Frontman Matthew Caws Shares the Domestic Misadventure Behind “In Front of Me Now,” Nada Surf’s First U.S. Chart Hit in 28 Years

Nada Surf’s first-ever single “Popular” is still their most famous, 28 years after its release. The New York-based indie rock band has had a smattering of hits over the years, but most of their chart success has come in the UK, France, and Switzerland. It wasn’t until the group released “In Front of Me Now”—the leadoff single from their 10th studio album Moon Mirror (to be released in September)—that they finally had a second song to reach a Billboard chart. As of this writing, “In Front of Me Now” is sitting at No. 37 on Adult Alternative Airplay chart.

Videos by American Songwriter

What is it about “In Front of Me Now” that is resonating with listeners? It could be several things. The song has a simple, singable melody, and its official video is a great showcase for the band’s personality. “In Front of Me Now” also has a highly relatable message about all of the ways we can fail to be present. In a video call with American Songwriter, Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws explains that there is more to the song than a simple message about attending to what’s “in front of” us. “In Front of Me Now” comes directly from Caws’ life experience, and he wrote the lyrics after a particularly upsetting episode in which his mind was somewhere other than where it was supposed to be.

Caws’ IOU to Himself

Taken at face value, “In Front of Me Now” appears to be Caws’ declaration that he has figured out how to stay focused on what is happening in the here and now. The opening verse, in which Caws cites a series of situations where his attention was elsewhere, sets the tone.

I used to be dreaming when I was driving
I used to be leaving when I was arriving
I used to be calling when I was walking
I used to be thinking when I was talking

Then Caws follows up these recollections with a bold claim: Today, I do what’s in front of me now. However, Caws says that refrain is not a factual statement but rather an aspirational mantra, though he adds, “I’m happy to say I’m improving [at being present] as I get older.” He sees “In Front of Me Now” as typical of a type of song that announces an intention rather than acting as a check mark on a to-do list. He says, “I feel like very often, songs are like declarations, aspirational declarations. But they’re like IOUs to the self. They’re happiness on credit.”

Lost in Vacuuming

When Caws wrote the lyrics for “In Front of Me Now,” he was feeling desperate to get a better handle on being in the present moment. His motivation for writing such a song came from a moment in which his attention wandered from a task, and disaster ensued. He was running the vacuum cleaner while wearing noise-canceling headphones when his wife asked him to fill the bathtub with some water so that she could clean it. Caws turned the bathtub faucet on and resumed his vacuuming, still with his headphones on.

Caws was still vacuuming 10 minutes later, when he suddenly heard his wife running up the stairs, shouting “What is happening?!” He soon realized water was flowing out of the bathroom and flooding the rest of the house. The water had tripped the smoke alarms, causing them to go off and emit their ear-piercing signals. In his state of high alert, Caws struggled to figure out how to shut off the alarms.

A New Intention and a New Song

A few days later, still feeling sheepish about the episode, Caws had an epiphany while he was driving. He recalls, “I had the same thought I’ve had before when I’ve done spacey things, which is this is the brain that I’m stuck with. … This is gonna happen. And so I swore to myself, again aspirationally, I said, ‘No, I need to do one thing at a time.’”

However, Caws would have one more multitasking moment, as he started writing “In Front of Me Now” while he was driving. He says he wrote about half of the song in the car, including the melody for the verses. Caws had also come up with a melody for the chorus—one he says was better than the version that is on the record—but he couldn’t remember how it went later on. He had no problem recalling the verse melody, as he found its rising pattern of notes to be easy to remember. Some of the lyrics he thought of while driving, such as You used to surround me whenever you found me / I could have learned more from the friends I had ‘round me, were easy for Caws to remember, because he found them to be true.

He wound up filling in some of the remaining lyrics when he played a version of the song for other people. Caws says it was “so much fun” to work with the lyrical structure of the song he created, so he found it easy to add to what he had already written.

Caws didn’t foresee that “In Front of Me Now” would return Nada Surf to the charts in the U.S., but he was excited about the song. His reasons for feeling good about it were personal, as he declares it gave him relief. Says Caws, “It explains a state of mind that I’m unwillingly kind of a prisoner of, really. And it’s kind of a lifelong struggle.”

While the lyrics have a special meaning for Caws, they have meant something to others as well. Caws says he has received more feedback about “In Front of Me Now” than he typically gets, often from people who say they identify with the song. It appears Caws’ mishap has led to a lot of music fans feeling better about their own difficulties with being in the moment.

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Photo by John Shearer/WireImage for KROQ-FM

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