The French Connection of Nada Surf
By Alex Rice
Nada Surf singer Matthew Caws’s relationship with bassist Daniel Lorca dates back to when the pair attended a French boarding school in New York City together. The multilingual musicians’ songbook shows that they’ll always love La République.
Sleep / Zen Brain
During Nada Surf’s self-funded tours of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, sales of the rarities collection North 6th Street helped finance the recording of third LP Let Go. The album, released digitally in 2019, features French versions of two standouts from 1996 debut High/Low, “Sleep” and “Zen Brain.” The former, the most unhinged rocker Nada Surf has ever written, loses none of its toughness when translated into a Romance language (“J'essaye de rester debout!”).“Zen Brain” maintains all its melodic yearning, but some of the lyrics didn’t make it through the French dictionary. The first half of the chorus is mostly sung in French, but the back half is in boring ol’ English.
Là Pour Ça
Lorca occasionally popped up on lead vocals during Nada Surf’s early years (highlights include High/Low’s “Icebox” and The Proximity Effect’s “Slow Down”), but he hasn’t taken the mic on record since this deep cut from 2002’s Let Go. The title roughly translates to “That’s what I’m here for,” as the bassist spends the song reassuring his lover of his dependability. “Let the boat sink / Part with your ways /Let yourself go and don’t be afraid,” he pleads to la belle femme.
Bye Bye Beauté
Nada Surf’s palindromic covers album, 2010’s If I Had a Hi-Fi, features power-pop renditions of everything from ‘80s smashes like Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” to obscure ‘90s twee tunes like “I Remembered What I Was Going to Say” by The Sleepy Pillows. Somewhere in between is their take on French singer Coralie Clément’s “Bye Bye Beauté,”a loungy chanson from her 2005 LP of the same name. Caws and Lorca’s Francophilia also apparently seeped into Hi-Fi’s Spoon cut: that band’s 2001 ode to a French pirate, “The Agony of Lafitte.”
So Much Love
The synthy, saccharine opener to Nada Surf’s eighth and latest full-length, 2020’s Never Not Together, is the recipient of French and Spanish versions on the album’s deluxe tracklisting. Caws wrote “So Much Love” as part of a South by Southwest songwriting workshop, and its title and sentiment are interpreted beautifully by both Romance languages. “Tant d'amour dans l’air (So much love in the air) / Tant d'amour toujours autour (So much love; it’s always there),” goes the French edition, keeping all of its delectable hooks.
Alex Rice is the founder of Bandbox. His writing has appeared in the Denver Post, Guitar World and Minneapolis's City Pages.