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Interview: Norma Jean

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By Jeremy Vane-Tempest

Norma Jean vocal chord-shredder Cory Brandan hasn’t had the best start to 2015. Not only was his brother the victim of serious theft, his daughter was involved in a head-on collision and spent a couple of weeks in hospital. For the moment, Cory’s just looking at getting the year back on track by doing what he does best: recording a new record and touring his arse off.

If you didn’t know, Norma Jean released the pinnacle of their career thus far in 2013; their sixth album, Wrongdoers. It’s a brilliant album, deviating and pivoting between Dillinger-esque math and more conventional rock ‘n’ roll riffs. Every truly great album needs a middle song to bridge the gap between the two halves, though, and Wrongdoers has Sword In Mouth, Fire Eyes. A southern riff fest, it’s probably the best song they’ve ever written. Cory revealed that the lyrical inspiration came from a unique source.

“That song’s about an observation made by C.S. Lewis. He said that if a group of people is heading down the wrong path, the first person to do an about face and walk the other direction is the most progressive. I just think it’s a cool idea that even if you’re on the wrong path, as long as you’re heading back in the right direction, then you’re doing something right. It’s cool to think about. People don’t think about the long game. They want to fix their problems in the immediate, whereas C.S. Lewis suggested that the road to recovery is just that, a journey, and you’ve gotta be on the right path to even begin the recovery.”

As the interview progresses, it’s evident that Cory is an intelligent, thoughtful man with a deeply spiritual outlook. We discussed the influence of C.S. Lewis’ book ‘The Abolition of Man’ on O’ God, the Aftermath, as well as The Screwtape Letters, and the man’s progressive outlook on Christianity as a whole.

“He was such a great thinker, a great mind”, asserted Cory. “He proposed a lot of ideas that no one had ever heard before at the time. Even today, you just don’t hear these concepts from anyone. Christian or not, anyone can relate to the kinds of things he was saying.”

While Norma Jean will write songs based in theological scriptures, they’re not afraid to venture down a darker path. Funeral Singer, Face: Face, Deathbed Atheist: these songs deal with loss, corruption, closed-mindedness. However, these topics remain in a relatable sphere, whereas some bands will write songs about mass murder and sexually objectifying women. Cory’s opinion about these kinds of artists is ambivalent at best, disapproving at worst.

“I look at what these younger bands are screaming about and I’m thinking ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ I can’t see where that comes from. Even when we were young, that wasn’t ever what we were trying to do. We’re very conscious of the fact that this music is our legacy. Once we record it, it’s recorded forever. You can’t go back and change it. You can only ever try to atone for it later in life, if your views change.”

“This is something that people are gonna listen to, relate to, and then they’ll relate me to it. I mean, you can write about cutting up women with chainsaws, but it’s just shock rock. You’re just trying to get people to listen to you. Not to say that we haven’t written negative songs, of course. Life isn’t all lollipops and roses. I mean, look at my brother and daughter! You don’t have to be positive all the time, but you should at least make it relatable. If you’re trying to fit the C-word into your songs every two minutes, then you’re just trying too hard.”

Norma Jean are heading to Australia in March and April for Easterfest in Toowoomba and a string so side shows. In case you haven’t realised it yet, ‘The Jean’ are what many would consider a Christian band. Cory disagrees.

“I can’t say that we’re a full-on Christian band. I’m a Christian. I can speak for myself, but that’s all I can speak for. I will say that I personally prefer not to play Christian festivals, but at the end of the day, it’s a choice between playing a show and having a day off. I’d prefer to play a show, no matter where it is. We don’t care if we play Christian festivals, but we don’t want to alienate any of our fans. We don’t want to play a show that would make our non-Christian fans uncomfortable enough to not come along, because we care about them too. I mean, they buy our records and merch just like the religious ones do. Probably even more so!”

“I’d even take this one step further and suggest that the label of ‘Christian music’ is stupid” Cory continues. “Music can’t have a belief. If I clap my hand, you can’t listen to clap and say “that clap is Christian, or Hindu, or Atheist, or whatever. It’s a freaking sound. The music itself can’t have a theological belief. We’re musicians first. The content is secondary to that. We write stuff that anyone can relate to. We don’t write anything that will alienate anybody. Well, intentionally, anyway.”

Tour Dates

Thursday, 2nd April
Crowbar, Brisbane (18+)
Tickets: Oztix

Friday, 3rd April
Easterfest, Toowoomba
Tickets: Easterfest

Sunday, 5th April
Newtown Social Club, Sydney
Tickets: Oztix

Friday, 10th April
The Evelyn Hotel, Melbourne (18+)
Tickets: Oztix

Saturday, 11th April
Fowlers Live, Adelaide
Tickets: Oztix

Sunday, 12th April
Amplifier Bar, Perth (18+)
Tickets: Oztix

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