A father’s philosophy becomes a son’s album

“The stars are indifferent to astronomy” means more to Matthew Caws than his father’s philosophical musing. It’s the namesake of his band’s latest album, too.

The album from indie-pop band Nada Surf, in which Caws is the lead singer and guitarist, is influenced by his father, philosophy professor Peter Caws.

“It’s an expression of his that he uses in class sometimes to make a point about our relative significance,” Matthew Caws said.

Matthew Caws said he learned many lessons from his father and his scholarship, something he can draw loose parallels to in his own music.

“Work is a funny word. I work in short little phrases and he works with much bigger ideas,” Matthew Caws said.

Expanding from lyrics borrowed from his father’s classroom, the Caws have forged a standing relationship with the University. Peter Caws has been a professor at GW since 1982, holding the title of University professor of philosophy and a professor of human sciences. His daughter, Elisabeth Breslin Caws, is a sophomore and Matthew almost came to GW, as well, but decided to stay in New York and pursue a music career.

But Matthew will return to D.C. for a different reason Tuesday when Nada Surf plays with An Horse at the 9:30 Club at 7 p.m.

Matthew Caws has been the lead singer of the pop-alternative band since it formed in 1992. It saw widespread success with its hit “Popular” in 1996, which played on MTV as a summer anthem. The trio has seen the highs of round-the-world tours and the lows of record company battles and humbling returns to day jobs outside of the spotlight.

The group has produced multiple albums with varying success, but with their latest musical endeavor, they tried to capture the stamina and vivacity of a live show in a studio-recorded track.

“The way we play live, it had become different over the years than how we played in the studio,” Matthew Caws said. “It is a little faster, a little louder, a little harder.”

Peter Caws remembers that soon after Matthew got his first electric guitar, the teenager disappeared into his room.

“A few weeks later he asked me if I’d like to hear something Spanish and came out with a very convincing flamenco,” Peter Caws said. “And then if I’d like to hear something Indian, producing sliding quarter tones. In other words, he taught himself what he could do just by playing.”

Always a fan, Peter Caws said he has seen Nada Surf perform many times, often catching shows when the band rolls through Philadelphia, but has also caught their shows in Paris and Gent, Belgium.

Peter Caws says he is “amused and delighted and a bit proud” to share his philosophical observation with his son’s music. His son sees somewhat of a similarity between his father’s attempt at understanding the world and his own musical output, a string tying their life work together.

“In a much cruder way, I think pop songs do the same,” Matthew Caws said.

This article was updated April 10, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that University professor of philosophy Peter Caws was also a professor of human services. In fact also a professor of human sciences.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.