Photo Credit: Owen Ela
Southern California indie rock group Cold War Kids are gearing up for the release of their sixth studio album, out this Friday, April 7th. The record, L.A Divine, is the follow-up to 2014’s Hold My Home. Leading up to the release, the group has shared three singles (“Love Is Mystical,” “Can We Hold On” and “Tied Up,” the latter featuring Bishop Briggs) and have been on tour across the U.S with stops in Chicago, Detroit and their hometown of Long Beach. They are set to appear at Bonnaroo this June and have shows booked through September. Frontman Nathan Willett took the time to discuss the new album, current tour and why Los Angeles is divine.
mxdwn: Your album L.A Divine comes out soon, what’s the story behind the title?
Nathan Willett: It was originally just from a lyric in a song and I always like to have a bunch of lyrics to a song that didn’t end up making the record. I showed our bass player Moss and he and I just said — well the line was “Los Angeles is divine.” I was showing him different potential titles. I like to show him a few things and let it linger in the air and, naturally, let bigger ideas gather around the songs. So it just happened naturally, especially around the context for making this record while being at home in these tiny intervals between the tour and a combination of being at home, making it in L.A. and I think just seeing L.A change a lot in the recent year — just a lot of factors. I think we just got interested in the many meanings that can be drawn out of “L.A Divine.” It’s an interesting thing because L.A’s not a divine city. I hope there’s some kind of weirdness that can be taken out of it. You know most people would think there’s no history to it and that it doesn’t have a lot of reverence so I just liked the ring to it.
mxdwn: How does L.A. Divine compare to Hold My Home?
NW: That’s a question I haven’t really thought about yet. I think, again, like with the evolution of years of record-making and really doing non-stop writing, recording, touring cycle, one thing we’ve learned is to just kind of cut out some of the fat of the record-making and knowing what we do really well and knowing our sound. We can just get to the heart of it. I think that for a number of reasons this one, to me, it was about making it sort of in secret. We had “First” that was just starting to go out, climb and do really well, then we had a new deal with Capitol. I didn’t want to be in that position where I hadn’t started anything and people were looking to hear some things and anybody had scary expectations. So it was just about going in with our producer, Lars. We got to really know each other and how we work. It was just kind of building on everything we’ve been working on.
Photo Credit: Owen Ela
mxdwn: You recently shared the first single “Love is Mystical,” why this one and not another track?
NW: That song is just one of the earlier ones we finished and we thought there were songs that could potentially be more universal and more likable but this one had an immediacy to it. “First” was a little bit more on the softer, gospel-y heart side of Cold War Kids and “Love is Mystical” is more the aggressive side so it’s good to show people that.
mxdwn: You also shared “So Tied Up,” how did the collaboration with Bishop Briggs come about?
NW: It came about in a very modern way. I was driving around in L.A., and I heard her song “River” on KROQ. This has never happened to me before but I just pulled my car over and was just sitting there listening to it and they said who it was at the end and I was like, “Man, her voice is amazing and huge and beautiful.” So I reached out to her on Twitter and asked if she’d ever want to do something together and she said yes. It happened really easily.
mxdwn: In a previous article you said, “We don’t love being in a studio, we focus more on the writing.” What does your writing process entail?
NW: You know I think that’s actually what’s different about the making of this record. I think I’ve learned to love being in the studio and I think this is the first record that I did a lot of the writing process at home in my own space. It’s been years of learning how to do things in a way that’s right for us. Being able to write in a studio is a first. For this record we were comfortable in there.
Photo Credit: Brett Padelford
mxdwn: What was it like being part of the 30 Days, 30 Songs (now 1000 Days, 1000 Songs) project?
NW: I know Death Cab for Cutie did a song and I texted Ben Gibbard and was like, “hey, I love that, can we do that?’ And we got hooked up with a guy to do it. We had another song in the studio that was going to be a B-side and it just worked out perfectly to write for that. It was cool. It was a bizarre circumstance, in that I think at the time we released it, which was a couple weeks before the election, it was right in that little pocket where it almost felt like beating a dead horse in the sense that we thought there was no way Trump was going to win. We thought maybe it didn’t matter anymore. In hindsight, it’s like, “Wow, we were kind of wrong in that moment.” I’ll always remember that moment before. But yeah, it was really cool to be involved in that. I think it’s important.
mxdwn: Can we expect any more politically charged songs like “Locker Room Talk” on the new album?
NW: You know, I think that my definition of anything political is a little wider on this record. There are a few one-minute-interval songs on the record and one of them is called “Wilshire Protest.” That was an experience post-election I had. I went to a protest in L.A. on Wilshire, just marching, observing and being impacted by that. Specifically in the city of L.A., where people don’t really walk together or see each other face-to-face, we just see each other driving. We have so much separation. So that was a really special experience.
There’s another song called “Open Up the Heavens” that’s one of my favorites. It’s from the perspective of a person leaving his home and crossing the border. It’s not really specific to any one country. There are some of my favorite lines in it because it’s a very modern tale. I heard a story about a guy who found a mole on Yelp to help get him a passport. I just love in a modern world the story of using Yelp to find the best mole to help you immigrate. So yeah “Open Up the Heavens” is one of my favorites. I don’t know what it means exactly but “Open Up the Heavens” is kind of like opening up the borders. I think with Trump’s travel ban it very much applies. It’s not just political, though; it’s personal and narrative.
Photo Credit: Brett Padelford
mxdwn: You guys are currently on tour, any shows or cities you’re stoked to play?
NW: It’s been a really fun tour. We only have two more nights of it. Detroit was really fun. The whole tour actually has been really fun. We’ve been with this band Middle Kids from Australia and they’ve been great. It’s been a really good vibe around the new record and around everything going on.
mxdwn: Any plans once the tour is over?
NW: Yeah a lot of things, a lot of shows, performances, videos… a lot more touring. We have a lot of good things lined up.