When Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws was 14 or 15, he had a slick imitation Les Paul guitar.
Now, he has a real one.
Caws likes to think that's the only difference between then and now - despite years of touring, a hit single and two acclaimed indie albums. Through music, he keeps his adolescent feelings of freedom and escape, he said.
"It feels pretty teenage to have this be our occupation, I have to say," said Caws, now in his 30s. Nada Surf plays the 8x10 on Wednesday. "It's a lot less serious than what everyone else in my family does."
Still, there was a two-year speed bump in the mid-'90s when the road wasn't as much fun, Caws said. Before the band released its first full-length album, High/Low, the mainstream spotlight focused on a song named "Popular" and things got hectic.
"We just got kind of scooped up," Caws said. "Right or wrong place, right or wrong time, depending on how you look at it."
The band signed with Elektra, toured and recorded a sophomore effort called The Proximity Effect. Elektra didn't hear another "Popular" on Proximity and refused to release it in the United States (although it was released in Europe). For the next couple of years, the band fought for and eventually won control of the song rights. The band members would later release the album themselves.
"That was the only hard part," Caws said. "I thought, 'Oh, well, if they don't release it, I won't care; that's not upsetting.' But actually, it was upsetting because we'd worked so hard on it and to have it shelved was kind of tough."
While the split with Elektra was long and aching, Nada Surf picked up plenty of name recognition along the way, Caws said. It came in handy when the band went independent and started playing pizza bars.
Strangely enough, driving across country in a van, performing and selling CDs at merchandise tables was Caws' version of the American dream, he said. Since the band is from New York City, it never had the chance to rough it like most up-and-coming acts.
"I was so jealous of the bands from the Midwest who just lived right on that circuit and could tour like mad just by pulling out of their driveway," he said.
In 2003, Nada Surf signed to indie label Barsuk and released a third record, Let Go. Funded out of pocket and on the band's own terms, Let Go shocked critics, who gave glowing reviews.
"Career-wise, we were totally on our own," Caws said. "No one was paying attention. That was a really lucky position to be in," Caws said. "It sort of felt like making a first album all over again."
The band found a new following in the indie circuit, and released The Weight is a Gift in September, also on Barsuk.
Caws takes the recent spate of recognition in due course. He said that, in a perfect world, the band would have signed to an indie label in the beginning.
"I'm totally content there," Caws said. "I think The Weight is a Gift was made under the healthiest band conditions so far."
Nada Surf plays The 8x10 on Wednesday. The show is sold out.