Cold War Kids: From Blogs to Bonnaroo
Cold War Kids first came together in Fullerton, CA, but, in many ways, Matt Aviero,
Matt Maust, Jonnie Russell, and Nathan Willett truly hail from the blog-o-sphere. Since forming in 2004, the quartet has worked hard to patent an original, edgy sound, based on the Cold War Kids concept Maust first explored as an artist. But it wasn’t until some of the internet’s most influential music portals picked up the group’s early EPs that Cold War Kids truly found its audience. In the months leading up to the release of Cold War Kids’ debut album, Robbers & Cowards, the four California artists also began branding themselves as an in-demand support act, placing them onstage with fellow blogger buzz-bands like Tapes n Tapes, Sound Team, and Two Gallants. Below guitarist Jonnie Russel let’s us know what’s next.
MG- In January, Cold War Kids will host dual residencies in New York and Los Angeles, flying back and forth between shows, which is an ambitious undertaking for a young band. Where did this idea grow from?
JR- Originally we talked about playing some shows at home, in L.A., in some of the smaller clubs we played a lot when we started out a few years ago but which we hadn’t played in a while. We wanted to play clubs that were a little less serious in terms of their production and emphasis on ticket sales and where we could create sort of an intimate, fun, hangout vibe. So, we made up a list of some clubs we wanted to play. At the same time, we had talked about doing a residency in New York in January, so we tried to adopt the same concept, playing small clubs we really liked a few weeks in a row. We saved up some frequent flyer miles from our previous lives and decided to fly back and forth between shows.
MG- 2006 has been a big year for Cold War Kids capped off by an appearance on the David Letterman show. When did you feel things really started heating up for the group?
JR- Yeah, it definitely has. David Letterman is going to be out first time on TV. We are really honored. I think he is the best at what he does. It first got busy for us going into SXSW. After that we started touring nonstop. Before that we were working hard, but were definitely a local band. Both Nate and I were high-school substitute teachers. We would sign up for all these random subjects, since you don’t do as much teaching as babysitting [laughs]. I was also in grad school for a while and everyone was kind of working around it. But, by the time summer hit, we realized we were too busy to have jobs, which is such a great, but bizarre, right of passage for any band.
MG- Cold War Kids is also hosting an art show, correct?
JR- Yeah, Matt Maust, our bass player, actually just had an opening here in L.A. All of our album art, including our booklets, are pictures of actual pieces he made. He made about 80 or 90 pieces and there is also different art for our Europe releases. So, he got them all nicely framed and individually stamped. We are going to do an opening in New York before one of our shows and then a show in London next year as well.
MG- The cold war kids’ concept originally grew out of Matt Maust’s artwork. How has it developed since the band took shape?
JR- We did a couple of performance-art type things with the whole band, but mostly it’s Matt just typographically documenting our lives and putting it on the internet or whatnot [laughs]. So aside from the releases, which have big tangible art, most of his work is taking pictures and creating art to put up on our webpage or for our MySpace profile. The websites always have a stylized element to them.
MG- How much emphasis does Cold War Kids place on “band style?”
JR- I don’t know. I think Matt does some good things with the pictures which make us look a lot better than we actually are [laughs]. When you put some nice looking text around the pictures, it becomes very stylized, but I don’t think we are the most fashion conscious guys [laughs].
MG- 2006 was the first year Cold War Kids hit the festival circuit. What were your initial impressions of that environment?
JR- That’s a good question. I had never been to a festival, even to watch, until we got to Lollapalooza to play this year. I always imaged that they’d be a real anxious environment, full of sweaty, sunburnt people and plastic Bud Light bottles [laughs]. I always imagined—- what a nightmare! I have fair skin and I always passed on Coachella. I never even did the Warped Tour thing. Growing up, I remember people going to Lollapalooza, but as I got a little older and cooler, I learned a little more about the modern festivals. We are actually going to play Bonnaroo next year, which is really exciting. It seems like a really cool festival, with a pretty cool vibe. I’ve been reading about it in magazines and it seems like it’s been changing a lot in the past years in terms of the lineup, but I like where its roots are. It seems to give it a different feel from the other festivals, which is nice. I’m not the biggest jamband fan, but I’d definitely pick a jamband environment over a K-Rock or Hard Rock environment. I think I will feel more at home there.
MG- According to your bio, your biggest influences as such divergent artists as Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, and Velvet Underground. Which of these bands did you first discover?
JR- I probably heard Bob Dylan first as a kid, but I liked the Velvet Underground before any of those groups. I was kind of late getting into the whole rock thing. I didn’t even go through a punk phase like a lot of kids in my generation. I was into hip-hop early on and then got into the Velvet Underground and some of the 1960s rhythm-and-blues bands and then Bob Dylan. By senior year I learned about folk music and started digging my way down until I learned about these old blues singers. So, I feel like it’s a pretty natural progression.
MG- Your band has been described as a “blogger buzz band.” In what way has the internet spurred on your growth?
JR- I don’t think anyone would deny that it was a huge part of our growth. When we first started playing outside our hometown, our first fans had heard about us through the internet and YouTube. So, I think it really jumped started our fan base in a lot of areas of the country. It’s interesting because most of us are quite illiterate to that stuff [laughs]. It’s not that we don’t like the internet or technology, but we just didn’t know about this culture until we saw our name on it. So, it has been quite a whirlwind exposure. It’s great because it’s a community where people can express their opinions and their passions.
MG- It’s funny you mention that because the last Cold War Kids show I saw took place at the Apple Store during CMJ
JR- Yeah, I think we learned a lot about it in the past year-and-a-half [laughs], about the relationship between blogs and bands. I think it can be a really good thing, but it’s also a bizarre thing. I wonder if it is even the same thing as when we started. It felt very time and place, the excitement of blogs. I am not sure if blogs will continue to break bands in the future or if this is the end of the blog era.’
Though he breaks more grammatical rules than new bands, Mike Greenhaus blogs at www.greenhauseffect.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast at www.relix.com/radio