Cold Beat discuss the inspirations behind their new album ‘War Garden’ (stream it)

San Francisco's Cold Beat just released their fifth album, War Garden, which puts a wonderfully warm spin on darkwave postpunk, with great songs and great production. You can listen to the whole album below.

The album's title comes from the "victory gardens" of WWII, where people were encouraged to grow their own food as supplies were shipped to troops overseas, which Cold Beat then used as a metaphor for hope and our sense of self-sufficiency during times of strife. We asked the band to tell us more about the inspirations behind the album, and singer/bassist Hannah Lew, guitarist Sean Monaghan, and guitarist/keyboardist Kyle King obliged with a list of 10 things, ranging from gardening to Yellow Magic Orchestra, French band Air, A.C. Marias, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and more. Check that out, complete with commentary from Hannah and Sean, below.

1) Gardening
At one point in 2020 I remember sowing seeds while wearing an N95 mask against the backdrop of a reddish brown sky during the worst wildfire smoke I've ever seen/felt. I just remember thinking how distopian and horrible everything felt, but that maybe by the time the seeds came to fruition — maybe we'd be in a more verdant, less tumultuous place? Either way — I had seed packets in my pockets for much of the year while working on the record. Gardening in isolation tuned me into a slower pace not my own, made me reckon with myself and nature many times. I knew about the historically coined Victory Gardens, but thinking about that moment where victory hasn't arrived yet, but you're planting seeds anyways and toiling in uncertainty became a metaphor of hope that just kept unfolding and blooming. -Hannah

2) A.C. Marias
Though I have recorded all my vocals myself, alone for the past few records we’ve put out, for some reason this record felt different. I did my end of the recording for War Garden in my concrete walled basement studio. It felt much like I was in a bunker. We were sending tracks back and forth a lot, so people were hearing what I was doing, but it still felt very solitary, more than usual. In a year I found myself struggling for a narrative that could stick, my own phrasing and delivery felt extra important somehow. I think there’s often this obsession with perfection when trying to track vocals that I think about a lot. I do try to hit accurate notes but sometimes it’s the slight faltering or space between “correct” notes that delivers the truth, humanity. I’ve always loved A.C. Marias but for some reason vocalists like Angela Conways' really resonated with me extra during Covid. There’s so much augmented reality that we interact with every day on social media with all the filtered images and mediated coverage that hearing something just purely unadulterated and personal can be really comforting and relatable. What you’re actually hearing is the acoustics of a human body. It reminds you of your own body existing and it reminds you that other people are out there. -Hannah

3) The Fall of The Berlin Wall
The obsession with the Southern Border wall and all the surrounding industry makes me sick. Of course, anyone can find a way to cross the actual wall, but it's the ideas the wall holds that really need to be torn down. There was something cathartic about looking at images of the destruction of the Berlin Wall, especially the pictures where there's just a person with a tiny chisel making their own little dent in a giant cement wall. Just a kid with some kind of blunt object hitting that stupid thing as hard as they can. I think it's knowing that you can't solely take the wall down on your own, but giving it everything nevertheless. Knowing that change may not happen overnight, but you'll still fight and make your dent. Even if your part is purely synecdochical, it matters. -Hannah

4) Lower Grand Radio
In a period where people have been living in so much isolation and struggling to connect, I am grateful for Alex Shen and everything he does with Lower Grand Radio. He has managed to create something completely participatory and joyful that anyone can engage with. Just before Covid hit, he got his studio up and running, as if he was building an ark just in time. Lower Grand Radio has provided a space for so many to connect through music. Oakland is super lucky to have him here, carrying out so many awesome things with real vision, talent and love. -Hannah

5) Yellow Magic Orchestra's BGM
As the threat of lockdowns became a reality in March '20, we quickly evacuated crucial gear from our rehearsal studio. With a stack of hardware in my living room, I set about sequencing it all together. Tightly-wound from being stuck inside my home, I desperately craved expansiveness. Listening to BGM taught me that it's possible to conjure both feelings in a work of art. BGM was a remarkable fusion of opposites: it's the first record to use a Roland TR-808 drum machine, nervous beats skittering across the sonic spectrum, and then the album ends with a Shepard tone and a five-minute ambient comedown. Danceable and discordant, commercial and confounding – BGM is background music for a new world. -Kyle

6) The art of Mike Stoltz
Mike Stoltz is a dear old friend of mine and someone whose art has always inspired me very much. Though he mostly creates film work, he made a zine of film stills during the time the record was being created. I had always hoped he would make still images of his work, since I enjoy his film work so much and seeing it as a still is so cool because you really get a chance to freeze a moment and analyze it. The body of work he made that we actually had the privilege of using for our album art, was a series of grids made up of heavily affected film stills. To be honest his process is a little over my head, but he uses analog techniques to synthesize video in a way that is very pleasing.The grid series really resonated with us during a year we spent so much time on zoom looking at a grid of faces, and on our phones looking at heavily filtered squares. We were lucky enough to have Mike synthesize some video for our "Mandelbrot Fall" music video. It was a great experience to put our footage through several layers of generation loss and collaborate in that way. Felt like a meaningful mode of connection during an isolating time. -Hannah

7) Oppenheimer Analysis
Somehow the dystopian, medical futurism of this band really resonated with us while writing War Garden. The mix of synthesizers and guitars, the universe building. Sean had written the instrumentation for "Weeds" with Oppenheimer Analysis in mind. When he sent me the demo I wrote the vocals pretty much instantly. The song was almost completely done in 45 minutes. Some songs are just like that, they just slip out, while others are labored over for months. I think every song just has a different creation life span. Either way — "Weeds" came to be with a lot of ease, with a direct tap into the emotional pipes. It was almost more like it was revealing itself than being invented out of nothing. I think songwriting can be like that sometimes- just making yourself available as a channel for music. – Hannah

A few songs I started that never made it to the album were inspired by the world that Oppenheimer Analysis occupies, but "Weeds" is one particular one that stuck. The bright indie guitars mixed with the dark wave synths, and the drum loops that seem to fall in and out of sync with the other melodic elements in the music. The static drum loop is a fun limitation that I particularly like how it shakes out during "Weeds." – Sean

8) Immediatism Essays by Hakim Bey
The idealism of this book came to mind while working on the record. The rejection of media that is reproduced and curated for your consumption. The radical act of being in the immediate moment and participating in your reality. Contributing to the quilt and making that weekly practice a ritual. Or at least that's what I remember from when I read this book in the '90s. It made such an impression on me and I still think about it in regards to social media and how it is so the opposite of any of this ideology, sort of holds you in a moment you don’t ever feel part of. I felt compelled to send a copy to Sean while we were working on songs. -Hannah

Hannah and I had been talking about how fucked up the world was, and were imagining other ways and other worlds to exist in. She sent me this Hakim Bey book 'Immediatism' as part of a birthday package pretty early on during lockdown. He describes how the simple act of affinity groups meeting once a week to build a quilt is an act of resistance against the capitalist death machine. Looking back this was a fitting metaphor for the dedicated weekly meetings the band had while we stitched together this collection of songs. – Sean

9) Windy Chien
I think optimism is often thought of as something that is born out of naïveté but I would argue that optimism in its true form is something cultivated and practiced. It’s often easier for me to slip Into darkness, but creating positive habits and new positive neural pathways really takes work and practice. My friend Windy Chien who is not only an amazing artist but also an amazing person has been an inspiration during the pandemic and always. She has had her sparkly tinsel Christmas tree up all year. To me the Christmas tree alone seems like a gesture towards creating light in the midst of darkness. I didn’t grow up with a Christmas tree but have had one for the past five years or so and it brings so much joy in the dead of winter. I get it! Windy also turned me onto this app called Supernatural within the oculus headset and I’m totally hooked. I never took myself for a VR person but even on a bad air quality day I can do a workout on Mars or in a lush field somewhere. I guess with so much of our experience being a simulation in the matrix of media we take in all day long, using the VR headset isn’t terribly different. If anything it comes by it’s schism with reality honestly. Also there is good music on there too. I was just smashing balls on the moon to Depeche Mode and it was really fun 🙂 Thanks Windy! -Hannah

Circuit Board, 2019 Windy Chien

10) Air – Moon Safari
We as a band all love Air. We always listen to them on the road and have referenced sonic moments throughout our songwriting practice. We actually used a Roland DC- 30 module on the recordings for "See You Again," "Weeds" and "New World" because we had heard that Air used one on their recordings. We were particularly thinking of the song “La Femme D’Argent.” There are also moments on See You Again where Sean played some very Air-esque parts. The way they are willing to blend acoustic and synthetic instruments in a natural way has always been a point of inspiration for us. -Hannah

Early on, "See You Again" seemed to jump between the sounds of disparate influences, but Air was the glue that ended up bringing it all together. The acoustic guitar on the second verse inspired by Air and Kyle's SH-101 bass throughout helped the song sit in a single place. We pushed it farther by drenching parts through DC-30 delay/reverb, which Air has used live and on a lot of their records. In the end, we reached for it and didn't quite get there, and ended up somewhere else our own. – Sean