Good lord, the '90s were a hell of a weird time to be a new band. The three categories of music were grunge, alternative and Madonna, and anything that couldn't be crammed into said categories was given the proverbial heave-ho by the suits in charge of ACME Music Inc.
Nada Surf knows this tale of woe all too well.
Dubbed as one-hit wonders before they even had a chance to properly soil the naugahyde of a tour bus, they are the poster children for perseverance in the music industry.
Known for, and perhaps haunted by, the specter that is "Popular"-the band's offering to the '90s buzz-bin gods-Nada Surf was primed to suffer a fate endured by so many Sponges, Harvey Dangers, Refreshments and Dynamite Hacks.
"I was playing around with some chords and was reading this book on etiquette and thought how strange it would be to talk over those chords," frontman Matthew Caws recalls about the song's inception. "It was like a four-track experiment at home. It wasn't like a song at all. And it turned into that by accident."
The accidental song was so (forgive me) popular (ugh) that record execs at Elektra were slipping on their own saliva in anticipation of the band's next album, sure that more hit singles were on the horizon. The execs just never bothered to realized that Nada Surf wasn't a hit-making band.
"It's like blind science or something, you know?" Caws says from the streets of Seattle, where Nada Surf's recording its next album. "We're music fans enough to know what we want but we're also music fans enough to be like, "Wow, that could be that. No, no, no, let's do that. No. I don't know. Do that.'
"You know what I mean? Which is great. I love that," he finishes, completely confusing the conversation, but somehow explaining his feelings towards "Popular."
What emerged from the band's recording sessions was The Proximity Effect, a poignant sophomore effort chock-full of emotionally taut, fuzzed-out rock tunes. Though more mature than High/Low, growth and development weren't on the menu at Café Moneymusic.
There were no singles, and thus, no use for the band.
After being dropped like Jack White from Jason Stollsteimer's Friendster list, Nada Surf kept on keeping on, continuing to tour at home and in Europe, where their notoriety has only grown, rather than trailing off like it did in the United States.
"Our second album, The Proximity Effect, came out in Europe on time and in a relatively direct fashion, whereas [in the U.S.] we had to wait until two years later when we put it out ourselves," Caws says. "So [in Europe] we just never really went away.
"So because of that, we're not really one-hit wonders, you know? We're something else."
With no major label money behind them and no pressure to release radio singles, Nada Surf recorded their third album, Let Go, on their own terms and with their own cash.
Let Go is a triumphant coup for Nada Surf-probably the surprise comeback album of 2003, included on many critics' top 10 lists. The album's moments of melancholy and finite sadness are cradled by its exuberant sparkle and overall joie de vivre.
The band has also found a new home in Barsuk Records (Death Cab for Cutie, Rilo Kiley), where the recovering one-hitters can roam without fear of a major-label cattle prod jolting them in the ass.
"We're super-content," Caws says. "This is the kind of label we wanted to be on in the first place. It's just that [before] we didn't know anybody."
The band is even happy enough about their situation to laugh at the fact that their album shares its title with another potential here-today, hitting-up-skater-boys-for-spare-change-tomorrow acts. Diversity in the marketplace can be a good thing.
"If you want to buy an album called Let Go, I don't think you should be limited to Avril Lavigne's version-we're trying to offer some options to people."
Nada Surf performs with On the Speakers (ex-Creeper Lagoon) at The Casbah, 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 9. $10. 619-232-HELL.