Ep50: Matthew Caws (Nada Surf) on giving yourself permission to be creative – Transcript

Ep50: Matthew Caws (Nada Surf) on giving yourself permission to be creative – Transcript


SPEAKERS

Laura Kidd, Matthew Caws


Matthew Caws
If you love songs, you love music – that’s permission. That’s permission to believe you can do it, that’s permission to try, and just…just show up. You’re allowed. You’re valid. Anyone can do it. And it’s such a kind thing to  yourself, to give yourself space, and give yourself time. It’s great.


Laura Kidd  
Hello and welcome to episode 50 of Attention Engineer.

I’m Laura and this is my podcast. Hi!

Attention Engineer is a show where I share deep conversations with fellow artists about creativity, grit and determination. My aim is to consistently remind you – and remind myself – that creativity really is for everyone!

Thank you so much for choosing to listen to this podcast today. I’m delighted to share this conversation with you, and as someone who has found the concept of giving yourself permission such a powerful thing in my life, it feels like a beautifully fitting way to draw a line under the first 50 episodes of Attention Engineer.

Yes, this is the last conversation I’ll be sharing for a while. I’m writing a collaborative album with my Obey Robots project, I’m writing a new solo album, I’m working on a book about creativity and productivity, and this podcast has given me a lot to process.

I never really had conversations like this with fellow artists before I started this show, so they’ve been incredibly galvanising and inspiring to me personally. There’s a lot of wisdom in these 50 episodes, and I’m working out ways of making that accessible to as many people as possible. One of the things I’ve been doing is getting transcriptions done, and we’re working our way through the back catalogue gradually.

To access these, visit penfriend.rocks/transcripts to see which episodes are currently available in text form. 

I will have one more episode to share with you before the end of the year, but after that I won’t be beaming into your ears til 2022. I’m going to be stepping back from online shenanigans as well. Instead, I’ll be sharing backstage snippets of everything I’m working on with my Correspondent’s Club and staying in touch with my mailing list people too, so now is an excellent time to join us. I’ll even send you two free songs right away, so visit penfriend.rocks to claim your gifts.


Matthew Caws has been playing guitar, singing and writing songs in Nada Surf since 1994. He is one half of Minor Alps with Juliana Hatfield. He’s from New York City but currently lives in Cambridge, England.

Matthew and I shared a stage at the nano Mugen Festival at Yokohama Arena in Japan in 2009, but we didn’t meet. Earlier this year, when I spoke to Ryan Miller from Guster, he recommended I invite Matthew on the show next. For one reason and then another, it took a little while to organise, but I’m so pleased we managed to make this happen.

Here’s my conversation with Matthew Caws.


LK  
It’s really good to see you – and meet you for the first time. Hello!

MC  
You too. Thank you for your patience – I know I blew one of those weeks. But yeah, great to meet you in audio person, yeah.

LK  
And I love how we’ve been put in touch, not just through Ryan from Guster, but the guy on Twitter who was saying “you should have Matthew Caws on your podcast”.

MC  
Oh yes, yes, who was that? Thank you, kind sir.

LK  
Thank you to that man.

MC  
Thank you to that man.

LK  
And also, is it really true that you found my record in a shop?

MC  
Yes, I was at Lost In Vinyl in Cambridge, and it was playing on the stereo. And it was one of those moments where I thought well, that’s good, and I should just have that. Why wait?

LK  
Why not?!

MC  
So I bought it on the spot. Yeah, loved it.

LK  
That’s really cool! Do you know what, when I when I found that out, I got in touch with my distributor to say thank you.

MC  
Oh, that’s nice, that’s good.

LK  
Because that’s the first record I’d ever had in record shops, ever.

MC  
Oh I see, right!

LK  
So it was a big deal, because it was a brand new thing to me that people could just browse it and find it somewhere where they’re actually looking for music, you know?

MC  
Right, yeah. Old style. And then having someone in the shop play it, it’s such a – thats a kudos.

LK  
Such a compliment, yeah, cos they hear stuff all the time.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
Thank you to that person. Thank you to all the people who have made this possible today.

MC  
Yeah, that’s Rob at Lost In Vinyl. Lovely guy.

LK  
Hello Rob!

Could you introduce yourself for the listeners, please?

MC  
Yeah. My name is Matthew Caws. I’m in a band called Nada Surf. I sing and play guitar in that band. That’s mostly what I do. I had a side project with Juliana Hatfield called Minor Alps about six years ago, maybe. And that’s it. That’s it really. I kind of write songs with other people sometimes, but you haven’t heard any of those – not on purpose, but you just probably haven’t. And I’m stockpiling those, and will eventually record them all into a sort of pseudo solo record of co-writes, and I live in Cambridge, England. I am from New York City. Moved here about 11 years ago, and I don’t really believe in astrology but I’m a Leo.

LK  
Okay, I’m a Gemini. I don’t know what any of it means.

MC  
I appreciate it, though. I like people who believe in it, and I like hearing them talk about it.

LK  
Yeah. What do you think of tarot? Have you ever done tarot?

MC  
I have never done it. Never done it. I bet it’s, you know, like all those things, I bet it’s a great mechanism to prompt thinking or something.

LK  
Yeah, yeah. I just started getting into it a little bit, very lightly recently.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
And my husband and I have found it just really interesting to pull a card out and then see if it resonates with anything we’re thinking about, and then have a conversation.

MC  
Right, that’s great.

LK  
Yeah, I’m not being ruled by a picture that I’ve randomly picked out of a card deck, but it’s really interesting.

MC  
It’s kind of literally like meeting a stranger, you know, you just think, okay, what can I say that will fish around and prompt some common…or illuminate some common ground, and then we can have a chat, you know?

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
I really like talking to cab drivers and talking to people at bus stops – if they talk first, I’m not a monster. And also on airplanes, I’ll only be chatty if it seems like a two way street.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
I never bother anyone.

LK  
Have you found the friendliness in the UK to be different from New York?

MC  
Oh, hah, well, you know, there are some tiny differences. I mean, I think people are wonderful everywhere, but I did have a funny experience in Cambridge, early on. It was probably 9.30 at night, and I was walking home from the Co-op with some groceries. And there was a a banana peel on the pavement, and I nearly stepped on it, and I thought that was hilarious that I’d almost been in a classic physical comedy joke. And I looked around to share this moment with somebody and there was a guy walking maybe 15 feet behind me and I said, “I literally almost stepped on a banana peel!”. And he looked at me like I’d committed a grave offence by speaking to a stranger, you know.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
It’s maybe a little more buttoned up here but, you know, those are all just surface things. It’s kind of like the surface thinking about New York, that New Yorkers are rude, but they’re not. They’re wonderfully warm people, it’s just that they’re generally in a hurry. 

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
And so they’re gonna have a hurried manner, but they’re just fine when you get to know them.

LK  
It’s a much noisier place in my recollection.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
I haven’t been for a few years now. But it didn’t feel aggressive though, just felt loud. And I think if everyone’s loud in England, it’s like there’s a commotion. It’s a problem. Something’s happened.

MC  
Well, it’s expensive to live there. So everyone has this added stress, and so everyone’s hustle is dialled up a little bit. And that makes them impatient. Yeah, not aggressive, just got to get there.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
Please don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk, yeah.

LK  
No. Has it been a problem for you coming to somewhere where the pizza is not as good?

MC  
Ah, it’s fine. Nor are the bagels.

LK  
No.

MC  
But it’s, it’s fine. I’m easy, you know, I’ll eat anything. I really love really good food, but I also am quite fond – and this is not a judgement of British food at all – but I’m even fond of tasteless food. There was a kind of cracker, well, a sort of cracker cookie biscuit company called SnackWell, and SnackWell made some crackers that were just…empty. And I loved them, because it was just the act of eating. And also they were kind of, there wasn’t a lot in them, so you could just down a few sleeves of it with no damage, you know? And I used to wolf them down while I was, you know, in college when I was working on a term paper or something, just because I like the idea – and this is probably what smoking is about, too – I like the idea of replacement activity. I’m not working on a term paper, I’m eating a cracker and I happen to be looking at a term paper, you know? My primary activity right now is eating, so that’s not very stressful.

LK  
So do you mean that you’re – in that example, are you trying to trick yourself into doing the thing you’re supposed to be doing by having a nice snack?

MC  
By doing something else. Yeah, that’s right.

LK  
Ooo. All right. So what sort of activities are you currently trying to put off that you would have to tempt yourself into with a snack?

MC  
Mmmm, okay, so I just moved into a new workspace. Well, not even new, I mean, I haven’t had one in 10 years, ao I wouldn’t even say a new workspace – a workspace, which is thrilling, which is where I am right now with these bare walls. And what I have not tackled is the stack of envelopes that showed up saying here’s water, here’s electricity, here’s council tax, here’s blah blah blah blah blah.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
I haven’t touched that little stack of papers, and I’m hoping that I have not used up my grace period yet.

LK  
Yeah, yeah. That’s a good one.

MC  
I’m avoiding that.

LK  
Do you find yourself putting off the act of making music ever?

MC  
Yes, very often, much to my chagrin, because well, all the obvious reasons. And I’m sure you know all about them. You know, I love work. I love making music. I love nothing more. My parents worked a lot. I admire a good work ethic very much. I mean, I greatly admire a good work ethic. And I sometimes don’t get down to it. Why is that? Well, here’s a finding, which is a development, which is that I used to think maybe I’m lazy. And that was so confusing, because I don’t feel lazy. And I really, as I said, love working.

Well in the last couple of years – at age now, 54, so let’s say three years ago – I had an epiphany. And that was, I’m not lazy, I’m anxious. And that was a wonderful thing to discover, because I have more tools to deal with anxiety. Well, not just more, I mean, I have some tools to deal with anxiety. Whereas for laziness, I don’t have any tools to deal with it because I don’t even understand it. I’m not saying I don’t understand it in other people, but in myself it doesn’t make sense, because I love doing and I love making and I love having made and I like all the things about it: setting up your gear, cleaning up your room, tidying up your desk, you know, going to a blank sheet of paper in your notebook or whatever. I mean, I love all that stuff. And looking for a melody, and just thinking, and making stuff up on the spot. All of it, I love it.

But I have anxiety about a lot of things and that really gets in the way. So, much of my working life or creative life is taken up with coping with that anxiety, or finding ways around it, or facing it, or defusing it, or making friends with it, or ignoring it. All these kinds of things.

LK  
Yeah. I definitely suffer from procrastination.

MC  
Oh, yeah.

LK  
Instead of doing the thing I’m procrastinating from, I’ll just read about procrastination and try and learn about that more. Which is useful…

MC  
Yeah. You know, totally valid.

LK  
I think so. And what I discovered there is that one idea is that procrastination is actually fear. It’s not laziness.

MC  
That’s right. That’s right. We’re saying the same thing, yeah.

LK  
I don’t have anxiety, but it’s a similar kind of approach, I think.

MC  
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t know how far fear and anxiety are from each other. I bet not far at all.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
I mean, it may be the two words for the same thing, you know.

LK  
I definitely, I hear you on all of that. For some reason it’s like the longest journey I can take is from this chair to pick up that guitar, you know?

MC  
Yeah, yeah.

LK  
But there’s no good reason for it. I love doing all the things as well. There’s nothing stopping me.

MC  
Hey, you know what, I just want to apologise because I didn’t mean to pile…maybe fear and anxiety are very different. So I didn’t mean to lessen –

LK  
Oh, I don’t know.

MC  
– lessen the uniqueness of that or possible… I know what you mean. And have you thought about…what comes up when you ask yourself “what am I afraid of?”?

LK  
I don’t know that I actually even ask myself the question.

MC  
Right.

LK  
I fill my days with a lot of different things. And I’m trying to simplify that at the moment, because it’s kind of bonkers. I look back at what I’ve done over the pandemic, and I’m really proud of the things I’ve made. But I do just think, why couldn’t I give myself just a little break there, just a little break – I didn’t have to do a weekly podcast and all this other stuff, and finish a record and put the record out and all that. I’m glad I did all those things. But I’m not one to sort of sit around and think too deeply about why I’m not doing things, because I’m so busy doing the other things – like I have to get this thing done first, and then I can do the next bit.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
But then also, I don’t think I’m necessarily going to be a songwriter who writes a song every week.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
And that’s okay. Because I will then write songs in chunks, for records, and put them out. So I will consistently put records out, I don’t think that’s a problem. And it’s a different kind of work. So when I was talking to Corin Tucker for her episode of this, she was talking about how she really only gets about four hours of really good, focused writing done when she’s doing songwriting. Because it’s cognitively really difficult.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
And I don’t mean poor me, I get to make my own music, oh please feel sad. It’s just it’s hard on the brain and the emotions and everything.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
So it’s not like you sit there at nine and you work til five, and you’re gonna get a song done.

MC  
No, no.

LK  
So it’s not a linear process.

MC  
No, not at all. And you’re right, you know, there is kind of built in fear because you’re doing something that there’s no answer for. 

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
You’re just guessing, right?

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
Sometimes I think of songs as like, the result of 1000 gut decisions.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
For no decision was there best practices. And those that there are, you know, usually…it’s funny, you know the way cliches are real for a reason, or whatever, you know, there’s truth in cliches? Best practices with songs, they’re basically used up probably. You know, things that are like the thing to do, or are known as the thing to do, because they’ve been done so much, if you then do them, it’ll come out invisible.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
You won’t even notice it. But there’s a lot of courage in taking on all those things you’re taking on, so you definitely have a lot of courage. I mean, to commit to all that, and come through, you know, it’s a lot.

LK  
There’s a fine line between courage and stupidity as well!

MC  
Ah. Well, stupidity is just like, right around the corner from everything, right? It’s like the Zelig of traits. It’s just like, everywhere.

LK  
Everyone’s got it, I think. Everyone’s got that one, for sure.

MC  
And spares, you know? You have just racks and racks of stupid, yeah.

LK  
It’s good to hear that you think everyone’s guessing as well.

MC  
Oh, yeah, right?

LK  
Presumably you’re also guessing when you’re writing songs?

MC  
Oh, yeah, I have no idea.

LK  
Good!

MC  
I wish I was guessing a little less, like I wish I knew a little more…you know, like the number system, the Nashville Number System? I wish I did have more facility of like, oh, obviously, I’ll go to the six chord here.

LK  
Oh yeah.

MC  
I have so little of that, that I’m embarrassed to say how basic it feels when I start out with a song. I’m just like, this chord and…that chord? I don’t know! I’m not just rolling out these cool progressions, you know, I have to build each one from scratch as if I was reinventing a very simple wheel.

LK  
Yeah. I just hear where it’s gonna go a little bit, and then I try a bunch of stuff, and then like you say, it’s those thousands of gut decisions.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
What I’ve found useful over the last few years is spending a lot of time thinking about what my values are, and what I want to send into the world.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
And then that kind of makes it easier, I suppose, when I’m writing something. It doesn’t give me the chord, or the lyric or anything.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
But it helps me remind myself there’s a point to it. And I suppose obviously, having put several records out, I’m not guessing or crossing my fingers so tightly that one person somewhere might like it, because I can be relatively confident there will be, if not thousands, at least hundreds, which is a nice idea. So I know that it’s not completely pointless, in terms of having an audience at the end of it. That does help.

MC  
Yeah, for sure. For sure. And you know, what you just said about thinking about what you’re putting out into the world?

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
I’ve found…so I guess I’m just saying it and asking the question, as well… I’ve found that that has really changed as I’ve gotten older. In that kind of diary writing (which I still do, you know, where you’re just sort of writing down your inner struggles) – I find that’s changed, because I’m now happily married. And I would never trade that for, you know, for anything, least of all songwriting fodder, but now that the whole idea of being alone, or being with somebody, and looking for a mate, and looking for happiness and a connection and, you know, the antidote to loneliness, and a partner, and all that stuff, which is really kind of one of the great – and I mean great in size, not necessarily good or bad – one of the great adventures of life, right, is where are you going? And who are you going to end up going there with?

Now that that’s settled, I find that any kind of diary kind of writing has gotten smaller, which is, you know, good. And I’m grateful for that. Because I’m not struggling as much in life. And what’s left is, you know, the stuff that we’re talking about, which is like dealing with creativity, and procrastination and work ethic, and all that stuff which, I have a hard time finding very interesting, or imagining that it’s very interesting to the listener, even though so many people are going through it.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
So I do end up thinking more like, well, what do I want to contribute? Is it the idea of open mindedness? Is it tolerance? Acceptance, you know, empathy, all those things?

LK  
Yeah. Being happily married kind of ruins things, doesn’t it? I have that problem, as well!

MC  
No, it’s the best. And I don’t need any more of those songs, I wrote plenty of them. But in a really good way, I think it ups the ante. Not just in writing, but just in life in general. Like, okay, well, now that that’s settled, what am I doing?

LK  
Absolutely. Well, this is why I was able to start thinking about those things. Because like you say that’s settled. So, my last two records have been made in a happily, I was gonna say happily married relationship.

MC  
Yes.

LK  
They have, so I had to think a bit more creatively, and I had to look a bit further forward and a bit further back in my life, into my past and into my future, maybe sort of raise my eyes up a little from my own life and look to the world a bit more. And I thought that made my songs more interesting.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
It wasn’t easy. To be honest. I started finding it so easy to complain about the person I was with or had just been with, it just wasn’t really much of a challenge.

MC  
Right.

LK  
So I don’t think I would have liked to continue making albums about the same thing. I’m glad my life changed!

MC  
For sure. Yeah, totally, and I love how you phrased that, because that really resonates with me, I thought the same exact way of like, raising my eyes up.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
And looking out.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
And I kind of am a little embarrassed I wasn’t doing that earlier. But I just wasn’t, because I hadn’t really thought about what songs were for, which sounds really basic. I knew I wanted to make music, I knew I had some talent or whatever, some sort of skill in putting music together, and then writing lyrics and putting them together. So I started doing that.

So maybe the first three records, I wasn’t really thinking about who’s receiving this? What feeling am I trying to put into this? Is it a positive thing in the world? Am I adding something good?

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
It was just I’ve written these songs, and they mean so much to me, and I need to share them.

MC  
Which is great, you know, and I mean, goodness, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about because in a way, it’d be great to be able to preserve that beginner’s mind or that guilelessness or directionless…you know, I miss that a little bit, because it’s hard to get back to that once you are…I was about to say in control enough, but I don’t want to exaggerate since I don’t really feel super in control of it. But you know what I mean, like, once you can steer the ship well enough to make choices about what’s the song about? Or what’s the thrust of it, you know?

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
Whereas it used to be just like, here comes a sentence I’m not embarrassed about that I feel. Okay. Here comes another one, I hope.

LK  
Yeah. Yeah. And it’s interesting what you’re saying about not feeling like you know exactly what you’re doing still now, because having had, and I’m not gonna harp on it too much, because there’s a long time ago, and probably when people talk to you, they just want to talk about that one song like most people do. But I find it so fascinating, the idea that people think that the musicians or the writers are in control of something being a hit.

MC  
Oh, right. Oh, hilarious. Yeah.

LK  
Because I mean, if you were…and I mean, not to denigrate any of your work cos I think all your work is absolutely fucking great…

MC  
Thank you.

LK  
…but you probably just would have done like, loads of hits, and then maybe gone to the Bahamas or something, if it was in your control?

MC  
Totally!

LK  
Or would you have, or did you decide not to?

MC  
No, I didn’t decide not to, I think hits are fantastic. And I wish I knew how to write them, and I would if I could. Well, you know what’s funny is that I just said to our manager, Ben, who’s a dear friend, too, he’s been our manager forever. I said you know, next time we make a record, let’s just not mention that word. Because on every album, invariably, one of us is tempted to, whether that be somebody in the band or a manager, or whoever’s engineering or producing to be like, hey, you know, this one. This one sounds like a hit. And I think you don’t gain much from that statement.

LK  
No.

MC  
And you lose a lot, because what starts to happen – and this has happened to me so many times, which is why I’m hoping we can sort of have a group wide decision to ban that word from the studio – is that then you start thinking oh, this one is the possible hit, so how can we make it stronger. That’s fine, that’s a good thing. But then you start thinking things despite yourself, you start thinking how can you make it more accessible?

LK  
Oh yeah.

MC  
And then you start aiming for like, oh, maybe the beat should be really, you know, “I Won’t Back Down” straight, like, just big and empty. And maybe this chorus should happen one more time. And what if the tempo was…you know, you start making decisions for really the dumbest reason. I mean, it’s so dumb.

LK  
And presumably, you didn’t do any of that with the song that was a hit?

MC  
No, oh, no, no, no, it just happened. It just happened. And you know, what was funny about that, too, was that… So, Listener, I think Laura is talking about a song called “Popular”, which was our first single.

LK  
I don’t know why I’m being so mysterious!

MC  
No, no, no, no, no. And what happened was, and I think music business stories are generally pretty boring, and I won’t drag you through this very long at all. But, so that was a single and it did well. And then the record company was choosing the second single and we had all agreed, you know, the band and Ric Ocasek from The Cars who produced our first record (we were very, very lucky to have that experience). We all agreed on this particular song called “Sleep” for a few reasons – the main one was that when we played live, that was the other one that people really, really reacted to, and somebody at the record company, somebody in the radio department decided it was too weird a song. And that seemed, it seemed doubly dumb. One is that’s just dumb, I mean, you know, there’s nothing wrong with weird and if you look at all the hits that have ever been, how many of them are just totally leftfield? You know, lots. But the other thing is that since our first single was definitely weird…

LK  
Yeah!

MC  
Weird is working. Let’s stick with weird, weird’s fine, weird’s not a problem. And instead, they went with a song that was very normal and actually pretty bland. So, anyway, it didn’t work.

LK  
But that’s interesting, because the way I look at hits often – as someone who works completely outside the mainstream, never had a label involved apart from I’ve licenced one of my albums –  I always thought it was the machine that did it. It’s like, I could write the best hit ever.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
But without press, radio, all that, it’s not true that someone like me could just put a song out online and it’s going to catch fire. I just don’t believe it. I think it could get to a certain amount of people, but you need so much other stuff involved.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
But then, as you’re saying there, the record company, that machine was there. Yeah, they probably picked the wrong song. But it’s strange to me that they couldn’t have made that…you know, pushed it a bit further. But then that’s why I’m saying to you earlier, the people who make the hit surely are the people…it’s the the audience, isn’t it? And the time –

MC  
Oh, yeah.

LK  
– and the Zeitgeist and whatever’s going on elsewhere in culture, and it’s just all of these things intersecting. And then there’s a hit.

MC  
Oh, for sure. For sure. And that idea that hits are made and bought, there’s a lot of truth to that. But there are thousands and thousands of hits that they tried to make and buy that didn’t connect.

LK  
Yeah, exactly.

MC  
And that’s probably because, you know, as much as there is a mechanism and ways to buy a chance, a wonderful thing is despite that, music is still to a great extent a meritocracy. Which is a beautiful thing, you know?

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
You have to connect with people.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
That does give me hope as well, there’s always a very beautiful moment when I’ve finished a record and no one’s heard it apart from my husband Tim, a few friends, whoever’s worked on it with me… And I can feel the hope bubbling like, this could be one that changes my life. And I don’t mean I’ll be famous…I don’t want to be any of those things. I don’t mean, it’s gonna change my life, turn it upside down, make me into a different person. But I think I mean that it could have…it could feel to me like it’s having an impact.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
You know, whereas it’s really difficult to feel an impact when you are outside the mainstream and it’s, you know, lovely tweets from people and stuff. That’s all really nice. But when there’s no real sort of, like widespread press stuff that could possibly happen, I guess. But I have that hope that bubbles, but it’s never when I’m writing, thank goodness, because I’ve never had that thing where I’ve had a hit and I’m trying to, you know, orchestrate another, perhaps some artists might do it that way. I’m not really thinking about that when I write, thankfully.

MC  
Yeah, yeah. Well, I know what you mean. I mean, there is a feeling…this will be a roundabout way to comment on what you just said, which is that we’re going to go on tour soon. And one thing that I really have missed about being on tour is that every night when I go to bed on tour, I have this feeling of having done my job. And it feels good, you know, and, and at home, being being a parent, being a partner, and much too occasionally writing songs, that feeling of just knowing that I just did the thing I needed to do is not as simple and not as accessible and not as regular.

And what was I gonna say? So yeah, so when you put out a record, I know what you mean. It’s like, it’s not necessarily that you want…it’s not the scale of it in particular, like if you want really widespread, you know, tonnes of people to hear it, but I think what can change your life a little bit, at least in the short term, and then cumulatively, is the idea that you’ve done something good, you know, because that contributes to wellbeing. The idea that you succeeded at something, you tried to do something and you succeeded. You braved the the fear of not knowing what you’re doing. You braved the embarrassment of opening yourself up. But there is this little one armed bandit feeling every time that you put out a record.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
It’s like you bought a lottery ticket, in a way.

LK  
Yeah, yeah.

MC  
And what could happen? You know, it is kind of exciting, yeah.

LK  
It is exciting. And yeah, I suppose part of that thing of wanting to be reminded, or wanting to have that validation that it was worth the time and the effort and the money, and I should keep doing it. I am on the right path. Because this has been my full time job only for two and a half years.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
Right? So it’s really weird for me still, and I still feel quite a strange amount of guilt for this being my job.

MC  
I see. Right. Yes.

LK  
And it’s difficult for me, because I used to work for freelance clients and I used to invoice people, and they would pay me, and all of that. And so now I’m just like, uh, am I allowed to take a week off? I should just be constantly doing things. And so for me, it was useful through the pandemic to do this podcast and to make videos and stuff because it felt like, well, I’ve completed something and I’ve put it out, you know, consistently. I suppose it makes me feel like I’m not a useless person. Because I don’t want to feel useless.

MC  
Right, yeah.

LK  
With no shows, of course, so…

MC  
Yeah, well, I know what you mean. We’re a working species.

LK  
Yeah, exactly. You need to feel like you’re spending your time in a way that is useful.

MC  
Yeah. We farm, we hunt / gather, and we create and yeah, if we’re lucky enough to be one of the people who can get away with tinkering all day, you know, it’s great. I was thinking recently about – I get asked a lot, since I’m older I get asked a lot, you know, like the music business has changed, what do you think, blah blah blah.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
And is it harder to make a living now and stuff like that. And I’ve been thinking for a while that this period of guitar shaped swimming pools and, you know, huge success for recording artists is really an anomaly.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
I mean, not that recording artists have been around for more than, you know, I don’t know how old recorded music is…100 years? 120? But the artists being this successful is an anomaly and I think of…have you read the Asterix comics?

LK  
No!

MC  
So Asterix is a French comic book and there are, I don’t know, 50 / 60 / 80 of them. And they’re books. And it’s about a small town in Gaul, right, so France in the Roman era. And they have a special herb that gives them strength, and that helps them defeat the Romans, so they’re a real thorn in the side of Rome, because it’s the one village in Gaul they can’t conquer. Anyway, that’s a long setup. But there’s a bard in the town. And the bard, at the end of every dinner, is strung up in a tree with his lyre strings popped, and no one wants him to sing any more. And I was just thinking how, you know, historically, the bard does not have, you know, the troubadour does not have a big house.

Right, so the idea of us being very successful – I don’t think there’s a real historical precedent for that. And the other thing is that it’s so common, you know, there’s this idea, certainly, with somebody like Kanye, for example, whose early records I love, and haven’t paid as much attention lately, but you know, there was a period a couple years ago where he was saying that he’s the greatest artist since Michelangelo or whatever, you know, he’s the top genius ever and all this stuff. And I feel like the very idea of making music as being super special is exaggerated.

Humans make art. It’s not that’s special. Art itself is special, because our capacity to dream and to be transported by something is amazing, but the act of making the thing itself – it’s wonderful and it’s very beautiful, but it’s not special in that it’s not that unique. So many people do it. Every mother singing to a baby to get them to sleep is making up probably as gorgeous a song as anybody’s ever made.

LK  
More regularly than us, as well.

MC  
Yes. Yes. With stronger motivation, for sure. Because getting a child to fall asleep is more satisfying than any music business kudos.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
But yeah, it’s just…it’s what people do. You know, we make bread, we hunt, we gather we make bricks out of mud and make a house, and we tinker and whittle sticks into arrows, and we make up songs. And we paint on cave walls. It’s just what we do.

LK  
Yeah. And it’s always seemed strange to me, when I meet people…or I met…I’ll say meet because it sounds like I will one day play again, which I hope I will. When I meet people after shows, and it’s really lovely when people want to give a compliment. I love compliments, I’m not gonna say I don’t love compliments, but they only go so far, then the conversation for me has to turn to well, what do you do?

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
Cos they know what I do. They’ve just seen it. And then people are often quite embarrassed…I don’t if they’re pretending to be embarrassed, I don’t know. But they’re kind of oh, I’m only a…dot dot dot.

MC  
Oh right, yeah yeah yeah.

LK  
And it’s always teacher, nurse, doctor, something amazing that to me has far more status than made some music and stood on a stage. And it’s lovely that they admire what I do, but I really admire what they do. So this idea yeah, of conferring so much more status on a performer doesn’t stack to me. Because it’s like you’re saying, the troubadour is part of the community.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
I’d like to think I’m part of a community, and this is my role in the community. And, you know, at the moment – touch all the wood – I get to do it all the time, which is incredible to me.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
But if If I didn’t, I still would do it because it’s my role.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
It’s my best role. The best thing I can bring to the world is this.

MC  
That’s right. That’s right. And it’s a two person thing, because the listener is contributing attention and contributing openness.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
And focus, which is not a given, you know.

LK  
No.

MC  
That’s really great. It’s like my wife has said, tends to say that she’s not musical. But we met working in a record store together. And she has much wider and deeper taste than I do. And if we’re talking about music, she can remember some old song with a weird melody and just sing it. And I’m always telling her how musical she is. Mostly, I mean, not just because she’ll sing that song back perfectly, but because because she loves it so much.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
And I almost think that’s the musical act, is listening and paying attention, and getting something out of it – and going with it. And following it, you know, whereas sometimes playing is just kind of a mechanical skill you pick up, you know, but you’re listening too, right? Even in songwriting, right, you’re listening. Okay, I wrote this verse. Let me really listen to this verse. What chorus does it make me think of? You know, you have to kind of become the listener partner.

LK  
And it’s so bonkers, because we’re just a bunch of animals.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
I can’t get over that. If I think too deeply on that for too long, I just sit and then I’m really procrastinating. I’m just like, well, I’m just an animal. I couldn’t possibly do anything today, it’s too weird! The whole thing’s too strange and too lucky, and too random, that I am alive, that you are alive, that we are talking through this technology. [explosion noise] brain explodes.

MC  
Totally all the time.

LK  
But yeah, I always try to remind people when I get the opportunity that we need them, they are so important. Everyone listening now, you are so important. Because otherwise, we’re just a bunch of strange people making these sounds that no one needs, but people must need them, otherwise they wouldn’t give us that attention. Because that’s the most precious thing.

MC  
And that’s always what I…it’s the most natural thing to say to anybody always, if a fan says something, I’m always like, thank you for listening, you know. I really mean it.

LK  
The music that you make with Nada Surf has always felt really generous to me.

MC  
Hmm, thank you.

LK  
I think it’s quite instructive and helpful and inclusive and uplifting and all of these things, and it’s very thoughtful and melancholy too, there’s all of those bits.

MC  
Thank you.

LK  
So I was wondering, what function does songwriting have in your life? And has that changed over time? Because to me it feels like it could be something you’ve written, like, as your own self help manual or something to help yourself out.

MC  
Yeah, it always has. It’s probably only changed in that it’s probably a little bit less about escaping from anxiety, and a little bit more about making sense of things, but it’s basically all the same. You know, comfort. I got comfort out of the radio really, really young, like everybody, you know, and particular songs gave me comfort, so I’d play them on repeat. And I think making music was the very same thing. You know, it’s like the trance of playing was a happy place.

When my Aunt Peg – Peg short for Margaret, my mother’s sister – gave me a guitar when I was 12-ish, and she showed me one chord, she showed me E Major, and I went into the other room and played E Major for, I think, an hour, you know, it just felt really good to live in that space and get lost in it. And, um, that’s the role it played. And definitely therapy, you know, I would air vulnerable thoughts, embarrassing thoughts, naive thoughts and let them live. Parts of myself that I was maybe too embarrassed to air in a conversation with a friend or a family member or, you know, when I was old enough with a partner, or somebody I was dating, you know, and so it felt like songwriting was the place I was probably most myself.

Yeah, and since then it’s become a little more clearly like therapy, and a search for meaning in my own life, and a search for meaning in the world. Yeah, so I’m kind of talking around it, I think those are the roles maybe.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
How do you feel about those things?

MC  
The act of doing that with songwriting or…?

LK  
Yeah. Do you feel it’s a healthy thing to do?

MC  
Oh, yeah. Oh, definitely! Yeah, absolutely. And I don’t do that many podcasts, you know, a handful, but if anyone listening to this one has ever heard me do another one, I apologise for repeating anything, but something that I’ve thought, certainly since the real increase in the fracture in American society, you know, the sort of right / left, Liberal / Democrat, pro-Trump / anti-Trump, etc, etc. Something I’ve thought a lot when seeing how vicious people are in comments, you know, just the sort of online commentariat, just that space. I often think that I wish people who are really vicious in those spaces got to create more. And it makes me think things like you could never have enough money for art programmes in school.

Because just the act of creating is so healthy, because you’ve made something. And it gives you a sense of self and a sense of peace, because you’ve been heard. And we are scared, lonely creatures, and being heard by anyone is a great comfort to us. And when you make something you’ll be heard by whoever you show it to, but you’re also heard by yourself.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
You got to take something of yourself and put it outside of yourself and look at it, and be proud of it, or just understand it, and just feel like some steam has been let out of the pressure cooker of just being human. And it’s a pressure cooker because…I don’t even know why I asked that question if I couldn’t answer it. That’s what they say about lawyers, the lawyer never asks the question they don’t know the answer to in court. Did you…no it’s like, you know the answer. Well, it’s so full of contradictions, you know, we we know we’re gonna die.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
And yet we try to get out of bed every day hopeful and build things, even though we know we won’t, you know, outlive them or whatever. Yeah, so I think the act of creation is just so good for you. And whatever it is, you know, whether it’s a hobby – it does doesn’t just have to be art, I kind of sometimes put them all in one pot, you know, like making up a recipe, painting your house a weird colour you wanted to paint it. Or, you know, starting a – I don’t know, I can’t even think of things. But you know what I mean? Just creating is so good for us. So I’m very happy that I found this outlet. And if I hadn’t found this one, I hope I would have found something else.

LK  
Yeah. One of the main reasons for doing this show in the first place was that thing of, for me trying to find out if I’m weird in a too-weird way, or just so I could talk to other musicians about how they do stuff. And what I’ve learned is that we are all making it up, and that’s fine.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
I don’t need to worry any more, if I was before.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
And also just to remind people that we are making it up and you can make it up too.

MC  
Exactly yeah.

LK  
It’s not just for “special people”, it’s for whoever. It’s for you. It’s for everyone. It’s for all of us.

MC  
That’s right. That’s right.

LK  
It’s just part of being human. Being human is creative. And I agree with what you’re saying about the commentariat, as you called them.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
I used to work as a Comment Moderator for the Guardian website –

MC  

Hooooo!

LK  

– which was interesting!

MC  

What was that like?

LK  
It was weird, because also I was working remotely even – this is way before the pandemic, but I was working remotely from my house in Bristol, so I couldn’t even turn to my colleagues and be like, “foof, this guy!”, you know? I was alone. And I thought it was unshockable after being in bands since my teenage years. I really thought I’d heard it all, but I hadn’t. I hadn’t. And it always just blew my mind, because really, and if people listening are the people who do these comments, these really angry, horrible ones, the only person reading it is the Comment Moderator. The journalist isn’t reading that, no one else…the editor’s not reading it. No-one’s impressed by you. No-one’s impressed. It’s only the Moderator. And I’m glad I’m not reading those any more. So, yeah.

MC  
Yeah, and other commenters – 

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
– who’ve come here ready to say what they’re gonna say, it’s not to like enter into a conversation or learn from you. It’s like that thing, you know, in some conversations where somebody’s not listening, they’re just waiting for a break in the conversation to say their thing, you know?

LK  
Exactly.

MC  
Yeah. Man, what a job, that must have been so crazy.

LK  
I was appreciative of the job. I needed a job, it was a good job, it was very flexible, it was all very good. But yeah, it’s an interesting insight into people. And I think you’re absolutely right, that if people were encouraged more to do something a bit more positive…because some of those people, I mean, they can string a sentence together, quite a lot of them. What if they were writing something they really cared about? Or that wasn’t so negative? That would be kind of interesting.

MC  
I forgot to say the thing I was leading to, which is obvious, which I’m sure you totally understood. But what I meant to say was that if somebody has not had the chance to create something and feel heard that then they’ll try and do that in flame war politics. 

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
And that comment of theirs, that’s abusive, or expletive, or whatever, that’s their creation, and you just wish they had a healthier outlet, yeah.

LK  
Absolutely. Yeah. And there’s plenty of them. But then I don’t know, I fluctuate between – is that the right word? I go between thinking social media is amazing – because we can connect with so many people and spread the word of the things we’re doing and learn about peoples’ lives and all that – and then just thinking, it’s kind of just like the comments section of the Guardian as well. 

MC  
Right.

LK  
And I don’t even really mean the awful stuff, because I’m quite lucky on Twitter, I don’t receive much of that stuff, I seem to have made a decent enough bubble and I’m happy to live in that, you know, on that platform. But I just think that there’s a lot to be said for following a thought further than it would be a tweet.

So I could share all of my half baked thoughts today online, and to what purpose? I need to think what is the purpose of that? Is that helping anyone else? Is it just me kind of just, you know, feeling like I need to be in touch with the world in some way? Because it’s not – I don’t think that everyone needs to hear my inner thoughts, I’m not arrogant that way. And I’d like to explore keeping those thoughts in my head, putting them in a notebook and seeing where they go.

MC  
For sure, for sure. But we’re such social animals, and when we have anxiety or a procrastinatry feeling, or whatever it is, you know, we’d love to just like, chat with a friend. And it’s funny, and I’ve had that feeling many times when I have a half baked thought in my head, and I think, well, why don’t I tweet this? Because it’s like, you know, saying hello to humanity sitting right next to you, you know?

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
And it’s funny, you try to resist it, and sometimes I have tweeted some half baked things, knowing I shouldn’t, but just because I couldn’t help but seek out that interaction. You know, a running joke of mine for a long time has been, thinking like if the Beatles had Twitter, and it’s like, turn off your mind, relax and float downstream –   tweet. Ah shit, I should have kept that one. Because I think songwriters, right, have you done this? I’m sure you’ve done it. You tweet lyrics – future lyrics that you should have kept. Why did you do that?

LK  
I don’t do it on purpose. I don’t think I’ve got a lyric, I’m gonna tweet it.

MC  
I don’t do it either, but it’s like a thought – you have a thought.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
Because a lot of lyrics are just aphorisms, right? They’re just, you know, haikus or whatever. Cones. And that’s something that’s so tempting to just tweet out there, but you know, why go for that cheap thrill? Why? I should have kept that.

LK  
To me, at the moment it’s just about my energy. My energy is the most precious thing I have.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
And so if I’m constantly giving that away, in little bits all through the day, I’ve got nothing left for myself.

MC  
100%. And then it doesn’t add up. Yeah.

LK  
No.

MC  
And you don’t get to grow it into something.

LK  
Exactly. But then I do love having a chat with a friend. And that is what it feels like online, because I’ve never been a celebrity starry-type person, or thought of myself in that way, so it really is just chatting to people who are nice.

MC  
Yeah. I mean, I agree that you definitely fluctuate between thinking it’s a good thing and a bad thing.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
I wonder if the the weakness of it is that, unlike the written word – which you could say is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what it’s used for – it takes longer. It takes so much longer to write an article or a book that you have time to get past your initial impulse, and maybe that’s kind of the danger of social media, is that it’s so fast.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
People get to get it out before before their better angel says “hey, maybe not”.

LK  
Well, it’s just so frictionless and easy, that’s the problem I think. You can just toss off a tweet in a second, and I think…it’s not a particular number age, I think it’s just the amount of years I’ve been on that platform and the repetition of that and how it’s become… At one point, I was absolutely thinking in tweets, I would think of these little phrases because I guess I was doing it too much. And then the last few years, I’ve definitely stepped back a little – back and forth, and back and forth. I’ve just got to protect my energy. I went over 100,000 tweets recently, and I just was like, really?

MC  
Wow.

LK  
Holy crap. I mean, that’s from 2007, though.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
It’s still bad. Or is it bad? I don’t know. Who knows. And you can’t quantify…

MC  
Yeah, yeah, what is bad?

LK  
I can’t quantify if it’s good or bad.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
It’s just part of life, anyway, it’s just something I think about.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
Ooh, I was wondering, what’s it like listening back to music you made 25 years ago?

MC  
Oh, gosh. Not that I do it often, but when I do, or if I do – my voice has changed a little bit. So there’s that funny disconnect, which I kind of enjoy, which is hearing the singer and being like, I know that’s me but did I really…did I sound like that? You know, my voice, just with age, my voice box has changed a little bit, so that’s a funny feeling I enjoy because it increases the sense of time and distance, which just makes it a more entertaining listen, and feels good. Because you like to think you’ve, you know…you like to think you’ve been around all the years you’ve been alive, if that makes any sense?

LK  
Yes, it does.

MC  
That you’ve been doing something since then, and doing things enough that they’ve changed, I guess. Yeah, I enjoy it. And I watched an old concert recently, from on tour in 1996. I mean, I just dipped into it, I didn’t watch the whole thing. But we were shockingly fast, like shocking. Much faster. We always play faster than our records, but back then it was wild, like a third or two thirds faster, I don’t know. Um, but yeah, I enjoy it. How do you feel about hearing your older recordings?

LK  
I do like it. I ask because I can only listen back, well, actually… Yeah, I can only listen back about 11/12 years with mine.

MC  
I see, right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

LK  
So I just think it’s gonna be so different when it’s another 10/13 years.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
But then I do have a band I was in when I was 16. And when I listen to that, I just think urrr, you just haven’t found your voice.

MC
Yeah.

LK  
And I was singing someone else’s words, so that makes me feel a bit odd.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
The band was good at the time, it was a school band. We were good. But I was playing bass, and I was singing someone else’s words. And yeah, like I say, I hadn’t – just, my voice wasn’t there yet.

MC  
Original songs like somebody else in the band had written it?

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
Oh, yeah, that would feel weird, yeah.

LK  
It does feel weird now because I sort of hadn’t – well, I just wasn’t a songwriter yet, I hadn’t done it yet.

MC  
Yeah, yeah, sure.

LK  
So to me that doesn’t feel like – well, it’s not me saying anything. So it doesn’t hold any interest for me, really.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
I appreciate having done it, but it’s not really me. I probably should do it, I probably should do it. I haven’t listened to the first one for a while. But it’s interesting to me when people have got in at the beginning and gone along with you, I think obviously that can often be their favourite record. So then it was interesting to me as I put more out, the way that people would compare this one or this one, or “I got in at this one, so I suppose I’ll listen to the older ones at some point”.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
And obviously, it’s all to do with where they are in their lives and the things that resonate with them.

MC  
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It’s a two way street, for sure.

LK  
And so do you have…I guess you must have people who have got in at every level of the career of the band?

MC  
Yeah. Yeah. I was in a band before, we had a band called The Cost Of Living and we put out two records. And I know one person on the planet who got into us from the previous band. Just one.

LK  
Is that person always going “it’s not as good as the first one!”.

MC  
No, no, he’s not. He’s not.

LK  
That’s good.

MC  
But that’s funny, that’s a very…oh, I even hesitate to even say it. I love, I love, love, love, love Germany, and I love German fans, and I love everything about it. But there’s a type. “Your new record is good, ja. Not as good as your first one!” Yeah, that is a thing.

LK  
I understand that because I’ve toured Germany quite a bit, and I love Germany and I love German people. But it’s jarring, as a British person who has tried really hard to learn a bit of a language, when you say something so slightly wrong, that they can’t just let it go. They have to correct you. But I know they’re correcting me because they want to help. I totally get that, and that’s a beautiful thing.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
In that moment I’m just like, “but I tried so hard! We’re just trying to communicate!”

MC  
It’s actually something I really admire because they because they manage to be wildly honest in a very, very well-intentioned way, and I actually think it wouldn’t hurt us to be to be more like that.

LK  
Absolutely.
MC  

But I’m frightfully polite and couch everything…and all I ever really seem to think about in conversation is how I’m making the other person feel. Like, to a fault, you know?

LK  
Oh god, same. Yeah, yeah. I’m trying more recently not to mould myself so much in that way, to just be myself. Because I was always the youngest person in a group of older friends…

MC  
Right.

LK  
…by some way, and now I’m not anymore. So I just went on a trip, and I met a woman who’s 26. And I’m 40. And first of all, she was astounded that someone could be 40 but not be her mum, essentially. She just couldn’t get over it, she was flabbergasted, which I sort of found hilarious, because I’m just a person who has reached this age because I’ve been alive this long. And I’m very proud and happy to have done so.

And she kept saying things like, “Oh, you’re forever young, aren’t you, Laura”, things like this. But I’m not old! So that was really interesting. So I felt like that was almost one of the first times I’ve just gone, I’m just going to be me, because I’m not trying to fit in with someone who’s 26 and how they might speak. That would be weird.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
I’ll just hold fast. I think I’m a good person. I’ll just be me and see what happens.

MC  
What a good feeling.

LK  
Yeah, it’s nice.

MC  
Yeah, probably so much more relaxing. I like that too about getting older, that you sort of let your guard down. There’s been a funny thing when people come to shows, and I’ve had this experience a number of times, like, I can see it in someone’s mind is that they haven’t seen me in a long time.

LK  
Ha, right.

MC  
And hadn’t quite figured out or noticed or kind of accepted that I have grey white hair, and I’ll see them see me, and it’s not shock at how I look, it’s shock at them having to in one second feel how much time has gone by and how much older they must be.

LK  
Yes.

MC  
And so I’ve had a thing where I feel bad reminding someone, visually, how old they are, you know?

LK  
Yeah, just holding up a mirror.

MC  
I’m like, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I can’t stop time. I can’t hide it from you. I’d love to protect you from the reality of the calendar. But here we are!

LK  
Do you have any advice for anyone who’s listening who wants to be more creative?

MC  
Hmm, um, well, let’s see. The advice I have on my wall, printed out, is by the photographer, I hope I get his name, right – Chuck Close. And it’s something like “inspiration is for amateurs…just work”. Because if you are just waiting for inspiration, you won’t get a lot of work done. But if you sit down…I think he’s also saying inspiration comes from work. So if you sit down and just try stuff, inspiration will come. And that’s something that has helped me a lot. And that, unfortunately, predictably, of course, this is why it’s on my wall, I’m still learning. Because I’m so tempted, sometimes, to only sit down and make music when I have that feeling.

And knowing I was going to talk to you today, this came into my mind because I’m still fascinated by it. Once in a while, sometimes it’s the weather, or it’s an emotional state or it’s an epiphany or something, I’ll get this feeling. And in that moment, which is generally very short, music seems easy. Like I know that if I can get to a guitar,  tape recorder, or a piece of paper, microphone, whatever, and if I can tune it up real quick, something’s going to come out and I’m going to like it, because I have this lack of fear that’s temporary. And this blind belief that hooks are easy, that melody is easy, words are easy, just it’s going to come. And it’s really illusory. There’s some truth to it, because if I’m in the right circumstance, and I can get to a guitar and a piece of paper or whatever, I generally will get something good out of that feeling. But it’s not a whole song, you know, and then you’re left with the hard part, which is finishing.

So, trust that your love of the medium, whatever it is, if it’s songs, let’s say since we’re here talking about that – if your love songs, you love music, that’s permission. That’s permission to believe you can do it, that’s permission to try. And just  do that, you know? Showing up – that’s another expression, right, somebody gave that bit of advice – showing up is 90% of it, was it something like that?

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
It’s true, you know. Just show up. You’re allowed, you’re valid, anyone can do it. And it’s just such a kind thing to yourself, to give yourself space and give yourself time, you know, it’s great. And it’s within reach of everyone. Like I was saying, like every mother singing to a kid, you know, we all have it in us, music making.

If you ever watch a toddler dance…they’re the best dancers in the world, they’re incredible. They move so freely. Our toddler was dancing the other day, and I wished I could – I just wanted to learn it. I just wanted to learn what he just did, he did so naturally, and it was so free of worry. Free of trying to imagine what somebody would think if they were watching him, and all that stuff.

Yeah. So that’s advice. Another piece of advice, especially for procrastinators, is something that John Cleese has a whole lecture about. If you look up John Cleese of Monty Python on YouTube, you’ll see him give a number of talks, and a few of them – and I wish I had the exact one, but I’m sure you’ll find it without looking very hard – is about creativity. And it’s about a concept of his about making the time to create sacred, in that if you give yourself – his his particular theory is, if you give yourself 90 minutes. And this is interesting, because that’s a findable amount of time. We can all find 90 minutes if we need to. You don’t need the whole weekend free – and I suffer from that, and still do sometimes, I’m like, well, now I’m doing this thing on Saturday afternoon, so there goes the weekend. I’m not going to write a song, I’m not going to get down to creating. But no, all you need is 90 minutes – his theory being that you don’t do anything, obviously you turn off your phone, you don’t look at the computer, you ideally don’t write yourself a little note about needing to remember to write a thank you note for that gift or whatever, you just let yourself be all about the thing you’re doing, all about creating or whatever work you want to do. And his theory is that for 30 minutes you’ll be landing, you’ll be arriving, you’ll be calming down. And that if you really respect the sacredness of this time, and give it to yourself, you’ll probably get an hour of grace. Grace being space – room to try stuff. And his guarantee, I think he phrases it this way, and I think it’s true, is you’re gonna get something.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
Maybe you’ll get one line. But you’ll get it. Maybe you’ll get a whole verse, maybe you’ll get a whole song, who knows, maybe you get an idea. Maybe you’ll find a new way to play a chord, or two chords that you’ve never put back to back that feel great. You know, you get something. And because of that, I ordered from a company called Conran… This, Listener, is an hourglass, a huge hourglass, that is a 90 minute hourglass.

LK  
That’s so cool!

MC  
It’s so exciting. It’s my current favourite studio possession.

LK  
I love that.

MC  
Yeah, so permission and time, I guess, advice, if that’s helpful.

LK  
That’s really helpful. And I think – funnily enough, on the Monty Python tip – when I was reading Michael Palin’s diaries, that was probably the first time I realised a more realistic amount of work to get done in a day. So Michael Palin: brilliant writer, brilliant…seemingly brilliant everything. Super talented.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
Would work and work and work all day, and then come away with like, half a line that he liked. And he’d write about that in his diary.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
And I thought, ohhhhhh, because it seems like people just make stuff and it must be easy. And from start to finish, it’s just doo-doo-doo-doo-doo, I’ve finished my book, there you go.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
And that was years ago, but that was a really helpful moment for me.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
So be more realistic about what you’re going to walk away with. You might walk away with an entire song, but you probably won’t.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
And that’s fine!

MC  
Right. Right. And it’s like protecting yourself from discouragement.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
Because it can be so damaging, and take away that…remember what you said about you only have a certain amount of energy and you want to keep it?

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
There are all kinds of things that can tax that energy, you know?

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
If you allow yourself to be disappointed by what amount of work you got done on a Tuesday, and then on Wednesday, some of your energy’s gonna go to repairing Tuesday’s disappointment, or overcoming it, or making a deal with yourself or a bet with yourself or a promise to yourself that you’ll get more done on Wednesday, when when in fact, all you need to do is just do more. You know, whatever it is.

LK  
Just do Wednesday.

MC  
Do Wednesday!

LK  
Whatever it is!

MC  
Yeah, yeah, exactly.

LK  
Yeah. One of my favourite quotes is “inspiration finds you working” by Picasso, which just ties in very well with the Chuck Close thing. I wrote a blog post about the Chuck Close thing.

MC  
Oh, wonderful.

LK  
It’s a great one. And then this is – you probably can’t read it, it’s very scribbly. Can you see that?

MC  
It says, “what would it look like if it were easy?”

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
Isn’t that great! Tim Ferriss.

LK  
That’s Tim Ferriss, yeah.

MC  
That’s great. I love that.

LK  
I need to look at that every day. Because I think it’s easy to overcomplicate things, or to expect too much from yourself. I expect too much from myself, and I’m trying to dial it back like I was saying. And “what would it look like if it were easy?” just…it just helps.

MC  
That’s great.

LK  
I’m always reading things, listening to things, trying to pick up little bits that remind me that I’m doing the right thing.

MC  
Yeah, yeah.

LK  
Or guide me towards a better version or, or a place I can be more myself.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
Be more true, and all of that stuff. So all of this stuff really helps, I think.

MC  
Yeah, definitely. Oh, that’s a really good one. And you know, since we’re doing something, or since anybody creating something is doing something that’s, again, to circle back to gut feeling, you know, all these little phrases and angles and aphorisms, they really add up to – or maybe they bolster our courage, or bolster our sense of being prepared. Or being capable, or something.

LK  
To me, it reminds me that I’m not alone in this.

MC  
Mm hmm.

LK  
You know, I’m not the only person who thought they couldn’t write a song today –

MC  
God, yes.

LK  
– or feels crap because of whatever thing I thought I should do.

MC  
Everybody.

LK  
Yeah, we all are.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
So I think it’s good to remember that.

MC  
Somebody, and I can’t remember who, tweeted something like, “so you didn’t write the great American novel in the pandemic, either?”. Obviously, a lot of – and certainly a lot of songwriters I know are announcing all the time that they just like, made a whole record over the pandemic and stuff, but a lot of people didn’t.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
And I didn’t, and it’s comforting to know that. We all wish we had, you know, and we didn’t all do it. That’s okay. We did some stuff.

LK  
Exactly. We got through it, didn’t we. That’s the most important bit.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
Speaking of albums, though, is there going to be another Minor Alps album, because I really loved it…very much.

MC  
Oh, thank you so much. Thank you so much. There are not plans for one, but I love that record. And Juliana and I were just talking about a song that we’ve done together – not on that record, she sang on a Nada Surf song called “I Want To Take You Home”, which is a b-side. But we really, we love singing together. And it would be really fun to be able to do that again. I hope we do. No plans, but your question is a wonderful contribution to some energy we should stockpile and do it again.

LK  
I’m warmly encouraging of this idea.

MC  
Thank you. Thank you.

LK  
Such a beautiful one.

MC  
Thank you.

LK  
And I love that it’s – sometimes when people collaborate you can be like, oh, that’s their song – you can hear. That’s their song, that’s that person’s song. And to me, it’s a greater than the sum of its parts type thing, which is so lovely.

MC  
Oh, that’s so nice. Well, I think we definitely found that we had a lot of common ground. So that’d be a wonderful thought, if I could think that you couldn’t immediately identify who wrote it. That’s great. Yeah, what a goal. What a wonderful goal for collaboration.

LK  
Yeah, it’s really good.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
And finally, cos we’ve been talking a while, which three pieces of your own work would you recommend as a gateway for new listeners?

MC  
Gosh, “See These Bones” maybe, is the first song on the record “Lucky”. I won’t have reasons why, I’ll just have it. “Inside Of Love”. And “I Like What You Say”. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. Oh well and “Buried Plans” I think is the first song on the Minor Alps record. I say that one because it has a certain kind of tranceyness that I that I wish was in more of our songs. Not nearly like “Tomorrow Never Knows” level, but but that kind of trying to get outside of yourself, or deeper inside yourself – here, I don’t even know what I’m saying – but um, you know, existential like sort of out of body that has an aspect of it that I really like and wish I’d done more of. Golly, well, that’s four. And that’s too many.

LK  
That’s fine. I’m not very good at this question myself, so you’re doing great.

MC  
And then I have a song called “Song For Congress”, which was not necessarily successful. The goal was to get a lot of people in Congress to hear it, because the idea was, what would I say to somebody in Congress if I had their ear? But I guess it’s an interesting gateway, because it’s an example of forgetting that I can’t do something. I just tried to not worry about being naive, not worried about being simple or out of my depth. I was just like, I’m just gonna give myself permission to talk to a congress person and tell them exactly what I think. So, you know, probably a failed experiment. But something I’m proud of. And, I don’t know, my contribution to the idea that you can just do whatever you want, I guess.

LK  
I love that. Well, it’s like you were saying earlier about how – well, songs can help you process a certain thing. And I always think of it like, it doesn’t mean that the problem has gone away, but I’ve contained it somewhere. It’s like I’ve put it into a physical space of some sort. 

MC  
Yeah, yeah.

LK  
Or at least a mental space – where I can move on from it. So it’s, for me, quite good when it’s traumatic stuff from the past or whatever, I’ve got it out, I’ve done something about it, and now I can sort of move on. Maybe a similar sort of thing. You’ve said your piece.

MC  
Yeah.

LK  
If anyone asks you, you’re like, here you go, here’s what I think.

MC  
Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
I love that, too, the way you put that. I’ve also felt that about if you’re saying about, you know, something negative, like a sadness, an insecurity, a problem, a doubt or whatever, that making a pop song out of it is so great, because it’s like putting – I always think of it as like putting a handles on something.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
So that you can pick it up and put it over there. Now I’m gonna put it over here. I’ve reduced this issue to three minutes, six chords.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
And it’s almost like containing it, you know? I’ve crushed it down into this small box, and now it’s not gonna bother me as much because I’ve contained it.

LK  
Here’s the sadness box, here’s the trauma box.

MC  
Exactly.

LK  
Here’s the anger box!

MC  
Yeah, yeah, exactly.

LK  
It doesn’t stop the feelings. But yeah, just kind of put them in a place. I like that a lot.

MC  
It gives you an illusion of control that is very comforting.

LK  
Yes, it does! So just to finish off, what’s happening – what’s happening next for you? Are you touring soon?

MC  
Yeah, touring the United States of America in about two weeks, a week and a half, something like 19 shows east and north of Chicago. Then in new record land, we have gotten together twice so far, in Ibiza of all places, where our bass player lives and has built us a practice studio. So it’s part of an island without clubs, so if it sounds like we’re getting together to be totally stupid, that’s not the case. It’s up in a wild remote area of the island. Anyway, that’s where he lives and that’s our practice space, so we’ve gotten together twice to kick around a bunch of new songs. And we will hopefully do it one more time and then go into the recording studio and make a new record. I don’t know when that’ll be, I certainly know it’ll be next year at some point. Sooner than later I hope.

So that’s Nada Surf, and then I’ve got some some things on my own that are cooking, but I’m not going to give any timeline or say what they are because of a new thing I’ve learned from my older sister – she told me, or pointed me to an article that said, like, sometimes with future plans don’t announce them all or talk about them all, because sometimes you take away that energy that you need to finish them and I’ve definitely done this. I’ve definitely had some ideas, whether they for were for websites or projects or something, and got so excited about them, and told all my friends, and it somehow took the pressure out of the engine.

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
And then I had no more get up and go to get it done. Anyway, that’s where I’m at. It’s mostly about Nada Surf, and trying to cook up a new record, and that’s it. And it’ll be record number nine? I think number nine. So we just keep on doing it – and I don’t know what it’s about. That is the question, I’m sure you’ve gotten this too, like, “what is the theme of this album?” I have no idea. I will come up with a fake story about it, I will make something up.

LK  
You do that afterwards, don’t you.

MC  
Yeah, yeah, and I’ll trot that out and be like, yes, what I meant to express was blah, blah, blah. But in fact, all I do is just write song by song.

LK  
Great. I’ve been away, so I don’t know the details of this, but wasn’t there an Instagram post about a collection of songs you’ve just put together that’s available?

MC  
Yes. Oh, yes.

LK  
Tell us about that.

MC  
Yes, it’s called “Cycle Through”. And I guess we’re calling it an EP, but it’s actually the length of an album. But if you bought it as an album you would feel very cheated, because we had a song on “Never Not Together” called “So Much Love”, and on this album you will find an acoustic version, a French version and a Spanish version.

There was also a song on the “Never Not Together” album called “Just Wait”, which is a normal 4 minute song, and here there’s a 10 minute version, because it’s taken from a video sort of short film of the song. And it includes a lot of my father, my dear late father, who has a book of meditations called “The Book Of Hylas”. And there’s a wonderful recording of him with musical accompaniment by a group called Parkington Sisters. You can find that online if you just go to “The Book Of Hylas” by Peter Caws and the Parkington Sisters. So, some of the things that he says in those meditations are interspersed here in the song.

And then there’s an orchestral version of “Looking For You”, which was a song on “Never Not Together” that has a lot of strings, and a children’s choir actually made up of one person, and a youth choir also made up of one person multitracked. And when we were figuring out the mix of the song and trying to figure out what to do with all this extra orchestration, we turned the band off and left just the orchestration and the kids’ choir and were knocked out by what it sounded like. It sort of sounds like a musical, but I won’t say anything more about that, because some people like musicals, and some people don’t. And –

LK  
Yeah.

MC  
– I’m firmly of one of those camps and I won’t say which. And there are three other songs that we just didn’t have room for on the record. Anyway, that was a very long, probably boring way to say we have a new collection of songs out it’s called “Cycle Through” and you can find it anywhere you listen to digital music.

LK  
Awesome. Thank you so much for talking to me today. This has been lovely.

MC  
Oh, thank you, Laura. I really enjoyed it. Really enjoyed it.

LK  
Thank you for being episode 50!

MC  
Right on!

LK  
Yessssss.

MC  
Half a century.


LK
Get music, tour dates and more from nadasurf.com – and check out my deluxe show notes page for this episode for the text version of my conversation with Matthew, plus links to all the songs he mentioned and to some of Nada Surf’s excellent videos.

That’s at penfriend.rocks/Matthew

Speaking of Juliana Hatfield, she was a guest on this show in June, so make sure you scroll back and listen to that one next.

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend, and why not leave a rating and a review on Apple Podcasts? Why not indeed! It’s such a helpful thing to do, because it shows potential new listeners that these episodes are worth their time, and it tells potential future guests that people like this show, and they should say yes to my polite and friendly invitation.

Thank you for helping out.

My latest album “Exotic Monsters” is out now wherever you get your music, but the very best way to support me is to get it direct from my website or from Bandcamp. Visit penfriend.rocks/exoticmonsters for all the info, and you can even see what Juliana Hatfield said about me while you’re there. The song playing in the background now is called “Seashaken”.

The hugest thanks as always goes to my Correspondent’s Club for powering the making of this show and all my music. You’re the best. And you – you’re very welcome to join us – just visit my website for more info, and we can stay in touch right away via the mailing list.

As I said before, I have one more episode of this show coming your way before the end of the year, so I’ll speak to you then. Have a great day, and thanks for listening!

Share this:
Podscripts

One comment

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.