Norma Jean have been a popular staple in the heavy music scene for over a decade now. Having successfully toured to Australia recently, the band is now preparing to drop new album, ‘Wrongdoers’. KIllyourstereo.com chats with frontman Cory Brandan about the record, backstage Spinal Tap moments, and the possibility of releasing more BBQ sauce.
Hey Cory, how’s it going?
It’s going pretty good, how are you?
Going really well thanks.
How have the first few Summer Slaughter shows been? It’s a great line-up.
It has been really awesome. It’s a really great tour and we are stoked to be apart of it. It is a pretty diverse mix of bands so if you’re a heavy music fan there is something here you’ll like.
Speaking of shows, you were just recently down here for your Australian tour. I was at your Melbourne show and the response seemed really positive. How was the tour?
It was awesome. That was probably the best time we’ve had when we’ve been over there for sure. It was almost like we didn’t leave for as long as we did. We were really glad the shows went like they did and we are already planning on being back there next year as soon as possible.
That’s definitely good to hear. The other talking point is the new album. I’ve been fortunate to have a listen to it and it has got a lot of groove to it, it’s really well paced, and of course really heavy. However, this is a key album with the inclusion of three new members essentially. How was the writing process and dynamic this time around?
Once those [new] guys came in it became a lot less stressful. When we started writing we still had Jake [Schultz, bass] and we had a fill-in drummer, Matt Marquez. Of course Matt is an amazing drummer and Jake is a great bass player too, but I think over the course of that year, we kind of felt the record had its way with us and in a way once we got Jeff, John and Goose in, the energy really changed the entire vibe of the band and the practice space changed. Everything changed and it was all for the better. We just embraced it and made sure they knew this was their project too. We ended up actually scraping quite a few songs and we had too much material for the record, so we have a lot of b-sides. It has been awesome. We are already ready to start writing again honestly.
When you get in new members how much does it re-energise you? Is it almost like a breath of fresh air?
For sure. The thing about John [Finnegan, bass] and Goose [Clayton Holyoak, drums] specifically, they already had a chemistry together in a previous project, so having that rhythm section locked in was a really amazing new energy on stage and in the studio. Those little changes might seem like they have an impact, but losing members, I can’t lie, it’s a hard thing to go through and even harder than that is finding the right people, but I think we did. We worked really hard to make sure the right people came in and we didn’t cut any corners as far as what we were looking for and what we felt this record needed, and this band needed.
On the topic of recording, it was about three years between ‘Wrongdoers’ and ‘Meridional’. That’s a normal timeframe, but I guess these days with kids having short attention spans and wanting albums out as quick as possible, as a band do you feel pressure to release these albums a lot quicker?
To be honest we really don’t. I think for us we do come from an era where bands did take longer to release records and took their time to do something really special, instead of microwaving music and pumping it out. That’s not to say that’s what bands are doing right now. I am seeing a little bit of that going on. I think the market is struggling, so I think the answer to that, as a lot of people are seeing it, is to let go of quality and cut corners, and that’s not something we want to do. I don’t think we could anyway. We really stress ourselves out writing a record. We don’t want to just put something out really fast. If we did want to put something out really fast we would do it a way that was necessary. We’ve been talking about recording a live record in which we could just go and write a bunch of songs – maybe half a record’s worth – and go into a studio for two weeks and just play live 100%. I think that kind of energy would be cool to do to put out the music really fast.
Going back on the topic of Australia, I remember seeing you guys the first time you were here with Atreyu and Unearth. What were your memories from the first time Norma Jean came to Australia?
At the time it was pretty amazing for us to come to Australia (laughs). Being a traveller or a world traveller in that sense is something that comes with the territory of being a musician. It is not really what any of us aspire to do – the world travel part of it. So it is something you want to embrace because if not, you might end up not liking your job. I loved it then, we had so much fun. We just couldn’t wait to get back. Unfortunately, it is super expensive, but I know we want to try and get back there as much as possible, especially after that last tour we did.
Speaking of being a world-touring band, especially in Australia because the major cities are so far apart, you’re doing a lot more flying as opposed to being in a van. What’s the dynamic like when you come here and are flying show to show as opposed to primarily being in a van?
It is definitely different than anywhere else [in Australia]. However, that’s something you come to expect when you tour Australia. If you have to get up early and get on a flight, you try and sleep on the plane. I think the time management is important when it comes to that type of stuff, but I think next time what we’d like to do is do a lot of in-between markets if possible, and do a longer run – so, maybe a little less flying. Overall, you can’t really avoid it though.
That’s one of the things we are seeing a lot more in Australia now is a lot of international bands are not just doing the major cities but they’re hitting a lot of the regional and suburban places as well.
Yeah, for sure, I’ve definitely been seeing that. I don’t think we’ve ever been able to do that, but I think we’d be into it for sure.
For yourself personally, you’ve been in Norma Jean for almost a decade now. How hard is the balancing act with other commitments? You’re a father and a husband as well – you’ve got other commitments outside of the band too.
I think it has gotten easier over the years. Especially my kids, they were raised into this. To them, they don’t know anything different. It’s not like I was home for a long time and then all of a sudden, bam! I’m on tour. They are very used to it, they’ve actually been on tour with us before and as far as they see it, my job – this is what I do. I don’t even think they think it is that cool honestly (laughs). That is probably the hardest thing of doing this is having to be away and sacrifice time away from our families. But, on the other side of that, the positive note I’d try and look for for any musician is if you are going to spend time away from your family and friends, and your home and sacrifice that, then make sure you are doing something that is special and make sure you are putting everything into it.
Having read interviews with you in the past, I know you’re big on people going out and buying the new albums and supporting the band. I know you put a lot of effort into artwork and song titles. Today, when so many people are downloading, how important is to present an album as a complete package?
I honestly wish we could do more things. Pirating has become apart of the industry at this point – there’s no way around it. We are looking at an entire generation of people that are coming into loving music and buying records, and having their favourite band, but have never been in a record store and they don’t even know what it is. It has really changed everything. What people don’t realise is it affects everything all the way down to the factory that makes the steel to make the strings. It really does affect everything. We want to make sure we put out something cool that is worth the purchase because I know that incentive is pretty necessary. We also do vinyl and other cool things for collectors, and we just hope our fans are into it enough to support, and go out there to get the cool stuff. Some of it is limited to, so get it while you can (laughs).
Speaking of cool things, can we expect anymore Norma Jean BBQ sauce?
We’ve been talking about that actually. A fan said something to us on Twitter the other day like, “hey, I just bought some O’ God the BBQ Sauce on eBay. Is that going to be expired?” (laughs). I was like,” most definitely, yes! Do not eat that or open it.” (laughs). It might be fun to do something like that again.
I remember at your Melbourne show in between songs you were mentioning about how bands that use ego risers on their stage set-up are just stupid. Is there any other things you see up and coming bands do that aren’t genuine and you scratch your head as to why they are doing that?
I think the ego-riser thing is more or less a joke because if one is in front of me, if a band leaves it on, I’m probably going to jump on it or throw it at the end of the set. One of the two (laughs). But, I think it depends on where you are as an act. For instance, scrims I really hate them, I think they are just dumb. It covers all the equipment. I’m a gear nerd, I want to see what the guys are playing. I guess these days bands don’t even have anything behind those scrims.
Being in a band opens you up to a lot of cool and interesting experiences. What has been the Norma Jean ‘Spinal Tap moment’?
Oh my gosh, I’ve been lost so many times backstage (laughs). I just walk into rooms and have no idea where I am. Most of those places have arrows everywhere and then those arrows get walked on or broken over time, so they keep putting more down and it just looks like there’s arrows pointing in every direction, which makes it even more confusing.
My ultimate Spinal Tap moment would probably have to be at the Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee. I walked in on some people having sex (laughs). I think they thought they were in a hidden room…and actually they were. That room was hard to find, but I was lost enough to try it out because I needed to find where I was going. That would probably be a pretty fun, little story there (laughs).
Were there any final words you wanted to pass on?
I will say if you love music and have your favourite bands support them by buying those records, it means a lot to them. It really does make a difference. That’s kind of my platform I guess you could say.
Like I said, I’ve been fortunate enough to listen to the new album and absolutely love it. Also, the fact you say you’re planning to come back to Australia next year sounds really exciting, so look forward to that. Really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today Cory.
Awesome, thanks so much. Great interview.