Norma Jean’s Cory Brandan: “We Felt Like We Could Be Anything At Any Point”

“You always have to move on from whatever it is you’re going through, that’s just the way that things go”

Norma Jean’s new album ‘Deathrattle Sing For Me’ is out now via Solid State Records. 

A complex, chaotic and crushing blend of post-hardcore experimentation, this is a record that finds the band continuing to push the limits of what is possible whilst also delivering hefty blow upon hefty blow. It’s a testament to the band’s longevity as much as it is their desire to not slow down, and it is a joy to behold. 

To find out that little bit more about how it came to be, we sat down with vocalist Cory Brandan…

What are your feelings now that this album is out in the world?
“More than anything, this record has something to be said about how we view things we do. We turned this record in thinking, ‘What even is this? What have we made?’ We didn’t even know what it was that we had made. Is it good? Is it going to be one of our misunderstood records? Who knows how this is going to come across. But there is something to be said about hearing music through other people’s ears. It changes the songs and changes how you view them. That’s been a fun and interesting experience, especially with this batch of songs. We just went for it, and there was a lot of freedom in writing this, and we felt like we could be anything that we wanted at any point.”

So, where did that sense of freedom come from?
“It’s a mix of a lot of different things. For Norma Jean, collaboration is very important. Somebody will bring a song in, have a vision for it, and see a puzzle being put together. It doesn’t take long for somebody else to say, ‘Why don’t we try this instead?’ It’s really easy just to say, ‘Well let’s just try it this way first’, but building that chemistry and trust is important. There’s freedom in just letting a song go wherever it is going to go, and not holding it back. I think that for this record, that was a massive part of it. Everybody was on that page. The most fight you got from an idea being brought in was a look. A certain look, but a look all the same. That’s when you know an idea is bad or a bit off, just the way the eyes move. That’s just the way we work now.

“Another thing, and it was the same with ‘All Hail’, having Grayson involved as part of the band. That dude writes so much. Before we picked what was going to be on this record, we had 40 songs to pick from. That’s insane, isn’t it? There was just so much, and it was really cool to know that I was able to focus on what I do and what I can do because the other things are being taken care of. It’s chaotic, but it makes sense.”

When such a thing can create such strange and, at times, confusing results, then it doesn’t get much better than that…
“Absolutely, and even confusion at this point is a huge plus for us. The first track that we dropped, ‘Call Of The Blood’, we knew that song was weird. That’s the reason we wanted to drop it first. What’s the song that is going to get people’s attention? What is going to be fun? We can’t be serious all of the time, this has to be fun to make and release as well. So we wanted to show that this album will have some interesting aspects, right from the get-go. And then you have ‘Spearmint Revolt’, classic Norma Jean.

“It’s a bit like a sour mash recipe. The bourbon we are making now still has some remnants from the last batch, which continues over the course of years. You’re building on this recipe again and again. If you start over from scratch, you mess up the whole chain of events. You can’t start over. It’s not possible. There’s respecting where the foundation is but also having respect for something new and having something more to give.”

​It’s all about learning more and more about where the boundary is. Because there isn’t any time when that lesson stops or slows down…
“I feel that the way we define that, specifically with this album, is with escapism. Really embracing the fact that the world can be chaotic at times. You don’t know what is going on in someone’s life on a personal level, something could be more chaotic for them than it is for you. There’s something important to us in making a place to get away from that stuff, even just for a little bit. This record serves as a one-hour escape so that you can refresh your mind and spirit and face those things with a refreshed attitude. You don’t know what someone has to face, but you don’t know how effective that break will be for them as well.”

Were there any moments within the process of making these songs that something shocked you or took you aback?
“Abso-fucking-lutely. All over the place. There are sonic elements in this where I may rework or do differently in hindsight, but that’s not where we were back when we were making it. That wasn’t the headspace we were in. And there are parts because of that which genuinely scared me. There’s a feeling coming out of this that is very real. And that feeling can be too much for me sometimes. In the past we have gone into songs and worked with fictional stories and themes just to be able to create something. But this felt real and raw, and everybody was in that same mindset. That energy is us. And it’s about accepting that energy as well.”

When you’re forced to reflect on not just the past few years, but every decision you have ever made as an artist or a band is questioned, that reflects in your art. And the emotions you felt when you first fell in love with music also make their way into what you are doing now, and when they are that real, you are going to feel scared of them…
“When it comes to that type of stuff, in reflection, that’s what this record is for. It speaks for us, and speaks for who we are and who we have been. There are many elements that go into it, alongside a lifetime of experience, and the record then becomes the answer to those doubts that you may feel. Even though it’s not that long since we made it, that’s not the place we are now. That was then, and today is now. We don’t feel the same, and that’s just life. It’s hard to attach anyone’s emotion to any song because there are so many simultaneously at play.”

And you will still be learning a lot about what all of those emotions mean in the months and years to come…
“It can happen quickly as well, though. There’s a lyric on ‘Sleep Explosion’ that says, ’24 hours and a new beginning’, and that’s something that I feel all the time. I can have a grand revelation about something, and it’s the brightest light in the room for me. Then the next day, I can reflect on it and think, ‘No, I have totally changed my mind on that’. To be able to understand that and claim it as your own and something is a part of you, that nothing is permanent. We focus on when something bad happens that you’ve got to get up and move on, but we treat it the same when something good happens as well. You always have to move on from whatever it is you’re going through, that’s just the way that things go.”

You’re in a position as well, though, where you will consider whether something is a right or wrong decision in your own life, but when it comes to the band, everything you do is the right thing. The possibilities are endless…
“There’s a leapfrog aspect to it. The last thing we did, we want to get away from that process and the way we thought about things. That’s even happening now off the back of this album. Every song had eight to ten demos just because we kept adding, taking away and changing so much. We wanted to make something where you could listen in ten years and hear something that you didn’t hear before. Now we never want to do that again. It’s all about finding the next thing to experiment with, and that’s not just in a songwriting sense. There’s mental experimentation that we do as well. What would we write if we wrote a song for your favourite band? What comes out? Maybe we don’t use it, but it inspires what will eventually come out. And that’s exciting.”

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