The Art of Cold War Kids Bassist Matt Maust


South California rockers Cold War Kids are set to tour this winter in support of their recently released Behave Yourself EP, an up-tempo, psychedelic, raw, and sexy follow-up to their second album, Loyalty to Loyalty. Everyone knows their hooks are masterpieces, but not everyone knows that CWK bassist Matt Maust is an accomplished visual artist as well. Flavorpill’s Shana Nys Dambrot caught up with him on the eve of the Behave Yourself tour to talk, art, music, touring — and how these diverse areas of his life inform one another.

Flavorpill: How is the new EP different from your last?

Matt Maust: It’s basically the happier, more vibrant songs that didn’t really fit on the Loyalty album. We realized that in a way, we were starting to work ahead of ourselves, so this EP works as a nice bridge between records. That’s what this little tour and EP is all about: Reinventing ourselves, trying on a new shirt. Thank you for the “sexy” comment, too. I’ve not heard that one yet, I’ll fly with that. The songs were recorded very quickly; I think it adds to the spirit of it. Quick and raw and colorful. I love the album cover. [CWK vocalist] Nathan Willett and I made that at my studio. It’s a drawing of this writer he digs named Joan Didion. He mentions her in “Santa Ana Winds.”

FP: Was it happy coincidence, or did you specifically want to kick off the tour in LA?

MM: Oh, it’s always nicer starting off at home. You go out with a bang, on a high note. All your friends are around. We’re just glad we convinced Alec Ounsworth to make the trek out to LA and San Francisco for the shows. We’re just as excited about seeing him play these shows as we are to play ourselves. His new record is really good.

FP: What came first for you, music or visual art? Did you study it at any point, or ever want to be an artist professionally?

MM: I studied graphic design in college, and I’ve only gotten more excited about it ever since. I worked for a couple of clothing lines before the band. But my interest in music came first. Bands like the Clash and Joy Division really hit me hard early on, for their visual side of things just as much as their musical side.

Matt’s studio. Click through to view a slideshow of his artwork>>

FP: Who were your biggest creative influences as an artist?

MM: Right now I really am into Dieter Roth, and the Dada artists from the 20s were great. Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham are great. I love this British artist named Tacita Dean. Cy Twombly is a favorite of mine; Joseph Beuys; and who doesn’t love Basquiat? Billy Childish is great. Matt Wignall (who did the photos for Loyalty) got me into Peter Beard and Ed Ruscha. Richard Swift makes some pretty mean music and images to go with them. I could go on and on. My roommate Danny Simon did all the drawings on our “new look” for the Cold War Kids website. Talented man, that Danny is.

FP: Do you work while you’re on the road? Is your Mauster blog the best place to see your latest work?

MM: Actually yes. I work a lot from the road. But it’s mostly just taking photos, or thinking and writing a lot of notes for what I want to make when I get home. I forget so easily, so if I don’t write it down, I’ll never make it. But a lot of my pieces involve lots of text, so I write little notes to myself while touring. You can only get so messy with art supplies until the other guys in the band start complaining. A lot of the people in my pieces are people we meet on tour. A lot of times they are the ones that help me translate stuff into other languages. Designing in other languages is something I like to do. I remember back in college trying to convince my teacher to let me do my design projects in German or something, saying that I’ll pay attention to the text better because I can’t read it. Never really convinced them though, so I guess I’m getting it out of my system now.

FP: How do you manage to be productive in two art forms?

MM: I try to make the two only complement each other. I’m very serious about the visual art I make, but only insofar as it really enhances the music. Playing with Cold War Kids really is my passion, and any visual art that comes, really is a direct inspiration from the band lifestyle and our crew. I try to hit my art studio either before or after (or both) we are writing and rehearsing. It’s a great way to warm up to play, and to wind down afterward. Those are my best moments.

Cold War Kids play LA on 1/22; San Francisco on 1/23; New York on 1/29; and Chicago on 1/30.