Nada Surf is playing the A & R Bar in Columbus, Ohio tonight. I'm going to see them for the first time. They are one of my favorite bands. - Colin G. 9/22/16
Three Songs in My Life with Nada Surf: Part One - "Always Love"
"Have you heard the new Nada Surf song? It might be the best song I've ever heard." That's a pretty strong statement. And coming from my Watershed bandmate - future Hitless Wonder author Joe Oestreich - it carried twice the weight. Unlike myself, Joe is not prone to hyperbole. "Alright then. I'll be the judge of this, fire up the tune, Biggie." I responded.
So as the van rolled East on a beautiful stretch of I-64 towards a gig in Charlottesville, I heard "Always Love" by Nada Surf for the first time. It started perfect and only got better. Damn, Joe might be right. This is one of my favorite songs ever. Right now. After one listen. "Biggie, spin them shits again." It was even better on the second listen. I remember thinking, "Did he just sing, 'It helps to write things down, even when you then cross it out'"? That's a great line.
Of course, the context of when a listener receives a song always plays huge into its reception. That's why seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers while drunk in some club is kinda fun, but hearing the same band on the radio while stuck in traffic makes you want to wretch. At that point, I was in great spirits. Everything was sounding good to my ears. Watershed was finally a truly great band touring behind a truly great record in The Fifth of July. We had had our moments in the past: but the then-current line-up of myself, Joe, Dave Masica and Mark "Pooch" Borror - along with the road crew of Biggie and newly hired roadie/older brother Ricki C. - was really gelling. You didn't have to like us or maybe we weren't your taste, but at that moment we were truly a great rock n roll band at the height of its powers. We never used a setlist and could do a smoking 40-minute opening set in an arena or a three-set marathon in a bar in Marquette, Michigan. It was all the same to us. Something about playing a thousand shows, I guess.
We had a new manager in Thomas O'Keefe, working radio & booking shows; and even a little tour support thanks to Columbus restaurant entrepreneur Cameron Mitchell. The last part was HUGE. I had recently married the girl of my dreams and we had a young son at home. In fact, being a part-time stay-at-home Dad really helped my writing with the latest record. Not much to do sitting home with a baby, so I wrote "The Best Is Yet To Come" and "Small Doses" instead of going out to the bars. One day I served Cameron coffee in the morning and then was his server later that night at a different restaurant. He said, "Let me get this straight, you work two jobs, help take care of a baby at home and tour & record with Watershed?" "Yes, sir." "Maybe you could use some financial help?" he asked. I answered, "I would never ask you for that." He responded, "I know you wouldn't, that's why I'm offering." It was the kindest thing anybody outside of Joe's dad had ever done for the band.
When the record was finished and all this momentum started lining up, my wife and I had a serious talk about the band doing some touring. She was all for it. Follow your dreams and all that. I did not sugarcoat what we were about to get into. I had done this before: three times, in fact. They were all resounding failures in the traditional sense (money & security). She had never been through a touring cycle before. So I tried my best to be brutally honest. I laid it out almost word for word like this:
1) If I agree to this, these people own me for the next 18 months. They can schedule me anywhere, anytime, with rare exceptions. I could miss funerals and weddings. In the past I had missed my grandmother's funeral and my Mom's passing from lung cancer.
2) I cannot quit halfway through, even if it gets tough. If anything is going to happen it will be towards the end of the 18 months. Many people are now working on my behalf and I owe it to them to give it my best: better not to even try than to quit 15 months in.
3) The odds of success were worse than looking for a needle in a haystack. No matter how good the record, how good the band and management, we were signing on to basically drive around the entire country to find one needle in one certain haystack. Everybody is talking a good game now but this probably isn't going to work. Is that clear?
Still, being the beautiful, supportive person she was, she enthusiastically signed off on the plan. "You should go for it one more time."
So riding in the van at that moment, I somehow had yet another stay of execution of being forced to give up my life's passion and forced to retreat to the real world and a real job. But none of that mattered now. I was back from the dead. Life- support systems suddenly plugged back in by the mighty hands of rock n roll (along with producer Tim Patalan), traveling with my friends to play music and listening to one of the best songs I had ever heard.
Actually, I knew Nada Surf. Almost sorta literally. Their drummer Ira Elliot had been the drum tech for The Smithereens when we were lucky enough to open up a tour for them during our Epic records days. The tour was a blast and Ira was a heck of a nice guy to us bunch of Ohio hayseeds, who had somehow landed a major record deal. Ira was NYC all the way. I remember hanging with him at the Windjammer on Isle of Palms, SC and while we are all rocking shorts and beachwear, Ira was donning skinny jeans and big black leather boots. Frankie LaRocka would have been proud. When Ira wasn't out working for 'Reen's drummer, Denis Diken, he had his own band. They were called Nada Surf.
During that tour, The Smithereens got dropped from their label after a show in San Antonio. About two months after that, we got dropped too. Sometime after that, I don't know how long, I turned on MTV and there was a popular video getting lots of spins. The song was actually called "Popular" and the band was....Nada Surf. "Damn, that's Ira's band. Good for him."
Coming Soon: Three Songs in My Life with Nada Surf Part Two - "Blizzard of 77"
Colin Gawel plays in the band Watershed (and in the bands The Lonely Bones and The League Bowlers) and also as a solo act. You can read all about him in the book Hitless Wonder by Joe Oestreich.
He is a dad, husband, coffee shop owner, and - oh yeah - is the founder of Pencilstorm, too.