Audeze speaks with musician and producer Nathan Willett
March 11, 2022
Audeze speaks with musician and producer Nathan Willett
Nathan Willett is the lead singer, songwriter, producer and auteur of the band Cold War Kids. Formed in 2004 in Southern California, the band has released twelve albums to date (three of them live), and has had five singles in the Billboard Top 50 and three Certified Gold RIAA singles.
"Using Audeze headphones has been a great tool for listening to a final mix with attention to greatest detail." - Nathan Willett
Here's our chat with Nathan:
Can you pick out any highlights from your work that you're particularly proud of?
We just finished a trilogy of 8-song albums. New Age Norms 3 has a song called Wasted All Night that I am extremely proud of. The song is like 2 halves. The first is very cold war kids, with some Iggy Pop Lust for Life era influence rock n roll. The second half is super glitchy electronic and moody. I wanted to have a long instrumental piece, and we had the girls from Lucius singing, I was watching videos of them singing Great Gig in the Sky with Roger Waters and I wanted to get some kind of feeling like that wordless singing, nothing repeating, just a moody ethereal vibe. I love how it turned out.
How would you define your main role on most of the projects you work on these days?
I'm like the director. I try to bring different configurations of the band in to the studio. And work in different studios with different producers. Always keep it a little different so we have a little different outcome. I usually write chord progressions, always lyrics. The guys always have endless great ideas. It's always the balance of creating the right environment so that the ideas can get fleshed out and whoever has a vision can see it through.
How did you get started in music? What kind of music did you listen to while growing up and how has that progressed?
I started playing guitar in 7th grade. My friends were all in punk bands. I didn't start Cold War Kids till I was 25. It was my first real band. I listened to everything from Led Zeppelin to Dr Dre to everything So Cal punk, Epitaph, Fat Wreck Chords. Later on in college, that progressed to Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart. Later later on in to the band, it swung to listening to all the same old stuff while listening to a lot more modern music.
Can you name any factors that influenced the course of your musical life? Heroes, role models, moments, interactions, etc?
I was at Amoeba Records in San Francisco the year I graduated high school - I bought Yeah Yeah Yeahs Fever to Tell, White Stripes De Stijl, Walkmen Everyone Who Pretended. All of those albums were life changing. And all of those artists I follow till this day. That was an incredible moment for music that our band came together in the wake of.
Can you briefly describe a moment of frustration from your past work, and what you may have done to overcome the obstacles? Would you approach it differently now?
I think the most frustrating thing can be communication. If you are in an environment where everyone is trying to get what they want and you have different goals, it can be so difficult. In our band, I need the input of the other guys. But when we hit a crossroads on a decision, which sometimes can be the tiniest argument over whether a keyboard sound should be this way or that way, I will ultimately make the call so that we can keep moving forward. I think that's critical to anybody's success.
Is there any gear you find yourself turning to most when working on a project? What are some of your favorite tools/instruments recently?
We love all things Universal Audio. It's made so much of what we do more creative. Early on, there is so much gear that we only had access to on rare occasion while recording. Now, being able to pull up their plug ins and try out different effects, it takes the emphasis off of how precious the gear is and more on the sonics of the song and what it needs.
Do you have any words of wisdom for people who might aspire toward a similar path for their own careers?
I look at younger artists now that can do everything themselves from production to writing and performing, and get so inspired. We were a live band first, and had so little exposure to the studio that it took us a while to catch up. It's a hard road. You can get burned out on all sides and it's hard to keep that spark. Go back to the music that you love. It takes a lot of work to keep that music pure.
How long have you been working with headphones, and how do you typically use them in your workflow?
I have been working with headphones for a few years. Mostly I am listening on my PMCs or Barefoots but will always listen to mixes through different headphones as well when things are getting close to finished.
How have your Audeze headphones affected your work? Can you tell us what you've been working on with them recently?
I have been listening to New Age Norms 3 that we just released, and mixes of 5 songs we did with Carlos de la Garza. I am not a mixer, so getting to work with incredible mixers - like Lars Stalfors who mixes mostly everything Cold War Kids - and hear the precision and detail he puts into a mix is such a joy. I have never been super technical in how I hear a mix, I listen for vibe and presence and making sure the song is all that I want it to be. I love the back and forth of getting a mix to that perfect place and Audeze headphones are a great tool to get there.
Using Audeze headphones has been a great tool for listening to a final mix with attention to greatest detail. Also, as a singer, recording with Audeze headphones is excellent because I can hear my voice through the ears with the mix blasting.