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Alt-rockers still paddling despite "Nada Surf"

New York–based band was told their brand came with "a certain lack of success"

You Know Who You Are is Nada Surf’s eighth full-length offering and the first to feature a new full-time gunslinger, lead-guitarist Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices.
You Know Who You Are is Nada Surf’s eighth full-length offering and the first to feature a new full-time gunslinger, lead-guitarist Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices.

Nada Surf first gained national recognition in 1996 when the video for their song “Popular” went into heavy rotation on MTV. As a result, the group toured their debut album, High/Low, heavily, but when it came time to turn in a second album (a mere two years later) the folks at Elektra weren’t as enthusiastic. They didn’t hear a single, and as a result, refused to release the album in the US. The band left the imprint, and became one of the many alternative acts to get dumped by a major label in the late ’90s.

“We had a major-label manager when our second record was dropped,” says Nada Surf kingpin Matthew Caws. “We had a conversation on the phone that went something like, ‘So, what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I’m writing some more songs and we’re going to make another record.’ He said, ‘Well…with the same name?’ And I said, ‘Well, I know it’s not the greatest name, but it’s who we are at this point — so, yeah, with the same name. Why do you ask?’ And he said, ‘Well, there’s a certain lack of success associated with your name now, and maybe it would be good to change it.’ That was pretty shocking to me.”

In the end, Nada Surf not only kept their name, but kept releasing albums as well. You Know Who You Are is the band’s eighth full-length offering, and the first to feature a new full-time gunslinger, lead-guitarist Doug Gillard. Even though Caws didn’t know Gillard personally, he does claim that he was on his radar from, primarily, his work with Guided By Voices. The two met one night at a Bob Mould show, where Gillard told Caws that he would love to add some James Honeyman-Scott (founding Pretenders guitarist) licks to one of his songs.

One song turned into three songs on the bands 2010 covers album, If I Had a Hi-Fi. “It’s really like he became essential to the band in about 14 minutes or whatever the minute count of the three songs is,” Caws explained. Soon enough the band started touring with Gillard, and Caws quickly reached the conclusion that he “didn’t want to do this without him anymore, ever.”

One interesting San Diego factoid about Nada Surf is that Caws apparently lobbied his label, Barsuk, quite hard to sign locals Grand Ole Party back in the day. He explains it as being his “one A&R attempt.” He also reminisced about a past show at the House of Blues, when a “six-foot, eight-inch linebacker-type” hoisted him above his head and carried him around the stage while the band was playing “Blankest Year.”

“He picks me up and hauls me into the air, and I feel like I’ve just been picked-up by a tree,” says Caws. “I’m airborne, on top of a small building all of the sudden. Our guitar tech at the time, Jim, is yanking on this guy’s shirt to put me down. He eventually puts me down and my ribs hurt for like two weeks. I run into him outside and he’s like, ‘Dude, I love you! I wanna be your bodyguard! If you need a bodyguard, I’ll take a bullet for you!’ I was like, ‘If you want to protect me that’s very kind, but you can start by not almost breaking my ribs. That would be a nice start to our working relationship.’”

Nada Surf plays the Irenic on Sunday, May 22.

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You Know Who You Are is Nada Surf’s eighth full-length offering and the first to feature a new full-time gunslinger, lead-guitarist Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices.
You Know Who You Are is Nada Surf’s eighth full-length offering and the first to feature a new full-time gunslinger, lead-guitarist Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices.

Nada Surf first gained national recognition in 1996 when the video for their song “Popular” went into heavy rotation on MTV. As a result, the group toured their debut album, High/Low, heavily, but when it came time to turn in a second album (a mere two years later) the folks at Elektra weren’t as enthusiastic. They didn’t hear a single, and as a result, refused to release the album in the US. The band left the imprint, and became one of the many alternative acts to get dumped by a major label in the late ’90s.

“We had a major-label manager when our second record was dropped,” says Nada Surf kingpin Matthew Caws. “We had a conversation on the phone that went something like, ‘So, what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I’m writing some more songs and we’re going to make another record.’ He said, ‘Well…with the same name?’ And I said, ‘Well, I know it’s not the greatest name, but it’s who we are at this point — so, yeah, with the same name. Why do you ask?’ And he said, ‘Well, there’s a certain lack of success associated with your name now, and maybe it would be good to change it.’ That was pretty shocking to me.”

In the end, Nada Surf not only kept their name, but kept releasing albums as well. You Know Who You Are is the band’s eighth full-length offering, and the first to feature a new full-time gunslinger, lead-guitarist Doug Gillard. Even though Caws didn’t know Gillard personally, he does claim that he was on his radar from, primarily, his work with Guided By Voices. The two met one night at a Bob Mould show, where Gillard told Caws that he would love to add some James Honeyman-Scott (founding Pretenders guitarist) licks to one of his songs.

One song turned into three songs on the bands 2010 covers album, If I Had a Hi-Fi. “It’s really like he became essential to the band in about 14 minutes or whatever the minute count of the three songs is,” Caws explained. Soon enough the band started touring with Gillard, and Caws quickly reached the conclusion that he “didn’t want to do this without him anymore, ever.”

One interesting San Diego factoid about Nada Surf is that Caws apparently lobbied his label, Barsuk, quite hard to sign locals Grand Ole Party back in the day. He explains it as being his “one A&R attempt.” He also reminisced about a past show at the House of Blues, when a “six-foot, eight-inch linebacker-type” hoisted him above his head and carried him around the stage while the band was playing “Blankest Year.”

“He picks me up and hauls me into the air, and I feel like I’ve just been picked-up by a tree,” says Caws. “I’m airborne, on top of a small building all of the sudden. Our guitar tech at the time, Jim, is yanking on this guy’s shirt to put me down. He eventually puts me down and my ribs hurt for like two weeks. I run into him outside and he’s like, ‘Dude, I love you! I wanna be your bodyguard! If you need a bodyguard, I’ll take a bullet for you!’ I was like, ‘If you want to protect me that’s very kind, but you can start by not almost breaking my ribs. That would be a nice start to our working relationship.’”

Nada Surf plays the Irenic on Sunday, May 22.

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