Nathan Willett of Cold War Kids (USA) talks songwriting and preparing for festival sets

Since speaking to Cold War Kids before their Falls Festival set in late 2014, they’ve copped their first number one single in “First”, dropped EP Five Quick Cuts and heavily toured the international festival circuit. Now with their return to Australia for Bluesfest and accompanying sideshows nigh, we spoke to lead man Nathan Willett about the band’s songwriting and what’s changed over his time in Cold War Kids.

You guys make regular trips out here, what is it that keeps encouraging you to take the trip?

They keep asking us! [Laughs] We’ve always had a really good experience. I should get a second home there, if I could afford it I would.

Is there anywhere specific you’re looking forward to playing?

I mean, every time we’ve been in Byron Bay that’s incredible, the Gold Coast and Sydney. So many places that stick out, that are really special.

You’ve been playing a lot of festivals in the recent months. Does your preparation differ for a festival set?

Yeah, it’s a different set list. I think that we’re the kind of band that has a lot more sombre, moody material as well as more up tempo rockers that are more loose and crazy. Obviously, we want to keep it more up for the festivals and a different energy. It’s such a different energy that goes into it.

Do you think that changes preparation affects the way you go about your songwriting for the next phase?

Yeah, I do think so. I guess you want to have, I don’t know, you see the moments that they work best in and you want more of them. So, yeah, I think that you do take that energy with you and you can hear the music that you’re working on, in terms of picturing the biggest festival – being at Glastonbury playing to a zillion people – and what works.

And how about your time in side projects and their flow on effect to Cold War Kids?

I definitely think so, you know we did the Cold War Kids record Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, and then we did the French Style Furs record and then jumped right back in to doing Hold My Home. I think for (Matt) Maust and I, something really connected in terms of the attitude that we need. Songwriting is a strange thing because you know, you can work harder at it, but if you lose that spirit that you started with that made it great. That’s the most important thing – that realisation of just reconnecting with that energy that we started with was just so important, and it happened again. Doing it in a way that… I don’t know how to say it, like a perky energy that comes in blasts and you have to run with it, it’s not something that you labour over forever, it’s something that’s got to be bursts of energy. That’s what we learned how to harness.

You’ve continued your routine of dropping EPs between albums. What is it about this release schedule that is appealing to you?

As we’ve been doing this for so long, you start to see that the bulk of life is touring; if you just put out one record every two years or something and a couple of singles, and that’s all people know you from, it’s not the reason for doing it. The bands that we grew up listening to more and more, would always be releasing music. There are massive bands that can get away with going away for a really long time and not releasing anything and we just want more from this. We’re so ambitious about this and we’re still hoping that we can, I guess, do things that we’ve never been able to do before and part of that comes from continually staying in that creative space and releasing music.

Do you find it hard to do that? Because you did say you spend a lot of time on the road, how do you get time to get back into the studio to record four or five more songs?

It is hard to do, it’s a hard schedule to keep up with. I think that I have more and more learned my role as the writer, to make sure that the work is good enough and I kind of have to always be one step ahead of everybody with songs and also making sure that I’m using everybody’s ability because there are real artists in this band and I want to be able to use their talent. It’s a lot of business, but it’s working out.

Hold My Home brought about your first ever number one single in “First”. What do you think it was about the track, and the record as a whole, that made you guys more accessible than ever before?

It was like a feeling, I think we realised, “Okay, this is what’s fun for us and what we do well and we have to chase that thing,” and part of going into it, I needed to take more ownership of the direction of things. It was the second thing we’d done in our home studio at San Pedro and it was just a number of things that came together. In a way, it’s like years of work, you go into the studio for a month and it all pays off.

What do you think you developed in this release cycle that you’ve brought into the studio now?

I guess in a way a very similar thing, which is just sort of chasing that thing that we love. I think with “First” doing really well, it’s about writing great songs and then you have to finish them, then when they’re done you can say, “Well, is this one better than that one?” as opposed to looking for a very long time at one thing that might not be that great. That’s something we’ve done a lot in the past.

We’ve really laboured over stuff and it loses effect, you don’t even know if it’s good any more. We’ve gotten really derailed doing that a couple of times and that’s sort of like an identity crisis where you have to realise, “Who are we and what are we doing? What did Cold War Kids do that was unique and how do we harness it?” I think that’s what I’ve realised over the years, it has that raw element to it.

Cold War Kids will be performing at this year’s Bluesfest in Byron Bay over Easter Weekend!

March 20th | Metropolis, Fremantle | XIII Touring
March 22nd | HQ, Adelaide | XIII Touring
March 25th | 170 Russell, Melbourne | XIII Touring
March 26th | Metro Theatre, Sydney | XIII Touring


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