Being a buzz band sucks. Sure, the first four or five months can be the most awesome time of your life, as every Pitchfork-aspiring blogger on the planet strains to find new ways to say your band totally rocks. But then the backlash starts. And then people start hating you. Then they forget about you. And then you release your third album and nobody buys it. And suddenly, maybe being a buzz band for four or five months wasn’t the best thing for your career after all.
Welcome to the world of Cold War Kids.
Six years ago, right around the time the internet started ejaculating loads of praise over bands you never heard of, four guys from California released a series of EPs that stirred a little interest in the indie-rock community. In 2006 they released their debut album, Robbers & Cowards, and suddenly Cold War Kids were, if you believed the hyperventilating basement bloggers who deemed themselves music critics, the best band ever. Better than Nirvana. Better than U2. Better than the fucking Beatles.
But quicker than you can say Cold War Kids are more popular than Jesus, the backlash started. Word got out that they were a Christian band, which no one bothered to verify but must be true since three members attended the super-evangelical Biola University. And if there’s anything indier-than-thou types hate more than artists who sell records, it’s artists who like Jesus. In no time, Cold War Kids weren’t the best band ever. They were a bunch of God-praising phonies. Besides, did you hear about Grizzly Bear? Now there’s a great band.
Kids frontman Nathan Willett still feels the sting that killed his band’s buzz. “We were too careful about how we dealt with that situation,” he admits. “We didn’t want to be the loudmouths. But that kind of below-the-belt criticism … I just wished they just would have said, ‘We don’t like these guys. We just don’t like their band.’”
So Cold War Kids decided to go bigger and wider on their third album, Mine Is Yours, which was released in January. They replaced the shattered, piano-driven stories about alcoholics and other desperate folks on their debut with vibrating guitars, epic soundscapes, and a grander sense of purpose – sort of like Kings of Leon without the douchey side effects.
But the record didn’t sell. College radio barely touched it. And the increasingly fickle blog community completely ignored it. “I don’t think it was understood in the way we would have liked it to been,” says Willett. “I was disappointed that it wasn’t noticed more. But we’re going to put out another one after this and keep on going.”
This leaves Cold War Kids at an impasse regarding their future and with a question that may not have an answer: How does a former buzz band get people to pay attention again? Or at least how does it live down its cursed past? “We didn’t have a model or somebody we could learn from,” says Willett. “People are still figuring that out. So many of those bands aren’t around anymore. It’s not sad that you’re waiting tables. It’s sad that you had the opportunity and you let it pass.”