By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
The Cold War Kids are among the current scene's buzziest buzz bands, but this status hasn't prevented them from being jabbed by the tastemaking folks at Pitchfork. For instance, journalist Nitsuh Abebe, describing the Kids' appearance at the most recent CMJ showcase, dismissed them as "skinny-jeaned Christians" whose lead singer/pianist, Nathan Willett, came across "like an embittered Taylor Hicks."
Willett, corresponding via e-mail during the combo's recent European tour, isn't offended by the Hicks comparison -- he's never heard the hectoring Soul Patroller. Still, he's rankled by the implication that the Kids have a spiritual agenda. "Religion is something that we have never talked about in any personal way," he points out. Moreover, he feels that the negative connotations the word "Christian" conjures in the minds of many rock fans are "well deserved," and emphasizes that the Kids "have nothing to do with that world. We have been misinterpreted, and hopefully people will figure that out."
Not that Willett fashions himself a devil worshiper. He attended Loyola Marymount, a Catholic college in Los Angeles, as did guitarist Jonnie Russell and bassist Matt Maust -- and the quirky, keyboard-driven music this trio makes with drummer Matt Aveiro doesn't shy away from moral issues. Among the standout tunes on Robbers & Cowards, the Kids' impressive new full-length, is "We Used to Vacation," about a harried family man struggling to stay away from booze. Yet "Passing the Hat" contains a couplet few mainstream Christian performers would consider mouthing: "The givers not knowing where their money's going/Is as sinful as throwing it away."
The formality of Willett's language has a biblical ring, and he admits to being a big fan of the writing in Ecclesiastes. "It's beautiful," he declares, specifically citing the phrase "Vanity of vanities." Even so, he has no interest in proselytizing and wouldn't have time to do so even if he did. "You play those songs for about a year and they drive you mad," he concedes. "You think, 'Holy hell! How do all these musicians play these songs every night for twenty years?' They must curse the day that they wrote them!" In his view, "It's definitely not the most creative people whose records you end up hearing. It's the people who work their asses off touring and making good choices -- and so much luck."
The Kids have enjoyed good fortune in abundance. Even so, Willett is aware that plenty of people wish most buzz bands would buzz off. "I can't play Joanna Newsom or Clap Your Hands around my friends," he notes, "'cause there are gonna be some that would die for them and others that would kill them."
As for the Kids, stick a Pitchfork in them and they're still not done.