photo & text by nacrowe
i remember discovering the NYC-based INDIE ROCK / ALTERNATIVE ROCK band NADA SURF, like most people my age, on MTV's 120 MINUTES program while on summer vacation in NEW JERSEY after spending my first year with my family in NIGERIA. like ive written about before, that transition from growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA to living and going to school in WEST AFRICA was life-changing and really, if im honest, took decades to process. going through puberty at the time coupled with living abroad made me feel very SELF-CONSCIOUS and highly INSECURE about myself. being around distant EAST COAST cousins id never met before that first summer didnt help much either in that regard.
enter the "POPULAR" music video.
for me, my memories of the HIGH/LOW (ELEKTRA, 1996) album is the "POPULAR" music video, which centered around depictions of HEIGHTENED high school sexuality and lyrics which proposed that anyone could date everyone for a limited monthlong amount of time, resulting in no commitments, no strings attached, no emotional tethering and no suffering. in other words an impossible scenario. the endearing thing about the song and the video is that it straddles the line between irony and social commentary. lyrics that really hit me as a pre-teen included "my mom says im a catch, im popular" and "i'll never get caught, im popular." the song successfully mines that AWKWARD and BRUTAL manner in which high school is a DELICATE social balancing act further complicated by raging hormonal urges and ever-shifting, undefined BYZANTINE rules of engagement. the dating proposal basically parodies that very notion itself. in retrospect its a very WEIRD song that was nonetheless highly AFFECTING and sonically evoked my perennially INTROSPECTIVE and UNCONFIDENT experience of being a teenager. at the time i was coming to terms with the fact that the idea of "home" didnt really apply to me anymore. it was a shifting concept at best.
i feel bad only talking about that one song, but honestly it really had an impact on my psyche at the time. it was hard to watch because it cut that deep. in the 2000s i later rediscovered NADA SURF and their EXCELLENT albums LET GO (BARSUK, 2002) and THE WEIGHT IS A GIFT (BARSUK, 2005) which both blended a BUOYANT sense of melodicism with INSIGHTFUL, POIGNANT lyrics about getting older. those records, as well as later releases i know in much greater detail than their debut as i spent more time with them.
whats funny is that when DEER GOD started in earnest we decided on filming and editing videos for artists, including music videos and live performance videos. we shot an upcoming BROOKLYN-based INDIE ROCK band called POM POM SQUAD (performance video linked HERE) for a series of live performance videos at TRANS PECOS in QUEENS and MARKET HOTEL in BROOKLYN called OFF THE M (a reference to the M TRAIN that connects the two venues). anyway, that band ended up covering "POPULAR" and even had MATHEW CAWS from NADA SURF in their updated video (linked HERE). it was an interesting development that really felt like a bizarre full circle moment. a song that meant so much to me as a pre-teen being reimagined by the next generation of INDIE ROCK musicians.
anyway, my strong preference is for the later NADA SURF records, but their debut HIGH/LOW is a POTENT statement that stands up with their peers of the era including everyone from WEEZER, BLUR and VERUCA SALT to GUIDED BY VOICES and PAVEMENT. definitely worth checking out.
i am always on the hunt for live music series online. it probably comes from attempting to initiate one myself. i recently came across LIVE @ 885FM which showcases live performances by upcoming as well as established INDIE ROCK acts in their studio out of CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. notable participants during pre-pandemic times include that of JOHNNY MARR, BOB MOULD, NADA SURF, BEST COAST, RODRIGO Y GABRIELA, ROLLING BLACKOUTS COASTAL FEVER, JENNY LEWIS, INARA GEORGE (of BIRD & THE BEE), KURT VILE, BLITZEN TRAPPER and FIRST AID KIT.
obviously this is a take on the model spearheaded and popularized by the longstanding live performance series out of KEXP in SEATTLE, but honestly who cares? i love the fact that there are a multitude of radio stations (including KCRW in SANTA MONICA) providing quality, professionally recorded and mixed content of bands playing live.
we all win. especially when legacy radio stations have the pull to draw in first-rate talent, as is the case with 88.5FM.
its really cool the stuff that is being released on YOUTUBE these days. since 1987 the DUTCH television live performance series 2 METER SESSIONS has been film/recording/mixing one session a week of upcoming musical talent. as you can imagine, the variety and scope of these recordings has grown immeasurably over the years and there has been a slow trickle via their YOUTUBE channel releasing the more memorable performances.
everything from BURNING SPEAR, BECK and YEASAYER to SEPULTURA, NADA SURF and even NIRVANA.
definitely look these vintage performances up if you have the inclination. definitely worth the effort.
NADA SURF is easily one of the most underrated bands of the 1990s (right up there with FAILURE). while their more successful peers (WEEZER & GREEN DAY) rode waves of fame and disappointment, they just strode along consistently creating tuneful and emotionally resonant INDIE ROCK that continues to this day.
i really don't understand why they are not more wildly celebrated, but even so i'm still stoked that they have assembled an enviable staple of well-crafted and thoughtful songs well into middle age. they don't appear to be settling any time soon. i look forward to continuing to grow with their music as it continues to develop. see where frontman/songwriter MATHEW CAWS takes us.
collage by nacrowe
earlier this summer i did a DEER GOD RADIO show on a topic i am particularly passionate about, INDIE ROCK.
i've spotlighted several bands in this genre (LA LUZ, JAPANESE BREAKFAST, EL GUINCHO, GIRL IN A COMA, DRAB MAJESTY, GRAHAM COXON) with several more planned in the coming weeks (WARPAINT, LA VIDA BOHÈME, THE COATHANGERS, IRON REAGAN, ANA TIJOUX, BATTLES, LE BUTCHERETTES). i've also written several book reviews on this topic (GIRL IN A BAND, LOVE ROCK REVOLUTION, MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM) with have several more lined up (SET THE BOY FREE, THIS BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE, CLOSER YOU ARE, HUNGER MAKES ME A MODERN GIRL). all due to the fact that this is arguably my favorite genre. for me what edges it above METAL and HARDCORE is the experimental aspect of it, the fact that like HIP HOP, it is a form that at its core challenges the musician and listener alike to seek new sounds. this fact makes it infinitely intriguing to read about and explore as people came to it from different viewpoints along gender, class, geographic, political lines that ultimately complicated and strengthened the fabric of the by definition open community.
looking back, this was one of my favorite playlists yet. i see this specific show as being a sister piece to a previous episode dedicated to 1980s HARDCORE, since both were concurrent scenes that supported and in many cases had a similar DIY ETHIC surrounding it. if anything, i see MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC as a community built on that same ethos of independence, integrity and passion.
if the artwork didn't clue you into the playlist, you can always catch that at the episode's page HERE. take it all in and enjoy this show. i definitely had fun with it.