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Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws on the alt-rock band’s resurgence

The band will play Brooklyn Steel Feb. 8.

Matthew Caws (second from right) fronts Nada Surf.

Matthew Caws (second from right) fronts Nada Surf. The band performs in Brooklyn this week. Photo Credit: Bernie Dechant

Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws lives by a very simple rule: “I believe you should live as many lives as you can.”

And for a band that was written off as a one-hit wonder after their hugely successful hit “Popular” first stormed airwaves and MTV rotations back in 1996, it’s a rule that sums their careers up nicely.

We caught up with Caws to talk about the tumultuous after-years following the debut release “High/Low” and the reinvention under their career-relaunching album “Let Go” — now celebrating its 15th anniversary with a tribute album, “Standing at the Gates: The Songs of Nada Surf’s Let Go.”

“Popular” hits big in 1996 and you guys kind of explode onto the alt-rock scene. Take me through the craziness of the time.

It was really quick. We’re playing a bar for like twenty friends and a guy comes up to me and asks me for a demo tape. So I gave him a cassette and he calls me the next day and said his day job was at Elektra Records. Two weeks before that I was walking out of Knitting Factory and gave producer Ric Ocasek a cassette — and never in a million years did I think you would listen to it — but he did. And he said whatever this cassette is, if you ever want to rerecord it I’ll do it for you really cheap. In a matter of weeks we had both a label and a record producer.

“Popular” started getting played a ton for a good two months before [“High/Low”] came out. It’s not the ideal situation. We went on tour with Superdrag and it was a lot of fun, but it was kind of weird because the video had gotten out so much that at shows we kept seeing cheerleaders and football players. They kind of missed . . . we weren’t picking on anybody, but it wasn’t a straight up celebration of high school. It was a satire. But it was accepted at face value. So we’re playing the shows and all these people just waiting for one song. It was a weird place to be.

And then later you’re dropped by your label and your sophomore album doesn’t get released in the U.S.

It was funny, “Proximity Effect” came out in Europe and received strong reviews overseas. It was out for two months before the label decided it wasn’t going to release it in the States and then they dropped us. I was really surprised. It wasn’t heartbreaking, but it was a little shocking (laughs). Anyway, it was a blessing because we got to kind of make a first album all over again. [With “Let Go”] there’s kind of a freedom in being forgotten.

It’s 15 years later, you guys are celebrating its release with a covers album and tour. How did everything come together?

It’s the brainchild of our manager Ben Weber. He proposed doing the 15th anniversary tour and I thought, OK, if you think people are going to want this. Then he proposed doing this album and my first reaction was to say no. But the magic word for me was the ACLU. When he said that his idea was the profits would go to them [and] an organization that helps kids with cancer, [The Pablove Foundation], I said if you really think it’s going to sell some copies then yes, of course.

How did you feel after you heard the tracks to “Let Go” performed by other artists? Especially considering what an emotional album it was for you at the time?

It’s a real thrill. We’re just really excited by these versions because we found these artists did what [we think] is the best thing to do when you do covers, which is to pretend like you wrote it. Buy into the fantasy. When you learn songs from your favorite bands it’s like getting off the incredible psychological roller coaster. Like if you open up The Who songbook or The Beatles songbook it’s like touching an electric rail . . . in a good way (laughs). I think that’s the most fun way to do a cover. The first one I heard was Ron Gallo’s “Happy Kid” and I felt like he wrote it. It was really exciting.

Nada Surf perform at 8 p.m. on Thursday at Brooklyn Steel, 319 Frost St., Williamsburg, $30, nadasurf.com

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