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Random Rules: Nathan Willett

The shuffler: Nathan Willett, frontman of Cold War Kids, which released one of the more memorable debuts of 2006—and the 19th best album of the year, according to The A.V. Club.


Nina Simone, "Do I Move You"

Nathan Willett: It's from this double-album anthology I got a while back, and it was my first introduction to her music. This song has a very sexy swagger. I don't normally use the word "sexy," because it sounds kind of dumb. But this song totally feels that way. Most of her recordings, I think, are live. I read a little about her band and how she works, and [the recordings] just have a magic quality. The way the instruments are brought together, it's so sparse. Everything has its right place.

Thom Yorke, "The Eraser"

NW: It's probably one of my favorite songs on this album [The Eraser]. It's the catchiest and most melodic. He's talking about a relationship and how this girl is trying to get rid of him. "The more you try to erase me, the more I appear." The idea of the eraser is such a big, scary Radiohead term; it sounds like it's the CIA. You feel like there's some scary people involved. At the same time, it's kind of playful and fun. "Are you only being nice because you want something?" I like that.

Tom Waits, "Home I'll Never Be"

NW: I think it's actually written by Jack Kerouac, and Tom Waits made it into a song. There's a recording of it called "On The Road" that he did with Les Claypool; it's a cool, upbeat version with acoustic guitar and slide and all this crazy stuff. But then he also put this version on the Orphans album, "Home I'll Never Be." It's a really slow, somber piano version of the song. I heard the acoustic version first, the really upbeat one, and it's this kind of kick-ass song. And this version, it has the same words and chord progression, but it's sadder.

The A.V. Club: Cold War Kids have been compared to Tom Waits in reviews. Do you consider him an influence on your music?

NW: He does what he does a lot better than we do what we do, but yeah, I think we emulate some things that he does. He uses probably four different chord structures for every one of his hundreds of songs, and just tries to use them in really tasteful ways. Our songs are fairly simple. It's all about how you do them, and not so much what you're doing.

Paul Simon, "Duncan"

NW: It's from Paul Simon's first solo record, the self-titled one. I only bought it a few weeks ago, from this record store in Long Beach called Fingerprints. It's right by our house. We love this record store; it's the greatest. This girl that was working there was like, "I love this record. You have to listen to the second song, 'Duncan.'" It was one of the few record-store interactions that I've had like that, where you bring something to the counter, and they're like, "Oh my God, this is the greatest." Usually, you think of record-store people as being like, "All right, you're buying another copy of that thing everybody else is buying." The song is sweet. It's Paul Simon as he's developing his writing style, which is less of a cohesive, "Richard Cory" type of Simon & Garfunkel song, and more of a disparate, non-linear kind of story. There's lots of things that don't make sense together.

TV On The Radio, "I Was A Lover"

NW: This is the first song on the new TV On The Radio album. I like this song a lot. I guess I have to, because I have the small iPod, so there's not much to choose from. I remember the first time we were listening to this in the van together; we had all heard the first record, and this one sounds a lot different, so everyone has very different opinions on it. It's so much more of a big album. I love the lyric, "I was a lover before this war." It's just a simple, really cool idea that captures a lot of people's emotions.

Arcade Fire, "Rebellion (Lies)"

NW: I don't really know this record inside and out.

AVC: You haven't listened to this one in a while?

NW: Yeah, it's been a little while. I was actually the last kid in school to get in on Arcade Fire. Just in a reactionary way; everybody was so into them and loving them, and I was sort of the last one. I still don't know a lot about them.

Pink Mountaintops, "Lord, Let Us Shine"

NW: I love the band. Some friends of mine were into Black Mountain, and I thought it was kind of cool, but not extremely original. Then we saw Pink Mountaintops live when we were staying at this hotel in Arizona; they were playing there, and we were playing a show down the street. They're like a cult. There's, like, 10 people on stage, and everybody is trading instruments all the time, and everybody has long hair and looks like the Manson family. Unlike Black Mountain, it's way stripped-down, with some very simple programmed beats and a lot of acoustic guitar. It's kind of Velvet Underground-y, kind of gospel-y at times. I think Cold War Kids would be a lot more that way if we were more into psychedelic guitar work and lots of drugs. Because we all love it so much. It's a record we really love but never emulate that much. It's all long hair and drugs in all the right ways.

Lauryn Hill, "Tell Him (Live)"

NW: It's the last song from The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. I'm pretty devoted to this record. I think she has one of the most incredible voices. I would kill to hear what she's been up to, if she's making music. A lot of her songs on this record sound really good by current recording standards, but have Aretha Franklin qualities. It's kind of doo-woppy. I like that. There's a lot of soul on it.