Nada Surf drops its fifth album and some are already saying it’s the group’s best yet

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:: Nada Surf ::
:: Gothic Theatre :: April 1 ::

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By Chris Castaneda

“It’s weird how five albums sneak up on you,” said Matthew Caws, guitarist and lead singer of Nada Surf. The New York trio has just released its latest album, Lucky, and entered its 15th year together. For a band that was once relegated to ‘best-of’ alternative rock collections from the ’90s with the song “Popular,” Nada Surf has now built a career steeped in musical substance and character. 
The story of Nada Surf’s transformation from high school hopefuls to a critically acclaimed indie band has all the makings of a rock and roll fairytale. Once upon a time, 13-year-old Matthew Caws learned a guitar chord from his aunt and became fascinated with playing.

“I kind of felt like a bit of a loner. I wasn’t good at sports. [Music] was the only place I felt comfortable,” Caws told The Marquee in a recent interview. “I was really happy just listening to records.” Then, in tenth grade, Caws was invited to audition for a band. “I actually failed my first audition,” he confessed. “I couldn’t learn songs fast enough.” Caws made the band on his second try and Daniel Lorca, Nada Surf’s bassist, joined as well.

Caws and Lorca continued to play together and soon formed Nada Surf. They were joined by drummer Ira Elliot after dancing onstage at a show featuring Elliot’s band, The Fuzztones. Things really took off when the boys spotted Ric Ocasek in a bar and handed him a demo tape. The band signed with Elektra Records and their single, “Popular,” became an instant hit. Unfortunately, Nada Surf and Elektra did not live happily ever after. While recording The Proximity Effect, the label, not hearing a radio-friendly hit, told the band to go back into the studio to “hunt” for a single. Nada Surf refused and Elektra promptly dropped them.

“We were sort of in denial. Actually, I was upset,” Caws said. “But in the long run it’s sort of a good thing. We got to go home and live really normal lives.” Nada Surf released The Proximity Effect in Europe on their own Mar Dev Records and continued to play.

Without pressure to write a certain type of song, Nada Surf began to experiment with new material. “What we went through sent us back to the first album,” Caws said. “You’re making it for yourself again. I don’t want to say we goof off, but you can kind of fool around.” Soon, everything was coming together. The band released Let Go in 2003 on Barsuk Records and followed with The Gift in 2005, both of which were strong albums. But the latest release, Lucky (also on Barsuk) is drawing critical acclaim far and wide. The Austin Chronicle just reported that the album shows the band is “growing up.” The Chronicle went on to report that Lucky is “more than just another indie-pop album” and that it “might be Nada Surf’s best work yet.”

Caws said that going into the writing and recording of Lucky felt like “somewhere between excitement and blind panic. As I get older, I’m getting pickier and pickier; it’s harder for me to finish songs. I still am in touch with the very same excitement that I had when I was a kid. It’s a scary thing to come up with 40 minutes of internal songs that you don’t mind making external to a lot of people for a few years and then sing every night.”

Highly optimistic in its approach, Lucky is like a great cheerleader adding a lighthearted view of some of life’s struggles, and it’s something that Caws admitted is sort of intentional. “I can’t believe I do something as weird as sharing my feelings, because there’s so much anxiety and worry and insecurity and pessimism and skepticism. But I always want to be positive and be in a better mood. So, I do feel there’s a common vector in most of our songs where it starts out a little bleak. By the end, things are noticeably better,” he said. The album is also brimming with supporting players like Ben Gibbard, John Roderick, Sean Nelson, and Juliana Hatfield, who help to make the three-piece deeper and richer than ever before.

Caws also said that Lucky is a departure for the band in that there was only one person in control of the final sound of the album, producer John Goodmanson. “On the first album, we had the same engineer recording and mixing and a separate producer. Our second, third and fourth records were worked on by more and more people. I was always involved with the sound. At least one cook had to be in the kitchen every time,” he said. “But I trusted John’s (Goodmanson) ears so much that I totally let go of anything having to do with sound. When he did the mixes I was shocked by how great they sounded because he sort of knew all along where he was going with it and it would all come together in the end. And it really did.”

:: Nada Surf ::
:: Gothic Theatre :: April 1 ::

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