Lineup change helps Cold War Kids grow as a band

New guitarist, who also served as producer on latest album, brought new ideas to table

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If you go

What: Cold War Kids, in concert.

When: 9 p.m. May 18.

Where: McMenamins Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W. Burnside St., Portland.

Cost: $20 to $22 through Cascade Tickets, 800-514-3849 or http://cascadetickets.com.

Information: 503-225-0047 or McMenamins.

Cold War Kids fans will know that things were different for the band in making its new CD, "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts," because of a significant lineup change — with guitarist Jonnie Russell being replaced by Dann Gallucci.

But having a new guitar player is only the start of a what has been a major transition for the band that extends not only into the roles the four band members play in creating the music, but into weighing the question of how far the band should push itself stylistically as it moves forward.

"We finished touring 'Mine Is Yours,' and we didn't tour it a ton," singer/keyboardist/guitarist Nathan Willett said of the 2010 Cold War Kids album. "We toured it to a place where it felt like we could kind of keep touring, but it just felt like, we kind of knew that Jonnie needed to go. We were happy with the record, the experience of 'Mine Is Yours,' but it was just so important to really be deliberate about creating some change. We didn't know exactly where that was going to come from. And it felt like to make this thing that we have really visceral again and really exciting to us, we had to really do something that would kind of take us out of our comfort zone."

It turned out the arrival of Gallucci brought about some of the needed changes. The fact that Gallucci co-produced "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts" is a sign of just how deeply he has become involved in the band since he took over for Russell at the start of 2012.

Russell left Cold War Kids, saying he had tired of touring and wanted to return to school. Gallucci, a former member of Modest Mouse who had served as Cold War Kids' live sound engineer for the preceding three years, was a natural choice to take over on guitar.

Gallucci's arrival came after some major changes had already been made to the internal workings of Cold War Kids during the "Mine Is Yours" project.

Whereas on the first two Cold War Kids albums (2006's "Robbers & Cowards" and 2008's "Loyalty to Loyalty"), all four band members wrote and arranged songs together, for "Mine Is Yours," Willett took over as primary songwriter.

With Gallucci joining Willett and the rhythm section of bassist Matt Maust and drummer Matt Aveiro, and then taking a central role as co-producer with Lars Stalfors on "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts," the creative dynamic evolved again.

"I think this record experience (for "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts") was a very, in some ways, for how different the whole surrounding environment was, I think it was a very natural writing evolution, where Dann, he really facilitated that process well, and that was so great for me," Willett said. "He also brought a lot of ideas and we collaborated a lot on the whole record."

Willett said Gallucci did a good job handling what was a delicate task -- becoming a songwriting collaborator while assuming the producer's role of critiquing songs and providing direction for the album.

"I felt very empowered by him," Willett said of Gallucci. "Even if he was telling me that maybe he didn't love a certain lyric, in all ways, the level of dialogue between looking at songs, whether chords or structures or melodies or lyrics. There was more dialogue that he and I had in the making of this record than I have ever had with any producer before."

Although the creative dynamic changed on "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts," the new album (which was released April 2) feels like a natural successor to "Mine Is Yours."

While still sounding like Cold War Kids, "Mine Is Yours" smoothed some of the jagged edges that were common in the rocking pop songs on the first two CDs. "Mine Is Yours" also put more emphasis on melody and saw the group leave more space in its arrangements. "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts" shares many of those characteristics, but it's a bit more focused.

Still, the band also ventured into new territory on "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts," with Willett pointing to two songs that put a new spin on the Cold War Kids sound.

"Lost That Easy" and "Loner Phase," I think, are the two songs, because they have some kind of more synthier or electro type elements to them, it will be interesting to see what people think about them," Willett said. "But really, for us, they were some of the most, kind of in some ways, uncomfortable and then also the most exciting, the most exciting things to hear on a record."

Cold War Kids is also evolving its live show as the band begins touring behind "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts," adding a keyboardist to the touring lineup.

"That's a really exciting thing," Willett said. "With all of the new songs and the old songs, we'll have an extra layer or certain things, percussion or keys (from) the records, that weren't there before (live). So the live show is definitely going to be, I really think, more interesting than it's ever been before."