Norma Jean’s new pulverizing album, All Hail, has finally arrived on October 25th via Solid State Records (order here). The group are currently on tour with The Devil Wears Prada promoting their latest effort. We caught up with frontman Cory Brandan to discuss the new LP, touring, today’s metalcore scene, and more.
Norma Jean is known for having constant lineup changes. With that being said, let’s talk about Norma Jean in 2019:
Essentially, it’s the same people. Our whole vibe has always been just friends playing music together in a room. That never changed. And even from the early days like playing music and thinking, “Now we just want to play shows and see where it goes.” So, over time, someone wants to do something else. Thought that’s more important to support our friend, going through that phase and continuing what we want to do. And here we are now. So, I guess to think of it more as a collective of individual musicians that want to make music together, friends kind of thing. And we still collaborate with a lot of the same people. So, right now, on this record, we have Matt Marquez, playing drums with us. He was with us after Meridional. Towards the end of Meridional, and Wrongdoers. Jeff was on the new album and with us since 2011, as well. Just the end of ’11. So, there’s definitely some lineup changes. Here and there. But not a traditional set up that way.
How has the overall creative process changed between each album due to having different people on board?
I’m the main songwriter; I guess you could say. I do almost all of the structural work for Norma Jean since I joined. There are all of these kinds of melodic sensibilities that Norma Jean might have or use from it. Everything else are risks being pumped out and enough piecing them together. I think of it as a breath of fresh air when there’s someone new in the room because we want to be challenged to write the next thing and find something new to add to what we’ve already learned about writing songs in general.
It’s a self-learned thing, but when someone else comes in, they have new ideas and challenges us to change and morph into something new. I think All Hail really shows some of that, but it’s still Norma Jean. You could even hear the progression of everything we’ve done before.
How would you compare All Hail to Polar Similar?
We always try to add something new. We sit down and say, “Okay. What can we do that we haven’t done yet? How can we get out of a comfortable place we were in with Polar Similar, which we really love?” We felt it was kind of like this. “Oh. This is what we’ve been trying to make for the last two albums.” So, that record hit home for us, feeling like we did something that we’ve wanted to do. But now, after that, it was just like, “Well, what do we do now?”
One of the main things you want to do is just to beat everything we’ve done sonically. Working with Will Putney was definitely a big part of that. One of the big reasons we went with him is because of how loud. And even on the melodic parts, it doesn’t take a back seat. So, the loud epicenter and I think that’s one of the bigger things that we did on the Album and having the time in between loud and quiet parts.
Can you talk more about the process of the music video for “[Mind Over mind]?”
It was awesome. We made two videos over two days with Kevin Johnson, our hometown crew. He’s done some stuff for us before. He did the “Children of the Dead” video. We just did the performance part, and It probably took us two hours to set up through our performance down, and then everything else was shot on his own.
The concept was to try to tell a story within 2 minutes and 13 seconds because the song is pretty short. I think he did a good job with that, but it’s also a fun, high energy rock song. That’s the main thing we wanted to get across. We kept that energy.
Can you talk about some of the themes on the album?
All of our albums have some foundational concepts. But with this album, I think we drove it at home a little harder with trying to tell a story from beginning to end. I like to visualize the concept stories; it helps me write things down. I can visualize what does this looks like if I had to envision it? I kept seeing what I call the mirror. This is going to get deep. I wanted it to feel like you’re slowly passing through the mirror into another world. As the record progresses and it starts at the top, and you slowly going into the second half of the record is almost a different record — the vibe of it, and the emotional work that we did there.
But that’s the main theme. The record starts with a fictional reality kind of vibe, and at the end, it ends with something very real. The song, “Anna” was dedicated to a friend of ours, a fan. A Norma Jean fan become a friend of ours and passed away last year. Right on the first day of writing this record. That was the first song we wrote. The fan’s stories inspire the stories on this album. So I thought that was an excellent way to end it.
That’s heartbreaking what happened but amazing that you dedicated a song to a fan that passed away.
It’s cool how it came together because of the whole mirror theme. It’s on the album, and her name was Anna. We named the song Anna, which is also the same forwards and backwards.
A palindrome. There’s a lot of lyrics on the album that do that too. I would say a whole line that you can read forwards and backwards. There are all kinds of Easter eggs. Stuff like that.
What’s your setlist going to be like? Will it be a mix or are you planning on performing solely new material?
For a tour like this, where we’re supporting, we expect to play in front of a lot of new faces. I think we’ll still see some people there who maybe know who Norma Jean is but haven’t seen us live before. Or haven’t listened to us in a while or at all. We will focus more on new stuff. New album or similar. Wrongdoers, Meridional. Within the last three but we’ll throw some old school stuff in there, too, for anybody that comes and supports us. It will be a little all over the place. But focused on new things and what the band is now.
And if we do a headline next year, which we will, we’ll throw darts at a dartboard with all of our songs on it. That’s how we will pick our setlist.
Where do you think metalcore as a whole is moving toward?
I have an interesting answer to that because I was just talking about this the other day with a friend. I ended up tweeting about it, too. It seems there’s a throwback happening, but it’s not like we hear early 2000 type of throwback. It’s more of a modernized mid-90s. It’s cool because I hear stuff that the younger generation’s making, and it’s way better than anything we were making in the 90s, but it gives some nostalgia to it almost. I think it’s cool to see happen.
There’s a lot of stuff from the early 2000s that have recently been popping up. But as you said, in a different way. It’s not like going completely old school, but more of a combination.
Realistically we were just into an almost, throw your guitar in the air, and that’s part of the song. It’s supposed to be messy, and there’s some grit to it. Structurally songs are chaotic. I love it. I love the scene that I’m a part of, and I don’t want to be that old guy that’s like, “Oh, Screw with what these little kids are doing!” And that’s kind of what we got growing up. So, a lesson learned.
Yeah, that’s a very good point. And age is just a number. Is there anything else that you want to say or add about the new album?
I think I’ve had a pretty standard answer to that question for the last 16 years. You’re the first person to ask that during prep time. But this time around. I’ve always said the music industry has changed, and I don’t expect people for fans to be loyal to us because it’s like a club or something. But all I say is if you like something, look into it. Stream it. Support the band by buying the album or coming to a show or something. Because they keep the music going, and if you dig it, find a way to throw ten bucks at them with buying an album or something. That’s my take. But overall, I’m just excited about the album. It was named by the fans. A lot of these stories are inspired by the stories you’ve heard over the years. It’s really for them, by them.