Think you know Cold War Kids?
Think again. Foundations is a regular Clash column, a space for musicians to geek out about the records that first inspired them.
As it turns out, Cold War Kids were inspired by a pretty diverse mixture of sounds - all of which makes Nathan Willet's selection rather revealing...
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To start this out, I went to my CD collection because that’s what we bought in 2004 at the start of the band. Nobody had record players then.
We listened to music while driving. And to do that you need to BUY CD's. (You could burn them too, but in our circle, somebody needed to buy it first...)
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Rancid - 'Life Won’t Wait'
This is probably a strange pick for what people would think we dig. We grew up in the late 90s SoCal going to mostly bad new school punk shows.
Rancid was a band that visually looked like a lot of those bands, but they were sophisticated in a way that I still think is under appreciated by highbrow crowds. I remember driving with Maust to our friend’s house from LA to San Diego and listening to this album and us just connecting so hard on it.
It was a weird time for Rancid and I think a lot of their fans didn’t dig this record, thought it was maybe indulgent (which is such a lame critique) but most importantly Maust pointed out that Tim is a hip-hop Bob Dylan. The way he delivers his poetry in a lazy slur and the characters he illuminates are truly unique.
This opening line from 'Hoover Street' just gets me: “She’s a Salvador immigrant, head through a thin wall / A frail hooker, holding her carnal walls...”
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Spoon - 'Kill The Moonlight'
This was right at the moment when we started Cold War Kids. I heard this album and it was instant. It was sparse. It felt like rock 'n' roll, punk, the piano, and bass sounds, mod, lean, compact, icy, but MODERN, all the best things from old music we love but made new. Just cool. 'The Way We Get By' is probably half the reason I bought a piano. It was the perfect song to learn on, and that progression is probably where I came up with 'We Used To Vacation'.
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Pearl Jam - '23-6-00 Zurich Switz'
OK, this deserves an explanation. Another band that has a lot of baggage, so stick with me. I used to go to Tower Records and buy these cardboard sleeve 'bootlegs' of live Pearl Jam shows. They still put 'em out. I loved the aesthetic of it, cuz there were so many shows with the same stamp, and you picked em up and looked at what songs they played at different shows.
It is so rare for a band to put out so much music and still keep that intimate relationship with their audience with your set list. Their audience WANTS to hear deep cuts. Pearl Jam mix up the set list every night, they don’t play the same way twice.
As a touring musician, that is the coolest thing. To be able to draw from a huge catalogue of songs, to make every night special. To know that it’s not just so that you don’t go crazy doing the same thing, but your audience will be pumped!
I would bet money that Radiohead saw how well Pearl Jam pulled this off and gave them the freedom to do the same.
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Tom Waits - 'Real Gone'
This album came out the first year our band existed. I got three parking tickets on this day. I was miserable. This record sounds filthy and beautiful. Marc Ribot’s the most incredible guitar player on this earth. His solo on 'Hoist That Rag' is my single favourite guitar playing on anything ever. I remember watching Waits do 'Make It Rain' on Lettermen and just being blown away.
Side note: If you’ve never done a YouTube deep dive on Tom as a guest on Lettermen, PLEASE DO. It’s about as whip smart ass fantastic as a verbal exchange between two old post-bluesmen.
Our whole band got the extremely rare opportunity to see Tom Waits play a theatre show. I was harangued by friends for driving to Arizona on what should have been my honeymoon to witness this occasion and I still have zero regrets about it.
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Fiona Apple - 'Extraordinary Machine' (original Jon Brion Version)'
Another record that was on constant rotation at our rooftop parties. Effectively every conversation about this album went like: "Why the hell would Fiona not put out THIS version of the record...?" The instrumentation was insane, Jon Brion at his most free.
We were lucky enough to be able to go to the old Largo, a club where Jon Brion played every Friday night, there was always standing room and you would always leave BLOWN AWAY. We adored his soundtracks - Eternal Sunshine..., Punch Drunk Love; he loved mellotrons, chamberlains, and broken sounding string machine things. And Fiona, duh, is the greatest, of course…
But to love an artist in high school with a crush so heavy, and a lifetime later, at the advent of CD trading and the iPod, where a unsanctioned bootleg could travel as free as bumming a cigarette, it is hard to appreciate how NEW that was then.
I hope someone writes a book about this album, the FREE FIONA campaign, the shroud of mystery... only to find out it was actually herself who wanted to scrap it and go a totally different direction. Anyway, I’ll always have fond memories of this lo-fi un-mastered bootleg playing over the endless debate.
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Catch Cold War Kids at the following shows:
5 Brighton Concorde 2
6 London Shepherds Bush Empire
7 Manchester Ritz
8 London Hyde Park – British Summer Time
For tickets to the latest Cold War Kids shows click HERE.