Normandie are set to release their ambitious and immersive new album ‘Dopamine’ on February 09 via Easy Life Records. Frontman Philip Strand guides us through its creation, from the initial ideas and theming to writing lyrics and collaborating with old friends.
Plus, we have teamed up with the band to bring you this exclusive t-shirt design inspired by the record:
Read ‘Normandie, ‘Dopamine’ | The Album Story’ below:
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In terms of subject matter, music doesn’t get much heavier than Normandie’s 2021 album ‘Dark & Beautiful Secrets’.
A painful yet vital record for vocalist Philip Strand to create, its ten songs reflected on the frontman’s upbringing, navigating the evolution of his relationship with religion in the form of a deep emotional cleanse.
A cathartic exercise that saw him emerge a different man to the 28-year-old who started the writing process, the trio’s third full-length release assisted Philip in his search for many answers, but it also raised several questions.
Playing shows across the UK and Europe, witnessing first-hand how their fans connected with such intimate, honest reflections, when the trio reconvened in their studio to ponder their next steps, they realised that there was one thing more challenging than writing your most personal album to date – figuring out where to go next.
After two years of deliberation, Normandie found their answer, and on album four the Swedish band are conjuring up a fictional world like no other. Painting a picture of the post-apocalyptic dystopia that could well be on the cards for planet Earth if it continues down its current path – welcome to ‘Dopamine’.
A lot of people in this world would describe themselves as adrenaline junkies.
From taking on rollercoasters to jumping from high places, those seeking thrills in extreme ways are searching for a hit of the chemical to their brains – but what about the smaller hits that we crave every single day?
When you’re checking your phone or aimlessly scrolling social media, each swipe, like and comment delivers a shot of dopamine. A chemical sometimes referred to as the ‘feelgood hormone’, it’s a substance that we crave without even knowing it, forming a subconscious addiction that Philip has strived to understand.
“We know that we’re addicted to love, alcohol, and so many other things, but we’re all unknowingly addicted to dopamine too,” he explains.
“It’s the most addictive chemical drug in our brain, and it’s also the least understood. If you’re addicted to oxytocin and the touch of another person, or you’re craving a hit of serotonin, that will inevitably be a dopamine addiction. It’s the neurochemical that we should all be aware of, and I think that over the next few generations our understanding of dopamine and the ways we handle it will change dramatically.”
The narrative arc of ‘Dopamine’ first emerged from Philip’s conversations with his 18-year-old sister. Growing up in different generations, the frontman was struck by how his sibling was being raised within a society constantly overdosing on dopamine.
“They’re connected to smartphones and social media in a way that was never even their choice. They’re growing up with iPads in their hands and social media accounts almost assigned to them as soon as they’re born,” he muses.
“That realisation fed the idea of dopamine being a pill that we all just take every morning, and what’s scary is that could actually happen in the next 50 years.”
Delving into the impacts of other neurotransmitters such as adrenaline, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin, the trio began painting a picture of an enhanced dystopian world in which people consume dopamine in the same casual way that they fuel their bodies with caffeine each day.
With humanity constantly chasing different highs and natural chemicals, as the album opener proclaims – we’re going into overdrive – and that alarming observation dominates the story of ‘Dopamine’.
“I am so addicted to my phone. I often find myself listening to podcasts whilst scrolling Instagram and cooking at the same time,” Philip admits.
“We’re doing things that weren’t possible 100 years ago, and our dopamine levels are probably three or four times what they were for people who were alive then.”
“Initially we laughed about a fictional story where people swallowed dopamine pills before starting their day, but the more we talked the easier it was to rationalise it. What started out as a joke could possibly become a prophecy.”
Zooming in on all the things we do to scratch the invisible itches in our brains, whilst it’s rooted in a fictional idea there is a depressing reality at the heart of ‘Dopamine’. As technology changes, human relationships do too, with social media impacting everything from the way we make friendships to how we perceive others with opposing opinions to our own.
“We’re at risk of living in a toxic echo chamber, and it’s terrifying. 50 per cent of me thinks I should hit the brakes and try to lower my tolerance when it comes to these everyday dopamine hits – but the other half is in for the ride,” Philip contemplates.
“People view AI as a job killer, but before the computer was around, people said the same thing about that. You’ve got to buckle up in case there are positive outcomes too. It’s scary, but I can’t wait to see what happens in the next 50 years because I have faith in humanity to handle it with care.”
Meeting every Thursday for an entire year to write lyrics whilst eating pizza and drinking wine, it took a while for the narrative arc of ‘Dopamine’ to take shape, but Normandie had a clear vision for the album’s sound since day one.
From drum-and-bass inspired opener ‘Overdrive’, through the blistering heaviness of ‘Colorblind’, the stripped-down Gorillaz influenced ‘Butterflies’ and the unrelenting five-minute-long anthemic cut ‘Hourglass’, ‘Dopamine’ sees Normandie darting between sonic worlds like never before.
“We wrote around 50 instrumental demos then tried to zoom out to see what the common thread connecting them was,” Philip nods.
“We love pushing the boundaries of our genre, and we noticed that a lot of the demos explored new sounds for us. Working on the instrumentals was so fun, but we had a meeting with our label in January 2023, so we had to start wrapping up the album. I was freaking out because we had so much good music, but not enough melodies.”
“We had to do a serious presentation for the label, so we explained the concept of the record, and they loved it. After that, I picked out fifteen of my favourite instrumentals and just mixed them. I started writing on top of that, and it all clicked into place. Within a few weeks we had lyrics, melodies, and everything. I had so much anxiety, but I work best when I’m under a deadline. The process was beyond stressful, but it paid off!”
“I’ve never seen Normandie as a collaborative band, but some of the best songs on this album came about thanks to a collaborative effort,” Philip explains.
A full-time pop songwriter outside of his role in the band, ‘Dopamine’ marks the first time the frontman has called upon the talents of his peers to bring Normandie’s music to life, with ‘Ritual’ and ‘Flowers For The Grave’ written alongside close songwriter friends.
Having also produced every one of his band’s albums to date, LP4 is no exception – with Philip once again handling production and mixing duties.
“‘Dark & Beautiful Secrets’ was the first Normandie album I mixed, and it felt like such creative freedom. Going into this album knowing that we were capable of that gave me such relief,” he reflects.
“Last time was fun, but we knew that this time was going to be even better. I had more time, and I knew from the start of the process that I was going to take it all the way to the finishing line.”
With complete control over their vision, the trio realised that whilst they needed no assistance in the studio to bring ‘Dopamine’ to life, they still needed a couple of helping hands onboard to fully realise the album’s magic.
Calling upon one of the finest string conductors in Sweden to recruit a 19-person orchestra for emo ballad ‘Ritual’, Philip and his bandmates knew that ‘Hourglass’ also needed something to elevate it to the next level. A biting metalcore breakdown, perhaps? Time to give Bury Tomorrow’s Dani Winter-Bates a ring.
“We started out as a metalcore band before going into a more arena rock sound, so we wanted to have a nod to that on this record,” Philip says.
“We reached out to Dani in the middle of his summer festival run with Bury Tomorrow and he was kind enough to do the feature and send it off. He nailed it, and I’m so happy that we had him on the track. We wanted to bring in a legend of the scene, and somebody who’s been owning this genre for decades. He felt like the perfect choice, and I hope we get to perform it live with him one day.”
‘Dopamine’ raises many questions about the future of our world, but whilst they’re certainly ready to open up discussions – Normandie aren’t here to provide any solutions.
With society’s social media obsession frequently seeing us turn to those with blue ticks for advice – he may be the one holding the microphone – but Philip certainly isn’t looking to become an influencer, instead hoping that ‘Dopamine’ inspires others to embark on their own journeys of self-discovery.
“I am the biggest social media addict, and I come from a background of Christianity where I have been in the herd. I’m very hesitant to become a preacher, especially when I don’t have a solution to the problem that I’m preaching about,” he nods.
“I can shed some light on stuff that I’ve been observing, but I don’t think anybody should use my words as a guiding light. Maybe this album will spark a revelation for those who listen to it, but I’m not here to guide that. The search for identity is the most important thing we do in our lives, and everyone should decide what their own purpose on Earth is.”
Now over a decade into their career and still driven by the same sense of self-improvement and discovery – what is Normandie’s purpose in 2024, then?
“Honestly? Constant reinvention,” Philip smiles.
“I am yet to be bored of this band. We’re not scared of pushing the limits of what our fans expect from us, as long as we’re doing something that we are excited about. As dark as this album might paint the future, we’re running towards it. I can’t wait to see what’s around the corner.”