"We used to share the live aesthetic with White Stripes and Black Keys-type bands, but we really wanted to do something richer and classier," says Cold War Kids singer Nathan Willett, discussing his band's third album Mine is Yours, out January 25. The LP was recorded over three months in Nashville and Los Angeles with Jacquire King (The Kings of Leon, Tom Waits).
The indie band — Willett, drummer Matt Aveiro, bassist Matt Maust and guitarist Jonnie Russell — first garnered blog buzz for stripped, soul-tinged storytelling songs like 2006's "We Used to Vacation." But Mine Is Yours features sprawling arrangements — the title track features a minute-long Joshua Tree-inspired intro — of personal tracks outfitted with gigantic drums and reverb-soaked guitar.
Willett, who is 31, also spent time perfecting his trademark high-pitched, often warbley voice. "[My vocals] were emotionally good, but this record was really about getting it right — singing a song 10 more times and just get it to that place that I wanted it to be."
At the end of their tour for 2008's Loyalty to Loyalty last year, Willett moved back his hometown of Long Beach and started writing. While their first two albums were full of narratives from the various characters' perspectives — including an alcoholic father to a death row inmate — Willett wanted Mine Is Yours to come from personal experiences. "If I really wanted to connect to it, I knew it had to be about me," he says. "But I think that's a really hard step for a band to take, because everybody else just has to kind of let you go through this on your own."
"I was reading things and thinking about Michael Stipe and R.E.M, and their whole evolution," says the frontman. "They started with the kind of lyrics that were more or less kind of just good-sounding words, and then kind of moved into really revealing something about themselves — that was my goal."
The results are tracks like the roaring, emotional "Sensitive Kid," which is about Willett's rough time in high school after his parents split up. "My mom was dating, I was in my house by myself and have big parties because no one was there," he says. "It was empty most of the time."
While home, Willett also reconnected with his high school friends, some who were "getting married, getting divorces and going through infidelity." Their stories inspired "Louder Than Ever" and "Bulldozer," anthemic tracks that address bruised relationships. "That life phase of good times after college, living for yourself and having a great times with your friends and then crossing that line at this point in life where things get pretty serious — I think that's kind of what this record is about in a lot of ways," he says.
The new single "Skip the Charades" is one of Willett's favorites. "It's as big as a White Stripes song," he says. "But as melodic and arranged as something that Coldplay wishes that they could write."