By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Christopher Norman.
He walks alone through the night. Footsteps carry him down the sun-baked streets of Austin that are only just beginning to cool under the moonlight.
The bar recedes into the distance. The voices of his friends, the clink of glass, and casual banter fade to a hum. Christopher Norman is left with nothing but his thoughts as he saunters along home.
So he begins to write a song, in his head.
The tune becomes “Bide”–the third track on Norman’s most recent release, Process. You can almost hear the stillness of night in his vocals; echoes of longing that float through liquid synth beats like lost ghosts.
It’s about feeling like an outsider, like you’re watching the world from your own little corner.
The song is emblematic of the singer/songwriter/electronic music producer’s creative process. Lock him in his bedroom (which doubles as a home studio) and let him make magic. Utilizing ethereal samples, soulful melodies, and a smattering of Minimoog synthesizer sounds, Norman sculpts music that is meant to be sifted through layer by layer.
“As an artist, I operate in two very distinct areas,” he tells BTR. “One is an inner mode, where I’m creating my own little bubble. It’s a very safe and protected place.”
The other–paradoxically–is an exuberance that carries his craft to extroverted frontiers of discovery. While his songs require a careful meditation and stillness to assemble, collaborations are abound and plenty on Process.
Cello? Guitars, synthesizers, co-writers, and production assistants? Check.
Norman admits he feels like a pendulum that can’t stop swinging. His two “selves” are constantly waging creative wars with one another, but it’s the other artists and visionaries in his life that help ground his luminosity.
Take Rena Jones, for instance. The two met by chance at a mutual friend’s wedding nearly five years ago. Jones manages her own recording label and offered to help Norman with the distribution of his music. It wasn’t long before he realized the young woman’s musical taste was only second to her virtuosic cello abilities.
Occupying the middle ground between collaboration and hermit-like composing, Norman began sending snippets of musical ideas to Jones. In turn, she would respond with extended cello takes–which he would then proceed to chop and flip and mutate into new sounds.
“It’s a beautiful destruction really,” admits Norman with a laugh.
The process for Process, however, was a bit different. This time around the Portland, Oregon-based cellist sent Norman a four-track recording. He was so floored by the performance that he kept it as it was. He couldn’t imagine anything that he wanted to change. In his own words, it was perfect.
It’s hard to argue. The tug and rich simmer of strings elevate the music to an emotional fever pitch that otherwise would have been just out of reach. The result is the fifth track on the album, titled “Nomad.”
Michelle Jacqueline Chamuel (you might know her by her moniker “The Reverb Junkie”) is another frequent collaborator of Norman’s. Well-established in her own right, Chamuel has been featured on NBC’s The Voice and was the lead singer of the band Ella Riot. Chamuel’s debut album hit number six on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Albums chart. Together, both Norman and Chamuel are an unstoppable electronic force of dreamy pop and effervescent noise.
Check out Norman’s first EP, All The Pretty People (2012), to hear the chemistry for yourself.
“I sent her an instrumental off of that album, while I was still tinkering around and finalizing everything,” says Norman. “She sends me back a fully-recognized song in three hours; with background vocals and everything! She’s someone who gives as much energy back as she takes.”
Collaborations are quickly extending into new mediums for the songwriter, who expresses a growing interest in combining both music and film. His music video for “Sacrifice”–the second song on Process–was a labor of love between Norman and cinematographer Hunter Hampton.
While Norman wrote the music, Hampton directed and shot the extremely eerie footage depicting the singer covered in dust and debris on an abandoned beach.
Norman tells BTR that his next album, slated for release sometime this year, will be a visual EP. Inspired by the likes of experimental visual mediums employed by artists such as FKA Twigs and the Swedish duo iamamiwhoami, each song on the new record will be developed alongside a corresponding visual element.
That’s not all–don’t expect more of the same lonely atmospheres Norman has perfected over the years. Expect something, perhaps… happier?
“A lot of my lyrics come from personal strife, but I’ve actually been in a really good place these past few months,” says Norman. “I’ve been dating someone, have a healthy social life, so it’s going to be interesting now to write happy instead of feeling lonely.”
Longtime fans should not be disparaged, however. Norman is quick to add that he’s still searching for “cracks in the veneer,” as it were.
To hear the rest of the interview, tune into this week’s Discovery Corner.
Or find your own way to interpret Christopher Norman by clicking here.