There’s a feeling of familiarity in Nathan Willett’s voice, the lead vocalist of the soulful rockers, Cold War Kids. He’s candid and casual but passionate and after fronting the band for 13 years with six studio albums under his belt, he knows how to discuss his music. He’s in Birmingham, Alabama at the time of our call in the middle of the band’s tour supporting Young the Giant. The California-bred band is known for its hit singles like “Hang Me Up to Dry,” “First” and most recently, “Love Is Mystical” off their newest album LA Divine. Other members of the band include: Matt Maust, Joe Plummer, Matthew Schwartz and David Quan.
California serves as a major source of inspiration for LA Divine, and Willett admits that he used Los Angeles specifically as the backdrop for a lot of the songs about relationships. “There’s tension involved in being in a relationship in a city that is famously materialistic and shallow,” he says. “There’s always a spiritual perspective to our songwriting. Finding the divinity in LA is a funny thing because of how plastic its reputation is.”
Willett asks me if I’m familiar with the Instagram account @OverheardLA. I’m a millennial so of course, I am. The account posts images of conversations that people have overheard on the streets of Los Angeles.
In homage to Los Angeles, Willett tells me that this hilarious Instagram account served as a major source of inspiration for the album because of the humor, but also the reality, that lives within each post. When scrolling through the account’s page you can’t help but think, someone actually said this.
“People experience the pursuit of spirituality which is a beautiful thing but there is an emptiness that comes with needing so much of it,” Willett poetically states. He explains by saying that there is a brutality within the reality of dating. This reality is perfectly depicted through their anthemic song “Love Is Mystical,” offering the most honest love story coupled with an infectious beat. Aside from the physicality and financial motives of being in love, Willett suggests that there is a spirituality behind it all that is indefinable. “It’s important and it’s the hardest to talk about,” he says.
While paying homage to Los Angeles, LA Divine inspires a feeling of normalcy through tracks like “So Tied Up” featuring powerhouse vocals from Bishop Briggs. “It’s a very vocal-central and soulful song,” Willett says of the track. “It’s like the alternative version of a great Adele song. It’s really bold.” In addition to LA Divine, Cold War Kids released an acoustic EP called Los Feliz Blvd, featuring stripped down and raw versions of “Love Is Mystical,” “Can We Hang On?” and “So Tied Up.”
Cold War Kids have been performing for 13 years, allowing them to truly find their sound. Despite this, Willett says that although they are best described as a soulful punk band, he recognizes that they are living in an increasingly genre-less world. “It’s cool because in this digital age, we’re able to take advantage of being able to put the right version of the song out,” he says of releasing the acoustic EP along with the studio album. Regardless of what version you listen to, Cold War Kids are successful in finding the divinity of Los Angeles through their music.
Watch the video for “So Tied Up” featuring Bishop Briggs below.
Main image credit: Dan Monick