Nada Surf‘s Matthew Caws has released a new political song, “When History Comes,” via Barsuk Records. Recorded and produced by Caws himself at his home studio, the song was created for the Rough Trade Publishing compilation Talk – Action = Zero, Vol. 2, which enlisted artists to write songs relevant to the current state of the world, with profits from the single benefitting the ACLU.
Formed in New York City in 1992 by Matthew Caws and Daniel Lorca, the Nada Surf gutiarist and bassist met at the Lycée Français de New York, with both having spent some of their childhoods in France and Belgium. A chance run in with Ric Ocasek would lead to The Cars frontman producing the band’s first album, High/Low. The band would be best known for their hugely successful 1996 single, “Popular,” although the groups catalog goes far deeper, now well into their third decade together.
Regarding the song, Matthew Caws wrote the following statement about the lyrics and timing of the release:
I was asked to contribute a song to a compilation organized by Rough Trade Publishing called Talk – Action = Zero Vol. 2, benefitting Spread The Vote, an organization helping people register and get their votes in. The prompt given was to write a song “relevant to the state of the world right now.” I chose to write about the election because I think it’s such a crucial moment in our lives.
I want to make a quick disclaimer (and pre-emptive apology) that I know that all of what i’m about to say will seem obvious to a lot of people, but I think it needs to be repeated. We’re always in danger of becoming numb. There’s such a circus of chaos coming from the top right now that it’s easy to get distracted from how far (and how quickly) the country is sliding in a dangerous direction..
The title of the song comes from a line in the chorus, “When history comes and sticks out its thumb / asking you for a ride / I hope that you see how fast it can be / it goes by in the blink of an eye.” In this analogy, by voting, you’re giving history a ride, helping it get where it wants to go.
Despite its difficult history and present, the United States is a precious and miraculous entity, an ambitious experiment in equality that has been functioning for 244 years, and we need to cherish and preserve it, and keep our essential norms from eroding. We need to understand how fragile our democracy is, faced with someone who is ready to call an election illegitimate before it takes place and won’t commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
In writing a song about an election your main choices are to try to energize and rally the potential voters on your side or try to speak to and influence the minds of people who are on the other side or undecided. I tried as much as I could to do both. I’ve been told that there is no point trying to change the mind of a Trump voter, that all our energy should go towards energizing the democratic base. That is probably true, but I can’t help believing that there’s a crack in that wall.
Over the past few years, I’ve found myself debating a few Trump supporters on social media, and invariably the conversations start a little hot. I’ve found that by keeping a measured tone and by looking for and respecting the cause of someone’s opinion, if not the opinion itself, it was always possible to bring down the temperature a little. One misconception that kept coming up was that all Democrats wanted Trump to fail. In the song I say “I didn’t want him to fail / I wanted him to do great / he didn’t / but I wanted him to.”
One of the great privileges of being a touring musician is getting to see people night after night being somewhere they chose to be,happy, open, ready to experience something. While it’s certain that among all the faces I’ve looked at from the stage there have been people with opposing political views, and probably some with wildly different views about equalities of all kinds, I always felt a human connection. I think almost all people have more in common than not.
I think it’s important to refrain when possible from calling out or dismissing any whole group. Even though at this point, I don’t understand how one could support this very problematic administration, I wanted to say “I don’t hate republicans” because… I don’t. Despite my commitment to humanism and constructive positivity feeling totally innate, I’m conscious of the fact that if I’d been born into a different environment and community and hadn’t been exposed to certain ideas, I might be a Trump supporter too.
My wife often points out that the world would be a much better place if every government decision taken took into account how it would affect the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the population. I agree. This calls for a lot of empathy, a quality in us that needs to be cultivated, checked in on and renewed. We drift in our comfort, we drift in our bubbles. It is always a good time to look around, try to see, try to understand, and re-evaluate our priorities. The common good should always be the ultimate goal. That is the basis for a great country, and despite our growing pains, that has always been the basis for ours.