Norma Jean Interview


The Anti Mother Another New Beginning For Norma Jean

Band gains new drummer, tightens sound all around

Norma Jean - Band
L t R: Jake Schultz, Scottie Henry, Cory Brandan, Chris Raines, Chris Day
photos: Ralf Strathmann

For years, through numerous bands, all Cory Brandan wanted to do was music. One week, he sat down, thought about, and almost gave it up for a nine to five daily routine.

“Around the month that [Norma Jean] asked me [to join],” he says. “I kind of decided to give up and possibly get a real job and move out of my mom’s basement. I wanted to grow up, and I was pursuing music very belligerently. It’s all I really cared about, kind of neglecting my family at the time.”

Brandan is on the phone, preparing to embark on his band’s headlining tour in support of their new album The Anti Mother, the third album to support Brandan’s once thought to be silent vocals.

“Within the week or so making that decision,” he says. “Daniel [Davison] had called me asking me to step into the band next week.”

Ironically, Davison announced his departure in an open letter last September, leaving only guitarist Chris Day and Scottie Henry as the original members. The band then asked Spitfire drummer Chris Raines to complete the outfit.

Raines arrived in the studio about a day and a half prior to everyone else, after being out on tour with the band for six months, and close friend for much longer than that.

“I felt everything from total nervousness, to apprehensiveness, to excitement,” Raines says.

With Norma Jean three albums in, and consistently harboring their sound throughout, Brandan says he was surprised to not see Raines as nervous. In fact, Brandan says Raines was the breath of fresh air the band needed.

“I felt like, when he joined, it was a lot different, already three records deep,” Brandan says. “Chris really brought something to the table that Norma Jean didn’t have.”

All gathered in one room, a white dry erase board hung in the corner. Written on it were notes and song structures — an album cheat sheet. According to Brandan, Raines would momentarily get up, stand in front of his bass drum and say, “We need this song, and every song on this record has to be solid.”

“The Anti Mother was a direct result of that feeling,” says Brandan.

Norma Jean - Band
For a while, Brandan says, Norma Jean was a three part process on repeat: writing, recording and touring. “It kind of wears you down,” he says. “With Daniel quitting, it was a bit disheartening. With Chris coming in, it was like getting back.”

Raines says he wasn’t the only drive of this record. “Cory is like that too,” he says. “Cory wants to be the best. There’s a lot of times when I’d come up with a riff and thought that it was cool and he would be like, ‘No it’s not. It could be better.’ I think when I came into this band, he didn’t have another person to push that. I think him and I really fed off each other. It was all about making the band tighter.”

There’s no argument though that The Anti Mother’s “rapid fire” drum structures seem out of place for Raines. One listen to Spitfire’s latest, Cult Fiction, and one might not be able to argue that things weren’t as loose a process in Raines’ new outfit.

“It’s a different style of music,” he says. “With Spitfire, there’s a lot more room to play weird off-time rhythms and fills and crazy stuff. I felt with Norma Jean it was about sitting back and letting the guitars and vocals do the work. Cory’s vocals have matured so much and that needed to be the focal point.”

The band gathered for three months to write, and no one had specific plans, says Raines. “We went in there and did it. If we liked it, we kept it. If we didn’t, we threw it out.” Raines says the band wrote better structurally instead of throwing a bunch of crazy riffs and fills together, instead taking the road of mapping it out.

Brandan says his style changed as well when he entered four years ago. “I have way more set ways than those guys when I joined the band,” he laughs. “They were really open to all ideas, and that’s how Norma Jean worked, and I had to learn that. I have tons of thoughts on every record that I’ve been on, and their set way was ‘not having any set ways’ when it came to writing. It’s like, ‘I don’t care what it is, let’s try it,’ and that is such an awesome feeling to be a part of.”

With the record just about complete, some special guest entered the studio: Deftones’ crooning frontman Chino Moreno and Helmet’s riff legend and vocal front Page Hamilton.

“They were both so awesome,” Raines’ voice goes up in excitement. “Page especially. I felt like I knew that guy my whole life after like five minutes of hanging out with him. He’s so normal and down to Earth. When you grow up listening to somebody and then he comes in and you play with them, and for him to be such a cool guy, it’s just awesome.”

“I felt like [Chino] was a sixth member,” Brandan says. “No ego at all, that dude is super cool.”

Brandan says he brought in Saosin frontman Cove Reber to do background vocals as well. “The idea with Cove was to come in and do a bunch of background stuff,” he says. “I didn’t want to do my voice on top of my voice. I don’t like that on records, so I wanted a higher singer, and have him have his own part.”

Everyone’s vocals come together at the roaring end of “Surrender Your Sons…,” and Moreno’s almost didn’t make it. “Chino might not have been able to sing on the song he wrote with us because he was super busy working on the new Deftones record. Cove saved the day by singing on this record. Chino came in later and said he had time to do it, so it just ended up all three of us sang on this record, and it came out really good.”

Brandan also says there’s a version on the hard drive of that particular song with just Reber and his vocals.


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