Rough, Heavy & Unsettling: Our Interview With Norma Jean

Douglasville, Georgia-based Norma Jean have been a leading force on the metalcore genre for over two decades now, always finding ways to reinvent themselves at each recording. Frontman Cory Brandan Putman was kind enough to share some details about the band’s latest full-length album, Polar Similar.

According to the press release, the record is inspired by a tumultuous relationship that you’ve experienced many years ago. What made it appropriate to talk about those experiences now?
A few of the songs really touch on it and basically the theme was… What I really wanted to do was to write about abusive situations and relations. I just wrote about that from different perspectives and really I’m pretty disconnected from it, so I can kind of feel like something to talk about and get out there and try to use it in a positive way. It’s not something that’s negative in my life at all anymore. Trying to find things for people to relate to and being a musician is really important to me. It’s important for me to be open and honest about those things. It came out really cool, I think.

I was checking the National statistics on the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website and… one thing is to know that there are cases of domestic violence happening every day, and another thing is to be presented with the hard and cold truth of it all. Were you surprised by the statistics?
I was. When I looked them up, I went to and I recommend it to anybody that’s in an abusive relationship, if you might be the abuser, or maybe someone outside just looking in, go check this website because it’s amazing. They don’t request money or anything, is just a great organization. The statistics are all there and it’s pretty insane. I look them up when I was kind of writing about it and it really blew my mind. Like, every minute 24 people are stalked, abused, or controlled… that’s a crazy statistic. It’s 1 in 4 men and 1 in 3 women. It does really hold true to… being a man it’s not something you hear a lot of people talking about, but there are men out there in abusive relationships being controlled, being mentally, emotionally and physically abused… and women as well, of course.

There’s even people who are economically controlled and abused.
Absolutely! The control is a big part of it. That’s one the biggest things that I think is good for people to know. People that are in an abusive relationship, for lack of being able to explain it better, are in love and they don’t know, necessarily, that they’re kind of this dark place because they get kind of drugged there against their will. And they don’t know that’s happening slowly over time. They think that things can change and things can get better if they do this or that. I think it’s really important for people to know that sometimes you might not know you’re there. One of the songs on the record deals with me getting out of that situation and realizing that I was with an abusive person. Once I was out of that it’s kind of like seeing the light, coming out of a cave that you’ve been in for a few years. You get out and it’s like, “Wow, what was I doing in there?” That’s one of the most important things that I think people can take away from it.

Does the album’s title, Polar Similar, comes from “polar opposites”?
Yeah, pretty much. It comes from that idea. It’s something that you hear every day, it’s cliché, and everyone says it about everything. I kind had this idea, when I was thinking of that I imagined two poles and I thought, “Why there are two poles?” If you have this planetary figure and two poles coming out of each side, meaning polar opposites… I kind of thought, “Where’s the rest of the pole? Where does it go? They probably meet in the middle.” And if don’t meet in the middle, they’re not exacting the same pole they are at least similar, they’re close, and even being opposite sides of this planet makes them similar in a way that there are both on either side of the planet. You can find so many similarities, I think it’s actually a truer form is that polar meaning different but similar. And I like the idea of finding that, especially in this climate where everybody is pointing fingers at everybody else and nobody wants to look at themself. I think that’s a really important thing. I wanted to make that kind of connection visually and really from there can just be kind of interpreted anyway people want.

On the track, “II. The People”, you’re using an old broadcast from The Lincolnshire Poacher, a shortwave numbers station believed to be operated by the British Secret Intelligence Service. What message were you trying to pass with that message?
There wasn’t really a message except that… that kind of goes more into an artistic thing. In the studio there was this very creepy kind of old vibe about it and we really changed the record once we got there. It’s called Pachyderm Studio, it’s where Nirvana made In Utero, Failure made Comfort there, Live made Throwing Copper there… so, all these really cool records came from out of this place. The house that’s on the property we stayed in has a pool room in it, and it’s every echoy, big chamber. We loved the sound of it so we pulled amps in there, and we tracked there any kind of reverby guitars on the record you can hear that room because we recorded in there. Anyway, one of the guitar parts on that track was recorded in there and it has this tone that happens at the end [starts singing] that goes kind of back and forth and it reminded Goose [guitarist Clayton “Goose” Holyoak] of the numbers station somehow. So he pulled it up on his phone, ‘cause he had heard it before, and he send it to the assistant engineer. He pulled the file up and just dragged it to the front. Didn’t edit anything and it matched perfectly. It’s the exact same notes that the guitar was playing and it was completely accidental. We kind of saw it as a sign and we decided that it had to be there. That’s really where that story comes from and why we used it.

Funny that it has just a sonic connection. I actually interpreted it as a “secret” message from you to everyone that has been abused.
See, that’s why music is so cool. Because it’s meant to be interpreted differently by everyone and it always happen. I hear stories just like you just told me from all of our fans. It’s a cool thing because… you know, it was like meant to be. A lot of time what Norma Jean do is we will do something because we feel like we’re supposed to or it happens like that story I just told you with the shortwave radio, and we apply meaning to it instead of the other way around. I find that to work a lot better. I think it’s cool that you get that from that. That’s why I often don’t like to explain what songs are about or what titles mean because people will find better meanings that I had for them.

I guess we can say that Polar Similar is divided in four chapters – “I. The Planet”, “II. The People”, “III. The Nebula”, and “IV. The Nexus”. Why did you decide to divide it in four different chapters? Could you please break it down?
I wanted to tell a big common story, but I didn’t want it to be just one story. The abuse part of it is a part of it, but it’s not really the whole record. There are so many bigger things that I wanted to talk about, so dividing that up to me made sense to kind of show that there’s different things happening, and it fits with in the polar similar things like these are all different parts of a record but they are all on the same record. Again, people can kind of take that and interpret it however they want.

After writing the album and getting all out, how did you feel?
I was… pretty angry for a lot of years. I found that I was angry at a lot of people that I shouldn’t been to. I was never violent or anything, but I saw the effects of abuse through me. When someone is abused they typically will abuse themselves or others around them. So, I kind of found that I was more or less abusing myself – drinking, sleeping around, and just not being good to myself. It really took a little time to heal but… that’s the thing, it really is just making a mental decision. Obviously your heart wants to do something, but if you don’t follow that with your mind and actual make the decision and change nothing is going to change. And I think people can think that they will do something into existence and they can feel things into existence… it’s just not true. That was a big revelation for me realizing that and wanting to change… being able to admit that to you know even, without having to think about it. It’s not something I ever wanted to talk about before. I think it’s important for me to talk about it now. It can be used for good. Otherwise it’s just sitting there and nothing is being done with it. That’s kind of annoying to me. [laughs] I want something to happen. I want there to be a kind of reaction, something hopefully good to come out of it.

Words: Tiago Moreira // Photo: Rachel Putman – Polar Similar is out now via Solid State Records.
You can also read the interview here:

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