Just as ‘The Suburbs’ propelled Arcade Fire into the major league, Cold War Kids want their third album, ‘Mine Is Yours’, to do the same. They may just get their wish.
Nathan Willett, singer with Cold War Kids, is an expectant man. Even a day’s grind on the PR treadmill has not diminished his excitement ahead of the imminent release of the band’s third album – the mightily impressive ‘Mine Is Yours’.
“I stand by this album one hundred percent – maybe I’ve never totally felt that way before,” he tells Clash from his Parisian hotel room. “Honestly, this is the first album where I do have expectations and I would be surprised and disappointed if the record didn’t do well and open doors for us. Being able to tour in Asia, play bigger venues, or record a song with someone like Elvis Costello, is the sort of thing I expect with this album.”
These are bold words, and are backed up by a set of songs which demand to be heard by the masses. Produced by Jacquire King (Kings Of Leon, Tom Waits, Modest Mouse), ‘Mine Is Yours’ is awash with Matt Aveiro’s pummelling drums, Jonnie Russell’s shimmering guitar and Willett’s punch-the-air melodies; think early U2 soul-punk with added humility. “Our second album was a wake-up call for us. The emphasis had been on recording live and quickly, but on finishing [2008’s] ‘Loyalty [To Loyalty]’ I was sad because we had these songs that were not fully realised – we needed to change.”
The four fiercely independent Long Beach friends also needed to accept external influence, via the subtle force of King. “He’s not like a Brian Eno type who’s gonna come in and record ‘his’ type of album,” Willett explains. “He kinda stayed on the outside and let us do our thing. But what he mainly did was made us sound great.”
And great also meant appealing to a wider fan-base than before. Sonically, ‘Mine Is Yours’ seems honed to bounce off arena walls and leap into the night sky at festivals. For a band whose early EPs had revelled in a DIY punk mentality, this meant a philosophical change. “We realised that we weren’t just doing this for ourselves. It also has to be something that can be understood and believable,” Willet admits. “Bands like Arcade Fire or The National are able to say something very intimate and direct, but also have it sound really big and be something you could sing along to. A lot of stuff became clearer to us and we took a decision to be more ambitious for the band.”
The new material, while grander and more refined, deals with the minutiae of broken relationships; “We’re supposed to be on the same team,” screams Willett on the churning ‘Skip The Charades’. “The first record [2006’s ‘Robbers And Cowards’] was very fictional as that was how I could express myself. The second was more poetic and abstract but I wasn’t personally connected to it. So, on this album, I wanted to be even more direct and go for a personal theme and make it much more intimate. I also wanted to do it because it made me uncomfortable – writing about myself and friends. And it worked, it’s been very cathartic.”
But if this all sounds too neat isn’t there a danger that transparent ambition will cause Cold War Kids to lose the punk spontaneity that is inherent to their appeal? Willett thinks not; “That’s how we started and there will always be something of that. It’s a matter of incorporating the spontaneity and doing something more ambitious. I have come to adore a guy like Damon Albarn who can wear so many different hats. It’s about not being afraid to try different styles and he is the master of that.”
Such adoration could make album number four very, very interesting.
Words by John Freeman
Read Clash Magazine’s review of Cold War Kids’ ‘Mine Is Yours’ HERE.