By Brian F. Johnson
For the record nothing on Cold War Kids’ new album Hold My Home is intended to convert anyone to Christianity or to the Republican Party.
“Play it backwards and upside down and there’s no political or religious message in it,” said guitarist/vocalist Nathan Willett during a recent interview with The Marquee.
Having to make that sort of blanket statement about an album isn’t something that Willett would have wanted, but the band that he founded in 2004 has famously been the whipping boy of bitter music blogs for years. Pitchfork, as it is wont to do, wrote a scathing review of the band’s debut LP in 2006, saying that Robbers and Cowards relied on “veiled evangelical boilerplates” that “insulted our intelligence.” And the review went on to link — in what was an obvious stretch by the writer — a verse in their song “Sermons vs. The Gospel” to a sentence in a George W. Bush speech.
“It was so disconnected from reality,” Willett said of the review. “The music we love — Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone — they’re all people who write spiritual music. So everything that we like has that tinge of kind of mystical or spiritual yearning for something beyond. That kind of theme is something we’ll always go back to.”
Now however, years after Pitchfork pierced the band with its nasty, rusty trident, Willett is able to look back with some clarity on it all and realize that some of the harsh criticism actually made him and Cold War Kids better.
“I think there is something great about a new, young band having the piss shaken out of them, as the U.K. would say. It’s good to learn how to get thick skin. It’s kind of like being in a creative writing class in college. On the one hand, you’re cringing because you know that the story you wrote is maybe really stupid, but it’s also really important to you and you know that everybody is going to talk about it. Going through that experience makes you part of the bigger conversation. That stuff makes you better,” he said.
In October, Cold War Kids released their fifth studio album Hold My Home, an energetic, bombastic effort that showcases a vulnerable hunger for the group. Poppy indie rock with dance-friendly choruses, chugging piano parts and sing-along refrains are the foundation for Hold My Home, which Willett said has a unifying theme of home during a quest for identity.
“I think a good chunk of the songs are about what our previous songs are about — a sense of looking for identity and being kind of lost — that yearning that is kind of spiritual in time and place, physically,” Willett said, adding that the album is “definitely the biggest milestone — in at least a few records — for us.”
“It’s a strange thing when you make five records and you still kind of feel like you still don’t really know who you are as a band. But this is one that we can hang our hats on, and one that we’re really proud of,” he said.
It’s quite probable that realization is at least in part due to the relatively new solidification of the band’s line up. While Cold War Kids formed originally as a quartet, over the years the band has shed two original members — multi-instrumentalist Jonnie Russell and drummer Matt Aveiro — and picked up former Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer and former Modest Mouse guitarist Dann Gallucci, in addition to multi-instrumentalist Matthew Schwartz. Willett said that all of the additions have brought a new presence to the band, and that Gallucci’s skills in the studio marked a significant change for the group. “Dann’s entrance was so easy and so beneficial right away. For us to be making our records ourselves right away is great. He had already been serving this band as our sound guy for a while, so this wasn’t like teaming up with an old friend and going through the motions of being in a rock band. He was in Modest Mouse and quit to go to recording school and we knew so much about him based on his experience that it clicked right away,” Willett said.
That, combined with the renewed sense of direction and purpose for the band is what lead to Hold My Home. “Nobody was expecting this album and nobody was bothering us for this,” Willett said. “Coming off the last record we had a lot of momentum going and we were getting more comfortable with ourselves, and it was fun, and good experience. So there’s a lot of new and a renewed sense that we’re stoked to be doing this.”
COLD WAR KIDs Ogden Theatre | January 21
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