Being pigeonholed is never fun, especially when it labels a good band as something else, something closer to a novelty artist. While some artists may reject it wholeheartedly, to Nada Surf, it’s just a Wednesday.
“I was watching the television and saw one of those ‘Best of the ’90s’ commercials, and we were on it. It’s strange,” Nada Surf drummer Ira Elliot tells LEO.
The New York City band initially found success in 1996 with the song “Popular,” which firmly entrenched the band in the post-grunge novelty hit category. Now, 10 years and two albums into an unexpected creative renaissance, Nada Surf isn’t being compared to novelty acts anymore. Now those comparisons are to another novelty-act-turned-critical-darling, The Flaming Lips.
“I haven’t actually thought about our career versus the Lips’. Not too many bands survived that early weird novelty hit thing. It’s an unusual thing,” Elliot says.
The release of 2003’s Let Go, a rainy day album full of gorgeous harmonies and guitar hooks, topped many critics’ best-of lists for the year and began Nada Surf’s unlikely resurgence. The band’s ability to stay together through hard times — including when Elektra Records, their former label, refused to release the band’s sophomore album — is something Elliot attributes to the members’ maturity.
“Our age was a factor definitely in handling the initial success … I often wonder what would have happened to us if we were younger and had that success. We probably wouldn’t still be here.”
But Nada Surf is still here and making new fans every day, an impressive feat in today’s fast-paced world of disposable music and art. “It’s easy to get bowled over by the sheer number of bands that come out, and a year later they are old hats,” laughs Elliot. The music industry, he says, “is a lot like the Byrds song; ‘With your hair combed right/your pants fit tight/it’ll be all right.’ It hasn’t changed at all. It’s old guys selling music to young people.”
Label politics aside, Nada Surf’s main goal is to make music that commands repeat listening.
“See These Bones,” from their forthcoming album Lucky (slated for February), shows the band accomplishing this goal. Gorgeous, lush instrumentation and Beach Boys-inspired backing vocals call to mind Death Cab for Cutie, without the melodrama and with an original melody. “We always had the feeling of things still to come. We still do,” Elliot says. “We feel like we are in the middle of it.”
Ten years after their success and still going strong, Nada Surf is out to prove its legacy will not be a cautionary tale about record label politics, but a mystical hold on its fans. “Maybe we are being romantic, and maybe we are fooling ourselves, but it does happen, and people do fall in love with music,” he says.
And if Nada Surf is the sound of falling in love, then everyone should listen one more time.
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