Musician Interview: 8/22/2008  

Northwestern Dreams : The Music of Norman

Norman is the musical project founded and driven by Eric Nordby.  Recently re-located to Portland, Eric has played in numerous projects with numerous people all over the Northwest and is settled for the first time in a while with four other talented musicians.  His story is one shared by many; a story driven by the desire to make music and all of the inspirations and sacrifices that come with it.  We caught up with Norman after a show at Portland’s Holocene and asked Eric a few questions about where his project sits right now.
Photos and Video by Wes Scheler

SEZIO: When did you start playing music and what got you into it?
ERIC NORDBY: Everyone in Norman has their own story.  As for me, I really wanted to play bass guitar at first, but as it turned out my friend Sesh was already pretty handy at the bass.  I instead decided guitar was the instrument to start with and was gifted my first guitar on my 14th birthday.  I made up all kinds of outrageous lies about how I had a band in another town, and how we wrote these amazing songs.  I didn't take guitar too seriously until I was 16 and formed a rock band with some high school friends, some of which I still play with like Brian Hall who stepped in on bass on our most recent recording.  I've played for 11 years and that's nothing to marvel at but I'm not really a player though; I guess I'm more of a writer in the respect of playing music.  I haven't taken lessons or had any formal training. Over time I got immersed in music listening, and that really changed the way I played more than anything.  I have a fairly decent collection of music and my tastes constantly changed; that’s something that has really attributed to my musical style and songwriting.

SZ: How has your understanding of music and what goes into making it developed since you started?  What keeps you in it?

Music is challenging.  My bandmates push me to be the best I can be.  I used to be real nervous.  I'd get the shakes before I played and now it's as natural as driving a car.  But I honestly feel like this is what I'm built to do; I have something important to bring to the stage, all of us do.  And that's why we play.  We just love that interaction when we play together.  That's the ticket to enjoying it.  When you're playing off of the crowd playing live and when you're creating something new at the practice space.  Nothing feels better than when you bang out some brand new tune; a rush of energy hits you when you're in the middle of the fury!  It happened last week at practice and Wil our bassist just started laughing when we ended the tune.  It was unbelievable.  I have affection for playing music and playing with these guys.  They are my family.  We all make each other better people both musically and just as friends. I'm also addicted to all instruments, which adds another element.  I'll try and pick up anything and learn it.  That's why we have Moog synthesizers, banjo, lap steel, bells, and melodicas.  I really want to learn the saw; that's the next one on the list!

SZ: How do you prioritize making music and what do you give up to be able to do it?
EN: It's easier said than done.  We all want to make time to play music and individually we do accomplish that.  But getting all of five of us together on a regular basis is a real tricky thing because we're working with five busy schedules.  We all have jobs, school, families and other commitments that take a real big chunk out of every day life and that's important and we work through it, but at times it can be really difficult.  It doesn't help that we all live in different towns that span 120 miles with all the money in gas it takes to get from point A to point B to rehearse and play a show. Making sure we have food and that everyone has a place to sleep if we're on the road comes into play as well.  We do all the management and a fair bit of the promotional work to get ourselves gigs.  There's a lot of little things people forget about, like all the time that goes into making an album, designing the artwork, printing show posters, t-shirts and merchandise, promoting a record.  We're an independent band.  We get a lot of help from folks along the way but it still is a whole lot of work that we are putting in.  That's why they call it artwork I guess.  We're working very hard to make quality art. 

SZ: What encourages you as an artist?
EN: It's always humbling when you make a difference to someone through the art you're creating.  It doesn't really matter to me if I sell records; that's never been the point. It's nice to be paid for the work you do, but a lot of time it just doesn't pan out that way.  You can play a show and drive two hours to pour out your heart and soul on stage with an audience of four people and get paid twelve dollars to split between five guys and that's pretty discouraging.  We're not in this to make money though.  If that we're the point I'd be done with college, wearing a fancy suit and I'd have a business marketing degree or something.  I'm not out to put out music that sells because it's catchy.  It's not about hit songs or record labels or having the top download on itunes.  It's about It's the connection with this family of musicians both past and present that keeps me here.  It's the connection with our homes and memories that builds these songs and makes Norman what it really is.  My heart and soul are invested in this project.  That's the best part, to know that we are effortlessly to embrace this music with genuine honesty and sincerity because that's who we are. There are people that have seen us live or heard the records that are excited about our music and see what we represent and that’s what keeps this art form alive. 

SZ: Explain your writing process.  Is it a discipline or does it just happen when it happens?

EN: Each and every song is different.  Some melodies arrive when you ask them to, others when you're goofing around with friends at a rehearsal session, and others just make their appearance at the most untimely hour.  The other night for instance I woke up at 3:30 a.m. with a melody in my head and the only thing I could find was my cell phone to record it.  That's why I try to always have a mini tape recorder with me.  They are so handy.  I have notebooks scattered everywhere around my car and apartment and in all my bags.  Paper everywhere, just in case that song stumbles into my life so I'm not caught off guard.  I haven't found a science that tells me how to write meaningful songs. Forcing a song is the most painful and grievous task.  I hate deadlines.  Songs can take years to write.  Others can be sketched out in twenty minutes.  Songwriting is still a mystery that I'm trying to discover and I'm forever surprised.  Poetry is my biggest aid in song writing.  Reading poems and talking walks.  That's what I do when I need to think about lyrics. 

SZ: Tell us about the new "You Were the Sky" EP; what's the story behind it and how does it compare to the self-titled record?
EN: These new songs are rock tunes.  All three songs are live recordings, meaning we didn't layer each instrument one by one to a click track.  We just went in, set up everything and just did some takes as a full band.  Later on we threw down some overdubs and finishing touches along with the vocal lines.  The big difference between these tunes and the first album is that on the first album I don't touch an electric guitar but these songs are all electric guitar.  The other big difference is the age of the songs.  None of these new songs are more than 6 months old.  They were written with the whole band from the beginning.  The first record was a collection of songs that were up to five years old before we even recorded them.  Many of the songs had originally been written to be played solo, because that's the way Norman started. I played under my name.  It was kind of a one-man band with acoustic guitar, synth, and whatever other instruments I picked up along the way that.  When I got an offer to record the first record old and new friends assembled to help me out.  We never really had the intention of forming a band.  Everyone just wanted this music to be heard as much as I did.  Now that we have a steady group, it comes natural to write new tunes with the group. That's what we're doing now, and we really like how it's turning out. 

SZ: What's next for Norman?

EN: After making this last recording I'm ready to get new ideas rolling.  I want to work through all these fresh tunes to get them studio ready.  I'm hungry to record the next album.  For now we have a lot of rehearsing, writing and scheduling to do.  A West Coast tour is also in the works that I'll be taking on by myself. Touring is still very new and exciting to me so I look forward to being on the road. There are still plenty of words to be said and songs to be sung.  We've only just begun.
 Check out Norman's Myspace Page

Tags: music, Artist Interview, Portland, Oregon, Norman

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