Silent Uproar: Tell me a little bit about the new CD, were there any new tricks or things you did in the studio this time around?
Matthew: Well we did a lot more stuff on the fly, we weren’t as well prepared. I had been writing a lot the last two years, but hadn’t been finishing as many songs. There were a couple that we wrote while hanging out together at night and recorded the next morning, so that was nice. We have never been able to do anything as instant as that.
It may be because we live in different places. Daniel lives mostly in Madrid and then Paris and because we don’t have this sort of leisurely approach – you know we have our rental place setup and we practice every other day – that sort of normal band life, we don’t have that anymore so what we had to do was take a couple of days of showing each other what we had. But when we were recording in San Francisco we stayed in a friend’s house, so we were actually living together and were able to work on arrangements just while talking at dinner or when hanging out in the middle of the night or whatever. So that was good.
I left a lot of the verses and choruses and lyrics and things sort of unfinished and took the record home and put it on my 4-track. For personal reasons I had take a couple months off from recording, but when I was ready to get back into it, I had my 4-track and could just sing over it on tracks 3 and 4 without a computer and without any other technology. It was really pretty cool because I am used to 4-tracks being something you do at home and something kinda basic and this was like the actual 24 track mixes being played on the 4-track. I was listening to a lot of hip-hop and for the first time I got really immersed in it and really started noticing how a lot of times from verse to verse in hip-hop there will be a whole different feeling. Not just the rhyme scheme being different, but the music will be different. And that was inspiring because I was listening to that when I would go into a room into the back of my house at night and work on rough mixes to see what I could do with it. Since I hadn’t been listening to pop music all day I didn’t have the whole Teenage Fanclub record running through my head. Instead I had gangster rap, which has nothing to do with my life – you know I don’t deal drugs and I don’t do crime - but there is something great about how transforming it is to listen to someone talk about something completely foreign to you. So part of the process was just making the record and just listening to no pop music for a few months.
SU: In my opinion, Let Go was quite a step forward from your previous two releases and I feel that The Weight is a Gift is a continuation of that. What made you go in this sorta different direction with your sound?
Matthew: Well you know, what was so lucky about Let Go is the fact that The Proximity Effect didn’t come out, or well came out late, so we really couldn’t tell how wow anything was going to do. It just seemed like sometimes we will have luck and sometimes we won’t. Let Go was like making our first album all over again. No one was asking for it, no one was waiting for it, and we knew we had a sort of following, but it seemed so far away. Then this time there was a lot of pressure because we were particularly proud of the last one and wanted to make a record that was just as good. As dumb as that is to think about, you really can’t help it. The thing with music is you are only as good as your last song, so you wonder how that last song is going to go.
SU: Well it seems like with Let Go you finally overcame that stigma of being the band with the “Popular” song.
Matthew: I think so and that is nice. Partially it is just time, if you stick around long enough people will move on, which is nice. I have been playing on and off with Daniel for 10 years before this band started and this band has been going 10 years, so for 20 years now. So for us that is a long time and we will both tell you that we were pretty bad at the beginning, so it has been a long slow process of getting better at what we are doing and slowly liking it more and more. Even though all along we wanted to at least try - because we love listening to records so much that making them is automatically fun - it took a long time to feel like we were moving forward. And it took a long time from calling CBGBs every Tuesday and they would say we aren’t booking today, try Thursday and I would call Thursday and they would say we aren’t booking today, call Tuesday…years of that went on. I called them for 5 years and probably got 4 shows.
What I am trying to underline is from the inside that is what it has felt like. It has been a long, long, slow, mostly incredibly enjoyable, sometimes taxing logistically journey. But having a video played a lot in 96 for one summer feels pretty small. You know, that is what happened that summer, and then something else happened the next summer and on and on. So that is the way it feels.
It is nice for the public perception of the group to start to line up more and allow us to sort of get away of the newsworthiness of a band going from having a hit to having nothing. It feels like that is where television for example is going. The currency in TV is ambition and success and then failure. The most interesting thing to people isn’t about the song and what we are doing now; the most interesting thing to the public is failure. Like uh, you didn’t do well, how not well did you do? Did you get a drug problem, etc? Unfortunately, that is what people seem to be interested in. So it is nice to get away from that. I just wonder what is going to be on TV in ten years. Actual death? Crime? Actual murder?
SU: I think with Let Go you almost created two different bands in a sense. People have forgotten about the band that released “Popular” and it was like Let Go was your first record. I think it is great for you guys to be able to start fresh like that.
Matthew: Yeah, obviously it is incredibly gratifying and it goes a long way to keeping this experience fun is that satisfaction. But I think on another level there is has always been something kinda good about the band, it is just it has been obscured. Like it feels like a first record because it is the first time we felt like we were really connecting with anybody. We have been trying to all along and it just hasn’t been happening. I think we probably wanted to make a record that sounded like that before, but we didn’t know how or were kinda hung up on the small-mindedness of things like a song being too slow and quiet and all kinds of ridiculous stuff. You know to rethink an entire song because one part slows down for three seconds is just insane. But is what we were doing.
But it is nice that we finally got across what we were trying to do on the 3rd record. Better late than never I guess.
SU: I know the band really believed in The Proximity Effect despite the lack of interest from Elektra. What did that whole experience teach you about the music industry?
Matthew: What we took away is what we kinda knew to begin with but were powerless to do anything about, which is that we didn’t really belong in that kind of place. We wanted to be on Matador, on Merge, on Touch & Go, but I didn’t know anybody. Maybe those weren’t the right records for that yet, but that is where we were heading all along. Then just through playing a couple of shows and people asking about us, all of a sudden we are looking at this major label deal and I think we knew it wasn’t going to work out well, but it is all we had.
And what we learned was just a confirmation of what we expected. Even though the people we were working with talked the talk, it was all about getting “Popular” and just having that single. Then after that they started making some unwise decisions. And you know, it sounds silly because I don’t want to sound too proud or too bitter, but I really think The Proximity Effect is a good record. If they had just put it out and done the minimum, I think it would still be selling.
But then again I might just be rationalizing it and maybe we are so into the record because we can’t hear what actually doesn’t work about it. Maybe we just had to shed like 10 more percent of the self-consciousness we have and maybe that was finally enough for people to be into the music.
SU: You are starting to see more bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Dredg who aren’t really mainstream bands sign to major labels now. Do you think it works for some people and just didn’t work for you guys or what?
Matthew: Yeah, I think it definitely works for a lot of people. We were really just not big enough to be on a label like that. I mean the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are on a ton of magazine covers and are just the kind of group that people like to take pictures of and put on covers. I don’t know that we are fun to write about or take pictures of but you know, our music is pretty good. Either that is enough or it isn’t, and I feel like it’s probably not enough sometimes. So I would be scared to be on a major.
Right when the album was starting to go around a little bit we got a couple phone calls and people were sniffing around, but we didn’t really have to think about it. It was just like; no we are happy where we are, thank you. So it isn’t fun to feel insecure and it’s not fun to feel like you are letting someone down. Maybe those are useful experiences to have early on because they make you take yourself more seriously and make you work hard to get better.
SU: Nada Surf has had a good deal of success in the UK and other parts of the world. Is the same level of success in the US something you still strive for, or are you content with where the band is popularity wise?
Matthew: I think we are kinda getting there now. I think the impression of how well we are doing overseas is a little off. Maybe it was something easy to latch onto when trying to define the band. It’s not like we are doing that well, we aren’t huge over there. Then here, it was easy for people to say we don’t do well here, but we’re actually doing pretty well in the United States. I mean we aren’t huge, but we are solid in the US and solid over there, it is starting to feel the same. That makes touring tough for us because we do a tour here, and then go do a tour there, then come back and do one here. I wish we could just be like massive in Switzerland and that’s it. Just go over there like 2 weeks a year and tour the country, it would be great.
SU: The artwork for your albums has been pretty cool, but you don’t seem like a band overly concerned with the visual side of the music. Is that an accurate statement?
Matthew: Well that is kinda all about having your shit together. If I really did, I could be thinking about what painters were around town that would still want to do an album cover, and mapping images months ahead of time. But the actuality is we are shipping art in two weeks, so it’s like umm…that triangle is nice, we can use that right? So I love art and I do really like rock album packaging and going through art and spending time with ideas, but I am just not on the ball enough to do that. This one is pretty great, it is a drawing by a friend of mine and we are dieing a die-cut. So the vinyl version is going to be one of those complicated ones that folds out into something else. So I am psyched about that.
SU: Do you feel that in the world of downloads and iTunes the artwork and visuals associated with an album are becoming more or less important?
Matthew: Less I guess.
SU: Some people see it as the packing is more important because we have to get people to go out and purchase it now instead of just downloading it.
Matthew: Yeah, in that sense it is for sure. But that is a losing game. If you are trying to make a loud packaging to jump out, then it is like taking a song and adding more distortion to make it sound bigger. So I guess it is becoming less important with iPods and all that.
I am still not convinced about the whole MP3s thing. I don’t have an iPod yet and if you put an MP3 on a great stereo then it sounds like crap. There is something akin to having cable TV where you have 800 stations and nothing to watch. It is the same with having all those songs on an iPod. You are like standing on a record that is 8 miles in diameter and you have a scooter and a needle and you don’t know where to drop the needle because there is an idea that there may be a song that more perfectly fits you mood than this other song.