Norma Jean's Cory Brandan

Norma Jean's Cory Brandan
Norma Jean’s newest release, The Anti-Mother, once again finds this godly dissonant hardcore group looking to change their sound just enough to keep things new and refreshing. This time around the guys are working with a little more harmony but still keep their music heavy while instilling the use of producer Ross Robinson who worked with them previously on Redeemer. Vocalist Cory Brandan spoke with Exclaim! over the phone during the Vans Warped Tour, discussing the joys of recording their new record, working with two of the band’s idols, Page Hamilton (Helmet) and Chino Moreno (Deftones), and why Norma Jean are always looking to tinker with their sonic prowess.

Can you tell me about the recording process of The Anti-Mother?
Sure. We recorded with Ross Robinson who did our last record as well. It was crazy, we actually lived with Ross for three months. Like sleeping on couches and building forts. The first day there Ross built forts for us and we slept in them.

What kind of forts were you building?
You know like when you’re a kid and you build a fort out of stuff from around the house like furniture and stuff. That’s what it was. There were little sliding doors and stuff it was pretty awesome [laughs].

So what brought on building the fort?
I don’t know. It’s just Ross’ personality.

Did you build a fort when you were recording Redeemer?
No. We were only at Ross’ house for a month and he had plenty of rooms there. That was a just a fun thing that he did. The apartment we stayed in last time he has now converted into a recording studio. We recorded the whole thing in his house, it’s the first he’s ever done [recorded] in his house. We were right on Venice Beach with a backyard beach.

What is it like working with him as a producer?
It’s something. He’s a really cool dude with a lot of great ideas and really jumps into the record. It’s kind of like he’s a member of the band.

How does him being a friend of the band work out with the recording process?
The thing is we have known him for a really long time. We can talk to him about anything, he makes us talk about the song and what they’re about and he kind of puts himself in that same position to be a part of that song as well. He always pushes us in a direction to get more out of us.

Does he ever push you in the wrong direction?
Totally. It definitely happens. The way he wants to record an album is as if there is an intention behind every song and he wants to get that out of you. He almost does whatever it takes to do that. Ultimately, I think it comes across really good recording that way.

What goals did you have set when you were recording this album?
I don’t think we really had any. When we started writing we really hadn’t worked on very much together yet, we just got a rehearsal space and got everything in there and just went for it. When we came in the room we didn’t really know what we were going to be doing on that record at all. We didn’t have a direction we wanted to go in we just stared writing songs and that’s what came out.

How do you find a starting point?
We had just finished a tour with Saosin and it had been a couple of years since we had done anything but we wanted to write. We had some ideas and we were getting excited about writing is how we based it. If we’re ready to write then we do.

Have you ever had an instance where you didn’t feel like you were ready to write?
Definitely. Like right now we don’t feel like we’re ready to write [laughs]. I mean we tour as much as we can on a record and then once we start to get anxious we totally base [recording] on that feeling. Like what we’re feeling at the time, artistically because ultimately music is art and we’re all artists so if we feel like we want to create we will. It’s pretty spontaneous there’s really no formula to it at all.

So you guys all come together and have ideas?
It’s pretty spontaneous we just go with what we’re feeling at the time and often you know it’s the same with touring and recording it’s all based on that feel.

So what were you feeling when you started writing The Anti-Mother?
On this record we knew like musically we wanted to have a very powerful record, sonically powerful, a bombarding massive amount of power. We also wanted to work with a lot of melody and experiment with a lot of ideas musically and expand our sound and so we just kind of mixed the two things. It’s definitely a powerful record and definitely heavy but there’s tons of melody and we experimented with tons of things like that.

How do you go about writing something that’s a little different but don’t take it too far?
I don’t know. With us we don’t feel like there is a too far. If there’s something we want to do we’re going to do it. It’s not about trying to do something or trying to make our band into something it isn’t. We all know that if we do that we’re going to fail. I mean I think that’s the case with anything you do artistically - if you try to put something out there that’s forced people can tell. We think. We always try to just maintain how we’re feeling or what we’re good at and that’s what we go for. Otherwise all your songs end up sounding the same and every record ends up sounding the same and you plateau then that just goes down hill from there. We change every time and it always seems to work out for the best. I mean we’ve had terrible reviews on songs or whole records but it never seems to matter at all because somehow the record ends up doing good and we’re always stoked because we did what we’re supposed to do – not trying to make our band into something that it’s not.

Do you think there will ever be a point where the band would do something forced?
Hell no. No way.

Because it compromises everyone’s artistic ability?
Totally. We found that if we don’t ride that wave the best is going to come out of us. Ideas are going to flow so much faster. If we’re sitting there trying to write a dance tune or something like that we’re going to struggle with it because we don’t write songs like that and we’re not good at it. If we try and do that it’s going to be boring and it’s going to lack progression. If you hear a song and that band has its own sound you can totally tell there’s something different and unique about it. When you hear that same band trying to do something different you can totally tell that’s not them and it’s not what they’re good at. That falls on to other bands too. If there’s a band that’s really good at writing super poppy songs then that’s what they should do. I think that’s what they should do. It kind of comes with what you’re influenced with by too, but I really believe in that. When you see a band that writes super good poppy songs try to write and artsy piece where they’re trying to say, "We’re not that poppy band” I think it’s wrong. Don’t stop doing that [what a band is naturally good at] because once you do stop you’ve compromised everything that you do artistically and you’re not going to put out something as good.

Did anything interesting happen while writing this record?
We had a lot of things that were going on. We did work with Chino [Moreno] from Deftones on this record and Page [Hamilton] from Helmet. Those are two really big things that are exciting to us and two of our favourite artists in the world. We wrote two separate songs with them from scratch. That to me is a very exciting thing.

I read that you wouldn’t write a song for a guest vocalist but would rather write that song with the guest vocalist. Why is that?
To us it’s not a bad idea to write a song and have someone come sing on it, that’s cool. To me that says, "hey, come check out our new record [because] this guys sings on it.” With us it was more like these are guys we want on our record and not in the sense that hey Page Hamilton is on it. You want them to be a part of it because they’re artists and musicians. So rather than just writing a song, and having them come sing on some part and then be like "okay see you later man,” we wanted them to start with the song from scratch and write the song with us too because they have ideas as well. Those songs turned out so cool because of that. Also those songs that they sang on become partly theirs too and that’s so cool. I think it keeps us on our toes too because we don’t ever feel like we’re above reproach musically. We always want to do something different, we always feel like there’s always something more to learn. We could still learn from almost anything so why not learn from our favourite artists?

Do you feel like that’s going to help with song writing and structure for the future?
I think so definitely. When we were writing with Page he had a very distinct way to write music. We wrote the music out and he knows some really awesome chords on guitar and he’s a great guitarist and it blew us away because he’s light years beyond us - to us that drives us to be better musicians. With Chino it was way more laid back with more focus on power chords and trying to find those notes that would give the song a different sound rather than if you have an idea to change it up and do something different with it. Those things together are very cool.

Did this knowledge come out in the rest of the album?
Yeah, definitely. We applied those ideas to many things in the record. The thing is when they came in to record with us we treated them as if they were another member of the band. It wasn’t like we were standing in the room with them and they said, "let’s try this and this and this,” and we were like, "okay.” Everyone had ideas and just like you would if you were in a band with four dudes, you’re not going to be afraid to have ideas. The same thing was the case there and we built those songs together and that’s how we treated it.

I would say it’s fair to assume there’s a central theme to the album being The Anti-Mother. Can you tell me about it?
There kind of is and it wasn’t planned necessarily and not all of the songs fall under the theme but most of them do. The idea behind it was that The Anti-Mother is a character we created. It something that we created but it’s inspired from things that are real to everyone. Basically I feel like everyone has things about them that are motherly qualities, things that you use to protect yourself or take care of yourself or to take care of others. I also think whether we want to admit it or not we have things in us that are very destructive. And it’s strange to me that these things that are destructive to us we almost desire them in a way - we’re tempted by them these anti-mother qualities.

How did you come up with the concept?
Just through personal experience. Everything we do has to fit together and The Anti-Mother just fit together in to what we’re doing at the time.

The song "Robots 3 Humans 0” actually features clean vocals on it. I was wondering how this came about?
The thing is we’re fans of a lot of different kinds of music and inspired by a lot of different types of music and that inspiration comes out when we write whether we want it to or not. If we’re going to be honest with ourselves and do what we think we’re good at then we’re going to do whatever’s coming out. With that song specifically we had written it in its entirety and was the first song we wrote for the record then we kind of back burned it. And then every once in a while we would bring it back out and play it and had ideas vocally and thought about singing in certain parts. Then a week or so would go by and we would bring the song back out and have a part we wanted to sing on again. Then pretty soon most of the song was clean vocals. Just as much as we write a guitar part we are going to write a vocal part the same way. It’s not like we came in and were like, "okay here’s the clean vocal song,” and that’s how that song turned out. There’s actually a bunch of songs on the record with clean vocals. That song is a really good example of a heavy song with a very melodic feel to it. That contrast comes up a lot on this record.

What are you thoughts on the intensity of this album?
I don’t know it kind of is what it is. It’s kind of up to the listener to me. I feel like just as much you read lyrics and might interpret them differently than someone else would or even for what the song was about at all, I would do that with my favourite bands and read the lyrics and apply them to myself. It always made sense like that. Even if this song has nothing to do with what I was thinking at all, it’s like if you look at a painting and see something different from someone else. I think just as much as your going to do that with lyrics I feel that people interpret our songs differently sound wise from someone else. I think that’s why we end up with so many different labels. But that’s cool how that happens.

Why does that band advocate change so much?
I think there is something, maybe it’s a human thing that makes us want to keep things the same and not change. I don’t think our fans would realize how bummed out they would be if we kept writing the same record over and over. We would definitely be unhappy and I don’t think we would be a band anymore. I think change is good. So far it has worked out very good for us. We always want to change. It’s not like we’re going to say, "well on this record we need a new bassist so you’re out dude,” it’s not like that at all. If it does come along then that was God’s will and so it works out in the end for the band.