The Cold War Kids are growing up yet not growing old. The Long Beach–based soul-punk outfit began carefree and fun, but now the band—and their sound—is maturing. “I’m trying to come up with a better term for what this phase of life is all about,” explains frontman, pianist, guitarist, and lyricist Nathan Willett. “I think it’s just when people kind of settle into their work, start finding themselves a bit, and are more likely to get into committed relationships.”
Willett, who is married, is hard at work with his bandmates—Jonnie Russell (guitar, vocals, percussion), Matt Maust (bass guitar), and Matt Aveiro (drums)—touring for their just-released third studio album, Mine Is Yours. The fifth contributor to the new Cold War Kids sound is producer extraordinaire Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Norah Jones, Tom Waits). Together they put out 11 tracks featuring Willett waxing poetic about the joys and failures of commitment—the transformation of relationships from “easy and light to really heavy.”
“Lyrically speaking, it didn’t seem like anything I’d ever really heard,” Willett says. “It was very kind of unrockstary to sing about that stuff. I guess in a way people want to listen to stuff like Kings of Leon who kind of say, ‘Do whatever you want, heartbreaks happen and they’re not that bad,’ kind of thing.”
But when it comes to ink, Willett is all rock star. His first tattoo came at age 18, and it’s been steady ever since. Most of his work is by good friend and fellow musician Jim Miner, who works at Analog Tattoo in San Jose, CA. “I’d come home and Jim would be tattooing people in our kitchen every night,” Willett remembers of the early days. “It was definitely a part of the culture that was happening at that time.”
Willett’s arsenal of flesh art includes a nearly covered chest featuring a sacred heart, the sky, angels, and a banner that reads “Salvation.” He’s also got a black trumpet on his forearm, a crown reminiscent of the work of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the word “Tender” on his arm, which serves as an ode to the tune of the same name by Blur. “If I were ever to write a list of my favorite songs, that would be really high up there,” he says. It’s a seemingly perfect anthem for a guy who’s growing—and from ink to album, Willett and the other Cold War Kids thrust it out front for their fans going through the same metamorphosis.