Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW
The Cold War Kids perform on stage at the Filter Magazine Showcase during the 2013 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Clive Bar on March 13, 2013 in Austin, Texas.
Long Beach rockers Cold War Kids are back with their fourth studio album, "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts," based on a black comedy set during the Great Depression. The foursome first hit the scene in 2006 with their debut "Robbers & Cowards," and they've been a staple both nationally and in LA's music scene ever since.
Their latest effort, produced by Dann Gallucci and Lars Stalfors, debuted on April 2.
Guitarist and vocalist Nathan Willet and bassist Matt Maust join the show to tell us about their humble beginnings, taking formal singing lessons and the inspiration behind the title "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts." They even play us a couple live tunes from their new album.
On living together in Whittier:
Matt Maust: "We lived in a back house, the four of us in a really small house. We practiced under it in the garage. And it was pretty janky and dirty, and when we moved in there, there was a homeless man living there. When we moved in, we had to ask him to leave politely so we could have a practice space. A lot of friends live in the area, they came by a lot. There was a lot of Miller High-Life drinking. It was a lot of hanging out, but also a lot of hanging out that was going somewhere. We were all writing songs, all working jobs. It was a place where there never was not people around, and a lot of overgrown weeds."
On the Nathan West novel, "Miss Lonelyhearts", that inspired the title of the new album:
Nathan Willett: "The summary is that the main character is a guy who is an advice columnist, who is having this spiritual crisis where he can't just respond with these really happy, light messages to these readers of his who have these really tragic stories, so he's trying to think 'how can I write them something really meaningful, that's real and from me that's also not kind of shallow?' It kind of reminds me a lot of a Dostoyevsky characters as well. Everyone's dialogue is almost kind of like a Woody Allen movie, where everyone is saying things that you kind of never would really say in real life, but by doing that you're getting to these really deep things."
Is that "unsaid dialogue" reflected in any particular song on the album?
NW: "The title track 'Dear Miss Lonelyhearts' has a lot of it, and the song 'Bitter Poem,' in some ways I think of it as a conversation between old friends that have maybe had a falling out or a hard relationship. I love the last lines of the whole record of this kind of big, epic moment end of that song that says 'Well I can't hear you, are you talking to me? Oh I can't hear you, did you say that you're happy for me?' I think something about the way those lines come out is something that friends would say, seems really emotional to me."
MM: "I see this record as divided into three parts. There's the songs that are live, always playing in the room, the traditional Cold War Kids way from the first record and first EPs. Then there's the songs we built in the studio, built them up, I would say 'Loner Phase' is one of those kind of songs. Then there's a mixture of the two, kind of very live but lots of things added on top of it. 'Fear & Trembling' is one of those where it's very much live, us playing four guys in the room together, but then adding lots and lots of layers on top of it after the fact."
On getting formal training recently:
NW: "Learning how to sing, I always sang with a very high voice. Singing like that for an hour-and-a-half every night, it's just hard. I kind of knew, 'I need to learn some ways to have a stronger voice and to take myself seriously as a singer. I've been doing (that) for years.' I actually got lessons at the Silverlake Conservatory, and I think throughout this record and this touring I've felt so much more confident as a singer and having greater strength as a singer and being able to go places more confidently. I love how the vocals for this record came out, and are so much better than what I've done before."
On the live version of "Bottled Affection":
NW: "I think it's a really tender song… that we actually haven't been playing it as a band at these shows we've been doing the last month. A handful of times, kind of when the audience is just right, very attentive, and kind of eager and crazy but also really knowing that you can trust that you're going to have a really quiet moment. So I've been playing this song just on piano by myself, and I'll do some other thing with just an acoustic guitar, but there's a softness so it that I think is unique for us."