Music trends come in waves. Nada Surf caught a ride to recognition as fuzz-clad production became a signature trait of most 90s alternative rock. They emerged at its peak in ‘96 with the angst-driven debut, High/Low. Nearly twenty years later, “Popular” is still the most notable single of their career.
Nada Surf will coast through Louisville this Sunday in light of their seventh studio album, The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy. Skimming over flashy studio manipulation, the band updates and revives the conventional quality of their debut with rich, melodic textures.
Louisville.com caught up with drummer Ira Elliot for an email interview to discuss their post-nineties life.
Has your range in touring locations expanded since your last album campaign (2008's Lucky)?
Yes I believe it has, actually. We've found ourselves in Japan a couple of times in the past three years, which is quite an adventure I must say. We were invited by Asian Kung Fu Generation, a successful Japanese guitar pop band, to play with them on a few occasions and I hope we can go back and headline some of our own shows there next time. Maybe in the fall. We're definitely heading back to Australia in the fall; we went once many years ago and we're going back this September. Exciting. Maybe we can tag Japan on the end there.
As a band of around 20 years of age, is there a conscious effort of reinvention to appease your ambition in music and performance, or is each album simply a portrait of your current surroundings? Where does The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy stand?
I would lean toward that second description. We're generally pretty bad at sticking to plans and we certainly don't waste our time trying to reinvent ourselves as such. We just try to stay in the moment and however it comes out is how it comes out. Stars is generally perceived to be a return to, if not an earlier style, an earlier energy. We didn't wanna futz around too much in the studio so we kinds battened down the hatches, musically speaking, and went in and knocked it out—the way we did our first album in 1996. Kinda. And yes, like previous albums it references things that we've gone through recently.
What kind of experiments do your songwriting sessions entail?
We just experiment with structure mostly. It's kinda like problem solving—trying to form something that bears repeated listening and is fun to play. If anything or anyone gets too tricky it usually doesn't fly. We spend a lot of time trying to find comfortable tempos and keys, especially. Super important. We'll try things in three, four, five different keys, which is not a big problem for a drummer, luckily.
How did you determine the cover songs on If I Had a Hi-Fi? Is there one you particularly enjoyed?
No actually that idea came up very early on and we quickly realized that would have been a dead-end street. Trying to replicate Clash songs and Pixies songs is usually a losing proposition. It's very difficult to improve on those songs. Who songs. Big Star. So many things that were direct influences, but in the end we decided to simply find songs that we thought would be fun for us to play and kind of make our own. Again, if something got too fussy or oddball it would just die, but mostly we tried to pretend that they were things that we had written and we were just finalizing the arrangements—like the originals were demos. I was really glad to cover that Bill Fox song "Electrocution.” It's just an absolute hidden gem of a song. I was obsessed with it for weeks at one point and I think it got into Daniel and Matthew's heads as well.
Nada has switched between labels through the years including your own, MarDev. With The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy, you're back on Barsuk--what inclined the involvement in several labels?
We started Mardev solely in order to release our second album after leaving Elektra in '97. After that, they've all been on Barsuk, with of course the exception of the cover record, which we chose to release ourselves. No big.
The shift in music consumerism has left many independent artists with little opportunity to make money. Nada took a break in the past to continue funding the band. Do you still struggle to make ends meet?
Luckily, no. We've been keeping the lights on and the house warm since the turn of the century thereabouts. I like to think we live in a nice little green zone where the ebb and tide of the industry just laps quietly against our shores. I hope I haven't spoken too soon there. We make the records for a reasonable amount of money, usually, and we seem to have an ever growing fan base that allows us to go out and play the shows and sell the panties with the bands name on it just like everyone else and it's all good. Rent paid. I was kidding about the panties.
How beneficial would it be for our generation to undergo a jazz fusion revival? Do you seek a different revival?
I think if Romney gets elected you can pretty much count on a jazz fusion revival. If that guy doesn't listen to a bunch of Chick Corea then I don't know what. Listen, I'm one of those jazz dismissers, so don't get me started on jazz fusion. Gives me a headache. Dude music. Like Rush. If girls don't also like it I'm probably not into it. Same with most metal. Whatta bore. I would seek another garage revival or rockabilly revival. If you're gonna bring something back, make it fun. So you can wear pointy shoes.
Any current projects outside Nada Surf?
Well beside my now one year old daughter Vivian who has become quite a project, I have a band called Bambi Kino which, speaking of revivals, plays the stuff the Beatles played in Hamburg and Liverpool from 1960 to 1962, before they started recording their own songs. Lots of Carl Perkins and Arthur Alexander, Little Richard, The Coasters, Buddy Holly. All kinds of cool stuff. And pointy shoes as well.