Still “Popular”: An Interview with Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws
Indie pop darlings Nada Surf, like many others, came to prominence in the mid 90s when their debut single “Popular” received heavy radio airplay as well as a coveted spot in the MTV Buzz Bin. Since then, the band has continued to release music and tour, their most recent album being 2012′s The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy. Singer and guitarist Matthew Caws chatted with TCD’s Sahan Jayasuriya where they discussed the last 15 years, Caws’ favorite albums of 2012, IfIHadaHifi, If I Had a Hi-Fi and more.
Sahan Jayasuriya: I, like a lot of people became familiar with Nada Surf in 1996 with “Popular.” Did you ever think that 16 years later that you would still be touring and putting out records?
Matthew Caws: My automatic answer would be no way, we didn’t dare to think past the next couple of years! But deep down, I may have already believed that I would be doing this for a very long time. I couldn’t predict at what level and with what kind of success or frequency. I still can’t, but I still feel that way about the future.
MC: We nearly named Lucky that, but then we found out about the band. When it was time to name the covers album, the title was just too perfect to resist. We hoped they could share and they did, in the perfect way. It’s very funny that they did that, like Negativland and U2.
SJ: After the release of The Proximity Effect in 2000, there was a gap between albums until Let Go. Being that you guys were free agents and no longer contractually obligated to Elektra Records, what did you guys do during that interval, both professionally and musically?
MC: Let Go was released in the states in 2002, so that’s only two years, which is slow, but not super-duper-slow, even by current standards. To be fair, though, The Proximity Effect was released in Europe in 1998, so there was a big gap over there. We figured out how to get it out in the states and then toured for it. Meanwhile, we went to the practice space a few times a week. Professionally, I was working at Earwax, a record store in Brooklyn, and doing some personal assisting to a photographer.
SJ: What has made it possible for you to keep writing and performing for the last two decades? Is there a band or record that you use as your high water mark that you just sort of think, “well, if we can make a record like this, then we’re doing our job”?
MC: It’s a compulsion. I’m not wildly productive, but on the other hand, I never really stop. There are scads of albums which are high water marks for me, marks we’ll never reach, but that assessment doesn’t matter. I don’t think about it in relation to what we do, as in “you have to be this tall to get on this ride.” I’m humble, but not that humble, there’s a lot of wall under those high water marks. I think our records are definitely good enough to justify their existence, after that all I care about is trying to do good work. Even though in real-life I’ve yet to run more than five or six miles, in music I’m more of a non-competitive marathoner than a sprinter: really into it, but not checking a stopwatch.
SJ: With it being towards the end of the year, what are some records that have come out this year that you’ve particularly enjoyed?
MC: Bob Dylan – Tempest; Japandroids – Celebration Rock; Father John Misty – Fear Fun; Sharon Van Etten – Tramp; Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music; Ezra Furman – The Year of No Returning.
Caws and the rest of Nada Surf will be appearing at Turner Hall Ballroom this Friday, Dec. 7. With the band having no immediate plans for 2013, this may be their last Milwaukee appearance for a little while. Tickets are still available and can be purchased here. Follow Sahan on Twitter and Instagram @sahanicyouth.