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Nichole Nordeman Interview
In 2005 the advent of the album Brave unveiled a new Nichole Nordeman, one that was a little funkier and a little grittier than what her fans had become accustomed to with her previous CD releases. In March of this year, Nordeman put out a seventeen track CD simply titled Recollection combining some of her best songs from both eras of her career. Sadly, some of that new grit, her cover of Bob Dylan’s tune “Gotta Serve Somebody,” recorded for Brave is missing from Recollection. The Dylan tune may be one of Nordeman’s best-recorded performances.
This spring Nichole Nordeman took a few minutes to reflect upon family, her music and new directions in her career. “The biggest leap was going from record three (Woven & Spun) to record four (Brave). “Will Nichole Nordeman fans come with me?” she asked, rephrasing a question that I had posed a few moments earlier. “I feel that the answer was a resounding yes. I don’t feel that same nervousness (now). I don’t feel the risk is there at all, as I continue pushing out (the boundaries). I think my listening audience gave me all kinds of freedom to do that,” she observed.
Nordeman parted ways with longtime producer Mark Hammond when it came time to record Brave and she teamed up with Jay Joyce. “The decision to change on that record in so many ways felt like a divorce. It was painful for Mark as well, considering we had all of this musical and creative history. I think in many ways he is responsible for Nichole Nordeman’s sound,” she said.
“It was a really difficult decision (to go with a new producer). I wanted to make a different sounding record, but not a huge departure so that people would say, ‘What has she done and who is that? I wanted to grow. I think that if Mark and I were to have worked together on that fourth project (Brave), it would have been just a continuation of the same. It would have been great stuff, but not growth. It was the right decision to stretch myself, and allow Jay to stretch me musically as well,” said Nordeman.
The title track “Brave” from Nordeman’s fourth studio album, and the sixth track on Recollection, ushered in a new sound with the words, “Goodbye status quo.” Nordeman described the song “Brave” as, “A happy, roll down the window, summertime feel and I think by the time the second chorus was over we needed a new breath. Instead of the typical stripped down bridge that gets soft before building into the next chorus, Jay felt we should be brave, and go somewhere different for a couple of bars. I love it and it is a fun section to play live.”
On the album Brave Nordeman’s deep, soulful, alto vocals gave rise to a stunning performance of Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” She said, “The Dylan song that you referenced (“Gotta Serve Somebody”) was produced by Jay Joyce (Patti Griffin, Wallflowers, Iggy Pop). He is just brilliant. He brought a whole different landscape musically to the process.”
The ninth track from Recollection, “Is It Any Wonder,” reminds us that the willingness to take risks with her songwriting is not as much something that is new to Nordeman, as it seems to be a passion that has been revived. The song is from her album Wide Eyed that was released in 1998. Substitute a piano for a guitar, and “Is It Any Wonder” is reminiscent of the quirky approach that artists such as Sheryl Crow took with “All I Wanna Do,” Edie Brickell used for “What I Am,” and Chris Rice utilizes when he is being, well, just Chris Rice.
Nordeman said that her song “Is It Any Wonder” was more a confessional lyric. “Even for me as a Christian it is difficult not to become besieged with magazine images and the demand for success and wealth. I could have written a more serious song about it, but I felt it would be more accessible if I wrote something that was a little more tongue and cheek. I think that sometimes Christian artists and musicians have a tendency to take themselves far too seriously. They feel the need to make every song [a] sunshine, theological statement. I felt I could have a much more serious song about the topic, but it would not have been received as well. Our entire lives are not serious and it is okay to write about real life,” she said.
Real life took on a new dimension when Nordeman’s son Charlie was born, and she decided to step away from her career. “I didn’t do anything musically for a year when Charlie was born. The amount of dust that collected on my piano was significant. That was by design. Errol (her husband) and I felt the first year had to be about getting to know Charlie, and him getting to know us. I didn’t feel a longing to write or perform music. I was just trying to figure out how to be a mom,” she said.
“There is no question, the space and time (away) was responsible for coming back with a new sound, and new ideas. When I came back and recorded Brave the slate was incredibly clean. Even if I had wanted to I didn’t have much memory of how to pickup where I had finished (prior to Charlie’s birth),” said Nordeman reflectively.
Becoming a parent for the first time also has infused Nordeman’s music with a new perspective. “I think that anyone who has children would agree that it is not just about you anymore. For a long time as a songwriter, it was more about me and my struggles. It was about my journeys, my questions, peaks and valleys. People seem to have connected with that on a certain level because the songs were so personal. When you have a child, it just turns everything upside down in so many ways. Primarily you realize that the world does not revolve around me. My heart revolves around this little person. I think you look at the world differently. You walk down the street and look differently at cars that go too fast. You grocery shop differently, and every single part of your life is changed by your focus on someone else. When I began to write songs for the record Brave, I was writing more universally about people’s experience. It wasn’t just me anymore,” Nordeman said.
The song “What If,” first recorded for Brave and now appearing on Recollection, concerns the continual dialog between Nordeman and a non-Christian friend, as relates to their beliefs about religion and politics. Nordeman feels the song has often been misinterpreted and misused by those in the Christian community. “It is almost as though it is used as ammunition, ‘Do you want to be the one feeling the fiery flames of hell? I wouldn’t want to take that chance.’ That type of evangelism always rubs me the wrong way. I never intended for that song to be like, ‘Good luck, but if you’re wrong, it sucks to be you.”
When she performs the song live, Nordeman said it is important to her that she takes time to talk to her audience about the importance of dialoguing with people who do not share her faith. “How important is it to intentionally have people in your life who do not know Christ? It is not so you can get extra brownie points, taking credit for their salvation experience at some point down the road. It is because it sharpens me to have this friend in my life. It forces me to go back to the Bible. It forces me to be thoughtful about what I am saying, and what I believe. I need to make sure that I am not just spewing out empty rhetoric that I have known all of my life. I think that it is really important to engage people who don’t speak that same safe language, rather than all the stuff that we get so wrapped up in,” said Nordeman.
“I didn’t see this record as an opportunity to showcase my finest moments in music. For me it is a transition record. It is more here is where I have been and here are some songs some of which are very familiar to a listening audience and some of which are a little lesser known and more personal to me. I put a couple of those guilty pleasures on there (the more personal songs) like “Is It Any Wonder,” said Nordeman.
Gratefully and reflectively she said, “Ten years in this industry in my opinion is an eternity. To have four studio projects and one live project under my belt is more than a lot of artists get to do during their careers.”
What lies ahead for the alto vocalist who thinks of herself as a songwriter first and a singer second? “I am not really sure what is next, but this is a comma or maybe a dot dot dot so I can take a breath, and take an inventory of where I have been. Then I can start thinking about what comes next and that’s not an answer that I have,” said Nichole Nordeman.
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.