With his band’s ninth album, Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws felt a responsibility to share a hopeful and comforting message. “I don’t know how to do that other than directly, looking for things to write about that I think will help,” Caws tells Apple Music. “I know this is so obvious to say, but as we move further and further into an online world, it is becoming easier and easier to discount each other—making the divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ deeper.” The album’s title, Never Not Together, refers to that divide—and how challenging it is to find any common ground: “It’s inevitable that we will disagree with people and even with groups of people. Sometimes we have to write off individuals for our mental health and/or physical safety, but we have to try not to write off whole groups, because that is how we lose our humanity. I think it’s important to try and keep lines of communication open. One day we will need each other.” Caws strives to make a personal connection through his music, grateful that he’s managed to keep the band together for over 25 years. “I never thought about our longevity at the beginning, but I have always felt that bands are sort of forever,” says Caws. “It’s hard to believe it’s been that long, mostly because being a touring and recording band, while you often don’t get enough sleep, is a lot of fun.” Here, Caws shares the stories behind Never Not Together with a track-by-track guide.
So Much Love “A friend asked me to write a song with this title because I sign off most of my emails ‘So Much Love,’ and she said they always cheered her up. I hesitated at first, because we already have an ‘Always Love’ and an ‘Inside of Love.’ I decided to give it a try, and I'm really glad I did, because I realized immediately that it's something I'd been wanting to write/sing/talk about for a long time. When we're looking to fall in love with someone, a great part of that is wanting to take care of someone—and giving a present is almost always more fun than receiving one. Putting out good energy comes naturally to us. Bad actors make more noise, but there is a lot more light than dark in the world.”
Come Get Me “We build walls to protect ourselves. We see troubled relationships from childhood on, and for some of us it makes it hard to really open up. That was certainly the case for me. But there comes a point when you're ready, and if you've been waiting a long time, you're really ready. You can't keep shut anymore. One of my favorite things about this song is that when the ending riff comes, it sounds like we change into a different band.”
Live Learn and Forget “I had a verse-chord progression that I liked and didn't know what to do with. While on a tour day off at a friend's house in Detroit, I recorded it onto my computer upstairs while Daniel [Lorca, bassist] was downstairs cooking dinner for everyone. The guys came up one by one and put ideas down. The chorus is something I’d had lying around for a long time, waiting for a way to use it. I always feel like I'm living and learning, and then forgetting and having to learn again.”
Just Wait “I wrote this song in Nashville with a guy called Gavin Slate. We were thinking about how different it must be to be a teenager now compared to how it was when we were young. Climate change has moved in as a big factor in their future, and social media allows us to compare our lives to so many others, minute by minute. I remember wanting to be an adult but also wanting to remain a kid. I wanted freedom and excitement, but being a grown-up brings responsibilities and seemingly irreversible consequences that can seem terrifying. Looking back, I see how a lot of it was on my mind—but our minds are our realities. The truth is we will have almost endless chances to start over. There are a lot of things I could start over tomorrow; take your time with big changes and big decisions. But if you get them wrong, breathe slow and make changes.”
Something I Should Do “Usually with songs, you're trying to take big and maybe messy ideas and boil them down into a few lines that make sense. But sometimes, you just want to say everything you're thinking just as it comes to you. That's what I did here. I wrote the riff on a baritone guitar tuned to B/F#/B/F#/B/C#. I borrowed the tuning from Nic Jones, who used something like it on a wonderful song called 'Canadee-I-O,' though he did it a fret up in C. The line 'In the night reading actual air' is a reference to Actual Air, a book of poetry by David Berman.”
Looking for You “The idea of this song is an old one that I only came across last year: that what you are looking for is out there looking for you. It's lost and can't find you. If you take a step in its direction, it will pick up that signal and be able to turn towards you and start walking in your direction. I love this idea. I think the earliest record of it is a poem by 13th-century Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, who said, 'What you seek is seeking you.' I don't necessarily believe in the supernatural, but I know that every time I've been asked to go to an event or party and have hesitated and then gone anyway, something good has happened—a conversation or a meeting that I was grateful for. I think we create luck and happiness for ourselves by moving, by putting energy out there, and by trying. I play the first guitar solo, but the second one is by our sometimes bandmate, the wildly talented Doug Gillard.”
Crowded Star “This is a love song to my wife. The line ‘Every day is a teacher’ comes from a book called Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck. Whenever I have a problem or find myself in a difficult situation or conversation, if I remember to think of that phrase, it helps me find a way to stay calm and see things a different way—different enough to find another path and another way to deal with what is in front of me. Doug plays a beautiful guitar solo on this song."
Mathilda “The song is mostly about the flip side, and much of the root, of toxic masculinity and its effect on men. It's about the sadness and danger to oneself and to others of living inauthentically—about how it deprives us from having a truly peaceful and empathetic experience. I appeared slightly feminine to my friends at school. But I was very lucky in that I had a very accepting father, who wasn’t bothered by how I appeared. My home was a safe place. There's nothing inherently feminine about being gay, and there's nothing inherently masculine about being straight. What disturbed me about being called Mathilda was in part what must bother anyone who is given a nickname they didn't want or, in a worse case, defined in a way that they don't identify with: It's dehumanizing. And that is especially damaging for young people, for whom identity is even more important than for adults, because they have less: less experience, no career identity, no family of their own to help define them. Their identity is a greater part of all they have.”
Ride in the Unknown “I thought the song was finished when I had Doug come into the studio to add some rhythm guitar. He was playing on the last repeating chorus and started picking out a little melody that he'd just made up. I fell in love with it right away and asked him to play it on the entire ending. I couldn't stop singing it to myself. I'm so grateful to Doug for that.”