Cracking the Code | Nada Surf

But the real truth is we have no idea what we’re doing; there’s never a plan. We’re absolutely not reinventing the wheel, but we always approach a song like it’s something mysterious, and we have to crack the code. We wanted to make music that was exciting to us.



Right now, it’s good to be Nada Surf. After 10 years as a band, they’ve found equal parts critical and public appreciation. Nearly three years after the band’s superb third album Let Go effectively put them back on the musical map, Nada Surf has released the melodic follow-up, The Weight Is a Gift (Barsuk). It’s an impressive feat for a band once labeled a one-hit wonder.

In 1995, the NYC-based trio—singer/guitarist Matthew Caws, bassist Daniel Lorca, and drummer Ira Elliot—teamed with Elektra to release its debut album High/Low. The album did well, spawning the single “Popular,” which became an MTV favorite. By 1998, Nada Surf recorded The Proximity Effect, but the release was delayed in a protracted rights battle when Elektra didn’t hear another hit single. Long story short, Nada Surf waited nearly two years for Elektra to relinquish the rights to their music, subsequently releasing the disc themselves in 2000.

All of this made the acclaim of 2003’s Let Go downright astounding. However, in making The Weight Is a Gift, released late last year, Caws wasn’t interested in a sequel. “We weren’t looking to repeat Let Go,” said Caws, currently on tour for Weight. “But the real truth is we have no idea what we’re doing; there’s never a plan. We’re absolutely not reinventing the wheel, but we always approach a song like it’s something mysterious, and we have to crack the code. We wanted to make music that was exciting to us.

“Once we finished, we thought the album hit a little bit harder sonically, yet in the end it seems like it’s been received as a mellower record. But actually that felt great, it’s so nice that we can hear something one way, but everyone else hears it another way. I guess we’re all kind of nutty in our music tastes, and that’s good.”

With some dark, poignant lyrics laid over tight melodies, The Weight Is a Gift combines the introspective nature and pop sensibility for which the band has become known. Produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla, the album is at once familiar but with freshness from track to track.

“We got together for about four weeks and just played all day, everyday. So what would have taken us seven months before to get to took a much shorter amount of time,” said Caws. “But the record was mixed by a lot of different people, which gives each track a different feel, and I hope it holds together.

“Chris [Walla] really brought a consistency to the process, which is what I always thought about all the Death Cab for Cutie stuff. Their records are very consistent, kind of elegant, and always very carefully crafted. But he’s also a bit of a mad scientist that likes to add parts that just add texture to the songs.”

Caws is pleased with the response from both critics and fans concerning the new album, even if those same people have their caveats. “There have been a lot of good reviews. But so many of the reviews are, ‘This is really good, but not as good as blah blah blah,’” he said. “That’s fine. If they’re saying really nice things about our previous albums, in the long term it’s all great.”

Everything has come full circle for Nada Surf. But despite the success of their recent albums, Caws doesn’t see Nada Surf following the path of former label mates Death Cab for Cutie, who just released their major-label debut late last year. “It’s fantastic where we are now, and we would have no reason to jump to another to a bigger label. I feel like we’re at the end of this needless journey, but in another way it was good because we learned to do a lot of things ourselves,” said Caws. “It was certainly right for them, but it would take a lot of convincing to make us think it’s a good idea. I like independent everything.”

The band certainly doesn’t mind the title—as one magazine put it—of “former one-hit-wonders.” Caws can only appreciate what that one hit did for the band, and look ahead to the future. “There was time that ‘Popular’ felt like an albatross, because it had raised expectations to a certain point, and we were on a label we didn’t belong on. But so many people know us because of that song, where they wouldn’t have otherwise, which is great.

“But everything seems to be a little easier these days. We’re basically happy, so all that’s left is life and rock. We’re just going to keep making good songs together.”

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