In The Bootleg Theater there is a troupe of kids milling about, their shadows cut out against a concrete wall by a projector's beam. The image is obscured against the stucco. The Silverlake venue is a converted warehouse space, a cavernous maze, built of steel and cinder blocks. A couple hours before showtime and the intensity of the space is bubbling, a low simmer. I shuffle my feet in the opposite direction, looking for the backstage entrance and the band. Turning the corner into what seems like, well, a bootleg theater, I am greeted by The Cold War Kids. They are all sitting in the auditorium, in red velvet chairs, facing a stage covered with large paper cutouts, like an Arts and Crafts station gone wild.
"It's very Rushmore-esque," notes frontman Nathan Willet. The room we are in has the unmistakable charm of a high school production par excellence. The youthful verve of the surroundings seems to fit the 'Kids,' who immediately suggest possible locations around the room best suited for conversation.
"Try the control booth," recommends drummer Matt Aveiro.
"I'd go for the stage," counters the other Matt (Maust). Nathan and I venture up the stairs to the back row, just outside the control booth, where we are afforded the full view of what could only be a Max Fischer production.
"Yeah, I really dig the vibe of this place," confides Nathan, "it's an old 1930s warehouse. They keep buying neighboring real estate and knocking down the walls." Nathan himself was a high school English teacher during the band's inaugural days, and thus is not wholly unfamiliar with these surroundings. "It was a time where I started to do a teaching credential program," he tells me. "I knew I had wanted to play music but I had never really seriously been in a band, in a 'we're touring and trying to make this our life' kind of thing. We had no idea how it worked. We started kind of just booking our tours and it all happened really organically."
Cold War Kids came to the fore in a flurry of other Internet hyped acts, like Arctic Monkeys, Tapes 'N Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Two Gallants. They cut their teeth touring with many of these bands and honed their live show. Off the road, they grew and perfected their sound in various basements and garages in Fullerton. "The first two albums we would write songs in our rehearsal space and we would go in and record them almost as quickly as we could and as live as we could," says Willet. It was in this way that the band felt they could best capture the spontaneous and gritty feeling of live music on their early recordings.
For their third album, The Cold War Kids decided to give the record a little bit more breathing room. Rather spending a couple days recording newly penned tunes, the band decamped to Nashville for two months. There they lived in a house together and worked on the songs that would eventually comprise Mine Is Yours.
"It was much more spread out, it was much more broken down and built up again" explains Willet.
The band brought on producer Jacquire King, a man whose roster includes artists like Modest Mouse, Kings Of Leon, and Tom Waits. It was the band's first time working with a pronounced outside influence, but King was dutiful about not stepping on their toes. "He was great, he was really delicate with us and he would watch how we worked. He didn't talk a lot; he was a soft-spoken guy," Nathan recalls. "Then suddenly he kind of kicked in where he would kind of interject, changing arrangements and saying 'why don't you maybe play the organ on this?' or 'why don't you make that chorus a little longer.'"
As the band prepares to take the stage, Nathan gauges the palpable excitement. "I'm really excited, we're playing almost entirely new stuff. We're playing nine of eleven songs from this album."
Nathan gets up to pace the set for the odd hour or so before he takes the stage. "This isn't a bad backstage area," he remarks again. "I've definitely seen worse," he says with a smile.
Live, it is clear that the band has outgrown a venue as small as The Bootleg Theater. The new material finds them heading in an arena-bound direction. As he did with Kings Of Leon, Jacquire King has helped the band settle into stadium-sized riffs that almost feel constricted in this little space. Even sparsely orchestrated favorites like "Hang Me Up To Dry" or "Hospital Beds" seem to have their skeletal arrangements retrofitted with new muscle, though the band plays as tight as ever. Cold War Kids' growing capability as a live band is nicely complimented by their live schedule: they will be playing New York's Radio City Music Hall for the first time on March 24 as part of an extensive European and North American tour.