His band having been together for twenty years now, Matthew Caws has heard it all. The guitarist and vocalist for New York trio Nada Surf fully understands the cyclical nature of the music industry, and can find the humour in the way the general public reacted when Nada Surf released their seventh full length, The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy.
“I saw something funny on Twitter the other day; someone said, ‘Oh, I can’t believe Nada Surf got back together,’ which is just hilarious,” he says, laughing heartedly. “I think if you’ve been around as long as we have, people run out of things to say. They can only think of your band in career terms,” continues the 45 year-old, reached on the phone from his New York home after returning from a nine-day road trip along the East Coast of America with his son.
If one were to frame Nada Surf simply in terms of their career, it’d be tough to argue with their list of accomplishments. After recovering from having the dreaded ‘one hit wonder’ with their 1996 summer classic Popular, Caws and co. battled restrictions from record labels and a shifting industry before finally emerging with the energetic The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy. The palpable energy on the record is not one that came easily, according to Caws. “For no reason that I can pinpoint, we’ve been playing slower in the studio. But when we play live, we’re still the same band. When it comes to playing the guitar, I always end up coming back to how I felt when I wrote the song, or how I played it in the practice space.
“We wanted to preserve that feeling,” he continues. “I’m always surprised when I listen to our past records by how tame they sound. They’re tamer than how I actually felt at the time. We just thought, ‘Let’s make an album that sounds like us.’ And it worked! I feel more at home listening to our records now, especially the last one.”
Having eclipsed the hurdles they faced in the past, the band are now able to write music with a freedom few of their peers can attain. The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy contains an urgency that underlines the influence the band has indeed had on their peers.
Beyond Popular, the band’s legacy rests in that influence. Their infectious and unadulterated brand of melodic punk maintains a groove that can be heard in a wave of acts, from Okkervil River to Jesse Landen and Adam Kesek. And while many musicians in their mid-40s would be content to rest on their laurels, there’s an enthusiasm and drive within The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy that speaks to their continued effort. For Caws, it was all about capturing an energy. “With this record, we’d finished demoing the songs on a Sunday afternoon. On Monday morning we were rolling our amps three blocks down the street and by noon, we were tracking. We were just so in it, and that helped. We got some tracks down in five days, which for us was ridiculously quick.”
The band’s efforts to capture their energy and determination manifests itself in some of the more lighthearted material, sonically speaking, the band has released in years.
Caws insists however that The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy is not the result of a carefree state of mind. “We got heavy in different ways. In rehearsing all [Nada Surf’s past records for upcoming tours] I discovered how much self-analysis there was on those records. I don’t want to turn 80 and look at those records only to realise all I sung about was personal problems. I had to write about the outside world, what other people were doing.
“No Snow on the Mountain is about ice caps melting and the fact that there won’t be a regular water supply around the world,” he says. “A lot of the record, without spelling it out, is about climate change. Aside from anything in my personal life, that’s what I’m most worried about.” It’s a valid worry, but for the time being, Caws and Nada Surf are excited about the prospects of an upcoming tour.
And as the band hits the road yet again, Caws can’t help but reflect on what he once imagined for the band, and what Nada Surf has become. “My original dream was just to play in the clubs I went to see bands in. It’s great to see us come this far. We had a little struggle with record companies in the beginning, but that’s been written about for two or three albums now,” he admits with a sense of poise and clarity.
“But the sound of this record reminds me of our first few records, and I like that. It’s nice to feel like we’ve come full circle. Those first few, there was a lot to prove. We were thrilled, but also terrified on a certain level. We really wondered if we belonged. And now I just feel very at home in the studio and onstage. It’s nice place to arrive at.”
BY JOSHUA KLOKE
Check out NADA SURF at the Corner Hotel on Friday, September 21.