When famed music video director, Mark Pellington, asked Matthew Caws, front man and principle songwriter for the rock ‘n’ roll band, Nada Surf, what he was reading, a world of possibilities unfurled.
Caws had been studying writings – meditations – by his father, Peter, a well-respected professor of Philosophy. At the time, Pellington and Caws were discussing a few possibilities for videos for Nada Surf’s 2020 LP release, Never Not Together. But after Caws described what he’d been reviewing, he and Pellington went to work creating the 10-minute music video masterpiece for the song, “Just Wait,” which features a desolate cityscape and both Caws and his now-late father reading existential, self-assuring lines from those poetic meditations. We are happy to exclusively premiere that video here today.
“I just sort of found my dad’s writings in a book of autobiographical poetry he never put out,” Caws says. “I find them so helpful and comforting and inspiring and bolstering. There was something special about my dad. He was just very empowering as a parent.”
Nada Surf’s latest album, which the band released in February, is nine tracks comprised of buoyancy and spirit mixed with a sense of unsettledness. Amidst the harmonies, falsetto singing and skipping rhythms, there is a stark understanding of the nature of things. Some lines wonder aloud about a woman’s general worry of incurring violence on a first date, contrasted with the much simpler idea of men merely worrying about embarrassment as their worst case scenario. The new single, “Just Wait,” which was written during a session with songwriter, Gavin Slate, in Nashville, was borne from ideas of curious, perhaps stunted, patience.
“I’d often thought it was unrealistic to say to anybody, ‘Just say no,’” Caws says. “I was thinking it might be more effective to say, ‘Just say later.’ Or, ‘Just wait.’ Gavin and I talked for a long time, about all kinds of things, but then we started zeroing in on the idea of this song, of being in between ages and worlds, learning to trust your future, waiting.”
The mood for the song’s music video comes from the surreal existence in between waking life and dream life. It’s near dystopian. There is a sense of great space, an expanse. But in this version, the openness is not freeing. It’s oddly suffocating. Like how a giant ocean could consume you. It makes you want to open your eyes, recovering in a reality you’re more accustomed to. That’s where the guidance of Caws and his father comes in. The narrators, offering their best Morgan Freeman tones, tell the listener to breathe, relax, to trust, to embrace life. The listener, alive in the moment, is by definition immortal in this moment, too.
“It matches so perfectly with the mental landscape that I had when I wrote the song,” Caws says. “You know, right as you’re falling asleep, things can be very surreal. Spacious, spooky. And this video has so much of that.”
Nada Surf, which formed in the mid-90s and has since released nine studio albums, continues to thrive. It can be unusual for a rock band, successful or not, to last nearly three decades but Caws and company have kept the ship steady.
“It feels as exciting as it ever did,” he says. “It doesn’t feel rote, the writing doesn’t feel rote at all. Like a lot of songwriters, sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. But when I do get into it, I definitely feel like I go some place I like going to.”
For nearly everyone, the idea of being a public figure and someone who plays music in front of thousands for many years on end is a fantasy, at best. And that’s how it started, too, for Caws. The artist has worked in a record store, temp jobs, graveyard shift data entry at the prestigious investment bank Bear Stearns and many more. But throughout the many stages of his life – from romantic relationships to the passing of his father – the stage, itself, has been the mainstay. For Caws, who remembers getting his first guitar at 11-years-old and playing a single chord for an hour straight, thrilled by the mere vibrations, music is transportive.
“I think that’s my favorite thing about it,” he says. “That it can bring you back to yourself or bring you somewhere else. It’s dual transportiveness – if that’s even a word. Also, on a cellular level, it just makes me happy.”
Caws loves the chase and the (hopeful) resultant satisfaction of creative work. In a way, he appreciates most the pursuit of the next song, the next melody. It permeates his artistic life, whether it’s the next tune he’s writing or the next one he’ll obsess over, diving deep into and putting on repeat for an hour or three. It’s this unceasing imaginative energy that keeps Caws discovering new things, both in others and in himself.
“Hunting around, listening to different kinds of music, it’s sort of a mental version of fishing,” Caws says. “I don’t fish, but I can imagine the thrill of going back to the riverside and dropping your hook in. Maybe you’ll get something. It’s like a lottery ticket!”ᐧ