So tell us your story. Where did you grow up? What made you decide to become an artist?
I really liked the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip growing up. I read them and re-read them all the time. In elementary school I used to bring them in and read them in voices to the other kids and it was a ton of fun. I also remember making up stories with my grandma at the kitchen table while messing around with play-dough. Stories are fun. Telling them and listening to them. And the cool part is that everything is a story. Listening to a friend who’s had a bad day? That’s story-time. People-watching in a park? Story-time. Going to sleep and having a dream? Story-time. We’re surrounded by them, from tiny and seemingly insignificant, to grandiose and dripping with pretense. I started becoming an artist when I began to learn how to craft a story together on purpose. When I realized that these beautiful moments that came and went by chance during my life could be remembered, organized, and retold in a way that might have deeper meaning to other people. That they could be retold in a way that could help people not feel so alone. That’s my main goal in all of this. I don’t want people to feel alone.
As for where I grew up: Long Island, New York. Suburbs. Never really fit in there. Pretty early on I became one of those kids that no one wants to hang out with. I was a nerd, but an actual nerd. The kind of nerd that isn’t popular or cool. I was never cool and it’s far too late to start now. Right now I’m having a hard enough time being myself, let alone cool.
How did you come up with the nameÂ Norwood? What was your inspiration behind it?
There’s a few answers to this, because I’ve been thinking about it more and more lately. Answer number 1 is that it’s my last name. That’s easy. I write for a small music zine in brooklyn and I used the opportunity once to interview my violinist, Hajnal Pivnick, about her contemporary classical ensemble in NYC. They call it “Tenth Intervention” and when I asked them what the name meant, they said “Nothing. It’s just a meaningless name.” That intrigued me, so I pressed them on it. And they pointed out that a lot of times, when people try to give their companies or their bands meaningful names, the names end up kind of lame. So it’s better to either keep it real straight forward or just make something up that’s meaningless. That made sense, so I just named my group “Norwood”.
I also tend to think of this whole thing as a music project than as a traditional band. I have my Original Lineup of Myself, Nastasia, Keith, Max, and Hajnal. Those people are my first phone call if I have a gig lined up or if I’m looking to flesh out new songs and record an album. I love working with those people. They are incredibly generous with their time and talent. But they lead their own lives. They are all coming from different disciplines and goals. That makes it hard to schedule tours and other things “as a band”, but it makes the music much more interesting. There have been shows where I’ve had other musicians playing with me and that’ll probably continue into the future. And every new person who jumps on board for a show here or there brings their own flavor to the songs. So that’s another reason why the group is called “Norwood”. The only real constant I can guaranty is myself, my songs, and my ability to find fantastic people to work with. It makes every show fresh and interesting as well as a lot of fun.
What do you think about online music sharing? Do you ever give your music away for free? Why?
I think it creates an atmosphere where people make something clever instead of something good. It creates an atmosphere that reinforces the mindset that art isn’t actually worth anything. And if it’s about receiving exposure, I mean….exposure doesn’t feed you or help you write and record more music. Money does. I think people felt ripped off in the past for spending $20 on a cd and maybe they feel justified stealing music because of that. But in the end, if musicians can’t make a living off of the good music they make, you’re gonna stop finding good hardy music. You’ll be left with clever bullshit brain candy.
If someone were to ask for an album for a raffle or something, sure. If they wanted me to donate copies of the album that they could sell to fundraise for something, of course. But that’s not giving it away. That’s someone coming to me, accepting that what I’m offering has value, and asking if they could use it to support an important cause. And that’s awesome. But I’m not gonna give it away just so I can feel good about myself being on someone’s Ipod. That would be egotistical and desperate of me.
Since everyone was a start-up once, can you give any smaller or local bands or artists looking to get gigs and airplay some tips?
- Develop an honest drinking habit. One that keeps you slightly irresponsible, yet doesn’t result in felonies.
- Fuck it. Commit a felony every now and then. Just keep it below twice a month. And try not to get caught.
- Get a twitter. Apparently they’re required.
- You need one vice. I don’t care what it is. Our demons are all we actually have that truly stick around. Mine is Diet Mountain Dew. Like I said, I don’t care what it is.
- Have a glass of water every now and then. Dehydration is a soldier’s worst enemy.
- Stop being so god damn clever all the time. Cleverness is for people who want to hide.
- Love your audience, but don’t revere them. Same goes for your heroes and Gods.
- Vulnerability is not being able to write something sad or cry on cue. It’s showing everyone that you can be a real piece of shit if you wanted to. In real life. You could be a perverted violent monster if you wanted to. Admitting that it’s possible for you to be a not nice person is vulnerability. No one is Good because they lack claws, they’re good because they don’t use them.
- Get a Facebook page. Apparently they’re required.
- Take your thoughts seriously. Even the silly ones. Write shit down. Write everything down. And don’t write it down with the thought of “When I’m famous, people will read this and be wowed by my genius.” No, fuck you, just write down what you honestly think and never show it to anyone. Never. Until something comes along that’s worth showing everyone. Then show everyone. Be annoying. Show everyone.
- Go see things. Even random shit. Even things you’re gonna hate or be bored at.
- Get scarred somehow.
- Love someone. Or multiple people. Loving is never embarrassing and we should stop treating it like it’s some kind of burden on the person who’s loved. Even if the person doesn’t love you back, loving someone gives you courage.
- When you fuck somebody, mean it. Same goes for performing. Every time you get in front of a group of people, EVERY time, you fuck the shit out of that audience with whatever it is you’re doing. Every single time.
- Get a Dayjob. Apparently they’re required.
Do you ever make mistakes during performances? How do you handle that?
Oh yeah. Of course. Sometimes the adrenaline is coursing through me and I rush the songs tempo-wise. Sometimes I blank on a line of lyrics. Sometimes guitar strings break. It all happens. I handle it by not handling it. The only time a mistake affects a show is if you freak out because you had some grand plan as to how the show was gonna go and now you’ve been forced to actually be present in the room where you’re performing. Maybe that’s an old philosophy from when I acted in theater, but it still applies. An accident happens, you accept it and let it be a part of whatever moment you’re having with the audience. Audiences don’t care about mistakes, they care about you being there with them and for them. And that’s your actual job. It’s not the audience’s job to come to you or be there for you, it’s your job to be there for the audience.
Does anything interesting happen on tour that you think our readers would enjoy hearing about?
Once I save up enough money from my various dayjobs to score transportation and lodging for my band for a tour, I’ll let you know all the weird shit that’s bound to happen. Right now, the only interesting factoid about our tours is that they don’t actually tour. We’ve only been playing NYC for now. But hopefully that’s changing in the near future. I’m hoping to book things in Boston, the D.C. area, Long Island, Upstate New York. There’s no record label here or manager or agent, just me. Aside from about $1000 I raised through an indiegogo campaign in early 2015, I’ve produced these two albums off of a lot of dayjob work, savings, and stubborness. This whole project is extremely DiY. If you’re a band that’s likes the music and wants to do a gig swap in your area, let me know!Â Christopher.Norwood@gmail.com
Where do you usually gather songwriting inspiration? What is your usual songwriting process?
I think most writers have their “bullshit books”. Or, at least, that’s what I call them. They’re little notebooks you keep on you at all times and write in whenever you feel like it. If you have an interesting thought, or if you get inspired by a situation, or you just feel like free-writing for a while. I free-write prose a lot and it’s better if I’ve had a drink or two to loosen me up. I’ll go to a bar with a decent amount of people in it and sit with a beer and write down whatever. Sometimes it’ll be about a character in a song that I’m stuck on. Writing stream-of-consciousness from their perspective sometimes opens up ideas I haven’t thought of yet for that song lyrically. I also play guitar a lot when I’m by myself in my apartment. I’ll mess around with chord progressions in-between exercises and sing melodies in gibberish if I find a progression I like. Eventually one lyric will find it’s way into that gibberish. And then the song unfolds from there. Like with “Moonlight”, that song started with the lyric “She reveals herself like pollen in the blossom.” From that lyric I knew it had to do with women, sex, and nature. Very general themes, but a decent starting point. The next step was to figure out what I thought about all three of those things (and not just on a superficial level) and how they were connected to each other. That meant more free-writing, which led to more gibberish and wordsmithing until things started falling into place.
The songs on “Notes To My Blood” are gifts I made for the people I love. People I consider family. In general, I write songs for the middle children of culture. The people who don’t like being categorized or thrown into a demographic. Those people are viewed as “difficult” and they’re mostly kept on the fringe of things. They’re not representatives of their genders or their race or their whatever. They’re individuals. It’s lonely being one of those people and, like I said before, I don’t want people to feel alone.
What are some really embarrassing songs that we might find on your mp3 player?
Oh man, this makes me a little sad because some of them won’t play anymore for whatever reason and I can’t find the files on my computer or the CDs in any of my old cases. I had this one J-Pop song called “It’s Gonna Rain” by Bonnie Pink. It was used as the ending credits song for an anime called Rurouni Kenshin I watched as a kid years ago. Catchy as fuck. I also love Sublime and catch a lot of flak for it. But I’m not embarrassed by that so I don’t know if it counts. A friend sent me this mp3 of a Nine Inch Nails and Taylor Swift mash up that’s really well done. I need more embarrassing music on my Ipod is what I’m realizing as I’m typing this sentence.
If you were given half a million dollars and a year off, what would you do? How would you spend it?
I’m really enjoying these questions, by the way, thank you for these. I would pay my band to tour with me for the year. I would put us up in places where the bedding won’t give anyone rashes (That seems obvious but you never know with some of those cheaper places). We would then play shows at local bars and cafes, houseparties, any intimate venue we could find, and make friends. Tell stories, hear new ones, and slowly show people that they’re really not very different from each other except for the things that society has placed on them. Constructs like race and gender. I’d try and help dispel this false notion of what is “normal”. Try to spread the idea that there is no one way to live a life. Everyone has their way and it’s possible to make space for each of them. That would be the dream.
What are you working with now?
oh, you know, various neuroses. Years ago I was walking down a street in New York City and I came across this graffiti that read “Lizzy White Doesn’t Give a Fuck” in black marker. I loved it immediately because it felt completely authentic and it wasn’t written very large. It was written by someone who didn’t care if anyone else ever saw it. So I took a picture and I still have it on my computer. I like looking at it sometimes when I’m not doing anything in particular. As I was finishing Notes To My Blood, I was already thinking about the next album. I never stop writing and I would encourage every other writer out there to do the same. Just keep writing until you fucking die or it dries up completely. Anyway, I got this idea to start writing songs surrounding this one girl, Lizzy White. They wouldn’t necessarily be in chronological order, or be from her point of view. They would be little peep-holes into her life from different angles. One is a song from her son’s point of view later on in life. One from her grand daughter. One from her first girlfriend. And a few from Lizzy herself. It was more of a writing prompt than anything else.
So I start writing these songs and thinking more and more about this person, Lizzy White. And she eventually develops into this full-on songwriter alter-ego of mine. I realized that any of the Punk Rock in my soul belongs to Lizzy White. The part of me that rages against injustice and believes that people are assholes but if they try they can do good is Lizzy White. The part of me that forces my suicidally depressed ass out of the apartment almost every night and keeps me alive for the next day is Lizzy White. She won’t ever appear on stage or anything because, in her words, “Fuck your stage.” But she’s a voice in my head and I’m embracing her presence. I guess we’ll see what comes of it.
……………….Hopefully that answers your question.
How do you find ways to promote your music? What works best for you?
I use facebook ads whenever a review comes along. It’s not the greatest thing, but it gets the music in front of people’s faces. You’ve gotta be obnoxious with it though. I think playing live shows is really the best way to promote what you do. Go out and meet the people who like your music. Word of mouth is much more effective than ad space. And I tell all my artist friends that I’m totally game to play any fundraisers they have or I’m down to let them use a song in whatever show or film they’re shooting. Just being a decent human has actually been the best method so far.
If you could perform anywhere and with any artists (Dead or Alive) where and who would it be with? Why?
I actually just recently sent an email to the Manager for The Mountain Goats. Completely cold email, it’ll probably be trashed as spam. But whatever. John Darnielle inspired me to start writing songs. My stuff can be dark and biting at times and at first I was hesitant to take myself seriously as a song writer. But after hearing his stuff, I realized that you can write a song about whatever you want, however you want. That sounds obvious now, but for some reason I was blocked by it. So yeah, I told him that I loved the band and that I would love to play with them anytime or open for them when they came around New York if they ever needed an opener. I would love to play a small show on a bill with those guys and then shoot the shit for the rest of the night. Oh and then have him sign the guitar I play shows with. Amazing.
So, whatâ€™s next? Any new upcoming projects that you want to talk about?
Well that new album I was talking about before is gonna be called “Lizzy White Doesn’t Give a Fuck”. For Notes To My Blood I made these lyric and art booklets that I could sell as physical copies of the album with a download code on the back. For this next one I might go a step further and include some of the prose I’ve written as I write the songs, because I’ve been enjoying that as much as the music. Again, I’m very interested in seeing how it all comes together. A lot of times I’ll try to surprise myself as I write something because if it surprises me, it may surprise the people who listen to the album later, and that’s fun.
We also do a whole bunch of cool covers that, if I can get studio time for super cheap, maybe we could record as an album in the near future. Just for fun. Those are the next two big projects I have in mind forÂ NorwoodÂ in the future.
If you werenâ€™t making music, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be dead. Maybe that sounds dark as fuck, but it’s the first thought that came into my mind when I read the question. I believe that when people can’t speak their minds, they lose them. And I have a big fear of mental illness for myself. Some people express themselves through speech alone. Some express themselves by building houses or doing someone’s taxes, or nurturing and teaching children. I make music because it’s the only way I have ever felt understood by anyone. Without it, I would be able to speak to people, but never be understood, and when that happens to someone they reach a new level of loneliness. And sometimes they do foolish things because of that. I mean, I’d find some job to do, I guess. But I wouldn’t last very long.
Do you remember buying your first album? Who was it? What was going through your head?
I think it was Dookie by Green Day. The first cassette tape I ever bought was Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt. I remember thinking that I had reached the next step in growing up because this was the kind of music my sister was listening to. This was big kid music. And it was awesome. I picked up a guitar for the first time because of Sublime though. Bradley Nowell on “Sublime Acoustic: Bradley Nowell & Friends” was the first time I heard someone just playing a guitar and singing and being compelling. It was warm and passionate and immediate. I wanted to make that.
How do you juggle the rest of your responsibilities while trying to stay ahead in your music life?
I just don’t sleep very much. And I never turn it off. Some people think that in order to enjoy your life, you can’t be reflecting on it or analyzing it or thinking about it. That that would take you out of the present moment you’re in. But I don’t see it that way. I go out and let life happen. I go to my dayjob to earn money and the very second I leave, I’m done with that and onto my life and my work. I don’t know if there is a “staying ahead” in my music life. I’m just doing everything I can possibly think of to move it along and giving everything I can whenever I play or write. That’s all I can ask for. My advice would be to focus completely on whatever task is in front of you until it’s done as well as you can do it, then move on to the next thing. And keep it going like that for as long as you can.
What should fans look forward to in the next year or so?
That all depends on how album sales go and how money looks from other sources. If I have the money to record another album, I’ll be looking to do that in October of 2017. If I can get super cheap recording space, we’ll put the covers album together before that. Right now I’m focusing on organizing some sort of tour. but I’m doing it all by myself, so it’s gonna be a trial by fire process. Again, if anyone’s looking to put some bills together out there, let me know! We feed each other or nobody eats at all.