No band in 2006 benefited from the power of the Internet like Cold War Kids. On Downtown Records, the same label that brought us breakout hit Gnarls Barkley, the band got so much praiseworthy press early on that it was playing Lollapalooza before its first album even hit stores.
Remarkably, the album, Robbers & Cowards, totally lives up to the hype, with a collection of storytelling songs that blend rock and roll with noise collages. The guys—including frontman and piano man Nathan Willett, drummer Matt Aveiro, bassist Matt Maust, and guitarist Jonnie Russell—recently stopped by the Sugar Publishing offices on their way back home to Long Beach, Calif., for an interview.
I talked to the band about everything from the music they're digging now — including the new Tom Waits album and Cat Power — to the authors they love (David Foster Wallace is a group fave). To see what the Cold War Kids had to say about their newfound fame and what comes next,
First, how did you guys come up with the band name?
Maust: I was traveling through eastern Europe with my bro, and when I was outside Budapest, they had taken out all these statues and just dumped them outside of cities. You could visit them and climb on them and kick ‘em, and my brother and I had like a picnic on Stalin’s foot. I thought, we couldn’t have done this in the '70s.
How did you get hooked up with Downtown Records?
Maust: They took us to a really nice breakfast and wooed us with omelets.
Willett: They had the right balance of small and new enough, but they also had the gusto enough to do the things we wanted to do.
Tell me a bit about how the album caught fire online.
Willett: About eight months ago, our friend Matt O’Brien, who is a big blog guy, was talking to us about bloggers, and he showed us how we had a review on a blog of our EP. When we put out the second and third EPs, we decided to send them out to some blogs, like Stereogum and My Old Kentucky Blog.
Maust: At first, I was a little scared getting all this press; I was like, we gotta get an album out, guys.
Willett: The more you don’t have music that’s available to buy and people are talking about it, the more that you’re really living up to expectations. You’d rather let the music speak for your band than the hype.
How do you come up with ideas for songs?
Nathan: We just write music together. We’ll all be together in a room, and someone comes up with an idea they like and everyone else just grabs onto it.
Maust: Matt (Aveiro) might come with more of a hip-hop beat, and I come to the table from more of a punk-rock standpoint, and when those things mesh, you get a song like “Saint John.”
Aveiro: Sometimes we don’t have the biggest space that we play in, so we’ll have things laying around that we can pick up and bang on.
Most: Wine bottles, fishing reels, chairs being scooted around ...
Now that you're done with touring for a while, what's up next for you guys?
Nathan: We did some recording at the BBC a few weeks ago, including a John Lennon/Yoko Ono song called “Well Well Well.” It was in Peel Studios, a 4-hour session, and they set up lots of pianos and keys in big room, and you just get to play a bit.
Aveiro: It’s pretty much the modern equivalent of the Peel Sessions.
I can't wait to hear the band's new songs, but for now, I'll just sustain myself on Robbers & Cowards. Tune in later today to hear one of my favorite Cold War Kids tracks.