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Norway is geen Scandinavische band zoals je misschien zult denken, maar een groep die uit de States komt. De band bestaat al sinds lange tijd en na een stilte van ruim zes jaren is dit stel muzikanten uit New Jersey weer terug aan het front met 'Rising Up From The Ashes', hun derde verhaal in AOR land. Gitarist en bandleider Jim Santos had dan ook een hoop te vertellen…

Door: Guus | Archiveer onder hardrock / aor

band imageFirst of all, why would a bunch of Americans name themselves after a European country? Any roots there perhaps?
Well, It was sort of an accident. Way back in the 80's we had just gotten together and had written a set of originals, so we decided to try and play a couple of gigs, and showcases to see the audience reaction to the music. Of course, we hadn't even named the band yet!! Our original bassist, Dave Bryan, was on the phone with a local promoter. He was giving the guy the sell. Vocalist Glenn and I had been in two of the biggest Jersey cover bands in the 80's so he knew we'd be good, etc, etc. So the promoter says: "OK, you guys are on the bill, hey what is the bands name?”. Uh-oh. We had no name. Thinking fast, Dave and Glenn had been in a band called NORTH, so Dave starts to say the bands name is Nor...Nor.. Meanwhile Glenn is getting excited saying "Don't use NORTH...don't tell him the name is NORTH.” So Dave proceeds to say Nor... Nor... NORWAY! And so it has been ever since. But also around that time there had been a lot of bands with names like that. Europe, ASIA , Boston, New England. And we liked it because you couldn't tell what kind of music the band played from their name. Also it is still the #1 question we get asked!

The first time the world noticed Norway was in 1998 when you guys released 'Night Dreams'. It was an independent release, so I guess it was very hard to get a record deal for that album?
Well we were a bit naïve at the time, and it really started because Magnus Soderkvist (Atenzia) who was with MTM at the time, saw our website and asked for a demo tape. At time I had a really awful 2nd generation cassette tape of some songs I sent him. He liked it a lot, but said it wasn't polished enough for MTM and he sent it to Georg of AOR Heaven. He liked it a lot and contacted me and agreed to buy 250 copies of it to get us started. So we got the master tapes and did a quick mastering job and had our first 1000 CD's made from there it just snowballed! Also Serafino from Frontiers helped introduce me to some of the distributors. Pretty soon I was going to UPS almost every day!

The follow up, entitled 'Arrival' was released in 2000 through the Frontiers label. Was this deal a result of shopping around with 'Night Dreams', or did this album create such a buzz labels got in touch with you themselves?
Guus, a little bit of both! We had gotten such a great response to Night Dreams, that we spent every penny we made on it recording a four-song demo CD to present to the labels. Actually I hope to release those four songs in the near future on a special edition “best of” record. But let's continue, at the same time we started getting emails from all the labels! It was very exciting that all of the labels were interested. In the end the label we were most interested in, MTM, was the one least interested in us so we signed with Now and Then Productions in the UK, which used Frontiers for the manufacturing and distribution. It was very close between them and Escape. I've met Khalil a few times, and we've had some great discussions, but in the end Now and Then's offer was better. Of course that was when we still thought record labels actually PAID YOU what they were supposed to!! LOL!

After the release however all what followed was a deafening silence that lasted about six years. Okay, so now you are back with a new album, but what the hell happened in the meantime?
Yeah, everybody wants to know! The thing is, about a year after 'Arrival' came out I shot Now & Then an email saying I wanted some advance to start the next record. In fact I emailed several times with no response. Then finally they told me they did not want to do another record! We'll I was quite surprised as it had done as well as expected. So we went back and forth for another six months until they agreed to give a small advance to record a record. They asked for demos, which they rejected saying they didn't like them. We sent more, they still said they didn't like them. And keep in mind here, that these were for the most part the same songs on RUFTA, that critics have said are fantastic songs! So after another six months I asked to have the contract killed and they agreed. So it was almost 2003 already! So the plan now was instead of waiting anymore, we would just record the record at my house and then sign with a label and record/remix it, or just release it ourselves. In the middle of this vocalist Glenn Pierson had some very important private issues to deal with as a result another year had passed without Glenn able to participate. So we decided to split after almost twenty years. I hooked up with Dave Baldwin, and we finished the record and planned on a self-release because no one wanted it! At the last minute MTM agreed to release it.

I noticed the band got a new singer in the shape of Dave Baldwin. For what reason you're your former singer Pierson leave, and how did you get hold of Dave?
Like I said, Glenn had a personal issue that needed his full attention. It was impossible for him to continue. But he and I are great friends, we talk often and most likely will work again soon. Dave Baldwin had sung on my 9/11 benefit song “Bridge Of Faith”, and we got along great. So I asked him to finish the record, he agreed. I was originally introduced to Dave by a great local bassist, Hal Selzer. Hal plays bass for Bobby Bandiera (Southside Johnny), Sticky Fingers a Stones' tribute band and used to write for ½ dozen-rock mags. Real nice guy. I hope he can guest on the next record.

Your new album 'Rising Up From The Ashes' was released by MTM Music. How did you team up with them and are you satisfied up until now with the co-operation? Can they supply everything you need?
Well we know who all the labels are, and contacted all of them. Not one of them wanted to do the record. No one offered even one penny to maybe go back and re-record some things. In the end, MTM made an offer that allowed us to get the record out there. It was basically for the distribution. It does seem that their distribution and marketing was an improvement since the last record. I owe them a lot of thanks for the support and belief in the band. But are we satisfied? It's kind of like a dirty little secret amongst the bands I talk to that all the labels treat the bands poorly, but none of us bands ever give a good punch in the press to the labels, because they're the only game in town. Only time will tell in this case.

I noticed that you are responsible for producing, engineering and mixing of the album. Why did you chose to do this all yourself instead of bringing in somebody from the outside?
Mostly money. No one was financing it and certainly no one else would be so foolish to work on an album for so long for free hehehe. Besides I truly love creating and being in control. I've already upgraded my studio and we have begun the creative process for the next record.

Besides the whole production process you also play guitar, keyboards and you sing as well. It almost seems that Norway is kind of a one-man project with some hired guns on the side. How do you yourself see the band?
Well that's a fair observation. Night Dreams was a pretty much a Jim & Glenn record. We already had most of it recorded before Marty & Joe came aboard. For Arrival we continued that process with just a little more leeway in the parts. So although yes, I'm the main man, on RUFTA, I wanted to go 180 degrees from that. I recorded some guide tracks that were just a couple of guitars and keys to a click track, and everyone just created their own parts. It was more about just going with it, as opposed to analysing it. I'm hoping that that's how the band continues to grow. More naturally. A solid rock group, as opposed to a “too polished” sound. And I'd love nothing more in the world than to NOT have to do everything. Any group that wants me to just sit back and play lead guitar would suit me just fine TOO!

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And what about songwriting? Could you describe how a Norway song comes to live and what process it must go through before it ends up on an album?
Well first and foremost, is our main rule: NO FILLER! And although a lot of bands aim for that, I think we have a really high percentage of meat and potatoes on our records. I know for myself and when I was writing with Glenn, I have a very strong self-editing process in place. And if a new idea cannot meet certain criteria, it doesn't make the cut. We always pick the songs we are going to record too. We don't record fifteen songs and pick twelve. We pick the twelve first and only record them. And work very hard on them. Also the arrangements are very important. We make sure our songs move in the right manner.

What is your favourite song actually on 'RUFTA' and why?
That's too hard a question! LOL! They all mean something special to me in one way or another. And very equally too. What I mean is, for example Only One I Need is to me, a great example of a NORWAY ballad-big hook, huge vocals, and I love the guitar solo I played in the outro of that song. But “The Power of Gold” I love because of the epic tale, and a slight divergence to something of a more Rainbow feel. (I'll admit to purposely trying to emulate Ritchie Blackmore in the middle solo of that one). But we all love Anything At All, because it's the first song co-written by Baldwin / Santos / Slattery, and it is the song most different in style on the record.

I can imagine that right after the recordings everything sounds just the way you like it, but do you still feel the same about it? Or are there some details here and there of which you now think it could have been done different?
The way it turned out this time is I think all the performances and the songs on this record are the best we've ever done. The recording of the drums and early equipment problems caused a lot of problems. But still all the parts can be heard and it sounded like a good home effort. Remember, we were just going to self-release this. When we made our deal with MTM, they agreed to pick up the cost of mastering. We were very disappointed that we did not get to hear an approval CD on the mastering done on this record. My original mixes sounded much better. We had hoped to get a big punch up in the sound by a pro mastering job, instead I think we got the 50€ job!

Now 'RUFTA' is on the market, can the fans in Europe expect a tour of some sort?
It's something we'd love to do. It's more of an economic thing right now. It would cost a lot of money for us to come over for even say two weeks of shows. We would have to be able to sell out 250 people minimum at perhaps ten shows to make it work. I've heard of many well-known bands that sometimes only pull a couple of hundred people. So probably not. But I'd really like to get involved with one of the festivals and perhaps come over to do a big show.

And what about plans for another album? I guess you guys have tons of material lying around after the six-year hiatus?
We're throwing around a lot of ideas. Yes there is the usual pile of old ideas, but I kind of think we are going to continue to mine some new area's and continue to evolve the bands sound with what we're doing now, compared to doing a song I wrote ten years ago. I would expect to have a new album out by fall of 2008. On the other hand I am planning a 'Best Of NORWAY' compilation after the next record. That will give us four records to pull our favourites from, plus a brand new song or two with both Dave Baldwin and Glenn Pierson! In addition I want to package it with another CD of “extras” with all kinds of demos, cassette recordings, different versions of songs, etc. If whatever label we are working with doesn't want to do it, we'll do it ourselves.

Besides your own band you are also involved in some other projects and producing jobs. Could you tell us what you are working on right now and why these things are worth the effort?
I just finished mixing three tunes for the upcoming FROZEN RAIN cd. I had a lot of fun, and Kurt Verrecke has got himself a red-hot classic AOR album coming out soon! Tommy Denander does most of the guitar and solos, prog drummer Daniel Flores is keeping the beat, and there's a bunch of great rock singers all over these tracks. I added a guitar solo during the outro of a song “Never Be A Fool Again” that's not too shabby. I'm also working now with a fantastic singer /songwriter from Hungary, AdryA. She has this incredible, unique voice. I'll be recording some guitar tracks for a few songs. She will be releasing her label debut on LION Music later this year.

What do you think about the melodic rock scene in common? Is it alive and well, or do you think it could use an injection of fresh young blood to stay alive?
Needs a total transfusion! Well actually maybe we all do. The diehard fans want the old school stuff but they don't actually buy enough of it to support the genre. Okay, I know there are lots of diehards who spend thousands of dollars per year on music. God Bless them. But most fans are people of ordinary means, who have families and less disposable income to spend on records. If money is tight, you are just not going to drop $60 to pick up four or five CD's from bands you never heard of, like they may have done when they were twenty. Just like shows, everyone wants a band, say us, to tour, but getting 200 people to a club or bar an hour or two ride away on a Wednesday night just wont happen around here. Here's what I suggest. Everyone in AOR & MHR should go see more music shows, and try to promote at the grassroots level. There's a pile of bands in NJ like NORWAY! We got Ted Pole, 40 ft Ringo, Russ Arcara, Phantoms Opera, John Taglieri, scores more. If the labels got together they could sponsor a night or two a month at local clubs with three or four bands on the bill, and build their US audience a bit. And start talking on the b-logs and newsgroups again. Don't download illegally is another biggie. But it's okay for people to “trade” songs and turn each other on to other artists they don't know about. That's they way music works best anyway, not what a radio station says you should listen too.

Thanks for answering my questions. If you have got anything left to say, the space below is yours…
Thank you Guus and Lords of Metal for having me! Please visit the band website for more info on NORWAY. And most of all thank you to all the wonderful fans and friends we have out there who stayed with us through the years. This record was a labour of love, for you.

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