Cautious optimism would appear to be the operative theme on Never Not Together (Barsuk), Nada Surf’s eighth proper studio album, due out February 7. You have to think that outlook was at least partially informed by frontman Matthew Caws’ recent run-in with domestic bliss.
“I didn’t have that feeling in mind, but I think that’s right,” says Caws, who married in 2016 and is now the father of a young son. “These are very distressing times, so if you would’ve said there was a little whining on this album, I wouldn’t have been shocked. But I’ve had a lot of motivation in my personal life to tackle anxiety. I’m 52, so right now I’m in the meat of the matter. I have to find peace and order where I can. I’m a dreamer, so it’s been a lifelong two-steps-forward-one-step-back process.”
Caws seems to have found what he’s looking for on Never Not Together’s lead-off track, “So Much Love,” written as part of a South By Southwest industry panel headed by Hits magazine’s Karen Glauber. “So much love, it must be real,” sings Caws, enveloped by the tune’s soaring chorus. “How much love?/I can’t say/Just know that I need to get out of its way.”
“Karen asked me to write a song with that title because that’s how I sign off on most emails,” Caws says. “My first reaction was no, because we already have ‘Always Love’ and ‘Inside Of Love.’ But then I thought I’d just give it a shot. It came really quickly from this feeling of gratitude and knowing how much there is out there to be comforted by.”
Never Not Together was recorded by Nada Surf soundman and tour manager Ian Laughton at Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire, Wales, with the lush keyboards of longtime friend and collaborator Louie Lino figuring prominently into its sound. “We did our practicing in Cambridge (Caws’ adopted hometown) and drove there,” says Caws. “When you cross into Wales, it’s immediately like Lord Of The Rings. Everything is a richer green. There are sheep everywhere—and you can hear them. In the old carriage house where we were, the list of records made there is really insane. Some of them mean a lot to me—like the first three Echo & The Bunnymen albums and the Flamin’ Groovies’ Shake Some Action. There was something about where we were that made us reach a little bit further.”
And while much of Never Not Together may be about Caws expressing some semblance of optimism for our vastly polarized, upended republic, he has little empathy for extremists. “Civility has its own dangers—you can’t be too civil,” he says. “You have to call out what needs to be called out, despite it being uncomfortable. But there’s so much goodwill—so much desire to have things work out. Some of us are just coming at it from different perspectives. Eventually, we’ll all need each other.”