With a title like “You Know Who You Are,” you might think Nada Surf’s eighth album is pointing an accusatory finger outwards. But its meaning is a much gentler look inwards.
“This record in some ways is about forks in the road and gut feelings,” says frontman Matthew Caws. “Our language tells us they are automatic: follow your heart, trust your gut. But what happens if you don’t know what either is saying? I was wrestling with that,” he admits, speaking from a tour stop in Denver. “Sometimes you can lose track of who you are and those gut feelings are hard to hear.”
But the title is unlikely to be the first thing fans note about this record. 25 years on since hitting it big with the song “Popular,” Nada Surf expanded from being a power pop trio to a quartet, as guitarist Doug Gillard (Guided By Voices, Cobra Verde) joins co-founding members Caws, bassist Daniel Lorca, and drummer Ira Elliot.
“As of this album he’s an official fourth member,” Caws confirms. “I’ve known Doug for a long time and always been a big fan of his work. He’s added so much richness and color to the sound. But it was all very natural.”
Caws, who moved from his native New York to Cambridge, England, four years ago, also let the album develop naturally, even delaying its release for a year. “My friend Josh,” he says referring to Josh Rosenfeld, the head of Nada Surf’s longtime label, Barsuk Records in Seattle, “heard the initial tracks and said, ‘It’s really good, your fans will like it and we’re happy to release it’. Then there was a pregnant pause and he said, ‘But it won’t change your life’. He said it in a way that was positive and empowering. He said if you drop a couple of songs and write some more you’ll really have something.
“I’m not saying this record will change my life or anyone else’s,” Caws continues. “But the joy of working on something that’s done, at least already in some kind of formation, and exploring it emotionally was wonderful.”
On a personal level, Caws has also found stepping back reaps rewards: “I decided there’s no express train to working it out. All you can do is be kind to yourself, get some sleep, eat some food, and wait. Take some time.”
If you go:
June 2 at 7 p.m.
World Cafe Live
3025 Walnut Street
June 4 at 8 p.m.
Paradise Rock Club
967 Commonwealth Avenue
Sept 17-18 at 8 p.m.
6 Delancey Street