Catching Up With
Nada Surt’s Ira Elliot
by Adam Budofsky
After a quarter century in the biz—and all its attendant ups and downs—his unshakable love affair with our instrument keeps him rarin’ to go.
Nada Surf has accomplished that rarest of feats in pop music: surviving the massive out-of-left-field success of an early single—a song titled, indeed, “Popular”—and the all-too-typical insult of then being dropped by the record company that released it. Sometimes you just can’t hold back true talent, however, and the New York City–based trio found a new home with Barsuk Records, which went on to release a steady stream of critically acclaimed Nada Surf albums, including this year’s You Know Who You Are.
Ira Elliot, who came to the group from the NYC garage-rock institution the Fuzztones in time to record its 1996 Ric Ocasek–produced album, High/Low, has spent the time perfecting the craft of supporting singer/guitarist Matthew Caws’ chiming, often deceptively raw ruminations on love and life. It’s a role Elliot says he was born into. “I’ve always had it in my mind that I’m a lifer,” Ira says. “From the time I was a kid, this is what I’ve thought about all day long. I’m like a teenager where drums are concerned—I’m like an obsessive/compulsive about it. Something about drums invites this sort of madness. It’s a DIY thing; there are so many components—you make it whatever you want.”
A proud Ludwig player, Elliot prefers a 13/16/18/24 Classic Maple setup adorned with Paiste cymbals. “On our last tour I used my ’72 Ludwig Thermogloss kit,” he shares. “It’s the most friendly, warm, thumpy Ludwig drumset of all time, just the most gorgeous thing. My aesthetic is stuck in the ’70s. Modern drums and hardware don’t really float my boat.”
There is one recent innovation, however, that Elliot can’t live without, the Porter & Davies BC2 tactile generator, which sends low-end frequencies directly to a drummer’s stool. “That thing is amazing!” Ira says. “You get an immediate connection to the low end, and it allows you to take your bass drum out of your wedge monitors. That’s huge, because not only does it make your mix easier to hear, the stage volume can come down as well. I use the word traction—I can really feel the whole band pulsing along, and there’s no delay, so the space between notes is much clearer. It can’t be overstated how important the placement of the bass drum is to a groove. It’s helped me in so many ways, live and in the studio.”
Elliot and the band have been playing festivals and theaters in the States recently, and as of the end of October they’re doing a run across Europe. Included on that leg is a December 2 gig at Paris’s Bataclan club, where, a year ago, a terrorist attack during an Eagles of Death Metal concert claimed the lives of eighty-nine people. “I’m hugely proud that we’re one of the first bands to come back to play there,” Elliot says. “That’s going to be so emotional. We were playing in Philly the night the Paris attacks happened, and I think all of us in the band wrote to our manager the next day and said, ‘When they reopen the Bataclan—and they will—make sure we play there.’” Nada Surf has since recorded its version of the Eagles of Death Metal track “I Love You All the Time” for the Play It Forward campaign to raise funds for victims of the Paris attacks and their families.