"It’s all these things I’ve been scared to talk about, but I knew I needed to put it out there because I wanted other people to be able to talk about it too" - Philip Strand
Normandie are set to release their brand new album 'Dark & Beautiful Secrets' on February 19 2021 via Easy Life Records.
The album not only shows a shift in the band's sonic direction but also what they feel comfortable singing about. It all comes down to two songs that they have already released; 'Jericho' and 'Holy Water'. The effect that these two pieces of music have had on vocalist Philip Strand is lifechanging and have opened up a new personal and creative valve for him and the band.
We jumped on the phone with Philip to talk about the creation of the songs, how they influenced this record and what effect writing in this way has affected other aspects of his life...
How did you go about approaching the making of this record after the ‘White Flag’ era?
“So in the middle of the writing of ['18 Album] ‘White Flag’ we got our own studio space. I’ve produced all of the records we have made so far, but ['16 Debut Album] ‘Inguz’ was very much a bedroom production thing when I had one of those years back at my parent’s house and ‘White Flag’ was between two different studios. With this record we had the perfect space and the perfect environment. It was our own space to do whatever we wanted to do. So before ‘White Flag’ was even out we started playing around with different sounds to see what the next thing would be. We’ve done it the same now where we have already started writing the fourth record before ‘Jericho’ was even out. We don’t want to have long breaks before we start writing again because I think the best songs are the ones that come in the latest, so that’s why we should just continue writing.
“So with ‘Dark & Beautiful Secrets’, we felt instantly after ‘White Flag’ that we wanted to do something a bit weirder. ‘White Flag’ as a song and an album was melodic and a bit safe. It’s not as experimental as we want to be. So we just started playing around with different genres. I grew up with Toto and Metallica, which is a weird mix but when you do mix them you find these harmonies and cool instruments. I just wanted to make that work for Normandie, so that’s what the last two years have been. There was then a time when it all clicked and that was when we wrote ‘Holy Water’. That’s where the really dark feeling came into place and we all felt like we were onto something very personal here. That darkness can either be a ‘Fuck Society’ vibe or it can be something very emotional and reflective towards yourself. That’s when we made the conscious effort to write something personal and the rest of the record came together in two or three months afterwards.”
How did it feel when you realised that you had uncovered something completely new within yourself that you felt like you had to write about it?
“I had to live with the decision for about two weeks before we really went forwards with it. As soon as you open that book though, you can’t back down. I didn’t want to have an album that was 50% personal and 50% love and breakup stories. As soon as we said it had to be personal, every single song needed to be just as personal. That’s a big decision to make, especially for a band like us who has never really gone into depth when it comes to our emotions. We’ve written songs about different things that people can feel and relate to, and this was more of a decision of this being something we wanted to go and cross our fingers and hope people can relate to it. It’s a big risk.”
It’s a scary thing to do isn’t it?
“It’s really scary. It was especially scary when we came home from the tours we did with Dream State and The Faim last year, because we had been playing ‘Jericho’ and that’s when we really went in on the vibe we wanted. That’s where ‘Holy Water’ came from and once I wrote it I had to go back and change the lyrics to ‘Jericho’ for it to make sense to me. I changed every ‘you’ to ‘me’ and it became this big song about my upbringing. That’s when it really clicked.”
What did writing like that feel like?
“Well it went from me writing about my upbringing in that way to then talking to my parents about it. I did that when the album was finished and I had talked about all of these things that I had gone through. It was almost like a therapy session with myself. So that’s when I went and talked to my parents about the songs so they wouldn’t be too surprised when they came out. It was a big moment for me. They really accepted it and we all started crying. I guess that’s how it is when you’re a parent and you have kids who go off and become their own people. You’re always afraid that you may have done something wrong. That’s what they told me. You’re walking on eggshells when you’re a teenager because anything that you do can affect your parents in the long-term. These were all things that they didn’t actually know, because when you’re younger you’re not always that open with your parents about your emotions. This was me coming clean with them.”
Did you ever expect that when you first started Normandie that you would be delving into things like this? Did you ever think you would be having conversations like that with your parents?
“When we started Normandie, I remember the feeling that we had was, ‘Is this song going to be a hit?’ whenever we wrote something. You’re so happy when the melodies click and when you have some cool lyrics. Yet then the further you get into it, the lyrics can become a more essential piece of the art. For some people they will write lyrics first and then write the melodies. But I’m a melody guy, so anything that’s nice and pleasing to the ears is a good song. But it feels like right now I’m seeing all of the colours. It’s a beautiful thing. At the beginning though I told myself that it almost wasn’t important and that I wouldn’t dwell on my past. Now we’re there and I wasn’t prepared to have any sort of discussion like it. It just went so deep.”
So how did that feeling bleed into the rest of the songs on the record?
“So ‘Jericho’ and Holy Water’ are both about my religious upbringing in the church. I had the discussion with the band and our management where I said that I didn’t want the album to become a religious piece. As far as I wanted to go in terms of creating a personal album, I didn’t want it to become an anti or pro-religion album. Everybody can have their own faith and faith is a beautiful thing. So that’s when we started to open things up and think what the bigger picture here is. If you zoom out from those two songs, what can be the message in an album like this? So we started with the fact that with those two songs I went into something I had kept in the dark for all these years. So what else is hidden back there? What else haven’t I talked about? That’s where we started writing ‘Hostage’ which is about a really dark period in my life where I had something called depersonalisation, which is when you look into the mirror and you don’t recognise yourself. It’s a deeper way of having a panic attack really. That’s something else I didn’t ever really want to talk about before this album. Then there’s ‘Atmosphere’ which is about my relationship with social media and how lonely you can feel even though you have 500 friends on Facebook but you have nobody to grab a beer and talk about your feelings with. It’s all these things I’ve been scared to talk about, but I knew I needed to put it out there because I wanted other people to be able to talk about it too.”
Once the plug has been taken out, everything is going to come flooding out. It almost becomes a case of all or nothing…
“Yeah and when it comes to the next album we will see what we are going to do, but for now I don’t think there’s any part of me that I haven’t opened up about on this album.”
So did those two songs have the biggest effect on how weird you wanted the music to be as well then?
“The music became so weird and raw that it couldn’t be about anything else but something that’s raw and personal. We really did whatever we wanted to do. We would ask if it was possible and if it was then we would do it. It took a good four months to be able to get things like that working without things turning out to sound like samba though.”
So, how does it feel finally having these things out in the world and having people other than those who are close to you reacting to them?
“It’s something that I’ve been really nervous about. Is this album just going to be a book about Philip or is it something that they will be able to bring home and interpret in their own ways and apply to their own lives? It’s been more like that than I thought it was going to be. I thought more people would be dissecting it and trying to see what Philip is trying to say, so I’m very happy that people have been trying to see the bigger picture. I also understand the people who are to be able to hear me screaming again though. It’s all beautiful and I love it.”