Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nada Surf

Sound Familiar?

Who Are They?

One of many one-hit-wonder bands of the late ‘90s, yet one of the few one-timers to stick with making music.

The year was 1992: a time when grunge is at the top of its game and Sir Mix-A-Lot graced the airwaves with his ode to the booty. Nada Surf was just a garage-rock dream shared by guitarist/vocalist Matthew Caws and bassist Daniel Lorca at that point. It wasn’t a serious venture for either of them until Ira Elliot (formerly of the Fuzztones) joined the party.

Upon becoming a trio, the boys scored a gig at the Knitting Factory and just happened to run into former Cars frontman (and Weezer producer) Ric Ocasek. They gave him their demo tape, thought they didn’t expect much more than a smile and an empty promise of, “Yeah, I’ll give it a listen.”

Three weeks later, Ric called and offered to produce the band’s first album. Believe it or not, that was bad timing for our heroes. Nada Surf had been finalizing a contract with Elektra Records at the time. Ultimately, negotiations with the record company didn’t pan out (probably due to some Ocasek witchcraft), so Ric connected the band with Maverick Records. The result was 1996’s High/Low, which yielded the first and most successful single “Popular.”

During the summer of 1996, Nada Surf toured the US with fellow one-hit-wonders Superdrag. Meanwhile, “Popular” was gaining momentum and ended up becoming a summer anthem. The band toured overseas and released a follow-up (The Proximity Effect) in Europe in 1998. When record execs couldn’t find a radio-friendly single on the album (and Nada Surf refused to write another “Popular”), the band got the boot.

Nada Surf spent the remainder of the decade struggling to get the rights over The Proximity Effect, which they finally won in 2000.

Where Are They Now?

Newly independent and jonesing for a comeback.

After being booted from their record label, Nada Surf took three-year break from music. Matthew, Daniel, and Ira took regular day jobs to pay the bills. In 2001, they got back together to record Let Go, produced by a couple close friends of the band and paid for in $1 and $5 bills. The single “Inside of Love” received decent airplay, but was nowhere near as successful as “Popular.”

Two studio albums later, Nada Surf seemed to all but disappear from the face of the earth. Until now.

But Why Nada Surf?

The ‘90s alterna-kids are releasing their seventh studio album, The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy, on Jan. 24. Check out the first single!

What Does Sam Think?

The ‘90s were riddled with one-hit-wonders like Nada Surf, especially in the latter half of the decade. Oddly enough, those random songs by artists you can never quite remember the names of are the ones that stick with you. Face it, people get way more nostalgic over “Baby Got Back” than any Radiohead tune.

Considering the importance of these songs, let’s dissect “Popular,” shall we?

The song begins with a group of girls gossiping about another girl “going steady” with some football player named Johnny. Through spoken-word verses, Matthew Caws gives us the lowdown on how to break up with someone in the most “high school” sense of the phrase.

There’s part 1 of the appeal. This is a song about high school relationships (with emphasis on cliques and popularity, hence the title). But it doesn’t glorify high school in any sense. It’s bitterly sarcastic. Just look at the these lines from the last verse:

I think if you’re ready to go out with Johnny
Now’s the time to tell him about your one month limit
He won’t mind, he’ll appreciate your fresh look on dating
And once you’ve dated someone else, you can date him again
I’m sure he’ll like it
Everyone will appreciate it
You’re so novel, what a good idea

This, my friends, is exactly what every ‘90s high school outcast was thinking. And it’s probably still relevant.

Part 2 of the appeal is the chorus. We go from spoken-word sarcasm to a catchy, Weezer-esque melody. This is just proof that not every one-hit-wonder has to be about a girl’s ass (though it does help).

Now about Nada Surf as a band. I applaud them for standing up against the big bad record company when they were being bullied into making another hit (You go, Nada Surf!). But now they just kind of fade into that generic alternative band category. They’re not bad, but they’re not spectacular. As silly as it seems, they’re missing that ‘90s angst, as evidenced in “Popular.”

I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of Nada Surf, but it’s great to see a band continuing on in the music business, even without finding much mainstream success.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the '90s.

No comments:

Post a Comment