It’s just over two weeks until Krank’d Up 2016, and we’re literally counting down the days! Festival headliner’s Norma Jean are aiding in the excitement with the release of their new album ‘Polar Similar’ which is set to release tomorrow. The Metalist za had an in-depth chat to vocalist, Cory Brandan regarding their upcoming show and why it has taken them so long to visit South Africa. Cory opens up about the struggles Norma Jean have faced through the ever-changing industry, how they have become a more of a collective than band and also how Christian bands do not actually exist. Cory shares his insight into dealing with critism and also explains how Rick and Morty personifies band life.
Listen to the full audio interview here, as well as get a sneak peak into what you can expect from ‘Polar Similar’ out 9 September 2016.
Firstly I just need to say how happy we all are, that you guys are finally coming down here…
We’re so stoked!
How long has South Africa been on your map of destinations to play, and what has been the deciding factor to actually come down now?
Uh, we’ve wanted to come there for years and years actually. I think the main thing is it’s very expensive for us to get there. I mean the flights alone, not including VISA’s, we have to rent gear… and then you know, if we play any other shows in South Africa, we’re flying to them probably. There’s hotels… it just adds up.
So it’s just really hard for us to get there and, you know, not lose money.
So that’s been the main factor of us not getting there before, and this is just an opportunity where this festival [Krank’d Up] really wants us to be there, so they made it happen. It really comes [down] to those guys, those promoters [Turning Tricks Entertainment] who are really aggressive in making sure we can get there without going broke. That’s really what it comes down to, and you know we would’ve come there years ago had it been any other way.
Well that’s very good to hear, we’re very happy that it’s finally happening. I know I speak for everyone when I say that.
Cool. We’re excited, it’s going to be fun.
As far as your set list goes, what can we expect from your show here? Will it mostly be material from ‘Polar Similar’ or can we expect some old hits seeing as it is your first time here?
Well uhm, we’ll play a little of everything. The new record ‘Polar Similar’ comes out on the 9th (of September) and we’re there shortly after that, so we’re definitely going to be playing some new stuff. It will kind of be out for a couple of weeks by that point. But we’re going to try and play something from every single record. We definitely will! From the very very first Norma Jean record to now.
That’s fantastic! I have been asked to ask you, on behalf of my boss Peter (The Metalist za’s very own Peter Metalcore), who has been a Norma Jean fan for years and years now. He asked me specifically, will you be playing ‘Small spark’? Because it is his favourite.
(Laughs) There’s a pretty good chance we will, we like playing that song live. It’s one of those songs that we never released as a single, but it’s one of our favourite songs to play. So there’s a pretty good chance… I’d say 75% chance we’ll play it, but I can’t say for sure.
That’s awesome, I’m sure he’s going to be very excited when he hears that. (laughs)
As far as the new album goes, I mean, you guys have had an array of member changes over the years, each bringing their own influences. But, are there any new influences on this album or were there any changes to the writing process?
Uhm yeah. I think the thing that Norma Jean kind of consistently has done, is we really consider ourselves more of a collective than your typical band formula. And that meaning that, well, here’s five guys and here’s the kind of music they play. There’s this kind of loyalty based system in music that we have, that everyone kind of subscribes to and I kind of think it was a thing that was probably invented in the thirties by a record label.
Saying, ‘oh yeah, we need these cute guys’ or whatever. You know. And now in metal it’s like, here’s these guys, you know they wear the makeup and stuff, and that’s what they do. There’s a thing, a gimmick in a kind of way. It’s not something Norma Jean has ever cared about.
To us, it’s more of like, we’re a collective where association is flexible, and creative direction is shared across a group of friends and family basically, and that’s kind of how we’ve always operated. So when we do go through a member change, it’s not like a political announcement needs to be made because we’re going to find someone who fits within that collective or who has already been kind of a part of it anyway.
I was one of those guys back in 2004. So we always kind of try to look for that, and then really just beyond that, you know to us, the music is first. We kind of feel like coming up to ‘Polar Similar’ that ‘Wrongdoers’ was more or less when a lot of member changes happened, so we had to kind of find a chemistry with the new guys and we feel like that record is more or less transitional to ‘Polar Similar’.
Like ‘Polar Similar’ was really the goal and we kind of had to do ‘Wrongdoers’ to make it happen.
I think it really comes across that way. So we almost kind of sacrificed a record to make a record. We do love that record. We love ‘Wrongdoers’ but I feel like the real, true intention that we wanted to get out, really comes through in ‘Polar Similar’. [It] tells a story from beginning to end, it’s just such a cool record and we’re so stoked about people getting it and listening to it from front to back.
Yeah! I can’t wait to hear it! But you guys are back on Solid State records with this album, what sparked that decision?
Really it was just, I mean, it’s not that exciting. It’s just, we were free agents after ‘Wrongdoers’, so you know we put the word out on the wire that we were free agents and if anyone was interested [they should] throw us a deal and we’ll look at it.
And at the end of the day we had some really good offers on the table, but it came down to the people. You know it was like entirely new staff over there at Solid State and we really really liked the team of people. You know a lot of bands miss that when they’re signing their deal, a deal to a label, they see a cheque for an amount and they’re like ‘Yeah let’s do it!’
But really, do those people care about your band? Do they care about your music? Are they going to be, like we kind of consider them a sixth member? You know, we kind of want them to join the band and join the collective in a way. How can we make this band better and get ourselves in front of more people, new ears? And we just felt like Solid State was the best way to go, it’s
Well that’s good to hear, but I mean, you guys have been around through the digitalization of the music industry. How has your approach changed over the years, regarding record labels and deals and just generally how you get your music out there?
I feel like more than any other band, and maybe I just speak for myself here, I don’t know. But I feel like we struggled with it. We fought to the nail…no pun intended there…
Against the kind of digital age of music. I don’t want to ramble on to long here, but people really might not know what we, as Norma Jean, go through to make a record. Like these days, you can kind of jump in a studio almost basically run direct through a computer into another computer and you can make a whole record that can sound really good.
But that’s not what we do. We isolate ourselves in a cabin in the woods (laughs)
You know our studio in the woods. We’re on a record for two years and we record for two months, and we mix for a month. We spend so much time and put so much effort [in], and spend time away from our families, our kids, our wives etc. and then it turns into an MP3, that just gets downloaded for free and that’s just become the norm.
There’s no one supporting the system, you know it’s like if you’re playing that game Jinga, there’s nothing holding it up anymore, so it’s already kind of toppled over. So for us it’s like, well, we’re going to make music either way, we are at least in a safe place where we’re established enough to keep it going and we’ve kind of figured out ways to make it work best for us, and we stay on the road.
Yeah, I think you speak for most bands when you say that, it must be very difficult. I mean I can’t understand it, but I can only imagine…
Yeah, uhm, the band still works the same, but you know monetarily we just have to be careful and not do anything too risky. But the music is still there, the music is still the same. We still do all the things we wanted to do before and more you know. If anything, it’s really affected the music industry as a whole because we’re not able to spend as much money making a record here and there. You know, that affects all the studios, and we can’t buy as many strings for our guitars, we cut down on that, and that affects the string companies… it trickles down basically.
Yeah, it’s like a ripple effect…
But the entire industry has changed into this new economy… We just recorded our new record where Nirvana recorded ‘In Utero’…
And the truth is, there’s this kind of weird thing that happened, where we never would have been able to record there, had it not been for them dropping their prices to our level so they could get bands in there. So you see what I mean? It’s like ‘ah it sucks’, but also it’s kind of cool because our music is reaching more people. We are finding new listeners because of it, so there’s Pro’s and con’s to it really.
Yeah that makes sense. So obviously you guys have that association to, well I don’t want to label you as a Christian band necessarily, but that association to Christianity. I know for some of the Christian bands we have here in our scene in South Africa, they receive a lot of negativity and criticism. Have you guys been through the same kind of thing and if so what advice would you give to them for dealing with that?
Oh yeah absolutely! We deal with that all the time. There’s two things about it. One, plain and simple, it’s not cool to do it. Being a Christian is no different as far as being in a band goes, [it’s not] any different from being a straight-edge band or a vegan band (laughs) or a satanic band or an atheist band, there’s no difference.
Because at the end of the day, we’re talking about sound and music. And music or sound for that matter can’t have a belief. You know, if I clap my hands, you can’t tell me if it’s Christian or not. You know, vegan or straight-edge, it’s a sound.
So it always comes back to that. Here’s the music. Do you like it or not? Did you listen to it? Because that’s all that matters. There’s no such thing as a Christian band, it’s not a real thing. Music is music. It all goes back to that loyalty idea that the whole world has with music. But I think we need to strip it away. We shouldn’t be loyal to a group of guys or girls or anyone. It’s not that the people making music are irrelevant, but that’s not what you focus on. You focus on the sound that comes out.
And to those bands, I would just say, just do that. Don’t try to appease those people that don’t like you because at the end of the day, are they listening to your music or not? Or are they just judging you by the things that you believe in? Because by that sense, you’re no different from them or any other band. At the end of the day I’m singing about what I believe in, just like every band does.
That being said though, I mean, after so many years in the industry… what inspires you now compared to when you first joined the band? Where do you draw your inspiration? Especially balancing Norma Jean with now Hundred Suns as well?
I find from the same place really. For Norma Jean, it’s always been more of a personal thing… I end up writing about something that I know about, something that I’ve been through on a personal level. And when I put it into lyric form or whatever, I just try to make it open ended, so anyone could relate to it. I find inspiration from the same place since I joined, it hasn’t changed. It’s just my life, or things that I see around me, and I try to keep it more of a classical feel.
The tides change a lot, politically and everything… So I don’t want to sing about something that nobody’s going to care about in a year. You know some of my favourite bands in the world have done that. Specifically one of them is Rage Against The Machine, amazing band, I love them to death. But some of those songs now, they’re still awesome, but they’re kind of outdated because they sang about something that was of that time, that era and that has a nostalgic value to me, but for Norma Jean I would rather it lasts forever. You know way beyond us, bigger than us.
But yeah, if I do anything else, as far as Hundred Suns goes, it’s not much different. I just try to find things that I haven’t been able to touch on, there’s also some fictional things that come into play there too.
Well I think you’re pulling that off pretty well so far.
Just regarding your vocals though, your style can be very strenuous on the vocal chords and I feel like with each album you keep pushing yourself to greater heights. Do you have any special techniques or routines to protect and maintain your voice at all?
I don’t. I don’t do anything. (Laughs)
I get that question a lot, because I definitely do push really really hard. I took vocal lessons right before we recorded ‘Redeemer’ from Ron Anderson, he’s great by the way. He definitely taught me a lot. I always explain it like, when I went to him, he told me to sing and then he showed me some things and then he was like okay… you’re not doing anything right.
And then it was like he handed me this Dr. Seuss instrument, like tubes going everywhere and horns coming out. You know some instrument that doesn’t exist. I’m looking at it, like how do you play this? And he’s like, this is what you’ve been trying play. This is what you’ve been trying to do, and I’m like man I’m singing on an entire record dude, I needed this information like two years ago! So he definitely taught me a lot, he taught me all the warm ups and those things. And I did them for a little bit but I felt that it just kind of made me feel anxious. I had this anxiety ‘cause I didn’t want to mess up my voice, and I ended up messing it up.
I went through such a bad time and I kind of realised on my own that the best thing a vocalist can do is just… rest. It’s a human instrument so whenever I do mess up my voice I sleep it off, like you do any sickness that’s in your body. If you have a broken [arm] or get through a surgery or whatever, what’s the thing they tell you to do? Get some sleep! So that really is it, I just make sure I get plenty of rest and just like any other instrument, you practice enough at it, you’ll figure it out like playing guitar.
That’s amazing… Well just before we wrap up, I have to ask you this just because I ask everyone this question and I usually get some very interesting answers…
If you had to compare yourself to a cartoon, what would it be and why?
WOAH! Uh gosh let me think…
Well, I think, it’s one of my favourite cartoons, but coincidentally I think it works as well. Rick and Morty…
I love it!
That’s exactly what Spencer from Periphery said as well! (see interview here)
That is so perfect! Okay! You probably get that answer a lot these days, but it makes sense because you have these characters that are kind of thrown together, that don’t necessarily want to be around each other all the time but they’re stuck with each other… kind of like being in a band. And we travel all over the place, sometimes we go to places that are very strange…
You know? Like on the last tour, we were in Ireland and they were like, ‘hey! Let me show you the backstage room…’ and then we walked through this walk-in cooler, and there’s kegs everywhere. Like, we’re in the walk-in right now, it’s freezing in here!And they literally opened a curtain and said, here’s your backstage room!
In the walk-in cooler… and I got pneumonia.
Like that day! Yeah! That’s where we had to stay, the venue was pretty small and there was really nowhere else to go. So I ended up getting sick and it was just like this other world, you know. So it’s a good answer! It’s kind of cool that Periphery give the same one!
Yeah it’s a very good answer, it’s a different interpretation, so very cool!
Well I won’t keep you any longer, thank you so much for taking the time to do this, I know everyone is really looking forward to the album and having you here. And I know Spencer from Periphery is also really looking forward to playing with you guys again, I know you guys played together a couple of years ago…
YES! We’re stoked to see those guys again for sure, it’s going to be awesome! There’s already a kind of cool chemistry with those dudes, so we’ll have fun. The whole show will be a blast, so people should definitely come out because… I don’t know when we’re going to back next. (laughs)
And it’s just going to be such a blast!
That being said, is there anything you would like to say to your fans down here?
You know, if I ever get the extra question at the end, I always say one thing, I guess you could say it’s in a way, my platform. But I always say, buy music and support the bands you love. Support the music you love to keep alive.
Best ending to an interview ever!
Well I hope you enjoy the rest of your day and I look forward to seeing you.
You too. Alright, see you soon!
KRANK’D UP will be held at Sundowners (Alberton) on September 24, 2016. Set across two stages, featuring 2 international acts and 16 South African rock / metal bands.
KRANK’D UP Ticket Prices:
Full price: R490 each
Tickets are on sale nationwide through www.computicket.com , as well as at Computicket outlets and Checkers stores.
KRANK’D UP 2016 is sponsored by Monster Energy, Jägermeister, TOMS, Coca-Cola.
Interviewed by: Sammy SF (More from Sammy)
Video edited by: Sammy SF (More From Sammy)
Date: 8 September 2016
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