To celebrate our return to publishing the print version of MAGNET three years ago, we will be posting classic cover stories from that time all week. Enjoy. And order a copy of the issue here.
Still thriving in their mid-40s, the members of Nada Surf are that much closer to unlocking heaven’s gate. By Hobart Rowland
Apparently, the rumors are true: Matthew Caws is never more than an offhand comment away from an impromptu live performance. Right now, he’s launching into a punchy acoustic rendition of Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Do It Clean” as his Nada Surf bandmate, Daniel Lorca, follows along on acoustic bass. The smoke from a pair of cigarettes forms a twisty plume above two bobbing heads as it drifts to the vaulted ceiling of the Sitcom—the band’s loft-style rehearsal space, makeshift studio and, if need be, place for expat friends to crash—situated in the once-bleak, now-hyper-hip Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
The song punctuates Caws’ giddy reaction to the suggestion that New York artist Graham Parks’ overexposed, mustard-yellow cover art for Nada Surf’s new album, The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy (Barsuk) bears a passing resemblance to that of the Bunnymen’s 1980 debut, Crocodiles. “Beautiful,” he gushes. “I’m an Echo & The Bunnymen freak.”
At 44, Caws is still as aw-shucks smitten with music as he was in his teens, whether it’s the classic rock and punk he grew up on, or his more recent infatuation with influential folk guitarists Elizabeth Cotten and Bert Jansch, who actually inspired some of the picking on Nada Surf’s latest batch of music. And even with plenty of other things vying for his attention these days—including a seven-year-old son living in Cambridge, England, Caws’ new home—he still embraces the clichéd notion that music is the ultimate remedy for pretty much whatever ails him.
“I’ve tried to meditate, because I know it’s supposed to be really good for you,” says Caws, between sips from a can of PBR. “I’ve tried to sit there in the morning for 10 minutes and think about nothing—and it’s very fuckin’ difficult.”
After a brief jaunt in Spain to film a video for Astronomy track “Waiting For Something,” Nada Surf has assembled at the Sitcom on a chilly December afternoon to discuss the new album and other recent developments, including an extensive international tour that’s a little more than a month away. Conversation begins in the kitchen area, but with a PBR 12-pack within easy reach, digressions are plentiful. Talk turns to the time Lorca was free-diving in Mexico and found a scorpion in his wetsuit, then onto the rhythmic merits of Neil Peart vs. Charlie Watts, the time Joey Ramone sang with Nada Surf at Coney Island High shortly before his death and the rigors of deciphering the Teutonic tongue. “I did at least four years of German,” says Lorca, who’s fluent in English, Spanish and French. “My girlfriend’s Austrian; I have an apartment in Vienna. I can order a beer and buy a pack of cigarettes, and that’s about all. It’s impossible.”
Things eventually shift to the lounge area, with its modest smattering of recording equipment, after Caws suggests an “Astronomy unplugged” preview of the new music. Caws takes a seat on the couch with Nada Surf’s Queens-bred drummer, Ira Elliot, who, without his set, briefly resorts to tapping away on an iPhone drum app. At 48, Elliot is the band’s most seasoned musician. “I played in reggae bands, goth bands, heavy-metal bands—all sorts of crazy-ass things,” says Elliot of his pre-Nada Surf work, which included an ‘80s stint with garage-rock purists the Fuzztones. “As a drummer, if you do your job properly, everyone will ask you to play. I said yes to everyone.”
The dreadlocked son of a retired Spanish diplomat, the 44-year-old Lorca is gregarious and free-spirited where Caws is more measured, meticulous and thoughtful. Both are exceedingly gracious and forthcoming, and it’s easy to see why the two have been so close since first meeting up as grade-school students at the exclusive Lycée Français de New York, a French-focused private institution on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The very definition of a healthy coupling, the two couldn’t be more different, yet they complement one another perfectly.
Lorca has a passion for soccer—something Caws couldn’t care less about. It explains Lorca’s brief disappearances throughout the afternoon, as he heads to a nearby bar across the street to catch portions of a Spanish league match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. After one such trip, he arrives just in time to grab his Guild B-30—a purchase inspired by a Violent Femmes show and paid for with a tiny inheritance he received from his grandmother—and join in on Astronomy’s lead track, “Clear Eye, Clouded Mind.” It’s a bracing start to an album of deceptively complex power pop produced by Chris Shaw (Super Furry Animals, Ted Leo + The Pharmacists).
“This is our Rocket To Russia,” Elliot quips, referencing Astronomy’s breathlessly efficient 38 minutes.