Judge the Cold War Kids by their covers.
The California band aims to let the covers illustrate just what sounds lie lurking within, singer Nathan Willett says.
Each album’s distinct differences are highlighted by the artwork, done by the band’s own bassist Matt Maust. Their 2006 debut Robbers & Cowards featured lively pictures of friends and carried an upbeat vibe.
The follow-up Loyalty to Loyalty skewed darker, but led off by the hurtling single “Something Is Not Right With Me.” That album was paired with simple, stark black-and-white illustrations.
The new album Mine Is Yours features the album name scrawled out simple, scribbled blue, black, red and yellow colors all over the cover, with the band name printed in the center. There’s a vibrant urgency to the design coupled with sense of a newer, more concrete approach.
“I definitely see our records through his visual lens,” Willett says.
Mine Is Yours, which came out January 2011, was the product of a the Cold War Kids jumping up to a bigger sound.
Willett says the band deliberately sought to make the latest album in the studio and pursue a bigger budget to match their sonic ambitions.
The idea was to make a clear break from just four guys at home making a record on their computers.
Willett says having exposure to bigger bands at festival dates and while opening for Death Cab For Cutie shaped how they play and had an effect on their songwriting, even if it was only subconsciously.
The live mindset really was the main thing that shaped their desire to make a bigger sound on record. It definitely came into play as they wrote songs.
“It’s hard because you think of what that song will sound like live,” Willett says.
So the band left town and hooked up with producer Jacquire King (Norah Jones, Kings of Leon). They hit the sessions with a bunch of song ideas, but with little material finished.
Instead they build everything with King. Willett says the luxury of being in the studio is they had the resources and time to capture ideas that they hadn’t previously.
Willett says there was still a feeling that if the band chose to run with an idea in the studio, it had to be pretty strong. It was pretty draining being logging so many hours in the studio.
“It’s a lot of self-imposed pressure,” he says.
Still, the band wanted to expand their scope on their songs. Willett says previously worked with a degree of minimalism on their records. They band wanted to retain those hallmarks, but on a larger landscape.
“It was definitely what we put our money into,” he says.
Willett says at first glance, people took the idea that the bigger-sounding Cold War Kids record meant that they were going to churn out an album that sounded like Def Leppard.
Songs like “Royal Blue” prove that the Cold War Kids never betrayed who they were, even while expanding their sound on Mine Is Yours. The song started with Maust and Willett writing together, with Jonnie Russell providing the guitar part. The big sound of the song connects to the Kids’ hallmark shambolic, soulful energy.
“We always want that to be the core of what we do,” Willett says.
And live, all the songs from the albums blend together, despite the differences of each release.
Willett says the band is still just figuring out how to make albums. The studio sessions for Mine Is Yours taught them tons and now the band has talked about how to make future recordings and put them out in more creative ways.
“It’s hard to say exactly what we’ll shoot for next,” Willett says.
Willett says he now follows his songwriting instincts much better. The band’s first record was mostly fictional and the second contained more autobiographical writing. The third was a mix of the two.
“I’m learning what I do well and maximizing that,” he says.
There might be other releases before the band makes another full-length. Willett says the band has always been about spontaneity and looseness.
“We always had the most fun putting out like six song EPs,” he says.
Cold War Kids w/ Young Man play the Slowdown, 729 North 14th St., Monday, October 31st at 9 p.m. Tickets are $16 in advance, $18 day-of-show. For more information, visit onepercentproductions.com.