Cold War Kids - Biography
A virtual overnight sensation, Cold War Kids formed in 2004 in Fullerton, a satellite town of Los Angeles with no music scene to speak of. The vocalist/pianist/guitarist Nathan Willett, guitarist Jonathan Russell, drummer Matt Aveiro, and bassist Matthew Maust, former friends from Loyola Marymount University, found the cheap rent and ample character studies of the poor, overworked, and spiritually undernourished to be great material for their future body of work. Initially, the twenty-somethings worked day jobs and made music for each other in a storage room above a Mulberry Street restaurant. The band’s name came from Maust, inspired during an Eastern European vacation that highlighted the post-Cold War history they had inherited.
Tackling rock and roll from a post-Reaganism perspective, Cold War Kids self released three, six-song EPs on the Monarchy label: Mulberry Street (2005 Monarchy), With Our Wallets Full (2005 Monarchy), and Up in Rags (2006 Monarchy). The group featured jangly yet clean guitars, hand claps, and a loud rock sound. The first sessions were deliberately loose and fun, focusing on an overall aesthetic that included aspects of gospel with heavy stomping, chanting, and laughter as well as musique concrete techniques like banging on HVAC pipes or plywood while yelling into a tape recorder. They strove for the simplicity of Tom Waits, using style and presentation over advanced chord structures. All around them, Fullerton echoed scenes from Grapes of Wrath and the American dust bowl, while they marinated in the lyrics of Bob Dylan, the soul of Billie Holiday, and the jamming of the Velvet Underground for inspiration.
Lyrically, Cold War Kids were inspired by the writer David Foster Wallace. They focused on telling simple stories that reflected human experience with an emphasis on moral ambiguity. The band uses Christian archetypes of god, angels, devils, and saints but claims to do so artistically, citing musical heroes Dylan, Waits, and Johnny Cash.
The band's distillation of blues and soul-tinged rock, as well as their thrilling, passionate live shows, fueled an industry buzz amplified by the endorsement of newly ascended music bloggers at Stereogum and Pitchfork. Cold War Kids toured in 2006 with Tapes 'n Tapes and Editors, playing festivals such as Lollapalooza. Within two years, the band signed to Downtown Records alongside their heroes Art Brut and Gnarls Barkley.
Now finally within range of quitting day jobs as substitute teachers and pizza flippers, the band signed to Downtown and entered the studio to record their debut full-length album Robbers & Cowards (2006 Downtown). Co-produced by the band with Kevin Augunas, the album was recorded at Fairfax Recorders & Tackyland in Long Beach. “We Used to Vacation” proved to be the first hit and relates the perspective of an alcoholic father, fighting personal demons and justifying his behavior. “Robbers” finds Willetts embodying a thief with his own demons, and “Saint John” is about an unapologetic death row inmate. Again we see the influence of Wallace's focus on objectivity and attention to detail. The influence of Dylan is clear as well, as they quote his “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Robbers and Cowards hit number 173 on the Billboard 200, as well as number four on the Billboard Top Heatseekers and number fifteen on the Billboard Top independent Albums. The band toured worldwide in support with the likes of Two Gallants, Tapes 'n Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Sound Team, Muse, and The White Stripes. The Cold War Kids won over fans with their exuberantly passionate live shows.
In 2007, Cold War Kids contributed their cover of “Electioneering” to OKX: A Tribute to OK Computer (2007 Stereogum). The group stripped the political anthem down to its skeleton, employing just a stark drum beat and Willett's emotive vocals. Willett claims Radiohead as a strong influence on the band, especially Thom Yorke's development of theme through the aggregated use of concrete imagery.
The band’s second full-length album, Loyalty to Loyalty (2008 Downtown), seems to trade their previous manic energy for dramatic orchestration and more danceable tracks. The album hit number three on the Billboard Top Independent Tracks and 21 on the Billboard 200.
As side projects, Cold War Kids support organic farming and many unsigned acts like the Electric Furs. Maust's art designs not only decorate the band’s EPs, but have spread out to include gallery shows and design books. Maust comes from a graphic design background and became responsible for the band’s record sleeves, T-shirt designs, and website. Before Robbers and Cowards came out, the then 27-year-old Maust had almost given up on music for design.
Cold War Kids have accomplished more in less than four years than most bands do in their lifetime, self-releasing three EPs and two full-length albums while touring the world. Their reinterpretation of classic rock, blues, and soul simultaneously evokes their inspirations like Radiohead, Tom Waits, and Bob Dylan, while still sounding fresh and unique. In 2010 the band released yet another EP, Behave Yourself, followed by another full length on 2011, Mine Is Yours.