F. Scott Fitzgerald may have depressingly opined that “there are no second acts in American lives,” but Nada Surf is certainly making the case for second acts in indie rock. The band had an accidental alt-rock radio hit in 1996 with “Popular,” only to be signed and then summarily dropped by Elektra. This sort of rise and fall would spell the end for many bands, but Nada Surf kept on going, buying back and reissuing its shelved major-label album, “The Proximity Effect,” in 1998.
Since then, the band released two records on Seattle-based indie Barsuk: 2003’s “Let Go,” which has sold 70,000 units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and 2005’s “The Weight Is a Gift,” which has shifted 67,000.
Nada Surf is now gearing up for the release of “Lucky,” which hits stores February 8.
“When ‘Popular’ happened, it was so out of the blue; it wasn’t meant to be a single and we didn’t ever expect it to get big,” guitarist/vocalist Matthew Caws says. “We certainly don’t expect anything like that to ever happen again. We have since let go of this notion that getting a song on the radio is integral to our success. Radio is pretty closed now, anyway.”
That doesn’t mean that the band has given up on releasing singles. “We always put out singles, but I’m more interested in putting out songs that are hits,” Caws says. “I don’t mean radio or MTV hits, but the type of hits that get lots of downloads or kids sing along to at every show.”
Getting kids to come to the shows has proved to be surprisingly easy for the band, which made sure to keep its expectations in check post-hit. “We didn’t think that kids who knew us because of one song would be longtime fans,” Caws says.
“We rebuilt our audience by touring and focusing on all-ages shows, really grass-roots type of stuff.”
The band has also endeared itself to fans by releasing quality music; both Barsuk records were met with critical acclaim and early listens to “Lucky” suggest it will be similarly well-received.
Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard shows up on opener “See These Bones,” which could be a lost track from his own band’s 2005 Atlantic debut, “Plans.” On other songs like “Beautiful Beat,” Nada Surf is upbeat and melodic, and there’s even a better-than-average obligatory political tune, “The Fox.”
For his part, Caws says the record represents another step forward for the band. “We are always asking ourselves, ‘Can we make another good record?”‘ he says. “I feel like this album is strong, and I’m glad we made it.”
While Barsuk is developing a robust publicity plan, label president Josh Rosenfeld worries the Hollywood writers strike, which has sent most of the late-night TV shows into reruns, may mean missed opportunities.
“This is a band with a great licensing history, and we wanted placement on TV shows to be part of the album’s rollout,” Rosenfeld says. “We were also hoping to do the usual late-night shows, but all that is up in the air if the strike continues.”
There is no end in sight to the strike, which began November 5. Renewed talks between the Writers Guild of America and the studios collapsed December 7. The only late-night talk show in production is NBC’s “Last Call with Carson Daly.”