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Cold War Kids bass guitarist Matt Maust seems like just another mild-mannered bass guitarist in a long line of mild-mannered bass guitarists. Speaking over his cell phone while walking around a parking garage in Minneapolis, Maust is just about to talk about the band's latest effort, Loyalty to Loyalty, when a security guard makes his ugly presence known.
"Get the hell out of here," the guard yells at Maust.
"I'm on the phone, man," Maust calmly explains. "I'm doing an interview."
The guard quickly fires back: "I don't care what you're doing. Get the fuck out of here."
The rest of the exchange is garbled, as if the bassist is hoofing it on out of there. It sounds like Maust has decided that discretion is truly the better part of valor.
Once he's caught his breath a couple of blocks away, Maust finally gets to his take on the sound of Cold War Kids.
"We know that we are really absent of a genre, and kind of cross-genre at the same time," he explains. "Like any band, we wanted to stand out."
Anyone who's listens to either the September-released Loyalty or Robbers & Cowards, the band's 2006 debut, can testify to that fact. Mixing influences as varied as Bob Dylan, Billie Holliday and The Velvet Underground, Cold War Kids' sound is equal parts punk and gritty soul. Vocalist Nathan Willett has been compared to Jeff Buckley, but Willett's sometimes-tortured wail is more like Buckley's father, Tim.
"I don't think our band sounds like any of the artists most commonly mentioned in connection with us," Maust says. "We might derive principal elements from the way that those people wrote songs, but that's about it."
Whatever the inspirations, the results have been impressive. While the new effort has not received the overwhelmingly positive critical kudos the band's debut heralded, Maust is proud that the band continued to explore new areas.
"The new record is darker, with a lot more low end," Maust says. "We definitely wanted to go in a different direction, as we're the kind of band that never has a destination."
Such aimlessness would be a curse for many bands, but with Cold War Kids, it's a distinct blessing. On songs such as "Something is not Right with Me" and "Every Valley is Not a Lake," each bluesy riff teeters on the edge of dissipation as Maust and drummer Matt Aveiro fitfully hold things together. It's a delicate balance pulled off by a distinctly indelicate band.
"We're 50 percent soul and 50 percent punk," Maust says. "And our singer sounds like Van Morrison fronting The Clash."
The music might merit such description, but what stands out most from the response is its confidence—so much so that it's tough not to wonder why Maust acted so squirmishly just a few minutes prior in the parking garage.
But, for now it seems, Maust's bravado is strictly relegated to the musical realm. Recalling his brush with the security guard, Maust is again quite mild-mannered. He's not yet ready to bring his aplomb off stage.
And Maust admits it: "That guy was really going to kick my ass."