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  • Interview: Cold War Kids

    Tue, 23 Sep 2008 14:18:32

    Interview: Cold War Kids - Bassist Matt Maust talks <i>Loyalty to Loyalty</i>, 19th century philosophy and Internet gluttony

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    Even under a chilly pall of San Francisco mist at Outside Lands, the Cold War Kids' smoldering narrative couldn't be misunderstood. Whether or not you caught every undercurrent that Nathan Willett's howling vocals sowed together was insubstantial; their story was better felt than understood. During their latest single, "Something Is Not Right With Me," Matt Maust's bass lines flared around a self-combusting core of percussion while Jonathan Bo Russell elevated the embers of a vibrant piano melody above the blaze. This live immolation was a rending flicker of what to expect from the group's sophomore album, Loyalty to Loyalty. On the eve of its release, ARTISTdirect caught up with Matt Maust to talk about the album, 19th century philosophy and finding self-revelation in Mexican dogs.

    You guys drew a really impressive crowd as one of the opening acts at Outside Lands. What was it like to inaugurate that type of event for so many people?

    That was a great a show. Kind of exactly what you just said, it felt like we got to inaugurate it, you know? We were like the opening deal. It was great. Not even two years ago, we were playing Brainwash in San Francisco. I don't know if you have ever been to those venues, but they are living room-sized. So yeah, it was really good to have done that in San Francisco in Circle Park.

    You guys played a lot of new stuff from Loyalty To Loyalty. It sounds like your song writing has really evolved and become even more emotive. How would you characterize the change on the new album?

    The record is definitely more sped up at times and more slowed down at times—figuratively and literally. It's a lot dirtier; it's got a lot more "dirt on the tape." It's probably less prepared for radio than the first record was. The first record was recorded by ourselves with the same guy who did this one, Kevin Augunas, but it was more cleaned up for radio purposes. Whereas we kind of went the opposite route with this because we wouldn't have done that in retrospect. On this one, we had Kevin mix it as well. We had a very tight relationship with him mixing it along the way, so it's darker, heavier, it's got more low-end. There's a lot more space to it, and it's more mature. It's probably a little harder to digest than the first one was. It has poppy moments, but even the first single, "Something Is Not Right With Me," is a stomper.

    That darker tone worked well live. You wrote this album on the road, do you feel like that made you more conscious of writing what works on stage?

    We're definitely more conscious of writing on the road, but we're very conscious of not writing about the road. There's nothing, in our opinions, stupider than writing songs about the road, especially for your sophomore release. It's something that people can't relate to, and it's the easy way that a lot of bands go about doing things. But yeah, we definitely have found in the 23-minute pockets of sound check time, time to write ideas and then record them very quickly at the sound check on a cheap tape recorder and then take them back to our studio and rehearse them. That album was kind of written on the road and kind of not. Like "Mexican Dogs" was recorded literally the day after we wrote it, so it really captures the spontaneity of that. Then things like "Relief" were a long time coming. I think we had that song and had been working on it for three-and-half years, and it finally came out on this record.

    You mentioned your band's quick rise. A few years ago you were playing Brainwash and now your playing festivals non-stop. As a young band, has that been easy to deal with?

    It's not overwhelming; it's great. We would rather actually do more proper theatre shows and venue shows. No larger than a 1000-capacity because we are more that kind of band that is conducive to that kind of space. We're not really a festival band at all, but festivals have their place and you do them because that's something you do as a band our size, but we definitely prefer the more intimate gigs. It's not overwhelming, but to tell you the truth, some of the first festivals were kind of a little like, "Well, we're in the big league now." Things like Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds, those were kind of big, and Austin City limits. It took two or three festivals to get the hang of it. I remember being pretty overwhelmed at Glastonbury, like, "This is larger than life, I can't see the end of this crowd," type of thing.

    You guys got the band name on a trip to Europe. During your tour, was their any place that really influenced the themes and sounds on the new album?

    You know, Mexico City really influenced it a lot. We went to Mexico City right in the middle of recording the record, and we came back and wrote "Mexican Dogs" right after we went down there because we saw so many Mexican dogs. Like literally dogs, you know? With three legs. We were inspired by them. You know, kind of like a metaphor for running free, not having a name, being with the pack instead of running as an individual. Dogs in America are very much individual dogs—like household dogs—but in Mexico a lot of them don't even have names. They run with the pack and stuff. We're a band that really expresses a community aspect, which is where the name of the record comes from. It's the way we conduct business as a band and art as a band. The way we write songs is very community oriented and very democratic. I guess Mexico City helped us realize that.

    How does that tie together with the title Loyalty To Loyalty?

    "Loyalty to loyalty" is from a 19th century philosopher, a relatively unknown philosopher who's name was Josiah Royce. He was reacting against Nietzsche's idea of stressing the individual and the individual rising above his community, and Royce said, "No, that's not the ideal, the ideal is to stay within your community and build up your community." It's not to overshadow your fellow man, it was more about working from the inside to bring everything up. He coined the phrase "loyalty to loyalty," saying that you should be loyal to loyalty itself. There's places you can find it talked about on the "cyber-web." It's very similar to how we conduct ourselves, the way that we write songs and the way that we view each other in the band. No one person is writing for the other person, but we are loyal to each other. We're loyal to loyalty.

    On stage, there definitely is a sense that each person is an equal part of the whole, it doesn't feel like most bands where one person leads everything. Does that type of structure lead to a lot of disputes or butting heads?

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