For most of the 2000s’, NORMA JEAN were “Exhibit A” on how a band could disregard mediocrity for something bigger in the metalcore scene and in the southern U.S. They made albums that embedded influences, worked with everyone from Chino Moreno to Shelby Cinca, and even received a Grammy nomination in 2006 for Best Recording Package, an award won by the likes of Tool, Bright Eyes and Wilco. The secret: taking a conscious approach to music.
Meridional, their 2010 effort for Razor & Tie, was a transmission of how five musicians could let a band’s growth take a sharper turn. It forced the basics of a genre to expand and tremble with a coarse temper, and as a result, became a feat that was hard to overshadow. Speaking with Norma Jean’s Cory Brandan, it was easy to picture how a recording space and the illusion of time could belittle new material, no matter how carnal the vocals were or how much the guitar strings quivered. In the wake of a few gigs in Austin, we discussed viral videos, moving forward from personal accolades, and how writing sporadically and making sacrifices is helping them construct another genuine full-length.
What’s South By Southwest been like for you guys so far?
It’s been awesome. We actually got to Austin the day before our first show, but we didn’t play. We just hung out, watched a few bands play and walked around. We’ve been on our feet a lot… but we’ve had a lot of fun. The show at Dirty Dog Bar was amazing. I would say it was my favourite show of all-time. The right people were there, the sound was amazing, the venue was amazing, and even the set up here at SXSW is amazing. The way they work and run everything across the city is great. That show just created a perfect day.
Really? I’m surprised you say that as you’ve been a part of Norma Jean for nine years.
I find it easy to do. In some cases, you have to be able to say that, and say “that was my favourite thing in the world”. I’m sure I could think of some other shows that were great, but right now that’s my favourite. It was awesome, and we did something really different with the set as we’ve never done just groove-driven stuff. Our next show will be the “punk rock” show just because we don’t want to do the same thing twice.
What bands have you checked out so far in Austin?
At our show I got to see KEN Mode and Royal Thunder and they were both really good. I had the chance to see a band called Single Mothers too, but I walked into a lot of other random shows because I wanted to see some stuff that I had never heard of. Like if you try to see artists you have heard of, there’s a good chance it’ll be crowded and you won’t be able to get in. I didn’t do that so I went to concerts I wouldn’t normally go to and I couldn’t even tell you the names of some of the bands I saw, but there was some good stuff.
Considering you guys have been in the recording studio for quite some time, is this trip to Austin sort of a small break for the band?
We were actually supposed to be out of the studio by February 2012. We booked the time for January that year but we felt like the record wasn’t ready after that, so we pushed it back to the summer. Then it got pushed back again to December. That last session lasted for about two and a half months. We still haven’t mixed the album so we’re technically still “in the studio” right now but we’re looking at a summer release for sure.
What influenced you guys to feel like you weren’t “ready” at first?
It’s kind of hard to explain… we just felt like the initial album wasn’t right and the previous record that we had released, called Meridional, really was just… critically acclaimed. We didn’t have any bad reviews for that record and everybody really liked it, and that was a first for us. Honestly, it really was. We’re used to seeing bad reviews by people that hate us but that didn’t happen with Meridional. I’m just going to be 100 per cent honest – and I don’t know if bands say this kind of stuff – but we felt like we wanted to beat that record. Once we got to recording, we realized that was the wrong thing to do and we scrapped everything to do something completely different.
Having wrapped up recording, how does it feel to be on this mini-tour of the Southern states?
We pretty much booked every one of those shows just to play at SXSW. We played a show in San Antonio and after Austin we’re in Dallas, Houston, Arkansas, Tennessee, Birmingham and a few other places.
Was the pressure to top Meridional larger than anticipated?
It definitely was. I mean, it’s really hard to think of what you’re going to do after you have concluded something because you’ve gone through all of that work, but we did feel like writing right away after that album. We started writing sporadically throughout 2010, 2011 and 2012. At this point, I’d even say we’ll have more material to release next year as well. That will be something different though and I think it might be a live record. We’ll record it live, track it live and we’ll make sure it sounds really good. There are some live tracks on the new album too.
Doing a live album is just less stressful. Like playing a song a thousand times can get kind of annoying but you’re not in the studio for two and a half months (laughs). That lets you go home to your family and that helps because being a musician or being a part of a band takes a lot of sacrifice.
Having been in and out of the studio, what started the idea of doing “Ahh! Shark Bite! Ahh!”?
It’s just us having fun (laughs). When you’re in the studio for too long, you do get bored. We’ve actually had that song for a long time, like years, and it’s just a fun song that we play during practice so we decided to record it and release it on the Internet through a video. We did that in a day, actually maybe an hour, and literally it went up on YouTube the next day. It’s really random and it’s not on the record (laughs).
Well given that you’re headed for an eventful 2013, what else can one expect from Norma Jean?
We’ll be on the road as much as possible. We’re in Australia in May and we’re doing a really awesome festival this summer as well. There will be a fall headlining tour too and anyone who’s a fan of Norma Jean can expect us to play material off of every single record of ours. There’s going to be old stuff, really new stuff and we’re going to do a really cool live show with the old-school Norma Jean set-up, like a projector and all that stuff. It’ll be worth every cent.