Cold War Kids

Bonita Silva | 14 December 2010

We caught up with bass guitarist Matt Maust of Cold War Kids to discuss soul-punk, relationships and the new record.

Hi Matt, where are you chatting to us from right now?

I am in Athens, Georgia. I just bought and opened up The National expanded edition record ‘High Violet’ today, and I’m really excited about these new songs. I have two of these records now because I bought it when it came out, and I just bought the new one.

Have you had a chance to listen to it yet?

I haven’t listened to it yet – I’m just opening the packaging right now. I can’t wait.

Nathan [lead vocalist] has mentioned that the band’s personal lives have influenced the recording of the new LP. Can you tell us a little bit about this?

After touring and recording for the last record for three or four years, we never really settled down enough with our friends at home; our previous friends at home that aren’t musician people that don’t go touring all the time. We didn’t tour for almost two years which means that you really get to see your friends in their real light, from the bar hanging out to real life, we start seeing the relationships that they’re in with their friends, their husbands and their wives, and you start seeing people succeeding in their relationships and you start seeing people really failing miserably in their relationships. I think that all that stuff really went into this record, especially the lyrics. They’re much more personal than any of our records before. Our other records tended to be more fictional and short stories and there were autobiographical things in there, but it was more, I don’t want to say speaking in code, but kind of like that. Whereas this record is much more transparent and it’s much more uncomfortable at times because it’s just more straightforward. It’s more like a bright light shining on you rather than like a dim light shining on parts of you.

Are there any specific situations you can point to that are reflected in the lyrics?

Last night over dinner we were talking about ‘Sensitive Kid’ and how ‘Sensitive Kid’ is very much kind of a song that would be on our first record but it is much more autobiographical. It is very much Nate, is pretty much that sensitive kid, and talking about his own family experiences. I know that ‘Broken Open’ is pretty obvious what it’s about and that’s probably the most obvious transparent song on the record, it’s definitely Nate’s firsthand experience.

Apart from the lyrics and the actual sound of the band, what differentiates the sound of the new record from the previous two?

Well we have always gone into the studio with a very get-in-and-get-out-as-fast-as-you-can mentality, and because we’re so much more of a live band, we’re not studioheads, we get nervous and don’t have a lot of patience with the studio – we just like to have that instant gratification that a live show gives. We’ll always be a really good live band, but we just want to hone in our craft more in the studio. Loyalty to Loyalty, it left us feeling not satisfied, it was too much like the first record to us in retrospect and when we went to tour it we realised that. We really wanted to run away from that and do things the opposite way. This time we went in the studio with 30 or 40 ideas with no finished songs at all. We didn’t have one finished song on the first day of recording, which is something that we would never have done in the past because that’s just way too scary.

How did that approach work out for you this time?

It was great, the first month of recording it was definitely a lot of ‘what the hell are we doing here, this is crazy’, but we recruited Jacquire King to produce the record and we had never worked with him before. He had never seen us live before which really is pretty crazy when you think about it, but it has also really helped. He wasn’t approaching us like a live band like other people we have worked with in the past have, they always approached us like a live band in the studio, and I think that’s how we approach ourselves as well. Jacquire, not knowing what we were like live, really helped us and worked to our advantage. It forced us to forget about where we come from and forget about the live show for a while and just really spend a lot of time in the studio. I think we spent eight days on the first record, and maybe two and a half weeks for the second record. For this record we spent just in the studio alone, almost three months every day. It really made us edit ourselves a lot more and write one song four or five different ways before we really settled on the finished product and that was hard. It was definitely out of our comfort zone, but as an artist you don’t really get anywhere if you don’t push yourselves, so we really tried to do that a lot more on this record. It’s our best record for sure.

I know that a lot has been made about this collaboration with Jacquire King. He’s worked with Kings of Leon, Norah Jones, Modest Mouse and so on. Did you find he was able to bring a unique direction to the record?

Definitely. We really wanted to work with him because he’s not like a Brian Eno where you get a Brian Eno record if you work with him, or a Nigel Godrich record or Rick Rubin. He’s not like that. He doesn’t have a thing that he does. The first record I ever heard by him was Tom Waits’ ‘Mule Variations’, and that still is my favourite Tom Waits record because in that record he lets Tom Waits do all the things that Tom Waits does very, very well. So he brought out what was already inside of us but we just didn’t know how to get out of ourselves. He was doing a lot of steering and a lot of guiding but he didn’t do arranging of songs or anything like that. He was just exhausting all the possibilities of what we could do and it worked great.

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