Interview: Norma Jean
Sat, 06 Sep 2008 14:47:12
Norma Jean's latest album, The Anti Mother, is a metallic powder keg primed to explode on impact. The band's known for their kinetic live shows and gnashing brand of heavy music, but on The Anti Mother they've taken things to a new level. It's a place where cataclysmic, cacophonous screams merge with violent riffage. It's a place deep inside the darkest of headspaces. It's a place where Norma Jean are in command. Guitarist Scottie Henry took some time to talk to ARTISTdirect about how Norma Jean went there and back in order to create The Anti Mother. They got help from some friends, namely Chino Moreno of Deftones, but they've made their most powerful statement yet on this album, and it's purely Norma Jean.
The Anti Mother feel like a big step up from Redeemer, but the Norma Jean sound is still preserved.
Definitely, I feel like it touches on the last record that we put out, but it also expands in different directions.
Is there one storyline for the whole album?
No, not really. We didn't set out to do that. We never had a theme or anything like that for it.
How was working with Ross Robinson again?
It was awesome. We began working on the album in early January, and then we flew to L.A. and started with Ross on April 1st. He built a studio in his basement so we did the record at his house in Venice. It was cool. We did pre-production for a couple of weeks, and then we got started. We worked until about a week before Warped Tour began. It was a long process.
It feels like your most brutal record.
I definitely feel that. We experimented with more melody, but at the same time it's our heaviest record.
Did Ross pull those intense performances out of you guys?
Yeah, I feel like that's what he does. That's why we click so well. We definitely try to make something more than just a song. We dig deep inside ourselves for something that makes the song come alive. We talk about the songs when we're writing them. Before we even start playing, we'll discuss lyrics and what a song is about for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour-and-a-half. That way, when we do record, we're all on the same page. We're all thinking about the same reasons why we're doing this. Our process definitely brings this energy into the songs that doesn't happen unless we take our time discussing them. I play guitar, but it's not like I'm just hooked up to a tuner playing. It's about everyone playing together and knowing exactly what the songs are about. We put a natural feeling into the music.
How do the songs normally begin?
Everything just clicked with us and Ross this time around. It was great. We all play guitar. So most of the time we'll record our own little riff tapes and share them with each other. However, [our vocalist] Cory's stuff normally starts with a melody, a beat or something he might have in his head vocally. We piece the songs together how we want them. It's definitely an organic process.
What's the story behind "Robots 3, Humans 0?"
That was actually the first song that we wrote for the record. It came together really quickly. It was written forever ago. It was a weird process. When we were writing, Cory was playing guitar along with us. That's something he's going to be doing when we do our headline tour this fall. We didn't practice with vocals at all in Atlanta. We didn't hear them until we got to the studio. So it was new to all of us. Cory had what he wanted to do in his head for most of the stuff before we got to L.A. We had no idea what direction it was going to take. I feel like the music is pretty heavy, but at the same time, there's a lot of melody, which is a different mix for us.
The album covers a whole sonic spectrum—from the more orchestral moments to the brutal parts.
I'm really proud of this album. It was definitely a long, hard process making it. I feel like we earned the final product though.
Where did the concept of "The Anti Mother" come from?
We knew we wanted The Anti Mother to be the name of the record. We actually applied those names to the songs on the album after the fact. We thought having songs titled "The Birth" and "The Death" of "The Anti Mother" would provide a complete circle. The Anti Mother is something that everyone has. It's inside humans. It's something that you think is going to be good for you, but in the long run, it's very deceptive, and it's not good for you at all. It's very destructive. The concept can be taken a few different ways, and we cover that on the record. We told our cover artist that it's something very beautiful, nurturing and motherly on the outside, but on the inside, it's very deceiving and deceptive. He came up with that image of the human heart with a beehive in the center of it. It covers the concept of deception. You think it's good for you, but it isn't.
“We dig deep inside ourselves for something that makes the song come alive.”
The last track, "And The Will Be A Swarm of Hornets," is pretty epic. How'd that come about?
I was sitting at home one night, and I wanted to try different tunings. I tuned my guitar down to "B," and I was messing around. I started coming up with that riff. I got stoked and brought the riff to practice. We jammed on it, and the song came together really quickly. It flowed really well. We practiced it during sound check the other day, but we'll definitely play it on our headline tour coming up.
What was it like collaborating with Chino on "Surrender Your Sons?"
We were really stoked about it. It was a dream getting to work with him. We grew up loving Deftones. The fact that it even came together blew my mind. He came in, and we had a couple riffs, but we didn't even know what we wanted to do when he got there. We had no idea if he wanted us to show him riffs or start from scratch. We got there, and we all got in the room. There were four us with guitars. Chino just started playing this riff, and we were like, "That's awesome." Ross flipped, and he was like, "We're starting from that riff. Just go!" So it all started from that riff that Chino was jamming on. We hadn't talked about what we wanted to do, it just happened. The song went from there. We put it together from out of nowhere. When we were writing it, things just felt amazing. We were all stoked. Being able to work with him and jam was an amazing experience.