Norma Jean have been blazing their own trail in the world of heavy rock n roll since forming in Atlanta, Georgia in 1997. Since then they’ve had multiple line-up changes and a string of critically acclaimed albums. They’re a band that, in my opinion, should be much bigger than they are. We caught up with frontman, Cory Brandan, to see how things were going following the release of their latest album, Wrongdoers.
BL – So how’s the tour been going?
CB – It’s been going great man. We don’t get a chance to come here as much as we’d like to so, when we do come, we always try to make sure we get to go everywhere we wanna go, maybe some places we missed last time, and just switch it up a little bit.
BL – Do you get chance to get out and do stuff in between shows?
CB – There’s no days off on this tour! But we do force ourselves to get outside and go explore a little bit. We haven’t had a full day off in about three weeks.
BL – Did you get to see any of Birmingham this time?
CB – I think the only thing I’ve ever seen in Birmingham is this venue (the O2 Academy) and the mall up the street. I’ve never had the opportunity to really explore this city yet. I saw some pretty old architecture and stuff. And I know it’s kinda the home of Heavy Metal too.
BL – So the album’s been out a while now. After living with these songs and playing them on tour, how do you feel they sit alongside previous Norma Jena releases?
CB – I think Wrongdoers is probably the most quickly accepted album that we’ve ever had, within our fans. Pretty much straight after the record was released people were singing along with the songs, so to have that kind of reaction is really awesome. We’re really happy with the reception so far.
BL – For me, it’s a bit more of a progressive sound, with more layers. Would you agree with that?
CB – Yeah, I just think that when we brought three new members in on this band we kinda revamped our way of thinking but still maintained Norma Jean’s aspects within that, so there’s still traits of Norma Jean but there are a lot of fresh ideas coming in. But I still think Meridional has way more layers but I think with Wrongdoers we were able to utilise those layers in a way that we could pull it off live without using samples or any of that stuff. It’s all just instruments.
BL – Is the writing process quite collaborative between band members?
CB – Yeah, it always has been. We’ve always kinda said let the songs write themselves. We just play the songs and let our ears decide rather than talking about it too much cos so many times, once you play it and hear it, it has a completely different vibe from what you thought in your head, y’know?
BL – And have the new members fitted in easily?
CB – I always try to be honest with this answer. It’s really hard to lose members. It was really stressful on us at the time, trying to find the right people, and of course we’d built this chemistry over a long period of time, but I think we did find the right guys. We all have similar tastes in music and similar goals musically and we’re also just really good friends. We’d already written with another drummer for about a year but once we found these guys it was pretty seamless. The whole momentum of the record changed and it flowed better.
BL – I know you recorded a lot of songs that never made the album. Are there any of those that you really like, and will anything happen with them?
CB – Yea, there’s one song in particular that we’ll probably re-do and release in the future. It actually went all the way to mastering but we needed to cut some stuff and we felt like it could still be even better. When you’re writing a song, you hear it in the studio but there’s a flow on the record that happens and sometimes finding a place for every song is kinda hard. But there’s another song called Family Bike Wreck that we’ll probably end up releasing.
BL – So, I know your music taste is pretty eclectic. Do you ever wish you could take Norma Jean in even more diverse directions musically?
CB – Yeah. I think we definitely want to expand and do crazier, weird things cos we don’t wanna repeat ourselves too much. It gets kinda boring. You get to a point where it’s kind of “well what now?” so we’ll see what happens. I don’t know. But I can’t change the way my voice sounds and we like to play heavy songs. We like rock n roll. But we wanna try and expand and be better at our instruments and try different sounds.
BL – Are there any places you’ve never played you’d love to go to?
CB – Tons! I’ll go anywhere. Me, personally, I’d love to go to South Africa, South America, South East Asia. I’d love to go back to Japan. Go to Afghanistan, Iraq and play for the soldiers.
BL – I notice on this tour you’re playing some intimate venues and some bigger rooms. Are the band bigger in certain areas than others?
CB – I think we’ve noticed a transition over the past couple of years where we’re not really doing the tours with a lot of younger bands now so we’re not breaking in the younger fans so much. A lot of our older fans are still around so we find we’re a lot happier playing a bar or, in the States, we’ve been playing 350 capacity rooms, packing it out and that’s just so much more fun. From a business side we’d love to play those big rooms sometimes but we also wanna be happy playing.
BL – Do you have any support slots planned.
CB – Not right now. We’re kinda picky about who we play with (laughs).
BL – You always seem to get the metalcore tag, but for me that’s not really how I think of Norma Jean. Does that label bug you?
CB – No, I think people will interpret our music differently and that’s ok with us. It’s like if you or I look at a painting we might get something different from it. I think music is the same way. We just think we’re a heavy rock band. We’re heavy, we love rock n roll and a little southern American flavour. We’ve never really been metal, with metal riffs.
BL – I’ve heard talk about a live album. Is that on the cards?
CB – Yeah, but not like a live show. We just wanna write a brand new record and just record it live. Our last 5 records took 2 or 3 months in the studio, and we just wanna be in the studio for a week and just be done with it. We’re not over-producing our records so once we do the song and we’ve played it enough it’s not hard for us to just jam it out and like the way it sounds.
BL – In the past you’ve had a couple of guest vocalists on tracks. Is there anyone you’d love to get for something in the future?
CB – Yeah, me and Jeff talked about we’d really like Sean Ingram from Coalesce but that’s just for us really. When we get people in it’s just for us. Like when Chino (Deftones) and Page (Helmet) came in, it wasn’t just guest vocals, they came in and wrote the song with us from scratch. It was a learning experience for us to have them come in. We learned so much just seeing how they do things.
BL – So you have a bit of a break and then you’re back out on tour. I know it’s your wedding anniversary today and you just bought a new house. Are you starting to feel a little homesick?
CB – Oh big time! I’m definitely stoked to be on this tour. This is easily one of the funnest tours we’ve ever done. So many friends on this tour but I’m worn out and I’m ready to go home.
BL – So, in an ideal world, what would be your ideal scenario for Norma Jean where you think “this is exactly how I want things to stay”?
CB – I think if we can continue to do what we’re doing now, play 400 capacity venues and pack ’em out… I think we’d be happy doing that. Obviously, we would love to play 3000 capacity rooms or something and pack those out, yes, but, for what we do musically, it’s maybe not that realistic. We wanna make music that we love and for there to be enough people for it to make sense to continue doing it. I can’t own a house and be playing for ten people, y’know. We’re really happy with where we are now. We told each other a long, long time ago that everything from then on is icing on the cake, cos we’d already done so much more than we ever thought we’d do by, like, 2006. I always tell people I’m never gonna have a mid-life crisis. It’s not gonna happen!
Live photos – Steve Gerrard