Thursday, August 14, 2014

Interview with Andy Norton from Praise

Praise are a melodic hardcore punk band from Baltimore that give strong nods to classic bands like 7 Seconds, Dag Nasty, etc. I’ve always found them to be a breath of fresh air in that while they share a lot of the youth crew stylings of their peers on React!, they carry a strong sense of melody which makes them stand out to me.

Anyway, they just released an LP entitled “Lights Went Out”, and it’s a fantastic, soulful listen that delves into the loss of vocalist Andy Norton’s brother. I was curious to hear more about Andy’s perspective on loss and grief, so I hit him up to see if he’d be game to go into a little more detail on his lyrics. I was psyched when he was down.

The band will be heading out for a couple weeks this Fall with Citizen, Hostage Calm, and You Blew It on what promises to be one of the most diverse and interesting tours of the year. You’ve got a month to ready your sing-alongs; until then, read on.

To get things started, talk a little bit about your childhood and adolescence, specifically as it relates to the role of music in your life. What were some of the artists/albums that you first encountered and that made an impact on you?

Music was always around, predominately with my dad. I remember him listening to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin when I was really young. I think my brother and I really started to get into music in 92 or 93. We loved Green Day and Nirvana and I think that those two bands contributed to our interest in alternative music. The cool thing for us at that time was my dad was interested in music again because of bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam (who ended up becoming his favorite band). At one point I remember him saying that listening to those bands made him feel like he was a kid again hearing Zepp or Hendrix for the first time. He was very supportive and involved with Chris and I being into music. 

He took us to our first concert in 93, which was Gin Blossoms, Spin Doctors and Cracker. Gin Blossoms rocked. He continued to take us to concerts even after we had started to dive into punk music with surface-level bands like Goldfinger or other ska punk bands. He took us to these radio festivals in DC where we were able to see so many great bands that we ended up falling in love with later in life. I still haven't forgiven him for making us leave before The Ramones played, though. He would take my brother and I to this place called CDepot every other weekend to buy us CD's. While we were looking around the store he would trade Pearl Jam bootlegs and imports with the owner of the place. That's the place where Chris bought Minor Threat "Complete Discography" and as a result changed my life. 

It seems like the Baltimore/React scene is like one big, happy incestuous family. How did you and the rest of the guys in Praise ultimately come together to do the band?

In 2007/2008 I did a couple shows for a friends’ band. They asked for a band called Anti- Wastoids to play the first of the two shows (one was in the fall and the other in the winter). I remember pulling up to the show and seeing this young group of kids who I had never seen before. This was when I was introduced to Ev and Mike. Anti-Wastoids were cool and there was definitely a sense of excitement to see what this band would soon turn into. At the next show, which I think was in March; I was asked to put another band on the show called Mindset, which was all the dudes from Anti-Wastoids with a new name. I remember watching them that night thinking that this was the beginning of something special. At the show it was announced that Aram/React! would be putting out a new record for Mindset. So over the span of this year or so I met the Mindset dudes and found out Aram was doing a new label.
Meanwhile there was another younger band called Bad Habit with this young kid name D Fang playing drums. This dude hit so fucking hard and was so good. I remember talking to a friend and saying that I need to start a band with this dude because before you know it he is going to be in every Baltimore/Maryland band. Well, within a couple months Mindset had asked him to play drums. At this point I had the majority of the first Praise record written but was still struggling to find people who were into it and wanted to be a part of it. In July of 2009 Mike had said he would be into doing it and that I should ask Dan too. We practiced a couple times and Mike mentioned asking Chris to play bass, and we talked about asking Colby to play guitar. That’s pretty much how the lineup on the first record came together. After a year or so of being a band, Mike decided he didn’t have time for it anymore and wanted to just do Mindset. Praise had just played with a band called Cold and Come of Age and that’s where we met Anthony. Mike is actually who said I should talk to Anthony. After one conversation and one practice with Anthony I knew he was the perfect fit.
Obviously you guys recently did a weekend of shows with Chain which I imagine must have been insane. How were those shows and what were the personal highlights for you? 
Yeah those shows were real cool. It was our first time playing NYC and actually our first proper show in DC. In all honesty the highlights of those shows were getting to be around my friends around the clock. I got to be in a van with my best friends for hours, eat donuts (shout out to Claire for bringing us Dunwell) and awesome veg food, and then play rad shows.
In the little zine you guys included in the record (which is so awesome by the way), you wrote a little bit about how writing and re-writing the lyrics for this record was one of the biggest challenges you've ever faced, and I noticed that part of the vocals were recorded during the main sessions with Will and the rest were done later at a different studio. 
Well, I had 80% of the lyrics finished when we entered the studio with skeletons for two other songs. The main issue for not getting vocals done while we were doing the main tracking was because I developed a sinus infection the second day in the studio. My voice would last for about 15 minutes and then I was done for the day. I went back up a month after initial tracking and knocked out two songs but after talking with Will we realized it would have taken even longer due to our schedules to get vocals done in a timely manner. Our friend Mike who lives in Baltimore and is an engineer said he would do it. So we did a test run and sent it to Will. Once Will approved the initial run Mike and I would work on vocals once or twice a week until they were finished.

Obviously the subject matter itself is pretty heart-wrenching so I'm assuming that was the biggest part of the challenge, but I guess I'd imagine it was also a somewhat tough to be re-writing things and potentially having to switch up the vocal patterns and all those kinds of considerations that a vocalist has to think about. Talk us through that whole process a little bit. 
Due to that I would have days to rewrite and reevaluate what I had written. I only scrapped one song in the process. Most of it was just changing a line here or there. The song I scrapped wasn’t consistent with the rest of the lyrics on the record so I rewrote all of it and it turned out to be some of my favorite lyrics on the record.
In "Afraid to Ask" you detail your brother's struggle with addiction and specifically get into your own regret of not having intervened more strongly ("I spoke too soft and didn't get through"). I think this is something most people can relate to; seeing someone we care about making bad choices but not knowing where that line is between stepping in out of love and concern versus letting people live their lives and make their own mistakes. What conclusions (if any) do you feel you've come to about how to walk that tightrope?
I still find myself; almost 11 years later asking myself what more could I have done to help my brother. I’m sure there are things that all of us could have done differently that may have had some effect on his addiction but at the end of the day he was an addict and none of us could have fixed that. All of us tried our hardest to help him but he wasn’t willing to take the steps to battle his addiction. He didn’t want to help himself, or at least wasn’t ready to help himself and as a result his addiction took his life.

The lyrics to "Restless Minds" express solidarity with your brother in terms of what he was going through and feeling the need to somehow cope or escape with the pain of this life. Towards the end of the song you ask "Are we born this way? Can we change?" This is one of those age-old questions that we can never really answer definitively, but what would you say is at the root of the suffering that seems inherent in the human condition?
I think that suffering is a natural part of life. Obviously we all suffer and we all have our ways of dealing with it. The song is about how both of us struggled/struggle with depression and how we deal with it. So the line, “Are we born this way? Can we change?” is in reference to two things; addiction and depression. Are we born depressed? Are you born an addict? I don’t know the answer to that.
Both "To Be Me" and “Reach Deep" seem to be addressing your relationship with your parents in the aftermath of your brother's passing and the isolation that you felt. What impact did that loss have on your relationship with your folks and again, what takeaways do you have from that experience about how to deal with the emotional weight involved in mourning a loved one?
“To Be Me” is mostly about my Mom and “Reach Deep” is directed at my Dad. “To Be Me” is about before and after the death of my brother. I had a role in my family that I was never really aware of and I fell into it without ever really facing it. “Reach Deep” is about talking with my father after my brother’s death (and my mother) and both of them having checked out. It took me a lot of years to see and learn how to talk to them about it. There was a lot of resentment towards them, my brother and at times my sister for the role they had created for me, and I let them create for me. I don’t think any of it was intentional; it’s just what happens sometimes. Unfortunately, it took me a very long time to deal with it and it affected a lot of my relationships over the years. I am not a therapist and I don’t have the answer to dealing with a loss. Speaking from my experiences though, I would say don’t hold it in. Talk to whoever will listen because it will build up and it will weigh you down.

In "Write it Down" you allude to having your own family at some point and keeping the memory of your brother alive. What will you want to share with them about him, what do you want his legacy to be? 
This is a hard one. I have a niece and she has asked about Chris (my brother). It’s just hard to describe him. You just wish they were still around so they could share experiences together. He was creative, caring, and I just wish he could have won the fight against his addiction so people could love him like we did.
Alright, so now that the LP is out, can kids expect to see any extensive touring in support of the record, or will it mainly be fests and weekend runs on the East Coast primarily?
I don’t think there will ever be any extensive touring but we do have some plans to play some shows. We are doing two weeks with Citizen in September and hopefully getting over to Europe in January. After that it will probably just be weekends.
You've been doing Praise for several years now; you've got two well-received 7 inches and an LP under your belts. What goals do you still have for the band and what do you hope the future holds? 
Besides the few tours we have booked nothing is really planned. We will just keep writing music and playing shows when we can.

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