From the streets of ‘New Yorkshire’ to the estates of Dundee, the search for that elusive Next Best Thing seemed last year to be exclusively limited within the shores of Blighty. Feeling left out, it was only a matter of time before the Americans made themselves noticed. Leading the pack is those most likely to succeed in 2007, California’s Cold War Kids.
Their name was first heard on this side of the pond as one of the buzz bands of last year’s South By South West festival in Texas; a fiercely fought battle of talents amid a pack of A&R hounds. Those who witnessed the Cold War Kids’ performances spread word of Springsteen-infused chunks of melodic pop coming one after the other; the band had laid out the bait and those present were hooked. “We had no intentions of going,” singer Nathan Willett admits to Clash, “and some people said, ‘Oh, you gotta go’, so we said, ‘yeah, we’ll go and make a tour out of it’. We had no idea what the greater music industry or how anything worked or anything. We went up there and it was like a year of learning about what goes on in music in the matter of a few days.”
“Everything has to have that Cold War Kids stamp of approval artwork on it, I guess.”
The boys from Long Beach found themselves at the centre of a growing interest which resulted in them bagging their booking agents in the US and UK, thus kicking things up a gear and letting their name be known. “There’s always that thought that creates more pressure or expectation when there’s a hype element that it’s not gonna measure up,” says guitarist Jonnie Russell on the attention they were receiving. “Like anything, if you hear its name enough times, you’re already disposed to be very critical. But we didn’t think about it a lot.”
Their signatures were soon inked on contracts to Downtown Records in the US (home of Gnarls Barkley, Art Brut and Eagles Of Death Metal) and V2 in the UK. “They’ve 9 people that work there, so it’s a tight knit group,” says Nathan of Downtown, “and the guy who runs the label is the guy we talk with when we get everything done on a day to day basis. So that’s a very important thing, because at other labels that we had talked to you have an A&R person who is maybe fresh out of college, even though it’s a label that is great, and you might not have as much real pull when it comes to getting exactly what you want. Their success with Gnarls Barkley means they have a lot of liberties and resources to be able to do things and that is very important.”
Life was destined to change for the quartet, but for bassist Matt Maust who ran his own design website, there was still room for his day job talents within the band: he would create all the artwork for their releases. “In writing our songs we have a very strong criteria that if we don’t think it sounds like a Cold War Kids song then we don’t move forward with that song. Same with the artwork,” Matt says. “Everything has to have that Cold War Kids stamp of approval artwork on it, I guess.” He continues: “The way Nathan writes, I think there are a lot of similarities in his lyric writing to the way that I do artwork, and I think there’s a lot of playfulness with each other that we kind of dance around the same circle with that. I think that we’re good together.”
Presently the Cold War Kids, completed by drummer Matt Aveiro, are sat in a basement bar in London’s theatre district as part of a clutch of UK dates on their European tour. It’s a far cry from their early rehearsals in Fullerton, California – their dilapidated jam house, nicknamed ‘The Bayou’, was also home to a homeless guy that “smelled like piss”. Perhaps drawn to the darker side of life, they confess to last night’s show in Berlin being the most fun so far. “It was like a crypt,” Matt tells us. “It felt like it was below a church. The low ceiling, you could touch it; it was like a cave. There was like 100 people and it was really dark… It felt like an illegal show, like ‘nobody knows we’re here’…”
They are currently on the road as headliners, having paid their dues with such esteemed touring buddies as Midlake, Soundteam, Tapes N Tapes and Two Gallants. In time-honoured tradition, the bands used the opportunity to get to know their new friends better. “When you’re on tours with a group of guys for a month you have a lot of conversations, a lot of late nights and drinking and talking,” says Nathan. “At the end of it, it’s always a sad goodbye. There’s a definite bond there.” While Matt fondly adds: “Leaving the Two Gallants in Paris was pretty sad! They’re great guys.”
Cold War Kids’ debut album ‘Robbers And Cowards’ was recorded in LA with producer Kevin Augunas. Its big sounding epic pop - branded “geek rock” by Rolling Stone - is sure to propel the Kids onto every discerning music fan’s radar this year. “It will be an interesting year,” Jonnie predicts. “It will probably be pretty busy.” No shit, Sherlock!