LA Dreams of the UK: Cold War Kids Share a Playlist of Their British Influences
Nathan Willett shares which overseas artists the band was listening to while putting together their new LP New Age Norms 3.
With the release of New Age Norms 1 in 2019, Cold War Kids unveiled a new side to their tried-and-true sound that’s been instantly recognizable since 2006 when “Hang Me Up to Dry” could be heard just about everywhere. Injected into their uniquely ramshackle and piano-heavy take on the type of formal guitar rock that bands like The Walkmen had mastered when they were first coming up was a fairly evident reverence for blue-eyed soul across that album and the one that followed last year (which, as you could probably guess, was titled New Age Norms 2).
With the recent unveiling of the third installment of this trilogy and its lead single, CWK bandleader Nathan Willett issued a statement noting that this new era of the band represented their “full selves”—an introduction to the collective uninhibited by the baggage they’ve been carrying since their debut record and incorporating influences that were important to the band, but which had never really worked their way into the group’s music prior.
“We did not like things that sounded like they came from Southern California,” Willett tells us after listing The Kills and The Walkmen, The White Stripes, Captain Beefheart, The Velvet Underground, U2, The Smiths, and The Clash as reference points for the latest songs. “In SoCal, when people would talk about a band that they loved, they would describe them as ‘tight.’ When we talked about music we liked, we would say it was ‘janky,’ which was another word for loose. We did not like artists that looked like they came from Southern California. We liked things that looked like they were from the U.K.”
To get an idea of who some of their U.K.-based inspirations have been in their career, check out the band’s playlist below, and read on for Willett’s commentary.
The Rolling Stones, “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)”
Early Stones was always on when we began. The longer we’ve been a band, the deeper we have gone in their later stuff. I love wah-wah pedal.
John Parish & PJ Harvey, “Is That All There Is?”
So British and theatrical and wonderful and dark. We got to see them at the El Rey in LA and it was incredible.
The Good, the Bad & the Queen, “80s Life”
This record was a game-changer for us. Still one of the best things Damon Albarn has ever done and the least recognized for. Can’t find it on vinyl—Danger Mouse told us he doesn’t even have it.
Oasis, “Fuckin’ in the Bushes”
When our band began, the mentality that it was either Radiohead or Oasis—avant-garde or nostalgia—was a big deal. Now, luckily, it’s OK to enjoy both intellectual and anti-intellectual.
Elvis Costello, “Country Darkness”
We always loved old-guy music. Rhino released a CD version of This Year’s Model that had all the demos and we just adored it. The first song we ever wrote, “Don’t Let Your Love Grow Away From Me,” was written while listening to those Elvis demos. They were simple chords with abstract, weird, intense lyrics, and we loved it. “Country Darkness” is a different story with the same energy. Phenomenal.
Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Into the Light”
I love this song because it’s so strange and unique but also so pop. I can’t really think of what genre it belongs to, and I love that.
Radiohead, “A Wolf at the Door”
This song is sort of Thom Yorke getting his flow on. Like not quite rapping, but trying to do something he hasn’t done before. I picture him in the vocal booth feeling nervous and self-conscious about what the band guys are thinking—“Is it too out of character?”—and I love those moments in the studio.
Public Image Ltd., “Low Life”
If our bass player, Maust, was a band, he would be PIL. The simplicity and design and high/low art contrasts…he turned me on to this and it took me years to appreciate it.
David Bowie, “Move On”
This song, for me, is about a guy who has made the wildest, most epic conceptual music and now wants to simplify it down to rock ’n’ roll and doo-wop and have some fun.
The Specials, “Ghost Town”
All things ska were scary growing up in SoCal, so it wasn’t until my twenties that I heard this without all the baggage. This is a masterpiece of many genres.
Roxy Music, “Psalm”
I can’t picture an American artist writing a song like this that’s so spiritual, biblical, rich in gospel and tradition, but also sexy and just cool.
U2, “In a Little While”
Like the Stones, the more years that pass the deeper I go in the U2 catalog To me this song feels like them doing Sam Cooke, just classic and timeless. One of my favorites.
The Stone Roses, “Fools Gold”
This was our pre-show song for years. It just grooves and goes and never stops being good. It’s so hard to make a long song have so little happen and feel so good.
The Horrors, “Sea Within a Sea”
We played a festival in France in, like, 2009 when these guys were brand new and they were so young and goth and scary. They wear their influences on their sleeve in a way that is so genuine, we just adore them.