So, Cory, I got the impression last summer that you guys were only too happy to be on a new record label. What do you want to say about your exit and your entrance onto Razor & Tie?
Cory Brandan: Out with the old and in with the new. When it comes down to it, the one thing that I think everyone has to remember is being on a label has nothing to do with what we’re going to do artistically or what the band’s gonna do as far as our future or whatever. We still have the same goal. No one should really be concerned with it. That’s a deal between us and them. It’s a business deal and it’s pretty much that. We get along with the guys at Razor & Tie. It’s just a really good label, man. They know how to get down to business. They’re definitely really passionate about what they do. About putting out music that they like. And that’s what it’s about to them. When it comes down to it, they know how to get down to business. That’s what we were looking for.
Let’s talk about this new album, Meridional.
I wouldn’t say it’s a drastic change of sound, but it sounds less frenetic and more straight-forward muscle-heavy metal. What sort of thought went into this stylistic direction.
We definitely wanted it to have a darker feel. That being said, Jeremy Griffith, the producer, was on the same page as us. We changed a lot in the studio with him, through different ideas that he would have. Overall, we just wanted to kinda go for something… As far as the vibe of the record is, something that’s darker-sounding. I think the intention behind the record to and the content matches with that as well – even into the artwork.
It is a little more straight-forward. It’s a different kind of heavy for us, though. It sounds more closer to where we were going with “Vipers, Snakes and Actors” off the last record.
We just had fun with it. We got in there and didn’t worry ourselves too much. We wanted to rock out.
What are some of your memories of recording it?
Gosh, man, we started writing this record in January of 2009. At that time we had written ‘The Anthem of the Angry Brides’ and ‘High Noise Low Output.’ And at that time we had no idea where this record was going to go. But when we got into the studio, it became a lot different than we thought was going to happen. We had a really good time. Working with Jeremy was something new for us, too. Jeremy is a really, really good musician. He’s not just an engineer and producer. He’s a really good singer and he knows several instruments. That was something that we really wanted, too, on this record. It was really fun just to sit down and play the songs – on an acoustic guitar or something just to show everyone what was going on and hearing his ideas and really just worked together and brainstormed together. We did that the entire time and it was so much fun like that. So, it was really a blast. We did three days of pre-production, which we’d never done like we did on this record. We recorded every song completely and we just worked on song arrangements for three days. So, we really took the songs under like a microscope. We’re just really super stoked.
What all do you do with a song? Do you play some instruments yourself? What’s your involvement?
We all write together. I write a ton. I came into this band as a guitarist. Norma Jean is actually the first band I’ve ever been in where I didn’t play guitar. And actually, on this record, I play a lot more guitar. I play a lot more live. I started a little bit on the last record and on this record I’ll just play even more. We’re playing a couple of new songs on this tour from Meridional. I’m playing on one of ‘em. Once we start playing more of them I’ll play a lot more. We all really work together, but I definitely add a lot in writing. I’ve definitely spent countless nights of watching tv and when the commercial comes on I’m playing guitar, for sure.
I think I forgot. Did you sing and play in Eso Charis?
Yeah. Sure did. I also played with Living Sacrifice as well.
It’s so long I couldn’t remember. Once again you’ve titled some songs with great wit. “Everlasting Tapeworm” is an incredible title that begs further thought.
Yeah, that’s a really bold lyric. I wrote that years before I was with Norma Jean. There’s a lyric in the song that is ‘never ending tapeworm drug,’ basically. The idea behind it is about being addicted to something or trying to keep your mind off something as it eats away at you kind of thing. It’s everlasting and almost never-ending. That’s kind of where that comes from. It’s super old. I wrote that when I was playing with this band called Uses Fire – post Eso Charis, pre-Living Sacrifice, pre-Norma Jean. On that song Shelby from Frodus sings on that song.
Really? That’s cool. I think there’s something powerful about poetry sometimes. When you’ve got something like “Everlasting Tapeworm,” you say that phrase and your mind … it does more than the usual with wordplay. It’s just strong. It’s pretty cool.
Yeah. Yeah. I think so, too, man. It’s kinda funny that you say that, because I don’t think people really focus on that very much. Like, the lyrics that aren’t just, you know, fitting something in. It’s all about trying to find the exact emotion that you want to portray and that’s what’s so good about the English language – is because we have so many words we can use. Words that just have a slight different meaning from one right next to it. We often break out the thesaurus and make sure we find the right word for how we want to portray that feeling or emotion. We feel like behind every lyric is an intention and a passion behind it. That has to be felt. It’s not just… It’s not through our fans. It leads through us, because we feel like we can play better or play with more passion if we know what the song is about and it’s right on with how we feel about the subject.
Tell me about the songs “High Noise Low Output” and “Leaderless and Self Enlisted.” What stands out to you about those songs? What particular challenges, if any, did they force?
High Noise Low Output – it’s so new, it’s just so hard for me to really dive in. Being an artist, a musician, whatever, a lot of times you apply new meaning to something you thought up. It kind of … it eventually makes more and more sense to you as the years go by. But High Noise Low Output is… I’m trying to think of the lyrics to that song. That song is a lot about thinking you’re supposed to do something and basically over-analyzing that to ‘is this what I’m supposed to do with my life?’ You know, way over-thinking something to a degree of basically worrying about your future when really … even asking questions like, ‘Is this what God wants you to do?’ I think even questions like that can really brutally kinda confuse you even more when really, when I think it comes down to it, is if you’re passionate enough about something then you should just do it. It’s okay to, like, just try something. It may not be what you’re ‘supposed to do with your life,’ but I’ve always found that through being in a band for years and years and years and being a parent, too, raising two kids. In any situation there’s a chance to over-analyze a situation. It’s almost like the High Noise Low Output is basically talking about what you’re hearing basically is so loud and you think it’s so right when you think that way, but in reality, it’s very low output and it’s not anything that’s going to get you anywhere.
Leaderless and Self-Enlisted? That’s kind of funny that you bring that one up, too, because it kind of goes along with High Noise Low Output a little bit. It’s basically kind of a conversation between a person and … just being afraid to come clean about something or however anyone wants to interpret it, but for me it was talking to God in a way, like sometimes I feel like, ‘I can’t talk to you because You’re God,’ ya know? Sometimes I’m afraid to do that. That’s where the lyric comes from: ‘I never wanted to tell you, because I couldn’t put it into words’ I think that fear is something is definitely a good thing to get past, because it’s definitely not the case. I know that everything I’ve been through – at the end of the day – you lay down in bed and say, ‘I’m with You and I’m not going anywhere’ and you have to know that God is doing the same thing and He will. He’s always done that with me. I can’t talk anybody into believing that with me, but that’s just – for me, that’s how that song kinda means in the lyrics. I think it definitely can be interpreted several different ways. That’s what I kind of like – when you can interpret our songs differently. Looking at anything, you might see something differently than someone else. And that’s kinda cool.
I hear ya, too. I totally think a lot… Especially twenty-somethings, because they’re, like, in a stage in their life they almost get paralyzed with fear unless they know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing instead of just taking a chance.
For years that’s been a driving force, dude. It’s basically what I was going through when I was thinking about those lyrics was I was going through a divorce. When you read the Bible, you know, God, He knows everything. At times, I’m like, ‘Well, God didn’t go through a divorce!’ You know what I mean? But then I when I think about it, He went through… I don’t see God as a watcher – someone Who sits back and He’s like an observer. I think God is a participator, just like us. Whenever we feel pain, He feels pain. Whenever something bad happens, He is right on board with us – whether it’s anger or sadness, He is all of those emotions, too. I think that’s a really good way to view God – He’s a participator. He’s just as much going along with the weight of the world as we are.
You mentioned earlier that High Noise Low Output was kind of one of the first songs you worked on and you didn’t really know what direction to go to. How did … What did you guys think when you were hearing these songs musically and how did you end up eventually getting to where you are now with all 13 of these songs?
That song’s a good example, because we started writing that song and we got really sick of it quick. And we didn’t even like it for a long time and it got shelved. And it all just got to where it was just … we’re just not even going to work on it anymore. But we kind of pushed ourselves through it. That’s one thing we learned with Ross Robinson on the last two records: was push yourself through something. Don’t just give up on something because you’re not sure. There was a reason why you started writing that song. There was a reason why you started these lyrics. They’re linked to something. It all comes together somehow. So, we pushed ourselves through it and the song just came alive once we had vocals on it. And that was when we finally started loving it. I remember (drummer) Chris Raines calling me when we were doing that track-listing. We had to pick two or three songs to leave off the record, because we recorded so many songs. The first thing he said was, ‘Dude, I know ‘High Noise Low Output’ has to go on the record! I love that song! That was kind of weird hearing from him, because we didn’t like that song at all first. We really tortured ourselves pushing through it, but it came out really cool. There’s a really dark feel to it and (it’s) kind of the birth of Meridional in a way. You can kind of think of that song as kind of a birth pain.
Is that the first single (I saw it was on your MySpace or something)?
No. I don’t think we’ll ever release that one as a single. We are making a video for ‘Deathbed Atheist,’ though. We worked with Popcore before. They’ve done three videos for us.
What would you like to say about the song “Deathbed Atheist?” What are you wanting to communicate with that one?
It’s pretty brutal. The record as we were recording the record, it had basically accumulated a nickname, because we didn’t have a title for it yet. And the nickname was ‘Just a Nightmare.’ We would record a part and we would go in and Jeremy would have this look on his face like, ‘ugh! That hurt to hear! What a nightmare!’ There’s some sounds that we put on the record, some samples that just kind of have that feel – that kind of hurt. With Deathbed Atheist, it’s just really talking about, kind of like… There’s actually more theories for this. Scottie had written a lot of lyrics for that song and he wrote so many that he was sick of all. But one of the lyrics that didn’t make the song kind of talk about that and has a real repetitive feel to it. That song just really just focuses on … something that is really true to us. Being in a band this long you get to a point where you want to put things in the lyrics that you don’t even want to bring up in a conversation, so I kind of feel like that with that song. I think with that song I would like for people to check it out and interpret it for themselves and see what they get out of it.
What are your thoughts on the philosophy of atheism?
(takes a long breath) I don’t know. I kind of don’t care, honestly, anymore. I kind of feel like, at this point, I’m not going anywhere with what I believe. And the thing is I never became a Christian because I thought it was going to be cool. I knew it wasn’t. Basically, I just don’t really care what anyone thinks of that. And atheism is basically just an attack on that. It’s basically focusing on the same thing that I’m focusing on, but in a negative way. If you are a true atheist, you wouldn’t have a name for it, necessarily. You wouldn’t care to talk about it so much. A lot of atheists, ‘I don’t believe in God.’ Okay, well, ‘I don’t believe in you.’ I don’t go around talking about it that all the time. If you really, truly don’t believe, it’s not… It’s basically rebellion. That’s what it is. And if that’s what you choose to do, then it is none of my business. What am I going to say? I kind of think of it as, ‘You know what? If you leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone. I don’t really care if that’s what you think.’
What was the inspiration behind the choir-like voices in the end of “Septentrional”?
That’s something we’ve done on every record. I guess at this point it’s one of the traditions for a long time we … every record we’ve done has a part where we all get in a room and we sing something together. We bring other people in to sing with us. And it’s just like a fun part of the record where we’re all in the same room singing the same thing. It’s usually like one lyric kind of repeated over and over. All the way back to Bless the Martyr – there’s a couple of parts where they did that. So, we almost tried to find that part. There’s something real special about that song. It’s oriental and occidental as well. I think people will find it really interesting when they hear the record.
What is important about the friends we choose? Of course, I’m referencing “The People that Surround You on A Regular Basis?”
I think there was a point in my life where I realized, you know, I kind of see my life in several phases and there was a phase where I know I’m learning and I know there’s a phase where I kind of feel like I have a lot of things figured out and, you know, there’s only one more phase and I kind of feel like I’ve stopped the first phase – the learning phase. There’s always something to learn and you’ll never ever approach… There’s always something to learn from someone else. Whether they have something… I’ve been through some really horrible situations and I found myself attracted to those people in a strange way. I feel like, through that second phase I alienated some of those people. I feel like…
I want to be around those people and I want them to be around me. I think it really just comes down to your own willpower. There’s a point where you have to stop enacting yourself and live life without … you being around someone who’s going through… it’s having a negative effect on something … they’re making their own choices. If there’s anything that you’ve done that you don’t think you should have, it’s no one’s fault but your own. That’s kind of where that one comes from.
What keeps Norma Jean going in a scene and a career path that is not the most convenient, doesn’t have the best health benefit plan and doesn’t always provide consistent income?
We’ve been really lucky to continue doing what we’ve done – being with bands for years. When it really comes down to it, we do this stuff because we enjoy it. We love music. We love each other, writing songs together, touring with each other. There’s nothing like a record cycle – the writing phase, the recording phase and then touring your butt off and more touring after that. There’s something that’s great about all those things and there are some downsides, but there’s downsides to pretty much anything. I kind of feel like this is something I’ve wanted to do since I was six years old. We went through a flood or something. It’ll clear up.
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