Interview

Getting to Know Norwood: Your New Favorite Band

Norwood started as the musical project of Christopher Norwood, a Queens based artist with a song in his heart. Bringing to life elements of indie-meets-folk sound, Norwood recalls the sounds of artists such as The Decemeberists, Sufjan Stevens and The Mountain Goats , their newest album, Notes To My Blood, is a gorgeous record that resonates throughout. Classic songwriting brings it all together as it crafts a prominent yet subtle sound of the band. We had the chance to hat with frontman Christopher Norwood as the band creates their own musical journey.

What comes first when writing, the music or the lyrics? Why so?

It's hard to tell. The way I write is a bit scattered. I free-write a lot in little notebooks I carry with me. Sometimes it's poetry, sometimes it's prose, sometimes it's complete shit. When I sit down to practice guitar and run through songs for gigs, or just to enjoy playing for a while, I'll mess around with new rhythms and chord progressions I haven't tried yet. If I find something I like, I'll start singing gibberish to myself or (if I'm lucky) some little piece of poetry or random phrase from that little notebook comes into my head and now it's a lyric. And it continues on that way: Music, add some lyrics, more music, add lyrics for the very end of the song but now there's no middle of the song, how do I get from here to there, etc. Everything kind of happens in a clusterf**k, piece by piece. It can be maddening, but it allows the possibility of surprising myself and maybe even surprising the listener.

What is the theme and concept behind the new record? What inspired you to create the songs?

I don't write songs about people I know. But I do write songs for people I know. I like to think of each song as a gift I'm making for someone. That's true of all the songs on this album. I found myself starting one and then hitting that wall. We all know that wall where you have no idea what the song is or why you're writing it. What always pushed me past that wall was figuring out who the song was being written for. Then I'd finish and be quite happy with it. And then when I looked at all ten songs together, I saw the larger pattern emerge. This album is for the middle children of culture. The people who are constantly being told what's cool and how they should think. People who take life on a person-by-person basis instead of lumping folks into easily marketable groups, cliques, races, social classes, genders, whatever. Anybody who feels pinned down by a thousand voices coming from all directions telling them they aren't good enough for any of a million bullshit reasons. Fuck that.

Your vocals are silky smooth with an incredible, and reminiscent of the likes of Sufjan Stevens. What vocalists do you look up to and how did you craft your vocal style?

Any real training I had in singing was during my 3 years of college in a musical theater conservatory in New York. I love story-telling, I like theater, I love music, I figured I'd throw them all together and it'd be perfect. It wasn't perfect. But it gave me a great respect for the spoken word. Obviously text is important, but it's also important how that text is delivered in a performance. I, of course, want to hit the notes nicely, but what I focus on is making sure the words are clear and honest. If I mean everything I sing every time I sing it, the notes happen by themselves. I look up to people like John Darnielle, I have never heard the guy phone it in. Ever. I love how grounded and kind of dirty Fiona Apple is with her singing. And I mean dirty in the best way, very earthy and from the guts.

What kind of instruments do you use on the new record?

I play an Acoustic on the album. I love acoustic guitars. Not just the tone or whatever. I love hearing people beat the shit out of the strings. But I digress. We have an acoustic guitar, a bass, drum kit, and violin. And 2 main vocalists. My bass player, Keith, jumps in on that 3-part harmony in the song "Prayer" during live shows.

Do you record the new album on your own, or did you head to the studio with an outside producer?

I saved up the money for the album and organized the recording of the whole thing, but I would never say I did it on my own. The musicians I play with are so supportive and generous with their creative input. Not to mention intuitive and straight-up-fucking-talented. And Nate Jasensky, the engineer who recorded and mixed the album, was a big help to me as an outside ear.

What is the inspiration behind the new single, "Moonlight"?

The song "Moonlight" began its life with the phrase "She reveals herself like pollen in the blossom." At the time, I thought it was just a clever way to describe a woman slipping out of her clothes. But as I thought about it more and more, the words opened up. It reminded me of this tree I came across once when I was on tour with a children's theater show. It was rooted alongside the road and had grown to the point where it was expanding out into the street. In an attempt to stop it, someone had installed this cold iron fence along the curb, directly in the tree's path. But instead of shying away from the bars, the tree had slowly embraced the iron, finding its way through the openings. Steady and unstoppable. Patiently unyielding in the face of opposition. It was a certain kind of strength I had only seen in one other creature so far. And ever since then, I've associated trees with women. At that point my mind moved back to the disrobing part and all that natural imagery began intertwining itself with sex. I want to celebrate sex as a natural act, but not an animalistic one. I want to hold sex sacred the way nature was once held sacred. Not in a way that shackles it to dogma or strict rules, but in a way that nurtures respect for the intimacy found between two people, even if only for one night or one moment. You don't need to run off and get married just because you have sex, but you also don't need to pretend that it means nothing. Because sex always means something. And I think that's pretty awesome.

With elements of Indie and Folk Rock, how do you combine those elements to craft your own, unique sound?

Honestly, I just make sure that any song I write is a song I'd want to listen to. If you don't want to listen to your own music, why the hell should an audience want to listen to it? So the elements end up placing themselves. That's something of a mantra I live by, "I am not a genre." I don't think about what genre I'm writing for when I write something. There'll be plenty of people who are more than willing to tell me what genre I fit into. What keeps my sound unique is not worrying about the label or the branding. Just write. Write like you're gettin' the poison out.

Where do you see Norwood 10 years from now?

I want to travel. I want to meet new people and throw myself into awkward social situations. I want to make it my job to show people that everybody is just as fucked up as everyone else, because that's how you share your humanity and tear down walls. Not through your strength, but through your weakness. I can see myself being one of those songwriters who keeps churning stuff out because they love to write. I want to share a bill with The Mountain Goats. I would be happy to simply travel, make music, help heal and connect people, and make friends. That's what I'm here for.

Artist Norwood