Last January, Nada Surf released their latest collection of songs, The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy. The album was a departure for the band’s basic, power-trio lineup and saw the group pushing their songwriting forward with layered, thoughtful cuts like “Teenage Dreams,” “Waiting for Something” and the album’s hard-hitting opener, Clear Eye Clouded Mind. After already completing their first leg of touring behind the album, we caught up with drummer Ira Elliot to discuss the band’s upcoming appearances.
You’ve been playing as a five piece, how is that changing Nada Surf’s live performances?
Elliot: We’ve been playing as a trio for a decade or more, and to have [guitarist] Doug [Gillard] in the band, it makes me feel like I’m in The Pretenders. We’ve designed the new album around his guitar playing. We knew we had songs, and touring with him has been fantastic. Fans have told me, ‘At first I came to the show and I wasn’t sure about new members, I thought the sound would be too big,’ and by the end of the show, they reported to me that they got it. It’s really satisfying, and we like to make a big noise.
How has playing old material changed with a new lineup?
Elliot: We expect to get textures from the new record, and it’s comforting to know we have extra guys on stage. [Frontman] Matthew [Caws], he has the hardest job on stage, playing guitar the way he does with open chords and singing. He doesn’t play standard barre chords, he plays arpeggiated, open chords with strings ringing, it’s good for him to cover certain parts. It’s nice, we’re able to relax a bit knowing that things are covered. If I blow a fill, it’s better knowing there are two more guys on the stage (laughs). It’s also a family, we really love the guys. I think Nada Surf has always seemed like a two-guitar band, but to get that chemistry, you can’t just put an ad in the paper, it has to be somebody you know, and also we’ve been thinking about getting a guy to play keyboard, but we didn’t know anybody.
Would you say the band was a trio based out of necessity? Did you have to wait to find people with this chemistry to expand to a bigger band?
Elliot: The chemistry that we have is actually quite good when we started playing together. We had this fantastic vibe, we didn’t want to screw with it. We knew each other for years and years, everything was right. But you’re always worried about chemistry. It’s easy to travel and tour with these guys, though. It’s nice, we like to think we’re very self-sufficient, and it’s been nice to add to the team, one-by-one.
This is the second leg of the tour behind this album, what has it been like playing new tracks?
Elliot: We’re not very experimental live. We’ve been trying to serve the song. With this record, we tried to make a record with live energy. Then we take it on the road, and have to take it up a notch, and you play it for people, and it has this energy that you can’t imagine in a recording studio. Everything gets another few notches. Some songs get faster and faster, some slow down, you just don’t know. There was one last song during the recording process that I’ve been enjoying live, “Looking Through,” that came together really quickly in the studio. I think I had heard a couple of those riffs before we laid them down in the studio. This time we rehearsed only nine songs in the studio, and we knew we needed 10, and this song came together really quickly and we knew it was the one for the album. It’s got a Ramones-type feel, which I love. It was very, very satisfying.
What’s next for you and Nada Surf?
Elliot: I’m working on songs, I’m assuming Matthew is. We generally write alone and we arrange together. He usually writes the core stuff by himself, I don’t know what he’s up to. He probably is [working on new material]. I think next year I’m going to try to get to work on [a solo album]. We don’t write on the road, we write while we’re at home. I try not to think about Nada Surf at home, I have a 1-year-old daughter, and I’m happily immersing myself in dad culture. Matt has an 8-year-old, and he’s a mega-dad. Daniel’s been working on his vacation property in Spain.
Nada Surf North American Tour Dates
19 – Lancaster, Pa. @ Chameleon Club
20 – Pittsburgh, Pa. @ Club AE
21 – Cleveland, Ohio @ Beachland Ballroom
22 – Ann Arbor, Mich. @ Blind Pig
23 – Indianapolis, Ind. @ Deluxe
24 – Louisville, Ky. @ Headliners
25 – St. Louis, Mo. @ Old Rock House
27 – Little Rock, Ark. @ Juanitas
28 – Dallas, Texas @ Granada
29 – Austin, Texas @ La Zona Rosa
30 – Houston, Texas @ Cactus Records (Free Acoustic In-Store)
30 – Houston, Texas @ Fitzgeralds
2 – Birmingham, Ala. @ Bottletree
3 – Atlanta, Ga. @ The Loft
5 – Baltimore, Md. @ Rams Head Live