Mind Over Metal: I really want to talk about your new album Meridional. It’s probably one of the best albums I’ve heard this year so far. Anybody with a set of ears can tell you it’s your most accomplished work to date. I can’t help but ask when I hear progression of this caliber: did it feel special during the writing process?
Jake Schultz: You know, every time we write a record, we always feel that it’s special, and we didn’t realize how this record was going to turn out until we were actually in the studio. We always feel very strongly when we write new material because we’re always challenging ourselves and pushing the envelope, so to speak, with ourselves and trying new things to see how it turns out. During the writing process we weren’t so aware of how it was going to turn out, but once we were in the studio things started coming together. Usually we’ll block off 3 months and write a record. With Meridional we took over a year creative time writing a little bit here and a little bit there together just so that we could have time to absorb everything that we were doing and really think it out and really be like “Alright, is this what want to be on the record as a final product?” So that was different from other records and I’m sure that had a lot to do with the way it turned out.
Mind Over Metal: That’s cool. So the entire year you blocked off?
Jake Schultz: Well, we didn’t block it off. We just have two guys who live out of state so we’d say “Hey, next week you guys come into town for like, two weeks and we’ll get together every day for 8 hours a day and write songs.” We did that over a year because we usually just say “Alright, we have to go to the studio in March so let’s go ahead and take the first 3 months of the year and write a record.”
Mind Over Metal: And you just live in the studio pretty much for those 3 months?
Jake Schultz: Yeah. So we did it different this time and it was a much more relaxed feeling.
Mind Over Metal: It sounds like there would be less pressure involved.
Jake Schultz: Yeah. There was a lot more air to what we were doing and we felt very comfortable with it.
Mind Over Metal: You also chose not to work with Ross Robinson for a third time, instead opting for Jeremy Griffith, whose work I actually haven’t heard. Why this choice, and how did you come across him?
Jake Schultz: We wanted a dude that was new and that no one has ever heard of, and that’s good. Jeremy, our drummer Chris Raines and me have known him for a while and he used to be in a band on a major label and then started recording bands.
Mind Over Metal: What was his other band?
Jake Schultz: “He was in a band called Moments of Grace. I think they were on Atlantic for a hot minute. We wanted a dude that would be in Atlanta that would be easy to work with and that we felt confident in. We kind of threw it around a lot because we thought “Well, he hasn’t really done a whole lot…” and we ended up doing just a demo song with him and we did two days in the studio with him and that experience alone was just great.
Mind Over Metal: What was the name of that demo song?
Jake Schultz: “The demo song was “Kill More Presidents”, and I don’t think it ever got released. We just kind of did it for ourselves because that was the only song that we had fully done at that moment. So we went in and spent two days with him and we were all super confident. Just that one song after two days in the studio sounded good enough to us, so we were like “Alright, let’s do this.”
Mind Over Metal: He also seems to contribute more musically as well, like with vocals, guitar, piano, organ….
Jake Schultz: Yeah. He’s an amazing vocalist. That’s probably another reason why we chose him is because he had so many vocal ideas and he would tell Cory “Hey, try it this way” or “What do you think about doing it this way instead?”…so that’s one thing that we’ve never been challenged in as a band…was vocals, so that was another reason we chose him. He can pretty much play any instrument.
Mind Over Metal: That’s funny. I was actually going to bring up the vocals too because Cory sounds like he’s greatly improved his control especially. Was there any exercises or classes that he was going to or learning from?
Jake Schultz: I mean, he’s done a lot of…I can’t remember his vocal coach but it’s this guy out in L.A. who’s done Maynard [from Tool] and Anthony Keidis [from Red Hot Chili Peppers]…he’s taken some classes from him. So he already had that ability in side him. Jeremy just brought it out. Cory’s vocals have just become stronger over this recording process.
Mind Over Metal: That’s awesome. I was also going to say that Chris sounds like he’s settled in behind the drums more nicely. How has his involvement changed since The Anti-Mother?
Jake Schultz: With The Anti-Mother he was the new guy and he felt like he had a lot to prove. I think Ross felt like he had a lot to prove too because Daniel is such a good drummer.
Mind Over Metal: So [Ross] had a lot to prove by way of Chris, you think?
Jake Schultz: Yeah, I think so. And I think that Ross felt like Chris Raines also had a lot to prove to him for that record, and that record was a pretty stressful record for all of us. The difference is, with Meridional it was so easy-going and Chris is a very mild tempered guy. He works best when he’s not under pressure. The vibe was so relaxed that he just killed it on drums every day. Actually he recorded to a click, which he’s never done before. He was like “I don’t know if I can do it” and Jeremy was like “Dude, don’t worry about it. You’ll totally get it. We’ll map out the song. You’ll go through it once or twice and you’ll nail it.” He destroyed it on drums.
Mind Over Metal: Now I want to go through the album a little bit – not track by track or anything but I have a couple points I’d like to bring up. For “Leaderless & Self Enlisted” – did you intend for that to have a false ending initially because when I was listening to it I was like “Oh, that’s pretty satisfying without,” but then it gives you a little something more.
Jake Schultz: Yeah, every song we kind of wanted to put something a little special on it, and there’s all our little little nuggets of joy that we throw on every song. I can’t remember if we had an original ending and then threw that on or not.
Mind Over Metal: I thought it was pretty cool though. I thought that was a common theme of the album where it was like “Oh, I like that as it is,” and then you push it a little bit further.
Jake Schultz: We ended up pushing a lot of things on this record a little further. We thought “Why stop there? We can do a little more.”
Mind Over Metal: I want to speak about this, too. Although I appreciate how they compliment the album as a whole, I felt that the instrumental interludes could have been abridged for a punchier album. What was the purpose of their inclusion?
Jake Schultz: It was just, kind of a way to be a bit more musically artistic. Some of our favourite bands are artists such as Nine Inch Nails, and we talked about how the feeling of a record is…we wanted this record to have this certain air, this certain feeling that it wasn’t just a record with a bunch of songs. There was something in there that broke it up so, you know, when you put it on and you’re listening to it as you…not necessarily sitting down and staring at your CD player or your iPod listening to it, but going about your day and doing stuff and there’s this break, this musical interlude that floats along a little bit and then you go right back into it.
Mind Over Metal: It kind of reminds me in certain respects of what Dillinger Escape Plan has done over the last couple albums, actually, with their mellow breaks in between the heaviness. I think Meridional ends up moving in three shifts. A lot of albums have a side A and a side B, but it seems like there are three movements in Meridional.
Jake Schultz: Yeah, we kind of, after the record was done and we started doing the interludes we were like “There really are three different parts to this.”
Mind Over Metal: So you also think that.
Jake Schultz: Yes.
Mind Over Metal: So on the same lines though, I want to ask what’s with the 15 minutes of silence at the end followed by the 95 seconds of “Oriental”?
Jake Schultz: We just wanted to do a long song.
Mind Over Metal: (Laughs) But there’s a lot of dead space in there.
Jake Schultz: Yeah. With it, with this record we felt like we gave a lot back but we also feel like we kept a lot for ourselves and did stuff that maybe we were afraid to do before. We said “Hey, let’s just go ahead and do it because we think it’s cool”. We feel like we’ve done a lot for our fans on this record. We’re super happy with everything. Not to say that we would do something we didn’t like just because maybe some old fans would like it…but we did stuff thinking “kids are going to get stoked when they hear this.” We were like “We haven’t done this, just, empty dead space for a long time, that we’re kind of into. Let’s throw it on one song.”
Mind Over Metal: Really straight question. Do you identify Norma Jean as ‘metalcore’?
Jake Schultz: No.
Mind Over Metal: Do you think the term has drawn negative connotations in recent years?
Jake Schultz: Kind of, just because…maybe it’s just us being old now, but when I think metalcore, I think of bands like The Devil Wears Prada or Unearth or things of that nature. Even though we’re a metal band and we’re heavy, we’re not…to us, there’s no box. You could hear a brand new Norma Jean song and you’d be like “Is that Norma Jean? It doesn’t sound like Norma Jean. It sounds awesome…but, what is that?” People are going to label you no matter what so we just kind of roll with it. The whole metalcore label just kind of connotes that we’re lumped in with all these other bands who sound exactly the same, and we’re not anything like that.
Mind Over Metal: What aspect of it do you think gets shamelessly exploited?
Jake Schultz: Oh gosh. How long do you got?
Mind Over Metal: (Laughs) I shouldn’t say that. That may have opened up a whole can of worms!
Jake Schultz: I really think that the market is so flooded. Anybody can be in a band. Anybody can record a record now and everything is so cookie-cutter with so many bands that it can be shamelessly exploited all day. Just the fact that, you know, we’ve been out there kicking our butts for over 10 years doing this, and some kid can do this in a week’s time and have a band, and it’s just some regurgitated stuff. It has no creativity, no passion, no emotion. And yet he’ll be out there on stage, and he doesn’t give a rat’s. He just wants to be cool and be in a band. So much of music has been lost to things like that.
Mind Over Metal: I’ve seen this happen a lot these days where you have these one-man bands coming out. Some bands are doing it kind of ok, but there are kids out there who can get some drum tracks together in Pro Tools and literally record songs themselves. You mentioned Nine Inch Nails before, but for everyone who can program like Trent Reznor there’s 100,000 more who are not so good.
Jake Schultz: Yeah, but they’ll try to do the same thing.
Mind Over Metal: I just saw the new video for “Deathbed Atheist”. I like that I was able to actually put some thought into it and not just see a band dancing around, or just, you know…I’ve seen videos where it’s like “How gory can we make this?” or “How confused can we make the listener?” but it’s genuinely thought-provoking and serves the song. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Jake Schultz: Well, we went with Popcore films, which is this company in Sweden which we’ve used for “Songs Sound Much Sadder”, “Liarsenic” and “Blueprints for Future Homes” and they have amazing ideas. We thought “We don’t want to do another video where we’re in a room playing and there’s some weird storyline with a boy and a girl.” It’s so stupid and cheesy. These guys are legit and awesome and we actually don’t want to be in the video. When was the last time that that happened? So let’s just throw it at these guys and they’re going to come up with something awesome and they did a couple treatments for videos and this one sounded really cool to us with the animation and everything and just one dude, so you don’t really lose your focus on what’s going on. It’s a very easy video to take in. At the end you’re not like “How many people were in that?” and “Who was doing what?” “I don’t understand.”
Mind Over Metal: Yeah. It’s all visual metaphor. You know it’s about this one person, and it compliments and extends the meaning of the song itself, which is what a video is really supposed to do.
Jake Schultz: Yeah. That’s what it’s there for.
Mind Over Metal: Alright, well I’ve got to be letting you go soon unfortunately, Jake, but I appreciate you talking to us today here on Mind Over Metal.
Jake Schultz: Yeah, absolutely.
Mind Over Metal: Now you’ve got some websites that people can head to. There’s MySpace.com/normajean. There’s http://www.normachine.com…
Jake Schultz: Normachine.com is our fan website.
Mind Over Metal: You have to sign up for it, right?
Jake Schultz: Yeah…you have to sign up for it but it’s something that, you know…we all have personal blogs on there that we update so you can see what’s going on with us personally.
Mind Over Metal: That’s the special stuff you get, the inside scoop on Norma Jean…
Jake Schultz: Yeah, there’s also some other golden nuggets in there.
Mind Over Metal: (Laughs) You guys love searching for the golden nuggets.
Jake Schultz: We want to have a video where we’re just throwing golden nuggets in the air instead of, like, dollar bills…making it rain with golden nuggets.
Mind Over Metal: Could this possibly be a prop for future Norma Jean shows?
Jake Schultz: Yes, yes!
Mind Over Metal: Hey, I just saw Alice Cooper throwing out fake dollars during “Billion Dollar Babies”, you know, so you could certainly be tossing out golden nuggets for Norma Jean.
Jake Schultz: I would love to see Alice Cooper.
Mind Over Metal: “I just saw him at Heavy MTL. Never thought I would have enjoyed him for some reason despite, you know, that he’s influenced everyone from Marilyn Manson to GWAR…
Jake Schultz: Oh yeah, and Rob Zombie…
Mind Over Metal: …and Rob Zombie sounds so much like Alice Cooper. But damn, he killed it that day. And this was a show that Megadeth was playing, Mastodon was playing – Alice Cooper killed it.
Jake Schultz: We played that the day after.
Mind Over Metal: Oh, that’s right. You were at the next day. And I wasn’t there, I’m sorry. It’s funny, there’s always a better day and a worse day in my mind, and you were one of the bands I really wanted to see. I would have loved to have seen 3 Inches of Blood that day, too.
Jake Schultz: Yeah, I thought our day couldn’t compare to the day before…I thought “This is odd.”
Mind Over Metal: (Laughs) Well anyway, Meridional is out right now on Razor & Tie. My thanks again to Jake Schultz of Norma Jean.
Jake Schultz: Thank you, Matt!
Mind Over Metal: Be sure to look for this interview and more at MindOverMetal.org, where we document the Metalverse.