughing ‘cause nobody uses payphones.” 

“Its been around for a while and we weren’t sure if we wanted it on Loyalty, but it was the only thing on the record that felt a little upbeat and short and stuck out like a sore thumb,” he says. “But we decided to go with it. It was the one really punky quick song that was simple and we liked.” For Kids’ fans looking for familiarity, “Mexican Dogs” and “Every Valley is Not a Lake” has more the “Hang Me Up to Dry” scream-along that will keep fans happily hooked. 

But fans need not worry about a Robbers departure. Willett’s writing style doesn’t stray – his writing is as ever juicy while somehow allowing a rickety bridge between disturbing, clever, controversial, and just plain “huh?” 

Loyalty I think musically sounds a lot better and there’s a lot more bass and drums that make it sound awesome, but as far as the writing, we didn’t want to make a huge push away from what we were doing already,” Willett says. “For the third record we probably will do more things deliberately different, but this time around it was a very natural progression.” 

As Willett’s lyrics remain weighty topics, he manages to add context to his stories via personal experience, as with “Every Man I Fall For,” a song he wrote from a woman’s perspective after witnessing the traumatic effects of relationships around him, and being raised by a single mom while being fearful of the way men could treat her. Some experiences left an impression as he howls, “Every man I fall for drinks his coffee black, love and hate are tattooed on his knuckles; and my name is on his back.” This isn’t the first time Willett has written about first-hand accounts, the song “We Used to Vacation” off of Robbers, was written about his alcoholic grandfather; and it probably won’t be the last. 

“I’d had the idea of singing it [“Every Man I Fall For”] like that - from a woman’s perspective - because of the relationships that I’ve seen,” Willett explains. “When you’re writing you see such things and characterize that emotion. And it’s important to me in ways, because it was something I always saw in relationships; like my mom being a single mother and seeing how men treat these women and how they operate in relationships. To do it in a woman’s perspective, I thought would be more meaningful.” 

Taking on ma’s old boyfriends is one thing, but Willett challenges God in the song “Relief”, which is written from the perspective of someone directly affected by catastrophe who asks why God allows for such affliction, so Willett says, but it sounds more like God has quite the ego as he sings, “Flash flood, you got too comfortable, so I showed you, who’s really in control.” Willett also swims the waters of taboo politics in “Against Privacy” and even wades the tricky tides of suicide “Golden Gate Jumpers”. 

His lyrics are a sensitive topic and the writing process is no different, especially when wanting his bandmates to be on the same page. 

“I do all the lyric writing so everyone is really supportive, but it’s a touchy subject because I write something and of course want everyone to love it and for it to be important to them,” he explains, “and at the same time, I’m not writing for them because the core of good writing does come from the individual. “To a certain degree a band can empower the writer and not criticize too much… It’s almost like as a bandmember you almost have to be like a mom with their son. You can only say so much without disrupting its natural flow.” 

Its Willett’s close bond with his band that theoretically named their album Loyalty to Loyalty, after he first learned of idealist philosopher Josiah Royce’s message to embrace your community, much like Kids’ fans have embraced them and how the band has grown closer since tasting fame, thanks to those many type-happy bloggers that became transfixed with Robbers & Cowards in 2006. In 2007 the Kids were shoved into the lime-light and given headline stages at major festivals which proved a little rattling for an obscure punk band who was used to playing hundred capacity bars and supporting bigger SoCal fish. 

“Originally I just came across the phrase and then I read up on it and I thought in a lot of ways for a guy who was writing in the early 1900s, so much of what he’s saying is so relevant to what we were experiencing, especially at a time when we exploded in the media,” says Willett. “The message is of how we take care of each other, how we value individuality and how we value taking care of this group. 

And I guess as we continue doing this, and as we’re working on new material now, there’s something really awesome in knowing that people are sticking with us as we do what we do. It’s a nice feeling.”

The Cold War Kids play a sold-out show supporting Death Cab For Cutie at the Aragon Ballroom (1106 W Lawrence Ave)  on April 17th, 2009. 

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