Chances are you won’t think of Kanye West the first time you hear New Age Norms 1, the new record from Cold War Kids. However, according to frontman Nathan Willett, it was West’s string of albums in the spring of 2018 that inspired the Long Beach, California, band to go in a slightly different direction for the release of their next record.
“We were on tour when Kids See Ghosts and Ye were being released, and it just felt so fresh,” said Willett of those GOOD Music releases over the phone. “Those records just kept coming, and they were all around eight songs, which is great because you can listen to them in one sitting.”
Willett decided that he wanted to do something in that vein for the band’s next record — shorter run time, no big rollout, more experimentation. The result was New Age Norms 1, the first record in a trilogy of albums that the band plans to finish releasing by the end of next year.
“It also allows us to write in different styles,” said Willett. “The first record was primarily me writing with Lars [Stalfors, the band’s primary producer]’ while the next record had the entire band writing in the studio.”
Fans of the band’s blue-eyed soul and infectious energy will feel instantly at home listening to “Fine Fine Fine,” “Dirt in my Eyes” and the slick opening single “Complainer,” which has a radio-friendly hook and digitized guitar solo that were crafted specifically to worm their way inside your brain’s pleasure center. The album’s standouts, though, are the more experimental tracks that don’t quite fit the standard CWK model.
For “Tricky Devil,” Willett found himself working with hip hop producer and fellow California native Jonwayne, who Willet met through Stalfors.
“He and I made that beat together while we were listening to Joy Division and a lot of the darker stuff that came out of Manchester,” he said. “He’s just a wizard at creating beats … and to able to make a song that was dark and icy like that was a real representation of the ethos of this record, which was to take all of the influences that we had and push them further.”
The band encouraged the same type of creative approach from the wide range of collaborators they used for the Complainer (Remixes) EP. Indie songstress Samia, for instance, turns the song into a downtrodden acoustic guitar confessional, while The Horrors’ Tom Furse twists it into an acid-fueled rave banger.
“I hate to say it, but we’ve versions of songs that were on the more generic end of the remix spectrum,” said Willett. “It’s nice to have artists that we love put their spin on the song in a way that felt unique to them and not just whatever was of the moment.”
Willet said there is a plan to continue creating these remixes for the subsequent albums in the trilogy. “However,” he added, “nothing’s done right now.” Instead, he is focused on finishing up the next two albums amid another headlining tour across the U.S.
“We put out our last studio album [L.A. Divine] on Capitol Records to get a taste of the major label scene, and then we put out a live album [Audience], which I’m really proud,” Willett said. “Then, because of contractual obligations, we had to put out a best-of record [This Will All Blow Over In Time], which was kind of a bummer to make, but we tried to make it great for our fans. So, for a while, everything was backward-facing. This new trilogy of albums was a reset button for us and allowed us to make something without looking at everything that we’ve done before.”
You can hear in his voice that this new direction comes as a relief for Willett — like the previous 15 years of pressure and expectation that hovered over his group has finally been lifted.
“You spend a lot of years thinking that it’s all going to go away,” he said. “Looking at everything we’ve done, the turnover that’s happened in the band, and the fact we’ve had a great group of fans there to support us along the way means we definitely don’t take this for granted. Instead, we look at the past year as a bookend, and we’re excited to see what we can do now that we’re given the room to sprint again.”