Cold War Kids at the Observatory North Park

Indie-rock quintet Cold War Kids sat down with KCR to talk music inspirations, the evolution of their sound, and the highs and lows of being a band before their show at the Observatory North Park on Friday, November 15.

Cold War Kids formed back in 2004 in Fullerton, California. As stated on their Facebook page, they, “began in August ’04 with friends, jangly guitar, hand claps, and a Harmony amp in a storage room atop Mulberry Street restaurant.” Their earliest releases came from an independent record label, Monarchy Music, but in 2006, they released their debut album, Robbers & Cowards, with their new label, Downtown/V2. They then went on to release Loyalty to Loyalty in 2008, and Mine Is Yours in 2011. CWK continued to release new music in 2013 and 2014 with, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts and Hold My Home. They then signed to Capitol Records and released L.A. Divine in 2017. Their most recent release from November 1, 2019, from AWAL is called New Age Norms 1. They have been on countless tours, and have been all over the world, but they, “strive to make honest songs about human experience in orchards and hotel rooms, laundromats and churches, sea ports and school halls.”

I got to sit down and talk to Nathan before the show. We talked about their newest album, music, and the band as a whole. 

What went into your album, New Age Norms 1, and what was your inspiration behind it?

“A lot of things were happening with us where we had done a live record that kinda took a lot of work, that I was really proud of. Then our old record label was bought and we had to contractually do a ‘best of’ thing that was also a lot of work. We had to kinda put a lot of songs onto it that had been unreleased to make it something special, so that wasn’t just the same old songs. It was a season of a lot of backward looking time, over the band, over the you know, so many records and so many songs. So now we have a new record label AWAL, which is like a different, and has much more of a sense of freedom in the new season of what we’re doing. I felt like we needed to explore and just kind of try things, think out of the box.

So yeah, the idea of doing three different records that are 8 songs each, and just being committed to that, I guess came like maybe a year ago. Yeah, we just wrote forever, approached it a lot of different ways. The first one is producer Lars, that we’ve done the last couple records with. The second one, that we’re finishing now and is going to come out next year, is with Shawn Everrett, a totally different producer, a totally different sound. A lot of it was just like choosing these different ways we worked and making a record around that sort of different writing approaches we had.

It’s interesting because you have to think that so much of the way that people have released music is bound to the way the music industry has worked, and the way that records get released. When we first started, we had three EP’s that we had kinda just done ourselves. We knew nothing about anything, so we had friends that recorded us, and we paid them a little bit of money. We just had Matt Maust, our bass player, doing all the art for them. It was the funnest time because it just felt like the final product, you know a record or cd or whatever, that we were making, that we would then sell at shows and everything, it still felt like it was brand new. It felt like this is not something we did a year ago, that we’ve been laboring over. It just felt like, ‘All right we recorded these songs that we’ve been playing live and it feels fresh and has that urgency.’

Then once you get into sort of like the professional world of record labels and all that stuff, you know I don’t want to like overemphasize. I sometimes hate when an artist overemphasizes the role of record labels because it shouldn’t be about that, regardless of even if you have, I don’t know. We’ve never been in a situation where we had a record label that was so restrictive with us. But that being said, the way that the schedule of it and how far out you have to plan a release, what it takes to get a team of people behind a release. So we did the last album, L.A Divine, with Capitol, and that was kind of the one major label experience we’ve had. Which was fine, it wasn’t really good or bad, it was just kind of like, ‘Okay this was okay.’ But like who we are and what we do, this isn’t really going to benefit us a whole lot. So we should just kind of go and do what we’ve always done.

So maybe that’s a long winded way of saying, it feels like the old days. We’ve just always sort of toured first and thought about recording and releasing music second. Which is very different than now, and in general. Years ago, the model of making a record in your home studio or on your laptop or whatever, with your friends and then waiting, sort of making something happen before there is a tour to go out too. That’s like a newer thing. For us, we get in the van and start finding places to play and let it grow and all that. So yeah, it feels like that.”

So how has your music evolved since the beginning?

“It’s funny, like, it’s a really good question. But like evolution is, in a lot of ways, it’s the same in some ways, and totally different in other ways. So the way of kind of like being 4 or 5 guys in a room, with their instruments in their hands, sort of waiting for something to spark all of us. That type of energy is really great, and that’s how we started, but I got really burned out on that way of working and just wanted to be more focused about writing slowly. Sort of not letting the lyrics be something that has to come together on my own time, but something that I could create the amount of time I want to write a song. Not just sort of have it be….It’s that thing, a balance, music and lyrics. Sometimes music can be too heavy on it and lyrics are an afterthought. Sometimes it can be the opposite.”

What is your favorite song to play live on this tour?

“I think ‘Complainer‘ is the song that is just the most unlike any other song that we have. I mean, it’s always the weirdest thing when you’re in the studio working on something and think like, ‘does this make sense with our music? Does this make sense with everything else in our setlist?’ And then you do it and it always does. ‘Complainer’ is just a little different. It’s strange that it’s actually hard to write a song that is unlike everything else that you’ve done. I would always think like, ‘What if this doesn’t sound like us?’ It always sounds like you in the end. It always comes from you, but it’s actually hard to do something that’s really different from what you normally do. “

What made you want to play music with your other bandmates?

“I just think it’s the funnest thing in the world. From the first time we started playing together, for me, the excitement and the feeling that anything is possible and just like living in that moment of, I don’t know, playing guitar, piano, or writing something. But just the feeling of being creative in that way, with a room full of people and being really vulnerable, it feels like kinda scary, and I like that. I didn’t grow up doing any sort of drama or any kind of creative stuff, at all really. I always grew up listening to a ton of music, and going to see bands and my friends were in bands. My friends were all in like punk and hardcore bands. I wanted to do something more soulful and kind of rock and roll. To my surroundings, there wasn’t really anything like that, there wasn’t a scene for anything like that. So I didn’t start a band, until kind of later. I was like 24, 25, when we started. Discovering that kind of like minded appreciation of music, and how special it is. Being able to share that is the best, it’s great.”

What is your ultimate goal as a band?

“I wish I knew. That is such a strange thing. We were actually in the van and driving from Phoenix to here today. We were just talking about how friends’ bands that have either you know, failed or gotten lost along the way of what they’re doing. Not having a goal that is like selling a certain amount of tickets or selling a certain amount of records, or being a certain big; looking at your life and saying, ‘Am I living the life I want to live? Am I happy doing the work that I’m doing? If so, I can keep doing it.’ For me, over the years, as we’ve had highs and lows, and even different members changing, and how really hard that can be. Of course, there’s always lots of moments of doubt, but I have always just loved it.”

Cold War Kids Live

On Friday, November 15th, Cold War Kids played a sold out show at the Observatory North Park. I have never seen Cold War Kids live, so I was very excited for the show! Their merch table was set up by the entrance, so it was the first thing I saw when I entered and I loved it all. It was super eye catching and different from what other bands are putting out right now. 

The crowd was filled with people of all ages, from kids to adults. I got to see the first three songs from the photo pit, as I was shooting the show. Along with that, I got to hear one of their most well known songs, “Hang Me Up To Dry,” from the photo pit. I turned around and saw how happy the crowd was, and how they sang every single word. The crowd was constantly moving, dancing, and vibing along to the music.

They played a mix of new and old songs, but a majority are off their new album. They played a total of 21 songs including: “Love Is Mystical,” “Miracle Mile,” “Hang Me Up to Dry,” “Complainer,” “Fine Fine Fine,” “Dirt in My Eyes,” “Calm Your Nerves,” “4th of July,” “Waiting for Your Love,” “Can We Hang On?,” “Mexican Dogs,” “Restless,” “Beyond the Pale,” “Drive Desperate,” “So Tied Up,” “Audience,” “We Used to Vacation,” “Hospital Beds,” “First,” “All This Could Be Yours,” and “Something Is Not Right With Me.” When talking to Nathan before the show, he mentioned how “Complainer” is his favorite song to perform live because it is so different from their other songs. After seeing it live, I completely understand why it is his favorite. The crowd was screaming along to the song.

Cold War Kids had so much energy on stage. They engaged and interacted with the crowd; the audience could not stand still, everyone was having an amazing time. The show was absolutely amazing, I did not want it to end.

If you have not listened to Cold War Kids, it is time to hop on the train. You can listen to their new album here.

Written by: McCaeley O’Rourke
Photos by: McCaeley O’Rourke

McCaeley O'Rourke