Twenty years since releasing their first album “High/Low” and the MTV hit “Popular,” rockers Nada Surf dropped their eighth studio album “You Know Who You Are” on Friday, a more mature record that showcases the band’s new guitarist Doug Gillard, previously of Guided by Voices.
The band’s evolving sound won’t be a surprise to those who’ve followed them throughout the years, growing older alongside the band’s frontman Matthew Caws, who four years ago left New York for Cambridge, England.
Caws and bandmates Daniel Lorca and Ira Elliot have built a worldwide fan base with their catchy hooks and relatable lyrics, although they frequently return to New York to play smaller clubs. Tonight, they’ll do an acoustic set at the City Winery before a show at the Bowery Ballroom tomorrow.
“It used to be that we could just get together and make up a riff, and I’d be inspired to go home and write, but now I really need to build up a stack of songs to justify us all flying to New York,” Caws said about the effect the band’s geographical separation has had on their way of writing.
Last year, the band reconvened in Hoboken to record the new album, which features a sound Caws attributes to “unconsciously revisiting all our various periods. I think there are a couple songs that feel more like our first album than anything in a little while.”
His new living space in a Victorian house with very thin walls also might have played a factor in that sound.
“I think there are quieter songs because of not wanting to bother my neighbors, and loud songs because I’m so relieved to be in the practice space with the guys,” he says.
The addition of Gillard also shook things up on the new album.
“It was energizing and inspiring to have him play from the beginning,” Caws says. “[Gillard] is a different kind of musician than the three of us — he can play something as soon as he thinks it, which I can’t do and Daniel can’t do. It’s like an express train to a finished song, which keeps it fresh. There’s less risk of it turning stale before it’s done, which happens when you work on a song too long and you lose sight of what you loved in the first place.”
‘Not everyone can make New York feel new’
“You Know Who You Are” continues the Nada Surf tradition of lyrics that can be interpreted in different ways like “Out of the Dark” which seemingly explains Caws’ decision to move:
“Not everyone can make New York feel new/Or wipe away a past that brings you sadness./But you’d be surprised by what moving can do./I’ve heard that work can tamp down madness.”
In fact, the overall song is meant as words of advice to shut-ins to get out and experience life — the “moving” actually refers to getting out of bed.
A philosophy major even wrote his doctorate thesis on Nada Surf’s lyrics, a paper Caws has read but finds difficult to discuss, since that would involve even more self-introspection than he does with the band’s music.
If you go
Nada Surf is at City Winery on March 7 at 9 p.m., 155 Varick St., 212-608-0555 and Bowery Ballroom on March 8 at 9 p.m., 6 Delancey St., 800-745-3000. Both shows sold out.