When Cold War Kids were putting the finishing touches on 2014’s Hold My Home, they debated whether to include a song they just recorded. They decided to go for it, and the song in question, “First,” landed at No. 1 on the Billboard Alternative chart and was certified gold, selling more than 500,000 digital copies.
“It’s weird in a sense because nobody said anything about it,” vocalist Nathan Willett recalls. “It wasn’t like we were in the studio and someone said, ‘Holy shit, that’s the one!’ If anything, it was like, ‘Let’s finish a couple of songs that will become B-sides.’ There was no screaming or fist-pumping in the air. It was just another song.”
Yet it wasn’t. Despite forming a decade earlier, Cold War Kids finally achieved mainstream success with “First.” Those in Southern California already had confidence in the Fullerton/Long Beach band’s abilities, but now the quintet’s blend of indie and blues rock put them in a different echelon. “We had no idea anything was going to come of that song,” Willett says. “That was our fifth record, and we probably shouldn’t have been trying for something like that, but we still managed to not know about the world of alternative radio and what a difference it could make. We never really paid attention to it before.”
The single remains a rock radio staple, but the band is ready to move on. While on what seemed like an endless run of their biggest headlining shows to date and higher slots on prestigious festival billings, Willett says the band were anxious to record another album. Titled L.A. Divine, it is their first with Capitol Records and an ode to Los Angeles—including OC and Long Beach. “In my mind, I think of it like that since we’ve toured for so many years. No matter where you are—we used to say Whittier, Fullerton or Long Beach—people associate it with LA,” Willett says. “I think of it as one big lump for me since I grew up all over LA and Orange County. They’re all extremely their own thing, but [also] a part of one another.”
The band’s first three singles, “Love Is Mystical,” “Can We Hang On?” and “So Tied Up” featuring Bishop Briggs, prove the band—with new guitarist David Quon—aren’t a one-hit indie wonder. “We took the approach of ‘lean on the simpler things,'” Willett says. “We took the best things that we do and made the best songs out of it. This is a little bit more controlled than what we did in the past. But it’s just better songwriting.”
If the band’s recent tour is an indication of what’s to come, then after a decade of finding their way, Cold War Kids’ ascension isn’t yet complete. “Those songs have been out for a couple of months now, and seeing people in the crowds singing along so fast has never happened before,” Willett says. “It’s tripping me out, but I like it.”