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Norman Palm - The IndieLondon interview

Norman Palm

Interview by Rob Carnevale

NORMAN Palm talks exclusively to IndieLondon about his new album, Shore To Shore, and the recording process behind it… as well as why a track like Smile may be sad to some, but came from a place of happiness.

He also talks about the effect his Cindy Lauper YouTube videos had on his career, why he aspires to being like Beck (and why he loves comparisons to him) and the challenge of working in the visual communication medium.

Q. We’re loving the new album, Shore to Shore… so what inspired it?
Norman Palm: The biggest inspiration for the album was my life between different cities at that time. I lived partly in Berlin, partly in Mexico City and I had just come back from Paris. It’s an album full of long-distance love songs, in a ‘My Bonnie is Over the Ocean’ type of way. So, I tried to apply the overall theme of distances, contrasts, relations from one to the other also to the music, putting together many different sounds and genres even.

Q. Can you talk about the motto you employed throughout with Janne Lounatvuori – nothing may stay as it was?
Norman Palm: My first album was an artbook with 200 pages of my visual art and a CD in the back. That CD had 12 songs on it, recorded with mainly acoustic guitar and my voice. Very lo-fi, very hand-made. With Janne I was looking for a new sound since we found my songs could also work in a different shape. So we started experimenting and out came a true pop album! It was not easy going pop without losing the personal, intimate charm of my old record, but I hope it worked in the end.

Q. One of our favourite songs is Smile – can you talk about the inspiration behind that?
Norman Palm: Smile is a song about longing for someone who is not there. Many people found the song sad, I wrote it with a good feeling about seeing that someone again who you have missed so much. It is written in very direct words about those very basic and simple feelings. Writing songs I always try to ignore my own shyness daring to say things directly.

Q. How do you go about song-writing and then, in turn, decide on which instruments sound right for the song?
Norman Palm: For this album almost any instrument could work. We worked with electronic beats made with a computer, toy instruments, a Carribbean steal pan, piano, synthesizers, Rhodes… anything really. I write the songs mostly on an acoustic guitar, then I record them myself into the laptop and start working on them digitally. Then I go to the studio and re-record properly with good sound.

Q. Which instruments did you most enjoy becoming acquainted with during the making of the album?
Norman Palm: The most exciting thing is the steel pan that you can hear on many songs. Although Janne plays it on the recordings it’s my favourite instrument. It’s very intuitive, only has a few notes to choose from. We’re also using it live. Another of my favourites is a vintage synthesizer called Yamaha CS01. It’s tiny but it has a great sound!

Q. Comparisons abound to artists such as Beck and Wilco. Do you mind those? Are they helpful?
Norman Palm: I certainly do not mind those, since I love both of the artists. Especially Beck – he is very inspiring, since he is a songwriter who changes shape with every new album, which is an idea I would like to follow also for my own work. I’ve always been a fan of artists who are able to change their sound and appearance. I think of it much higher than of creating a trademark-sound.

Q. Which musicians/artists inspire you?
Norman Palm: I’m listening to so much music these days. If you are working with people in the music scene and you’re friends are also from that field, you get links sent to your inbox every day and it is almost too much to deal with! So, everything could inspire me, really. Also I guess my personal taste is very diverse. I could listen to Berlin minimal techno and Turkish psychedelic rock on the same day.

Norman Palm

Q. How did you persuade Daniel Nentwig to participate on the album? And how was working with him?
Norman Palm: Daniel is normally playing with The Whitest Boy Alive. He lives in Berlin just as the rest of the band, we hang out together, so it did not need too much persuation to get him to my studio. He is an amazing Rhodes player, the best one I know of. He came in, listened to our demo one time and set up the Rhodes. Then we recorded a few takes, he told us which ones to use, jumped up and ran for a pizza. It took 20 minutes maybe. It was a bit surreal.

Q. What was the biggest lesson you learned from recording the album?
Norman Palm: I think the biggest lesson I learned was to not be afraid to try new things and things that sound like they are not going to work. It’s always dangerous to develop certain routines of work, you get stuck. Also, Janne helped a lot in the process. He was a new influence, someone who would suggest things to try out, not trying to please me and my ideas but having his own. I try to work very co-operatively instead of being a studio dictator, so the mixture of us working together was very important for the outcome.

Q. How much did your Cindy Lauper video project help get you noticed internationally?
Norman Palm: It might have helped a bit in deed. The videos of my cover versions of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Boys Don’t Cry got quite a lot of clicks on YouTube, although I believe many people just find them looking for the originals and they might be a little disappointed of my slow-motion singing. Anyways, both videos are great. We showed them together on art shows, they have a lot of thought and background to them, it’s great to work just in the middle of pop music and contemporary art.

Q. What do you like about the visual communication medium and what has been your biggest challenge and proudest achievement within it?
Norman Palm: I studied visual communication in Berlin and it is still what I do, apart from music. It is an interesting medium since it needs to work very clearly, transmitting information from one to another in images or short words set in typography. The challenge is to transmit your message in a way that the recipient does understand it. It is very different from music where I find the most interesting thing that your thoughts or feelings are interpreted by the listeners and they make up their own ideas and emotions about your song.

The biggest achievement and the biggest challenge for me was bringing the two together in my first album. Experimenting with 200 pages of visuals and 12 songs and finding out how they would interact.

Q. What can we expect from the live shows that accompany the album?
Norman Palm: Live I play together with Janne Lounatvuori, the Finn I produced my album with and another nordic fellow: Obi Blanche. Janne plays all sorts of keyboards while Obi plays electric guitar and takes care of electronic things. The shows are louder than you might expect. We are often experimenting with the electronic elements, we try to bridge the gap between very low and tender songs to almost ravy uplifting beats.

Q. What advice would you give to people wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Norman Palm: I am a big fan of DIY. I would suggest to try out doing things yourself, don’t believe in the professionalism that everybody wants you to have. If you do things yourself, you are in control of them. You can’t blame others when things go wrong, but you will be more confident about yourself when things work out.

Q. Finally, what are the 10 tracks that are never far from your iPod player at the moment?
Norman Palm: Kurt Vile – Society is my Friend
William Onyeabor – Atomic Bomb
Phil Manley – FT2 Theme
Radiohead – Codex
Moon Duo – Mazes
EMA – The Grey Ship
Destroyer – Kaputt
The Sundays – Here’s Where The Story Ends
James Blake – Limit to Your Love
Junip – Don’t Let it Pass

Read our review of Shore To Shore

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