He started out as a solo artist out of necessity as he puts it, just to make it more simple to go on tour. Today Eric Nordby, singer/songwriter from Portland, Oregon leads a band he calls "Norman" as a reverence to his grandfather. Their current, second album "Hay, Hay, Make a Wish and Turn Away" revives a west coast rock sound with infectious songs somewhere between early Neil Young and a more melodious version of Bob Dylan.
The current line-up of Norman includes drummer Adam Beam, Wil Vaughn on bass, guitarist William Johnson, Brian Mosher (rhodes piano) and Eric Nordby on guitars, keys, and banjo.
Carina Prange talked to Eric Nordby of Norman for Jazzdimensions
Carina: Your label Songs & Whispers stands for "passion, passion, despair and work." That sounds huge! Where do they connect to your music?
Eric: I've been on with Songs & Whispers for about six months now. They are fantastic people who totally support my music. They work hard because they are indeed passionate: There's no million dollar checks involved in the work of indie music. It's a lot of hard work, and you really have to believe in the music and the people you are promoting.
So, I thank them for believing in my work! I'd say they connect with my music because we both work damn hard to get meaningful music to the people.
Carina: The listener's attention in the "age of information overload" is a rare commodity. How do stand out from other bands to get this attention?
Eric: Art is about communicating to an audience, sharing, and being a part of something bigger than the art itself. If I have a chance to move someone to feel something emotionally or take something away from the music I've achieved something worth celebrating.
It's totally unbelieveable how in the last ten years the face of music has changed. The marketplace is almost all in the digital world now. The best way to stand out is to try something different, that's daring and creative to get people's attention.
Carina: Did things get more difficult for artists in the recent years then? How do you manage that?
Eric: It's very challenging to make money in the music industry. As a career field for the money I would have quit long ago!
I think the more practical thing that any artist can do and should be doing is buidling the relationship with your fanbase. Engage your fans. Invite them to participate in some way. I find that by befriending my audience, showing them I care, talking to them after shows, emailing them back if they write me, sending out a free song in an email to people, it gives fans that much more of a reason to support you.
People want to believe in something and put their heart into something beautiful, even if they aren't creative people. People want to be in a club, or part of something bigger. We all want to belong. Developing your fans this way can take time, but the dedication from these fans will outlive the seasonal fans.
Carina: You "set landscapes to music " how do you do it? Do they have to be real landscapes or also imaginary ones? Does something like an "inner landscape" exist?
Eric: I have a strong connection to existence. I'm very attached to home, friends, and family. Those are really important values for me, so naturally they are themes that arrive as a part of the songs. I try to leave the themes open to interpretation, but I'm always wondering and growing and always fascinated by existence. It's too amazing not to write about.
I suppose you don't have to make the landscapes in any form of art "real ones". To each his own! My songs feel like real places though. I write about the things I care about. I guess some people would call that writing from my "inner landscape".
I don't write like I'm on some kind of spiritual quest though. I write songs because it's still fun to do. There's nothing better than writing a new song, whether by yourself or with the band, and you hit that moment when you realize how everything seems to click, there is a unity, almost a magic and the song seems to arrive on its own.
It's never forced. It's almost like it was there all along. That's the best part of music for me!
Carina: You used nature sounds like "the Oregon rain" on the album. What do you think can be learned from the principles of nature, by "being outside"?
Eric: Living in Portland, it isn't a big city, but I grew up on the outskirts of a forest for most of my life. Nature has always been of great importance to me. Oregon is an environmentally aware place to live too. I think that capturing those sounds for the album was a way to better articulate the feelings that I attribute to seasons, weather, and landscape.
I find peace when I escape to nature. Fishing, exploring and mushroom hunting. I think there's so much you can learn from nature, you don't have to be all philosophical to appreciate beauty in the change of seasons. I do find that when I'm in nature I'm at peace. It's my escape from daily existance into a world of exploration.
Carina: Where does the band's name come from? If you search for Norman in the "World Wide Web" you get loads of distracting results most prominently the namesake maker of anti-virus software...
Eric: Yeah, it's sometimes hard to find Norman as a band online! Norman is actually my grandfather's name. He was a Hammond Organ repairman and a big inspiration to me. He passed away when I was only two years old, but I've always had a fascination in my geneology and roots, and always had this desire to know him.
I started playing harmonica because I knew he did. I have a cassette tape of him playing hymns and old time country western. Hank Williams and tunes like that. Pretty amazing stuff!
So, my way of justifying the name in a way that makes sense is that I want to carry on his tradition of music. I want to pass on music that transends time and becomes a part of the lives of the next generation and the one after that.
Carina: In terms of content and substance of the album, what do you want to get across lyrically in the songs on "Hay, Hay, Make a Wish and Turn Away"? Is there a basic message, a red thread?
Eric: When I was very young my mother taught an old superstition that you could make a wish on trucks on the country roads that were carrying bails of hay: "Hay, hay, make a wish and turn away." I feel like that title resonates with a lot of the landscapes I write about, the Willamette Valley at harvest time, and through all seasons.
I was writing a lot of these songs at a time when I was driving weekly delivery routes through much of the central valley to all the little farming towns and logging villages. Naturally those places found their way into my songs.
Carina: What are the stories behind the instrumental "Shake Off The Loss" and the titles "Saddest Song" and "Predicting Fog"?
Eric: "Shake Off The Loss" is actually a piece of a longer song with lyrics that didn't make the record. The riff that is on the record just makes me feel something that I can't really explain. It's better that way. Maybe someday "Shake Off The Loss" will appear in a different form on a different record with lyrics.
"Saddest Songs" wasn't meant to be a "sad" song. More of a song of promise, about commitment. "Predicting Fog" exists in winter for me. There's something quiet and sad about the melody line that waits. The idea came from one of my favorite pieces by John Cage, "In A Landscape". It's one of my favorite songs I've written.
Carina: Norman as a band goes back on your solo project. What were your musical ideas, your concept at that time?
Eric: There wasn't really a concept to start a band to begin with. I started as a solo musician out of necessity. I wanted to tour, but I wanted to make it simple, so I'd pack up my 90 Buick and drive the West Coast booking and playing concerts.
I wanted a full band sound, so I started trying to do that on my own with moogs, guitar and a drum machine. I was looping layers, adding harmonica, slide, melodica, and vocals on the top, creating full band compositions. I played under my name for a couple years, gigging, recording and making all my own everything... booking, too.
I remember printing out CD labels in copy centers just to have CDs at the show... I made everything by hand, and I made a ton! I sent demos and one day I got a response from Kyle at "Pantherfact Records" in Portland: He wanted to record my first full length album.
I really wanted to record with a full band, so I assembled a group of five of us... just friends I had made from playing music together and touring! We recorded our first album together and settled on the bandname Norman during the session.
Carina: Was it inevitably the there would be a transition from solo to a band project? Is this also a question of sound?
Eric: I'm neither partial to being a solo artist or in a band. Both have their place. It's nice to have the versatility, it also changes the sounds of the songs up enough that they never really get old. There are some songs we have four or five versions of. It's always great to try to reinvent songs.
Carina: The music seems to draw from the west coast rock of the late 60ies (not as much psychedelic though), like the Byrds or other folk oriented groups. Could you name some role models or musicians you listened to?
Eric: Yeah, there isn't as much psych sound. I grew up listening to The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle, CCR, stuff like that. It was road trips with the cassette deck. I still know the order of Beatles' "Past masters Vol 2" by heart.
Today I listen to it all. Biggest influences now are The Kinks, Neil Young, Bob Dylan and I grew up listening to a lot of the indie in the NW; Built to Spill etc. My favorite songs to cover are ones my friends write and if I choose to learn a cover it's usually one of their's. I connect my music to people, places, and memories.
Carina: The history of music meanwhile is so diverse and manifold that most things happening today sound like revivals of older patterns. Was there more freshness, novelty and experiment then?
Eric: I think that everything is a product of the past. There's always someone a musician is listening to, even if he's trying to avoid it. There's always an influence, even if it's unknown.
I'm a sound collector. I buy albums still. I don't think I'll ever be an "mp3 guy". It's just not as special to me. If an album matters enough to me I'll go out and buy it, so I can feel it in my hands. Vinyl and CD. Whatever I can get my hands on really.
Carina: Should musicians become more daring and think less about "the audience"?
Eric: For myself, the audience matters to a degree, because I want to communicate something to them, but I don't let the audience dictate how I'm going to write my songs. I write because I love to, and it's a natural process that I enjoy.
Carina: Do you have something like a philosophy for life?
Eric: The most important thing to me is my relationship with my band members. I think the reason we keep getting better and work so well together is that we are actually friends outside of being a band.
There's too much crap in the world. If you can't have fun playing music and love the people you're playing music with, then why the hell are you playing? Love is accepting and it doesn't exclude. It's open and it's free.
I love my bandmates. I love my home. And I love waking up every day knowing that I can play music that is appreciated by people who care.
CD: Norman - "Hay, Hay, Make a Wish and Turn Away" (Songs & Whispers SW15)
Norman im Internet: www.normansongs.com
Songs & Whispers im Internet: www.songsandwhispers.com