For many modern rock bands, the goal is less achieving Led Zeppelin status than making a living. By that standard, Cold War Kids have lived the indie dream.

In 2006, Nathan Willett and his band released their debut album, Robbers & Cowards, while still working day jobs to pay their bills. Thanks to the hit “Hang Me Up to Dry,” they became full-time musicians, and they’re still going strong a decade later, with last year’s “First” reaching #1 on the alternative charts.

Committed to helping new groups flourish—the band is letting an up-and-comer open for them at the Live Wholly Festival on September 17th—Willett shared his thoughts with us on how to make it now. Believe it or not, you might actually need to physically leave your home to do it…

“Do everything that comes your way. Maybe you’re playing for five people. It takes a while.”

Build a Band to Last, Financially and Personally.
“We were very fortunate to be friends with each other, and to be at a place in life where we had all gone to college and were done and had started working jobs. We were able to juggle paying the rent with doing whatever it took to play shows and write songs and practice all the time.”

Find Your People.
“We had this big group of friends who figured the best thing they had to do on any given night was come see us play. We kind of had a built-in audience of 50 people everywhere we went. I hear about people who are recording and doing all the big stuff before they really know who their audience is. They’ve got a record label and money going into music videos and all this stuff, but don’t make that connection—which in many ways I think is the most scary and most vulnerable—to perform in front of people. You can have this enormous machine in effect and you don’t know who it’s for. You have to find the people who are your people.”

Seriously, Play.
“Sometimes a friend booked a show for you in a weird bar outside of Seattle. Sometimes you were going, ‘What is this for? What does this matter?’ People can make a record on their laptop and go, ‘I’m not going to go on tour if there’s nobody to play for.’ There’s an intelligent side to that, but you also have to go, ‘Just do it.’ Do everything that comes your way. Maybe you’re playing for five people. It takes a while.”

Then Play Some More.
“We were touring our first record for so, so long, but we went through this stretch when had just done a month in the U.S. and went to Europe for a month and then went to Australia and Japan. And we had all these friends texting us, ‘Do you realize your song [‘Hang Me Up to Dry’] is playing constantly here?’ And we went, ‘We haven’t even been home for a couple months.’”

As You Rise, Touring Will Remain Weird.
“We recently had this tour routing where we flew from L.A. to New York for a show, New York to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Pittsburgh [more than 8,000 miles], all in three or four days.”

On the Road, Roll with the Punches.
“Really, the thing about the job that separates people who can do it for a long time and well from those who might be very talented writers but just cannot seem to get comfortable from tour is… if you’re not a flexible person, you’ll never, ever survive. It can be hard because no two days are the same: you’ll get done playing a show at some random event at 2 a.m. and have a lobby call at 5 a.m.”

Really, Don’t Go Crazy.
“I just think whatever you can do to stay sane is what you do. I read, listen to music, maybe do a little journaling. Keep perspective on what’s happening: what’s going right, what could be better. Nuts and bolts things are key.”

Pack the Three Essentials.
“I’ve had tours where I’ve literally grabbed a bag minutes before I’ve left for the airport and whatever’s in there is in there. I have forgotten socks and underwear. At the end of the day, those are the essentials. Socks, underwear and a passport.”

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