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Interview: Matthew Caws from Nada Surf

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Those were the days when I went to germany for a bit of family and friends time. But the reason I chosed this special time was the small but beautiful Husum Harbour Festival in the north of germany, very close to my beloved Hamburg. And the fact, that Nada Surf singer Matthew Caws will play the sundaymorning show. We arrived at saturday afternoon in the very typical north german weather: rain, cold and wind. So no big difference to the icelandic weather. Husum is a place where you are in holidays, getting away from stress at work, from the big city life, from everything. You can breathe the clear air of the ocean, hear seaguls scream, see the tide coming and going. And so is the cozy Husum Harbour Festival, which is more an indoor singer songwriter festival which take place in the cultural centre called Speicher, where a big bunch of musicians already played.

After I already enjoyed the great first concert ever of projektor and the lovely lines of Florian Ostertag and right before the always wonderful Talking To Turtles and the dark beauty Scott Matthew, I went up to the artist area to meet Matthew and had a little talk with him.

Hi! How are you?

I am good.

You came from Hamburg, right?

Yeah, I played in Molotow. I am saying this that Nada Surf hopefully will play another 1000 / 2000 concerts but recently I am playing by myself and I really enjoy it. I haven’t done this before last year, but I live in Cambridge, England and Germanwings is going for cheap almost everywhere.

What’s the difference between the solo shows and the ones with the guys?

It’s really peaceful cause there is not this summercamp feeling.
You know there are this personality types like introverted extrovert and I feel like that. When I am by myself both sides of this are satisfied…busy social evenings with a lot of interaction and then all day by myself travelling.

So you also take your time to see the surroundings?

Sometimes. Today we had a slow drive and we were at the place where is the dam. We had shrimp in a bun and matjes or herring and everything what you eat here. Also on Nada Surf tours I try to bring a folding bicycle and put it in the back of the bus. And some days, when you wake up early, not in purpose, or when you are arriving in a new town at eight in the morning cause you were driving over night. Then you get up at one, have soundcheck at four and you would never see this town. And then I remember this little bike and go and explore the town. Otherwise it would happen all the time, that you don’t realise in which city you are.

Does this tour now means that you want to do a solo album?

I don’t know. I mean…not on purpose, it’s no goal. I have another record which is almost finished with Michael Lerner from Telekinesis. He is a friend of mine and the story how we recorded the first song is quite funny. I had a good parking space in Brooklyn, he put his van there and we were hanging out together. I like the things he is doing, he likes the things I am doing. So we were just playing a bit music, like thirty seconds of something. And later that night we were sitting in my house, drinking beer and he said: “We should record that song”. I said in between a sip of beer: “Yeah, sometime”. And he was like “Now”. We just had this tiny thirty seconds and he was very serious when he asked me for paper and a pen. And short time later we were writing it, we were recording it on the computer on my coffee table. And we put it on the record, you can hear the dogs barking upstairs. Why I am telling this? Ah, there is no purpose in the things. As you can see, sometimes the things just happening. Maybe there are more of this spontanous records or the next Nada Surf records are coming faster. Who knows!

Husum Harbour 2015

© Doreen Reichmann

So there is no really plan, like we have to make a new Nada Surf album every one and a half year?

We tried it sometimes. But after the last one we took a break, which we never did before. Our 20st anniversary is next year, we never really stop to work but now and then little breaks. So I did the Minor Alps record with Juliana Hatfield.

Now I am a bit in a panic, cause I thouht the new record is almost done but then I realized that we need a couple more songs.

Ok, so there will be a new Nada Surf album. When are you planning to release it?

I don’t really know but I hope in september.

That sounds great, I didn’t expect it that early.

You never know. Let’s keep the fingers crossed for this.

Yeah! Imagine yourself being in your 70s. Will you be still a musician?

If I would still enjoy singing, yes. People are aging differently, some people lose their voices. As long as I like the sound I am doing it cause I like the act. But if not – for a reason – I would write a bit more. That was always an ambition of mine which I never did that much. My mother is a writer and she is always saying “You need to write write write!”. I think everybodys life story is super interesting, everybodies interpretation of life is totally fascinating and every single person is sitting on a great book.

That’s also an ambition of mine. But no biography, more a fictional story with of course the influences I got in my life, the people I met, the stories I heard. Your own life is mixing up with others lifes, this could be a great plot.

I totally agree. And it sounds like it could be a flexible idea. I am wondering sometimes if finding your voice in the way you are writing is more important. There are some people like Nicholson Baker, David Foster Wallace who passed away – the way they think seems so interesting. I don’t really care about what they are writing about. Actually I am reading the book “My Struggle” by a guy called Karl Ove Knausgård – it’s an autobiography, and it’s amplified. Often the people who are writing this kind of books are just pumping up the drama and this is like: “I made coffee, then I drink it” and then interesting things happen.  It’s just like life, like you drop a needle to the record, everything happens in the real time.

I like writing songs, I am not doing it as often as I like to. Some friends of mine do the “One song a day” thing. But I never had the discipline but I really would like to do that.

Would this not be a big pressure for yourself? If you can’t write one song a day you feel worse.

Yes but it would also train you to not worry about standards so much. Even if it is a bad song, just finish it. Which doesn’t mean that it’s good to write a bad song but good to feel free. The problem with not writing for a while and then start again and happens to me now, cause I just startet to write again, is that you are so self-conscious about what you are saying and you think everything sounds bad…and in a way it is. You are not free, you are thinking about thinking.

Are you throwing away ideas very often, are you very critical with yourself?

Yeah, but not as a negative critical thinking. It’s not all bad and to be honest as see that 90 % isn’t that good is ok. It is worth going through it. You might be glad to find the 10 % which are great.

Are there songs from the old records which you don’t like so much anymore?

Yes, a few. There’s one weird one, it’s “Mothers day”. It’s the opposite of “Robot” which is about male sexual violence. I am still very proud of this song, it still says what I wanted to say and what I am thinking.

But the story about “Mothers Day” is before we made the follow up record to “Let Go”, the guy from the record label was expecting us to make a new hit. He was always looking over my shoulder and said that we don’t have this kind of song yet. I was kind of new in this thing in this time, so I tried to write a hit in a cheesy way. I thought about this kind of guy, out of time, out of the idea of gender, not relating other women, not seeing them in a human enough way, like their sister, mother. It was the time of rap rock, sodom metal rock. There was a band in the practice space next door. They played a special riff and we heard it through the electric plug and I think I kind of stole it for “Mothers Day”. To be preachy in a song is good as long it is affective instead of rising your finger into the air and nothing is happening. I think the song isn’t catchy enough. So I think I feel sorry for “Mothers Day.

Husum Harbour 2015

© Doreen Reichmann

I am not sure about that, but I realised that you are not playing the french songs in germany.

Yeah, we were playing them a bunch of times. French is a difficult language to play and to write in. I’ve got a pet theory about why french people are so proud and difficult of their language. Maybe I am totally wrong but nevermind. France is uniqe in Europe. It has all this borders and is surrounded of so many cultures. Even England is almost a border. And England and Germany and Spain are so powerful cultures. So they have to defend all of their language and cultural things and are so intense about it. In english they encourage you to use it like you want. I don’t know if it is like this in icelandic or german. In french the standards of expressions are so high and it is not possible to play with it as a non french speaker. Serge Gainsbourg is doing it, he is a magician in french word games, but he can. Even if we in the band are speaking french, it’s always challanging to do it at the stage but I like to keep trying.

What are your next plans?

I am going to Ibiza, to visit Daniel and have some brodown with him. It’s an american expression which means, to hang out, talk to your friend, doing things which friends, bro’s do. And then I will participate in a interesting show. I will play a philosophical conference in New York and its a 24 hours thing in a beautiful french cultural center. And I am playing at 6am. Whoohooo, this is early. But I like this weird things.

Sounds great! So thank you for your time and for this talk!

Thank you too!

I can’t tell it often enough…thanks to Sebastian from Husum Harbour Team who made this real! And thanks to Doreen who took some nice pictures. And of course thanks to Matthew who made me forget about my shaking hands cause of a really easy and kind talk.

After a really great breakfast on sunday morning, which was filled with lovely decorated salads, crunchy bacon, delicious salmon, creamy cheeses and hot coffee and sparkling sparkling wine, we sat down for listening to Nada Surf songs, played by the maybe a bit excited Matthew Caws. After a few sips of the sparkling sparkling wine, he was talkative, funny, yeah quite entertaining. He also introduced us the new song “Friend Hospital” of their upcoming new album, with the working title “You Know Who You Are”. As we all were enjoying his songs, I was impressed of the text of his dad, which he read to us. Nothing new to hear, but indeedly inspiring. The whole thing, the whole time, no excuses, no exceptions. And in the end, the sun was shining. I’m just a happy kid!

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Want to read the interview in german? Go over to Concert News and enjoy!

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