Random Rules: Ira Elliot of Nada Surf

Random Rules: Ira Elliot of Nada Surf

The shuffler: Ira Elliot, drummer for power-pop outfit Nada Surf, which just released its lush, moody fifth album, Lucky.

Elvis Costello, "Veronica"

Ira Elliot: Yeah, I'm a huge Elvis fan. When I first joined Nada Surf, I wanted to play like Pete Thomas. I think [Costello] might have co-written this song with Paul McCartney. Great pop song. I have been absolutely McCartney-obsessed the past few months. I've been listening to tons of post-Beatles Paul McCartney. I had done a McCartney show in New York at the Lizard Lounge, and for the show, we had to play a good two hours of post-Beatles Paul McCartney stuff. So we listened to tons of mid-'70s Paul McCartney stuff.

The A.V. Club: Did you do "Wonderful Christmastime?"

IE: Yeah, we did that song. It's one of the world's most loved and hated songs. Everyone knows it, but everyone's kind of annoyed by it. I kind of like it, though.

I'm absolutely obsessed with The Beatles. I absolutely am. It starts around Christmas every year, when they start repackaging something. Recently, they're stupidly putting the original Capitol albums out, as if there's something special about that, and that just annoys the shit out of me. That's just grabbing people by the ankles and saying, "Come on! We know you're gonna buy it."

AVC: Do you get sick of the jokes about Ringo's drumming?

IE: Oh, I'm a huge Ringo fan. I go crazy! If someone has the bad judgment to say Ringo wasn't really much of a drummer, I just go off. I can't take that stuff.

AVC: When's the last time someone tried to talk smack about Ringo to you?

IE: It happened about a year ago, sitting at my local bar in Brooklyn, and I was just sitting down and listening to music. It was a young guy in his early 20s who thought he knew something about music, so I set him straight. I don't take that shit. I got crazy. People are kind of shocked. [Laughs.] I'm a pretty low-key guy, but when you start ripping on Ringo, watch out. Take your shoes off, and I'll tell you what the real story is.

I remember having a long conversation with our concert promoter in Switzerland, and we were talking about the most influential artists currently, and I said Elvis [Presley]. He said, "Eh, he's not great. What about Charlie Parker?" I'm like, "Hold on, hold on. Charlie Parker? We're talking about music, and you say something about Charlie Parker. I don't want all of that jazz crap!" I'm a rock 'n' roll defender. Really, I sat him down—tryin' to go Charlie Parker on my ass. I was like, "No no no, pal. You keep your highfalutin jazz music to yourself. We're talking about Elvis Presley."

Blondie, "I'm Gonna Love You Too"

IE: This is a cover. It's Blondie covering what I suspect is some early-'50s group's song. [It's by Buddy Holly & The Crickets—ed.] I love that early Blondie. That whole period, that new wave, that's when I was in college, so all that music is the most important music to me.

AVC: Did you check out her album from a few years back, The Curse Of Blondie?

IE: [Laughs.] No. Yeah, she's cursed. She had a hard time. That's a really great band, another one of my favorites. Her drummer played with everybody. He's good. He earned it.

Stanton Moore, "(Don't Be Comin' With No) Weak Sauce"

IE: I must have read a review of this in a drummer magazine or something, and it's got this New Orleans, throw-down, funky-ass shit. It's just an instrumental throw-down jam. Not a great song, but it's the next one.

It's funny; I'm going through a huge Zeppelin renaissance. I hear they might be going back on the road. If we're gonna have peace in the Middle East, or the markets are going to get back in line, it's going to be because Zeppelin is on the road. I have this feeling, like they're Wyld Stallyns.

Here's how we catch Osama bin Laden: We give him two backstage passes to Zeppelin, and he'll show up. We got him. It's like a world-changing event. That would get him to come out of the woods. "Osama, we have front-row backstage passes for Zeppelin at the [Madison Square] Garden!" He'd be like, "Fuck! Happy days are here again. I gotta go!"

I think everyone should chill the fuck out. Zeppelin getting back together would be great, though. Even with Jason [Bonham]. You've gotta give it to Jason. He's a pretty good drummer. He might be the best drummer for the job. Who you gonna get, Dave Grohl?

The Beatles, "Come And Get It"

IE: There's a reverb on the hi-hat, which sounds like Ringo's drums. [McCartney's] playing great fills, too.

AVC: Do you think Paul was a better drummer than Ringo?

IE: No, I don't think he was a better drummer than Ringo. But he was clearly watching Ringo—he probably learned from Ringo how little you can get away with.

AVC: What did you learn from Ringo?

IE: What I learned from Ringo is, "[Adopts British accent.] Have a good time all the time." [Laughs.] If you think of him as just a happy guy sitting behind the kit at The Ed Sullivan Show, he's kind of swishing his stick back and forth across the hi-hat, and he's kinda nodding his head and smiling. They screamed for him more than they did for McCartney, who was the "attractive Beatle."

Blind Faith, "Can't Find My Way Home"

IE: I just finished Clapton: The Autobiography last week, which was fucking annoying. Eric Clapton is a fucking douchebag! You can write that in this article. Douchebag!

I'm gonna take Eric Clapton apart right now! That book is really—it's a long list of the drugs he took and the incredible women he slept with. He couldn't just sleep with one; he had to have three or four at a time. He was married to one beautiful girl, and sleeping with two or three others, and getting harder and harder into heroin addiction. He was so young and beautiful and rich and famous and talented that he had to take a lot of heroin to deal with it. About a quarter of the way through the book, I thought it was like the Mötley Crüe bio [The Dirt]. I had to put it down; it was too annoying. Eric, give me a fucking break. I love him, but I hate him.

Stevie Wonder, "I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)"

IE: I'm an old Stevie Wonder fan. He plays all the drums—he's a great drummer! Stevie Wonder might be a better drummer than Ringo. I've never said that before, but I think there's an argument to be made. He was a spectacularly interesting drummer. When you listen to those shuffle beats on songs like "Higher Ground," with that little downbeat shuffle, that's an amazingly difficult piece to play. Not only does he play it, but he plays around it, he plays through it, and really, it's unbelievable what a great drummer he was.

AVC: If you're saying he's a better drummer than Ringo, shouldn't you have to beat yourself up for saying that?

IE: I don't know. I mean, if someone else said that, I'd be pretty impressed. Most people don't even really think of Stevie as a drummer. To credit him as a drummer, they'd probably have to be a drummer to begin with. So I'd take that pretty seriously. It would be highly unusual for someone to say that. The argument wouldn't hold water, but it would be an interesting argument to make. Guys like Paul and maybe even Stevie would put down their main instrument first, guitar or piano, so they'd hear the structure, and lay the other stuff on that.

Michael Jackson is in the background here singing "Rockin' Robin." When I was 7 or 8, I used to go to my friend's house, and we had the 45. We'd play it over and over.

AVC: He also collaborated with McCartney.

IE: Exactly. Another one. "Ebony And Ivory." One of the most despised songs of all time. Everyone hates that song equally. Bringing the world together.

AVC: Well, it unites people in one way or another.

IE: [Laughs.] I'm thinking of that scene in High Fidelity where some guy is looking for a song, and Jack Black goes, "I'm sorry, is she retarded? Who wants that song?" "Can I have a copy of 'Ebony And Ivory?'" "Get out of here!"

Tom Waits, "Sea Of Love"

IE: It's astonishing. I was always kind of intimidated by him, because he has such a huge catalog. Then I got [Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards], and the whole thing is great front-to-back. This version is creepy—you can't describe it. He interprets songs you think you know, and does a scrolling, diffused take on them. A benign little "Sea Of Love," and here he is with this brooding, pulsing version, and his voice goes off into this unbelievable falsetto. Gives me the chills.

AVC: Do you like his more recent stuff or his older stuff? It's usually one or the other for a lot of people.

IE: I'll probably go back and check out his earlier stuff. But it's hard to go listen to an artist's old material, some of which is 10 and 20 years old. Some of it has to do with a certain period. For example, I missed Sonic Youth and Pixies. I missed them. I didn't listen to them when they were happening in the '80s. I was in the wrong band, listening to the wrong music. I was listening to hair metal, and I liked MTV. I missed a lot of those great bands that I love now, but a lot of the early Sonic Youth records, I had to go back and listen to them, which is a very difficult thing to do. It's sort of a chore, because it's not new. It's hard to do. It's sort of like you're a student and you're doing homework.

Filed Under: Music

More Random Rules