An Interview with Scottie Henry and Cory Brandan of NORMA JEAN

Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - March 2005

As of this writing, their brand new CD, "O God, the Aftermath," debuted at Number 64 on Billboard. When I talked with guitarist Scottie Henry and vocalist Cory Brandan of the spiritual-based hardcore band Norma Jean, "Aftermath" had just been released the same day. The band came to the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC with Atreyu, Unearth and Scars of Tomorrow on the heels of mass sickness, but you wouldn't be able to tell by the vigorous performance they gave that evening; the excitement of a potentially strong-selling record likely put extra bounce into their cold-ridden bodies. One of the bright potentials of 2005, Atlanta's Norma Jean stands to be one of the prime movers in the scene. As a side note, I counted three Norma Jean t-shirts a little over a week later while attending the Roadrunner Road Rage Tour. Spread across the country, feel free to do the math as to the quick affectation Norma Jean has generated so quickly. So what's happening? Let's get the obvious part out of the way. As far as the name Norma Jean goes, are you guys Marilyn Monroe fans, is it referencing the country singer by the same name or the Chic singer, or is it something altogether different?

Scottie Henry: Actually, when we were talking about changing our name (from Luti-Kriss) and stuff, we were just throwing out names and we thought it'd be cool to have someone's real name like Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean, you know, names like that, but it kind of left, though. We just came back to it later and everybody liked it, so it kind of stuck. Cool. 

Scottie Henry: But it's not like we're real big Marilyn Monroe freaks or anything like that. It's just a name, I guess. You guys are formerly known as Luti-Kriss before Norma Jean. I guess the rapper Ludicriss inadvertently made a little bit of hell for you, being from Atlanta as well, right?

Scottie Henry: Yeah. Was it a big pain in the ass with his lyrics? I know you guys have more positive lyrics …

Scottie Henry: Yeah, it actually … I guess it wasn't too bad, except when kids would be wearing our shirts and other people would talk about the rapper. It wasn't a big deal yet when we changed it, but it kind of gave us an excuse to be able to change the name because we didn't like it at all. We kind of just always had it. We kind of got out of it early before it was too big of a deal. That was good, actually. (laughs)

Scottie Henry: It ended up being a good thing. No doubt. I've been to Savannah and Tybee Island and of course, Atlanta, so I'm a little familiar with your area down there …

Scottie Henry: Yeah. I drove through your town of Douglasville, which is on the outside of Atlanta, but what are your perspectives of putting a band together down in that area of the South, or just Georgia in general? It's hot as piss most of the time, I'm sure …

Scottie Henry: Yeah, that sucks when you're practicing in a garage, but I don't know, we've all just grown up together and originally when we were getting together, we were all from Douglasville. Now we've basically moved to Atlanta, which is twenty minutes away from Douglasville. Our new singer (Cory Brandan) is from Arkansas, actually, but yeah, we were just all friends and we liked music so we got together and started playing instruments. It just kind of happened from there. We just did it for fun and we're still doing it for fun. At least we get to go out and play on the road now, so that's definitely awesome. But yeah, we definitely love it in Atlanta. It's a pretty crazy city! I remember when we went there, we saw on the news that the Six Flags we were going to check out had two rides that were broken down, then we decided to go somewhere else and there was a quote-unquote "anthrax scare …"

Scottie Henry: Oh, wow! Yeah! It was pretty nuts, so we just decided to call it a day and leave town! (laughs) 

Scottie Henry: Yeah, it's crazy down there! (laughs) You gotta watch out! Plus they blocked 75 when we were trying to leave Turner Field. We couldn't get off; we went through the Olympic Village and ended up all the way at the Superdome! I'm not kidding!

Scottie Henry: Oh yeah, yeah. Wow. We had to turn back and sneak behind a cop's back to get onto 75! 

Scottie Henry: Yeah, it gets pretty creepy traffic-wise. But I love it there. Cool. Now you guys have joined Solid State Records, which is known for its hardcore Christian bands …

Scottie Henry: Right. Some people don't know, but Zao was originally with them.

Scottie Henry: Right. Which I think it's good to trace their roots like that. As far as growing a fanbase with Solid State as a band, what do you think makes Solid State such a haven—I guess that's the word I want—do they publicly advertise that they're looking for Christian-oriented bands or no?

Scottie Henry: No, I don't think they're exclusively Christian-oriented at all. When we first started talking to them, it was more of a thing that all of our favorite bands were on the label. It was an amazing, heavy label. They've had Spitfire, Zao, Living Sacrifice and Extol … Exactly.

Scottie Henry: You know, Self-Minded was just starting out, and Stretch Armstrong and Strongarm, all those bands were amazing to listen to. Old Embodiment … you know, some of the best stuff. We still love those CDs! So we just started playing shows with some of those bands when they'd come through on tour and we just kind of became friends with some of those guys. It (Solid State) definitely has a past with some amazing bands on their label, so it's really cool. And I mean, they do have a history of some Christian bands, but there are some bands that aren't exclusively Christian bands. The funny way I came to learn of Solid State was, my wife bought "This is Solid State Volume 1" at a Christian book store, and I have a little bit of an aversion to … I like what you guys are doing and I especially like hard music that delivers a Christian message, but let's say Amy Grant and that contemporary Christian stuff, you know what I mean?

Scottie Henry: Right. I can't trip on it for some reason.

Scottie Henry: Yeah. That's what I thought she was handing me, so she said "Trust me, this is right up your alley," and I said "No!"

Scottie Henry: (laughs) And it sat there for a long time, man …

Scottie Henry: Yeah, yeah. I finally put it on and I'm like, "Wow, it's Christian death metal!" (laughs) Awesome!

Scottie Henry: Yeah, it's pretty great. We'd never heard of them for awhile, I mean, we've only been Christians for like, two years, not very long at all. We were a band long before we were Christians and we had no idea there was music like that out there at all! Yeah, I was the same way, like, "Oh yeah, what is this going to be, Amy Grant?" Amy Grant was like, the only Christian music I'd heard of. Right.

Scottie Henry: You know what I mean. I'd heard of MXPX before, but I just didn't know they were a Christian band. Yeah, it's crazy, there's all kinds of different bands that have something to say about government or you know, their religion, or even just straight edge, you know? We all have our own beliefs and they played music that we liked, so it's definitely cool seeing that there's bands like that out there that have the same beliefs as us … not necessarily trying to ram it down anybody's throat or anything like that. We're all here and we're having fun playing music that a lot of people love, so it's good times. Right on.

Scottie Henry: It is kind of sad to see people who just can't get past … and I understand because I guess I'm the same way, and I don't know why but I just never heard that there were these Christian metal bands or whatever, but definitely you see it out there. But people are just not giving it a chance at all because of your beliefs, which is … it just seems like it's getting way more away from that, like, we hang out with all of our friends, even on this tour, like every tour we do we're best friends with the other bands, you know? It's just a bunch of guys having fun, so it's cool. All right, this is a bit of a long question, sorry.

Scottie Henry: That's okay. You guys once had a rap metal sound and now you've kind of adopted a sonic bludgeoning sound like Dillinger Escape Plan or Fear Before the March of Flames. In a way, I feel that since you are a Christian-minded band, such an extreme sounds kind of creates … and I'm really going out on a ledge here … a sort of Passion, I guess you could say? Let's say if you're trying portray The Passion through extreme music, this is what I'm getting at.

Scottie Henry: Yeah, I would say that, because you hear about some people who haven't heard heavy music and they think everybody's angry and we're not mad at all! We're just kids that like to have fun, and I definitely feel like our music has that Passion orientation in it … we all believe in what we're singing about, you know? It's not like empty-sounding lyrics just about whatever just because they sound cool, you know? It's actually coming from something that all five members definitely have beliefs in and really stand behind, so I think that definitely comes across when we're playing and when we're recording a CD. It's kind of like we all have the same thing behind us that's driving us to do this, so hopefully it comes through, as we really are into this. I mean, it's not just doing stuff … Like Stryper was reported to …

Scottie Henry: Yeah, we're not just saying things to sound cool. It's definitely something we believe in. Now today (3/1/05) is the official release of your new album "O God, the Aftermath" …

Scottie Henry: Yeah! We're really excited about it. It's been awhile, about two years since our last record, so we're really psyched about it. So I can imagine what an intense moment in the studio it was when you were guys were recording it. Put me there in the studio with you as you were recording.

Scottie Henry: Actually, we were up in Seattle working with Matt Bayles, who is one of our favorite producers. He's done Mastodon, Botch, Isis … Yeah, I love Mastodon!

Scottie Henry: Pearl Jam … Mastodon, yeah, they're from Atlanta. Love those dudes! Absolutely.

Scottie Henry: So it was awesome getting to work with Matt finally, and then we're in Seattle and we were actually in four different studios over a month-and-a-half, I think, doing the record. So we started out at Studio Litho, which is … Deftones recorded "Around the Fur" there and actually Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam actually owns the studio, so it was amazing just being there, you know? I'm sure.

Scottie Henry: That was another thing we were just blown away by. We ended up finishing recording and mixing at Robert Lang Studios, which is where Nirvana did their final recordings and Foo Fighters did their first recordings, and it's just a cool studio, there's a lot of … I don't know, it's just a cool place. So we were really excited about being there because Nirvana's one of our favorite bands. It's like stepping into history a little bit.

Scottie Henry: Yeah, it definitely felt like that, seeing the records on the walls saying they were Nirvana and stuff, it was pretty crazy! So that was really cool and we all definitely liked writing this record; it was all a group effort. We all contributed to the music, the lyrics, everything. It was definitely all of us working hard at it, and our singer lives in Arkansas, so he would fly in for two weeks at a time and stay with us a week, being at the practice space on some nights. We stayed there for something like twelve hours a day one week. We just put in a lot of work on it. We were really excited to hear how it came out, so it was definitely an amazing feeling recording it and hearing it all come together. It was like … it was our baby, you know what I mean? Right, definitely.

Scottie Henry: We'd been working hard on it for so long and hearing it finally come together and knowing Matt Bayles is the one doing it, putting our trust in him, you know, it's definitely going to have the sound that we want. It was definitely an amazing feeling being up there and doing that. It was a very cool experience. Right on. Now, I think you guys are what I'd call an etymologist's dream or nightmare, depending on how seriously they take their job, but you guys have the best song titles I've seen in a long time …

Scottie Henry: (laughs) Like "Murderotica," "Liarsenic," "Coffinspire," "Disconnecktie," ahh, the whole album, man! What provided you guys with the inspiration for such wordplay?

Scottie Henry: It kind of started out … Cory had the idea to try and take two words that fit something to the song and make one word out of them and make it actually work like that. So at first we thought it would be cool if we could do it, but it's just like, wow, that's pretty hard, you know? Eleven songs kind of do that … there were definitely some long nights while we were up in the studio. Me and Daniel (Davidson) and Cory stayed up and we would just sit up and read the lyrics and talk about what they meant, you know, and thought of actual words and we just kind of went at it that way and it just kind of started happening. It was really cool. It's not just like two random words put together; they actually have to do with the lyrics that would give us what the two mean. It shows that you guys put a lot of thought and extra effort into it.

Scottie Henry: Yeah, it's definitely something we wanted to be … we put everything we had into it. We didn't just halfway do it, and then every song has a second title too. So yeah, it was definitely hard some nights—long, long hours—but it ended up working out, so we're happy with it. Some people would be proud just to have one song title so clever, and you guys have eleven!

Scottie Henry: Yeah, it's awesome. (laughs) "Murderotica" kind of struck me with these lyrics: "We're recklessly looking for the truth and we'll tear this place apart, here's hope for us yet, hope is there." I say thank you to you guys, because even with the lyrics to "Liarsenic," you kind of force people to … my theory is that truth is absolute and people are too fricking lazy to seek the truth. They'd rather be force-fed what's handed to them.

Scottie Henry: Right. You know what I'm saying? That's what I appreciate out of those lyrics.

Scottie Henry: Cool, awesome. Yeah, it's definitely … Cory was looking into those lyrics, I know in "Murderotica," that he wanted to have lyrics that kind of gave a general … they were kind of giving a layout of what was to come on the whole album. Like you said, they're kind of … I guess showing what was to come on the record, because when it hits the first song there's definitely a feeling of … you know, searching out for yourself, your truths, what you believe in, and going through all costs to find … it's like what you said, these people are being force-fed and accepting whatever, you know? It's definitely a feeling of finding things out for yourself and going with what you feel is right and true, stuff like that. It's definitely where he was coming from. Right on, man. "Coffinspire." Is this your commentary not only on war, but the general ugliness of the world around us, how we're thoughtlessly condemning ourselves to the shallow grave as mentioned in the song's lyrics? 

Scottie Henry: Actually, to tell you the truth, I can't even … I haven't memorized all of the song, lyric-wise. Cory knows more about that song.

Cory Brandan: That song … like, the whole record kind of tells a story and that middle part of the record is kind of weird but awesome how that song was placed in there, because that's really when the record kind of turns its meaning into something else, and ah, let me think of the lyrics there … yeah, that song is kind of about dealing with everyone in the world, so many people in the world, and what they're actually seeking and in a subliminal way, what we allow ourselves to be deceived by. I can't really think of the lyrics right now or it'd be a much better interpretation for you (laughs), but, was there one song specifically you're asking about? Okay, there's a paradox you guys create on "Disconnecktie" with "What a broad world to roam in, what a sea to swim in, so I begin with the end in mind." It seems to me that whole song is a paradox.

Cory Brandan: Yeah, it's kind of talking about knowing your goals when you start out, basically. You begin with the end in mind. 

Scottie Henry: You know where you're heading.

Cory Brandan: Yeah, it's exactly that. Scottie had a lot to do with that song. I guess the whole song is about learning from your mistakes in the past and things you've tried, you know, because there's a lot of trial and error, you know, learning from that and then instead of just doing the same thing over and over, you know, instead of growing and learning ... So it's basically knowing what you're going for when you set out. And the necktie is basically symbolic of hanging yourself if you pigeonhole yourself.

Cory Brendan: Yeah. There's definitely a lot of meanings in that title, but it's basically if you keep going on in your errors, then you're definitely killing yourself. Right on. So I understand you guys dig Cracker Barrel?

Cory Brandan: Yeah!

Scottie Henry: Definitely! We have to drive quite a hike to get to one, but we love it. 

Cory Brandan: That makes us sad, man! (laughs) (laughs) 

Scottie Henry: It's basically the only place on tour over the whole country where we can get some tea leafs! You're guaranteed you can get some tea leafs there! Coming from Atlanta and the South, it's amazing pulling up and knowing you can get that there! There's not very many places that can say that. Our closest one is about 45 minutes away, but we ate at one in Savannah and then another one in the Carolinas somewhere. I mean, they're all over the place down there!

Scottie Henry: Yeah, everywhere. I think the one tour we did with Throwdown, we ate there probably 90% like, almost every day! (laughs) Like, all the other bands wanted to go there and eat, you know? Throwdown, they're from Orange County (California), so they don't have very many …

Cory Brandan: Yeah, they loved it.

Scottie Henry: They were so stoked on it. They were really excited, so yeah, it was really cool hanging with everyone there. Yeah, I live in northern Maryland, so for anyone who wants to go there, it's like a freakin' field trip!

Scottie Henry: Yeah, that's too bad. We love it, though. We make the effort.

Scottie Henry: I guess that makes it more exciting, actually. Yeah, I think so. My wife and I look forward to it and often plan to stop there on long road trips home, what-not. 

Scottie Henry: Because we have them almost as common as Waffle House … well, maybe not Waffle House. Almost as much as Starbucks!

Scottie Henry: There you go.

Cory Brandan: We went to a mall where there was Starbucks and there was a store I think that said Starbucks, and in the store there was a Starbucks!

Scottie Henry: (laughs)

Cory Brandan: I'm like, ‘what?' (laughs) Try New York City! I'm sure you've seen by now there's a Starbucks on damn near every corner, and a Downtown Manhattan Athletic Club in close proximity to each one! (laughs) Okay, now tell me about the hellride from Wichita to Anaheim, you guys were sick …

Scottie Henry: Ugh. Stuck on a long road trip …

Scottie Henry: That was horrible. This tour was starting in Anaheim, so we booked two shows just to break up the drive, but it seems like we should've booked one more, because we started in Lawrence and Kansas City and we had to drive out there. It was pretty … it was even a little bit worse because all of our van seats were stolen … they were in our trailer and our trailer got stolen… God!

Scottie Henry: So we had the front bench and then we borrowed one from another band who are friends of ours, but then in the back we just had a mattress and I think there were like ten of us in the van at the time… Whoa!

Scottie Henry: And it was just like … just from driving it straight, one person got sick and then it spread real easily, so it was like ...

Cory Brandan: Blah!

Scottie Henry: Chris, I don't think he talked, ate or did anything for 4 or 5 days.

Cory Brandan: Yeah. Wow.

Scottie Henry: He was just out of it and he got to the point where he needed to go to the hospital. Cory even had to fly home from a show early. It was bad and I guess what, you had strep throat?

Cory Brandan: Yeah, I was bedridden for a few days. Man.

Scottie Henry: Luckily they were mostly days off. I was about to say how did you get through those gigs? (laughs)

Scottie Henry: It was a rough start! 

Cory Brandan: Yeah, really.

Scottie Henry: Even our merch guy was so … it was bad for all of us. We're just getting over it.

Cory Brandan: ost everybody threw up.

Scottie Henry: Yeah, throwing up and coughing and you know, just so many fluids, it was disgusting! Oh, man …

Scottie Henry: You know, in that van there was just no way to get away from it! Everybody was coughing everywhere and we have Lysol spray and stuff … we actually had three days off at home and we pretty much got almost better, but now a few of us still have coughs, runny noses … Well, you come from the west coast into this winter crap over here!

Scottie Henry: Oh yeah, it's bad, and then we're going back out west, so … It's like fighting a losing battle.

Scottie Henry: Yeah, it's pretty fun going through all this climate change, most definitely! (laughs) This is my last one. After this tour with Atreyu, Unearth and Scars of Tomorrow, what's next? 

Cory Brandan: Yeah, this tour ends in May I guess in Japan, or is it Australia?

Scottie Henry: Australia. Nice, man!

Cory Brandan: We're coming home and we'll be home for maybe a month. Then of course there's summer, but the big news is that we're doing a headlining tour in the fall. Right on! Do you have your supporting acts yet?

Cory Brandan: No, that's still in the works, but it'll be sometime this fall.

Scottie Henry: We're going to see if Nirvana will get back together … (laughs)

Scottie Henry: Then we'll take them out! All two of them! (laughs)

Cory Brandan: But yeah, that's our plans for this year. Right on, man. Well guys, thanks for having me up here.

Cory Brandan: Cool.

Scottie Henry: Cool.

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Revised: 31 Jul 2018 23:38:09 -0400