After self-releasing three EPs and playing numerous live shows across the U.S. (including a buzz-generating performance at the South by Southwest music festival), Cold Ward Kids became one of the most talked-about new bands of 2005-06. Now signed to Downtown Records (Gnarls Barkley, Art Brut), the California-based group is set to win scores of new fans with the release of their full-length debut Robbers & Cowards—a stunning mix of stripped-down rock, rootsy blues and soulful energy. Ticketmaster recently spoke with Cold War Kids' guitarist Jonnie Russel about the band's history, the new album and their current tour. Ticketmaster: You're touring the U.S. right now. How's it going so far? This is your first headlining tour, right? Jonnie Russel: Yeah. It's going pretty good, considering the circumstances. It's kind of an interesting situation. We were supporting a band The Futureheads that then had to cancel, and now we're playing the same shows but now headlining for the most part. So, yeah, it's been good. It's definitely a learning experience for us. It's a new world. TM: Have there been any highlights so far? JR: Well, a lowlight...We had a van break down a couple of days ago and had to cancel a show. To make it back we had to drive home to Long Beach, get a new van, and drive straight to Kansas to get here for the show last night. It was a rough part of the trip. I'm trying to think of an actual highlight. Tucson was really fun. We played a little local music festival going on there. We got to play this old theater there. That was probably one of the funnest nights we've had yet. I like Tucson. TM: What have the audiences been like? Are they familiar with your music or are you playing for a new crowd? JR: It's a good question. I think it's a mixed bag. A lot of these places—right now we're in the Midwest—are new markets for us. So it's fairly different than being on the West Coast, or places like Boston or New York, places where we've been a fair amount of times. Those places are certainly larger markets and places where a good number of people know your music and are there ‘cause they know it. Some of these shows are definitely more exposure shows where people are getting their first taste and first interaction. So it's been city by city, or region by region I should say. TM: You're playing both large and small venues on this tour. Do you have a preference? JR: I think I definitely prefer the smaller ones or at least appropriate to size. The Futureheads were the band we were originally meant to tour with and they've been around for quite a bit longer and are quite a bit more popular in the sense of the size of the crowds they would draw. So some of these shows have been in venues where we would have definitely preferred them to be a lot smaller, because you know The Futureheads have dropped out of the tour but we're playing the same places. So some of the rooms have been ballroom type things, which are quite a bit bigger than we usually play considering the amount of people we usually play to. So I think we definitely prefer the smaller ones in the sense that they're a little more intimate and interactive and fitting for the crowd. I think it's a little bit uncomfortable for the crowd and the musician to play in a big room with a small amount of people. It's kind of bizarre, but it's kind of worked out that way. In some of the smaller markets we're in, we're playing these massive rooms. And in the process of the switchover, we switched some of the other shows in places like Chicago and New York to smaller rooms that are maybe too small and are sold out. So it can be a little bit flip-flopped at times. But we like ‘em smaller. That's better for us. TM: Can you give me a little bit of the band's history? How did you get together with the other members? JR: We knew each other for the most part through a large group of friends. Matt Maust the bass player, Nate (singer Nathan Willett) and I knew each other. Nathan actually grew up in the same town during our high school years. He was a few years older. We went to the same high school and we knew each other shortly after that, knew each other going into our college years. I kind of met Matt Maust the same way, through a group of mutual friends that Nate and I both interacted with. We knew each other for four or five years by the time we got started. I knew Matt (Aveiro) the drummer the same way via a big group of friends that put us in contact with him. So just a big group of friends that liked and listened to lots of similar music. That's how we found each other. TM: Who were some of your influences at the time? JR: Pretty broad I think. We all had a lot of similarities but a lot of differences too. When we were getting started, we were all into lots of older music...early blues recordings, some contemporary artists that make that kind of rootsy, soul-driven music. Guys like Tom Waits. Lots of blues singers and jazz and stuff, like Nina Simone and some of those kinds of artists. That's one side of the envelope and we're also big fans of Velvet Underground type rock. So I think it's a combination of a lot of different kinds of things. We all found commonality in some of the roots music type stuff. TM: What were your early shows like and how has your live show evolved since then? JR: Our earliest one was a birthday party, a house birthday party. I would love to see a video of an early performance for the sake of imagining the awkward moments of getting used to standing in front of people playing instruments, which is kind of a bizarre thing when you think about it—to watch music being performed. But I definitely think it's evolved quite a bit in terms of our comfort in being seen. I think in a lot of ways we've grown to feel comfortable with lots of movement and energy between the four of us and interacting with people who are watching and being a part of the show by watching the show. So I definitely think it's evolved from less to more interaction with the audience. TM: Let's talk a bit about the new album Robbers & Cowards. I know you went back and re-recorded music from your earlier EPs for the album. What was the recording process like? JR: We originally planned on compiling material from some of the EPs and then some new material for the album, because the songs on the EPs had never really sold beyond just at shows or a small amount online. So we hadn't really had anything in stores available for people to buy without a lot of hassle and trying to get it through us, and we're pretty unorganized. So we originally planned on just doing some remixing and mastering of some of the songs from the EPs so it was a little more cohesive sonically. But when we came down to actually doing that about three or four weeks before it needed to be done, we realized for one of the EPs we didn't have the master tape to the recordings anymore, and for the other EP some of the files had been corrupted on the master tape, so we couldn't even open those up to master them and put them together. So we made a last minute decision to re-record the majority of those songs in about 10 or 12 days including two new ones we'd already recorded in order to put them together and fit a little better as an album. So it wasn't our original plan to rerecord but I think in a lot of ways sonically it worked out better as far as meshing it all together and fitting it together that way...A friend of ours has a studio in North Hollywood and he offered to do it, so we just went in and did a lot of live takes. And it worked out pretty good. It was interesting. Rerecording them, sometimes things changed and they felt a little different, and sometimes they didn't. But it was definitely a quick, relatively rushed process, which I think is not a bad way to do it in the sense of capturing a song and moving on. TM: Do you prefer coming up with new material and recording in the studio or performing live on stage? JR: I really enjoy the live performance of music, and I definitely enjoy time in the studio. But I almost enjoy treating those as the same thing. Your recording is capturing the same kind of energy and spontaneity you have in a live performance—very momentary and spontaneous in the sense that this is one time we're playing a song and it's going to come out how it is depending on who is in the room and what it feels like. I really like that perspective on what music is like. How the song sounds tonight depends on everyone who's there and everything that comes out is very spontaneous. I really like that element of music and performance, and I think the best recording captures that same sort of spontaneity and moment, I guess. TM: Can you take me through the band's songwriting process? Is there a lot of collaboration going on? JR: Yeah, for the most part, we write as a group musically. When we try to write songs, we all do our best and get together in a room of instruments and play together at the same time. Or if someone comes up with something you kind of run with it and develop it and see what happens. You draw a vibe off that or connect the dots. Someone may take the lead with a part which can be one of the four of us doing a number of different things. It's happened a lot different ways, whether it's with a drumbeat or a melody or something. So musically we write together. We just cram ourselves in a room and we may get something in five minutes or we may try for five hours and not get anything. You could be pulling things out of the air and really catching it and vibing with each other, or you're not. Usually lyrics are done after analyzing what a song feels like. So that's the process. TM: I know the band pays a lot of attention to album artwork. You also have a very distinctive-looking website. Do you think these elements are really important to what the band is all about?null JR: Yeah, definitely. I'm glad you asked that. It's a pretty specific part of what we do I think. Matt Maust who plays bass is a graphic designer and from the very beginning when Nate and I were playing and asked Matt to be a part of it, we were very conscious in that decision that he was a visual artist in his own right and we wanted that to be a big part of the aesthetic. We like a lot of artists and parts of music history that have a kind of real visual aesthetic that you think of as soon as you hear the music. You hear it and you imagine the visuals that go along with it for those artists. You know, like the jazz of the ‘50s with the fine lines and the black-and-white pictures and the suits and stuff. We love that kind of stuff and how it kind of creates that whole aesthetic picture. So, yeah, it's a very conscious thing that we like about music and want to do with our own.