How Nada Surf Got 'Scientific' for 'Epic' New LP
Photo by Peter Ellenby
Nada Surf just "crossed the finish line" of their seventh LP, completing a fragmented creative process that presented the veteran alt-rockers with numerous logistical challenges. The band was split across the globe — frontman Matthew Caws in England, bassist Daniel Lorca in Spain, drummer Ira Elliot mostly in New York — forcing the members to swap demos and hash out arrangements through email, rarely writing or rehearsing face to face.
"It's not as fun, and it sacrifices a potential spontaneity that you get when you're standing in the room with each other," says Elliot. "There's definitely no beating that. But we've also learned over the years that there's more than one way to get a song right on record. One way is to face each other and play it, but another way — especially when the songs are new and you don't have time to really cook it up — is to be more scientific. Put a click track down and play everything, try to get a good feeling. It's a little more exacting. I don't know, maybe you lose something doing that, but that's how everything unfurled this time."
As usual, the process began in Caws's apartment, where he'd hammer out demos with a guitar and metronome. From there, the schedule came together piecemeal: Elliot, Caws, and guitarist Doug Gillard (now a permanent member, following his guest sessions for 2012's The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy) sneaked in a few arrangement sessions with acoustic guitars, sending files to Lorca for his commentary. Then the quartet relocated to gearhead paradise the Nut House recording studio in Hoboken, New Jersey, knocking out the tracks in sessions totaling no more than two weeks.
Elliot is still digesting the album — which was mastered last month — but he admits that, with Caws's melancholy power-pop hooks, they're "always playing within a certain sonic ballpark." The biggest shift has been incorporating Gillard as a full-fledged contributor as opposed to a guest player. "He can add this new rhythmic and sonic color," Elliot says. "Matthew will start a song with a particular gallop because that's the way he plays, and then you add Doug to it, so there's a new [element]. It's the same band, but it's slightly different. I keep referring to him as James Honeyman-Scott from the Pretenders — a great color commentator. He's like a gift from the rock gods, I swear to fucking god."
Elliot says that having Gillard, a "dedicated soloist," offers some unexpected quirks on the LP: "a little oddball Stones-y-ness — something you probably wouldn't expect we could pull off." He also teases the album's "epic" arrangements, with lyrics that are "hopeful with a sadness shot through them."
Caws performed some of the new tracks earlier this year during a run of solo acoustic shows. Now the band's debating the pros and cons of debuting more on its upcoming East Coast run. "We've been sort of arguing," Elliot says. "We'd like to play new songs. Matthew's been playing new material and getting a response, so we've all been itching to play them. But the issue is that the record doesn't happen for a while, so there's a vague concern about, 'If we play it, what's gonna happen? Is there gonna be some negative result because someone's gonna record it and put it on the fuckin' YouTubes?' It'll be fun to play them, but will we lose on the back end?"
The LP isn't expected to arrive until March, but Nada Surf are planning a "major roll-out, the kind of which we haven't seen in ten years," including extensive promotion and (hopefully) international touring. But the band's ultimate goal is simple: "With every Nada Surf record, we just want you to keep coming back to it," Elliot says. "And sing with it in the shower forever and ever."
Nada Surf play Webster Hall on November 14. For ticket information, click here.
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