Even After a Decade Together, Cold War Kids Are Still Learning

Some things are best left to chance even after experience has long since taken hold. Take Cold War Kids’ latest single, “First,” off their recently rereleased deluxe version of last year’s record Hold My Home: Though the Los Angeles-based band has been together for over ten years now, the success of “First” was left mostly to chance.

“[That] was a funny one because ‘First’ was like an exercise in just really letting it all be one verse of lyric and not trying to tidy [it] up, like a better story or a more clear message or what it was about or whatever,” says vocalist Nathan Willett. “It’s the kind of thing that you write and you go ‘I don’t totally know what it’s about but I think it’s done.’ It’s interesting to me because that song has done well and people like it a lot, so I don’t really know what that world means for me going forward but I’m sure it will have some effect.”

Runaway success stemming from throwing caution to the wind is not part of Cold War Kids’ motif at this point in the game. Formed in the Inland Empire of California in 2004, Cold War Kids embodied the lyrical tropes and angular instrumentation of “indie rock” right as the modern definition of the genre was placing its foothold in mainstream culture. 2006 saw the widespread acclaim and subsequent widespread licensing of “Hang Me Up To Dry,” Cold War Kids’ first big single that seemed to dominate alternative airwaves that year.

“First” and the majority of Hold My Home, for that matter, carries a lot of the same feeling that Robbers & Cowards, Cold War Kids’ first record, did. There’s the stripped-down, heavily percussive sensibilities, biting introspection, and bouncing guitar lines of their earlier work all over the newest album, albeit with the requisite polish and cohesiveness that time affords. While Willett would be remiss to call Hold My Home a return to form, he does acknowledge the weight that Robbers & Cowards carried early on.

“It’s a funny thing for me to realize that something we did at the very start was probably that we showed up doing the best we could,” he says. “We had learned a lot right from the green light, we knew who we were a little bit. From there it’s a hard thing because when you like what you do right from the start, do you keep doing it or do you change it?”

Now that “First” is dominating the Alternative airplay chart, taking top honors while Hold My Home does the press cycle once again, Willett seems to have a renewed outlook on the recording process. Change is not so much the goal for Cold War Kids as a linear evolution is, marked by milestone records every two years or so, with connectivity and the simple fun of writing music taking precedence over derivation or departure from form.

“I think now, with this record, we get it and there’s certain things we don’t have to make so hard, you know,” he says. “Touring is hard, the travel and the lifestyle is hard but getting into the studio and recording together, it doesn’t need to be as hard we’ve made it during certain times. I guess a lot of it, there’s this side of it where a song should be really good if I’m having a lot of fun doing it, and with all of us, and that’s something I’ve learned, it’s gotta be a pure expression and it’s gotta be fun. I guess I’m still learning.”

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Kristian C. Libman