Southern California indie rockers Cold War Kids
have been hard at work on their latest album for the last year or so, and now it's finally out in the world. Entitled LA Divine,
it's not what you'd expect. Sure, it goes over the LA cliches - shallowness, the plastic-ness of it all - but rather than romanticizing it, they tackle it and bring nonbelievers over to the sun-soaked side. In anticipation of the album, I had the chance to talk to frontman Nathan Willett, who compared the album to the film La La Land,
as it shows both sides of the coin: yes, half of the city is dedicated to entertainment, but there's another side that you may only discover by living there yourself. Check out the full interview below and spin the new record which is out today.
KIRSTEN SPRUCH: Can you take me through the process behind the making of this album? How long did it take you guys and where did you record it?
NATHAN WILLETT: We recorded in a studio in the East LA area where we had been before. We started it in December of 2015 or sometime in the beginning of last year. And really, we just started writing songs. It was at this period where first we were starting to do really well and blowing up the charts in this way that we didn't expect. We were surprised and it was great. We were playing a lot of weekend shows. Playing shows, flying out for festivals, and then coming home and just working on the record all week. All this new stuff was happening, and my goal, as well as the band's, was to get as much work done - writing, recording - before anybody had any expectations from us. I wanted to have the songs that would make everyone go, "Oh great, this is ready." I hate to hear, "Hey, when do you think you're going to have new music by?" and going through the whole process of being overwhelmed and meeting everyone's expectations. So really over the course of 8 months we were writing and recording but also while we were touring as well. So we had a little distance.
KS: Which songs are you most excited for people to hear when the album comes out?
NW: Well the first few that came out... "LA River," "Can We Hang On," "So Tied Up," I mean I love all of them, I can't pick. I'm excited that people already got to hear them. The next song that's going to come out is called, "Restless," and I love that song. There's another song on the record that won't come out until it's all out called, "Part of the Night." This is one of those things where I have this special attachment to this record and all the songs on it. They're all sort of my babies. I'm really excited for everyone to hear all of them.
KS: Makes sense, and judging by the album title, I'm assuming that the album has to do with LA?
NW: Yeah, the idea came from a lyric from a song that didn't end up making the record. I think there's a lot of themes that got played there, with all of us being all sort of southern California people. We're influenced by LA being in this massive transition. Also with my experience of growing up all over Southern California and traveling and seeing the rest of the country and then seeing how strange LA is in comparison. It's a city that is largely based in entertainment and then there's this whole other side of it that people don't get to see.
I wanted to explore those themes. Hopefully some of them aren't cliche at this point. And it's funny, I haven't even thought this out loud but the movie LA LA Land
deals with our theme. I saw that after we were done with the record and kind of went, "Huh?" There's a lot of these LA cliches of relationships and the sacrifices you make when you're trying to do your art, and just all those cliches that are molded in Hollywood. But hopefully we have a unique, or nuance take on those ideas.
KS: When I saw that your album was going to be influenced by that I found that really interesting because I feel people look at LA as if it's the devil. They're like "Oh my god, everything there is plastic and fake," and then there are other people, not saying you do this, but there are the people who romanticize it and are like, "Wow all your dreams can come true. Life's a beach."
NW: Yeah, you just said it perfectly. I want to write that down. That's exactly what made me want to have the record have that essential image. When you grow up in a place and you only see one side of it, it becomes so narrow. When I meet people everyday that have one or the other view we just stated, I want to show that side of LA that I know. There is a totally plastic, shallow, fake side of it. You'll wonder, "how do you live your day to day life?" It's a "design" city. But the irony of that is that it's not a design city. Design is Paris. Architecture, preservation, and history are things that make a city design. LA has none of those things. If anything it's well preserving. They'll build it over without thinking twice. It's entirely commerce, it's entirely shallow from its architecture to the way you could be sitting next to someone at a bar. All those things can hopefully be dried out a little bit on the record.
KS: And I saw the acoustic video of you and Bishop Briggs for, "So Tied Up," which I loved. What was it like working with her?
NW: I had heard her on the radio and I had this "Holy shit, who is this?" moment. I couldn't believe this woman's voice. I pulled over to the side of the road and I was looking online at this artist who is basically brand new and only had a couple songs. I just asked, "Hey would you ever want to play something of ours?" and right away she was like, "Yeah!" A little while later I had sent her the song, she sang on it, did fucking great, and then we needed some alternate versions of songs. Then she came in and we had such a short amount of time we basically met and started recording. I haven't met that many people who are just both really cool and really normal, and really good, and really professional. That was the dream; she is just a divine artist. When you hear someone with that incredible voice you hope that she has her shit together because she does so much. To meet her and have the immediate impression that this girl can go a long way is an exciting energy to have around.
KS: What's next for you guys after you release the album?
NW: It's kind of funny how this worked out. We're on tour now, an entire month before the record comes out. It's been really fun seeing people sing songs that are only on Spotify. That's just an amazing thing to see without the record even being out. But we will be touring. We're going to be doing a bunch of shows with Joywave and Young the Giant. Yeah, I think more tour and more "making of stuff."
Cold War Kids' LA Divine
is out now.