New York trio Nada Surf scored with a huge alternative hit in 1996 with "Popular," on its debut album "High/Low," but the band was then consigned to one-hit-wonder-land. Against the odds, this punk-pop outfit has not only survived and enjoys a robust career. The band plays Seattle's Neptune Theatre Saturday, March 24.
The cover art for Nada Surf’s 1996 debut, “High/Low,” featured a young boy riding a bicycle off a makeshift diving board. Had they tried, it’s doubtful they could have chosen a more prophetic title, or image.
The story is painfully familiar.
New band signs with major label, scores ubiquitous megahit, tours the U.S. and Europe, only to be dropped after disappointing follow-up. Band, defeated, breaks up, its legacy defined by one song.
Nada Surf — who play the Neptune Saturday — once seemed destined for this abbreviated end. “High/Low’s” “Popular” was an alternative-nation classic, marrying Pavement’s deadpan verbosity to anthemic, Weezer-esque guitar crunch. But Elektra, hearing no viable single on the band’s second disc, “The Proximity Effect,” unceremoniously cut the cord before even releasing the album.
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An exhilarating ride, followed by a wipeout.
But Nada Surf flipped the script, doing what few bands in that position do. They stayed together, determined to re-establish themselves, burrowing into every artist’s hardest period, Act II.
“Fear of having to choose another career kept us together,” says singer-guitarist Matthew Caws.
Starting with 2002’s “Let Go” — the New York trio’s first album for Seattle-based Barsuk Records — the band has gradually shed ’90s angst and bluster for a more balanced, elegant pop sound somewhere between ’80s college rock and contemporary “indie,” not unlike label mates Death Cab for Cutie.
Now in their 40s, Nada Surf’s members have settled nicely into a cycle of writing, recording and touring. The band’s seventh album, the just-released “Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy,” finds them sounding wide-eyed, energetic and tuneful as ever, a model of consistency in an ever-changing musical landscape.
“We’re really lucky,” Caws says, “We were written off. Though we certainly didn’t mean to be, we then got to be underdogs, a position I’m really fond of.”
While Nada Surf has never established superstar status, they occupy an admirable middle ground between obscurity and fame, making high-quality pop records with sustained relevance for a dedicated fan base that’s grown up alongside them.
“We’ve overcome and stayed alive,” says Caws. “This isn’t supposed to happen. It’s certainly not supposed to happen doing things exactly the way you want and writing exactly the songs you want to.”
Charlie Zaillian: firstname.lastname@example.org