Californian indie-rockers Cold War Kids have come full circle with their upcoming third release, Mine is Yours. After their much-hyped 2006 debut Robbers & Cowards made them stars in the blogosphere, Kids took a risk with their second release, Loyalty to Loyalty. Though it wasn't entirely a sophomore slump, lead singer-songwriter Nathan Willett admits that even he was dissatisfied with the results.
"The time of making the second record was when we thought it only really matters if we were happy," Willett says. "After we made that album, we realized we wanted to be connected to fans. It's important to us that the record connects and there is an emotion that's expressed that's understandable.
"For me, just even writing for that album — it was something a bit more abstract and poetic, and I realized it wasn't as visceral to me, it wasn't as important to me as I needed it to be," he adds. "Spending so much time on it and touring for a year and half — that's what lead me to this album [Mine is Yours] and wanting it to be more personal."
For Willett and his bandmates — guitarist Jonnie Russell, bassist Matt Maust, and drummer Matt Aveiro — this meant taking time to reassess what went wrong.
"The second album, the ambiguity in it, I realized I needed to step up and have a stronger presence, connecting in an emotional way and lyrical way," Willett says.
Later in the conversation, he returns to this point, elaborating on how Kids has come to function. "Everybody feels that their style and approach and personality is essential to what the band is, and that's a really rare thing in any mainstream sense," he says. "[With Loyalty], when I realized I hadn't really lead the march, we all had to reassign our roles a little bit, so that everybody's personality would complement the song."
And in this way, Mine is Yours is the band's most truthful work yet. Thematically, it's a more emotionally complex and dense record than Robbers & Cowards, with Willett reflecting on his own little circle of life — his friends — for inspiration.
After returning home following 18 months of touring Loyalty to Loyalty, Willett just wanted to be a "normal person again." He got his wish, plus a chance to witness firsthand the normal people problems going on around him.
"I have a group of friends who went to college together, and ... I got married a couple years ago, and we have a lot of friends who are also in the same place," Willett says. "Some are doing great, but others are splitting up or have gone through crazy situations of diving into the deep end of relationships without looking around too much. It's also just the stage of life I'm in, getting past 30, and just a lot of change. I'm writing about what I'm seeing."
Watching friends struggle through relationship hurdles is a particularly common coming-of-age experience. What's unique about Willett's age group is they have absorbed the brunt of the tutelage from their parents' generation, which exemplified marital dysfunction.
"We grew up with the statistics that every other person who gets married is going to get divorced, and our parents having made those mistakes ..." Willett trails off for a moment. "All that stuff, when the rubber meets the road and you're not just sitting around and idealizing and talking about it, but actually seeing how you live. It's really hard."
At the very least, the pain has paid off artistically. Advance hype on Mine is Yours has been good, and fans eagerly awaiting the Jan. 15, 2011 drop are taking advantage of this "pre" tour that reaches the Music Farm this week.
For Willett, etching his heart on his sleeve in this fashion has meant another kind of reckoning as well.
"I feel like this record, for me personally, is the first time I've realized that this is what I want to do with my life," he says. "It's not just something like, we just started this band and put out a record and it's really fun, but now I can see myself doing this forever. I want to take this band to the extremes of what it can be."