Nathan Willett and Matt Maust are two-fifths of indie rock band Cold War Kids. They’ve been described as a cross between The Velvet Underground and Billie Holiday. After a decade of making music, they hit the top of the Billboard charts with their last album’s single, called “First.” The band just released their sixth record. It’s called, “L.A. Divine.”
The duo shares their soundtrack picks with us and reminisces about the time Bono didn’t answer their call.
Fiona Apple – “I Know”
Nathan Willet: Launching into this dinner party, of all places to start, we’re going to go for the jugular, and a real heartstring puller, this is Fiona Apple’s “I Know.”
So few artists can be truly beautiful, jazzy, classic, sad, ballad-y thing that might as well be like a Billie Holiday or Nina Simone in modern context.
Being in a band, you have all this protection. I walk on stage with four other dudes, and we have like a shared experience. And I think to be a solo artist, you bear the burden. There’s nothing to hide behind, there’s no protection and I think that she doesn’t even attempt to put on any armor. Which I don’t recommend to any young artists because I think that’s a hard road. But it’s true, and it’s authentic.
To a certain extent, a great dinner party soundtrack is all about knowing your audience. I often feel like, if I’m with my wife and some friends, I usually play the music I want to hear, and that is often the wrong music for what everyone else wants to hear.
So that being said, I wonder if the people listening will go, “Hey, great song, but geez, that’s so depressing for a dinner party.”
Matt Maust: It’s like it took you until your early 30s to realize you listen to Radiohead alone, and not with people, right?
The Walkmen – “Little House of Savages”
Matt Maust: Our next track is “Little House of Savages” by The Walkmen.
Takes me right back to that time, 2005, 2006, when we became a band, and we did have a lot of dinners together at our old stomping ground in Whittier. We lived in this space we nicknamed “The Bayou.” We were in the stage of playing three or four shows a week. And I remember I had a Volvo station wagon at the time, and I remember always driving home with my amp in the car. I was always like the kind of the soundtrack to going home.
Nathan Willet: Yeah. And there’s the [singing along] “Somebody’s waiting for me at home, waaaah.” It just feels like a bunch of guys walking into a room that didn’t really have a song, and just turned everything up and went crazy. It’s about the energy.
U2 – “So Cruel”
Nathan Willet: Our next track is, the U2 Song from Achtung Baby, “So Cruel.” Maust, to say loved the record “Achtung Baby” is not enough.
Matt Maust: Yeah, that record’s kind of a way of life for me. It has been since I was in junior high.
Nathan Willet: You could tell a lot [of] a person by where they stand on “Achtung Baby.” There’s a lot of people that “Ah, no, no, no, I didn’t keep following them after that.” You sort of have to look at the stage show, and Bono, and all of his characters and everything happening at this point, and have a sense of humor with it, but then separate that from the music itself and how incredible it is.
Matt Maust: It’s the one song they never play live.
Nathan Willet: We were hanging out with Daniel Lanois one night, and he was the producer of this song, “So Cruel,” that we’re such enormous fans of. And Maust asked him-
Matt Maust: In his kitchen, so it was kind of a dinner party.
Nathan Willet: In his kitchen…
Matt Maust: Drinking a lot of wine.
Nathan Willet: And Maust asked Daniel Lanois, “How come they never played ‘So Cruel’ live?” And we’re all there, and Daniel Lanois’ kitchen and he says “I don’t know.” And he picks up his phone, pulls his phone out of his pocket, and he calls Bono.
Matt Maust: Yeah. A couple of times, I think Bono must’ve been sleeping, because…
Nathan Willet: Bono… Bono does not answer.
Matt Maust: We still don’t know.
Cold War Kids – “Can We Hang On?”
Matt Maust: Our last song for our dinner party is our own song, “Can We Hang On?” off our newest record, our sixth record.
Nathan Willet: So much music can be put in the categories of finding new love and the excitement and emotions that come with that, or a breakup, but god, this is the real stuff. This is people who invested in each other and don’t know what’s up or down, and that’s what music should be about.
I could also apply this kind of like the story of Cold War Kids. It’s hard to do your best work, after the first few years when you have that creative spark and all the energy and excitement surrounding it. So I ask myself that question about what we’re doing, and you can’t get lost in all that. You keep moving forward.