As a part of the sixth annual Porch Stomp season, we're working with Beehive Productions, NYC Ferry and Blue Point Brewery to bring you a series of videos featuring artists spanning the gamut of NYC folk scene (and then some). Check out our blog every month for new videos and interviews with artists, and be sure to follow us on instagram: @porchstomp and Facebook: Porch Stomp
We're excited to dig into the archives and share a video we shot in 2017 but never had the chance to share. Graham Norwood had been a staple of the NYC songwriter scene for years before we'd met at the Syntax Opera Open Mic in Denver, Colorado. In fact, when I returned to New York from tour later that spring, it had seemed as though I was the last person on earth to find out about his brilliance as a vocalist, guitarist and composer. Regardless, he was an incredible addition to the Porch Stomp community until he departed New York in 2018 for the Bay Area.
Rather than profess on Graham's genius any further, I invite you to read the interview questions below and check out more of his music available at his website linked here. See him performing "Lazarus Avenue" below live on Governors Island.
Tell us about your experience on the NYC Music Scene
I started playing in my first band in NYC, the Wheelies, early in 2004. Our rehearsal space was on Lorimer between Union and Metropolitan, and you used to have to step over nodded out people on the sidewalks in those days. I guess Williamsburg has changed a little. Over the years, I’ve played dozens of venues in a whole bunch of different projects, and had he good fortune to meet and play with a ton of amazing people along the way. One thing I love about New York — and miss now that I’ve moved to the SF Bay Area - is just the sheer volume of geniuses, weirdos, and other fascinating people. This city contains multitudes, no doubt. I do think the size of things makes it a bit tougher to find and/or create a ‘scene,’ but it’s certainly possible, as the PorchStomp community demonstrates. I’d say that, on the average, NYC crowds are a bit tough to impress. I think that’s a good thing. The folks that go to see live music in this city have seen it all, and you do have to raise your own bar a bit if you’re going to make an impression. I think that’s healthy. It’s just part of the deal when you live in a city where, just to use an example from my own neighborhood in Gowanus, a legendary Guinean guitar player plays every Wednesday to a crowd of 15-20 at Barbès partly because it’s a well-kept secret and partly because there are so many other gigs one can go to on a given night. (Seriously, though — go check out Mandingo Ambassadors already, you heathen.) New York isn’t a ‘music town’ per se — it’s an everything town, and that includes some of the best, most fun, most innovative, most authentic, most progressive music on earth. Go see some of it!
How did you fall into the Porch Stomp community and what was your experience like?
Nick and I actually met at an open mic in Denver, Colorado, when I was living there and he [and his duo Nick and Luke] were just passing through. We exchanged info, but I wasn’t sure we’d connect again. So I was thrilled to get an invite to play at PorchStomp in 2017. I recall that, when the day of the concert came around, my girlfriend and I left our apartment in an absolutely torrential downpour. I thought to myself, “well, there’s surely no way anyone is going to brave this nonsense to schlep all the way out to Governor’s Island!” But the weather soon cleared, leading to one of those perfect ‘after the storm’ summer days, and I was astounded by how many people had indeed made the trip out. It’s hard to describe the vibe: the rain had saturated the ground and there was this sense that we had stepped into an alternate reality where the sounds of modern technology had been left behind and all you could hear were birds and people and acoustic instruments. Even though the festival was spread over a pretty large area, geographically speaking, the vibe was consistent no matter where you walked on the island. It felt like a little secret community that we had fallen into. I think everyone in attendance shared a similar sense of wonderment, wandering from porch to porch and performance to performance and just enjoying the stroll and the tunes. The combination of the setting and the assembled performers and audience members really does create a magical vibe — something I hope to get back to in 2020!
Where do you find inspiration as a writer and singer?
For better and sometimes for worse, I have one of those brains that can’t resist taking music apart. I can’t hear a song without pulling apart the structure and chord sequence. For that matter, I can’t hear a singer without imagining myself singing the same song, thinking about the choices being made, where the breathing happens, the way words are pronounced or phrased, etc. I’ve always been analytical about music, and I’ve also always been extremely curious — trying constantly to find new sounds and textures even as I double back to the stuff that’s meant the most to me over the years. Being such a musical omnivore means that I’m constantly internalizing stuff and being influenced by it, even when I’m not actively seeking inspiration. My philosophy has always been to listen and digest as widely as possible, and to trust that it will all go for a spin in the inner blender and somehow come out reconstituted and reflective of me. Even when I deliberately try to nick something from another artist, it somehow seems to get filtered through all my other influences and experiences. Somehow, it still seems to come out as mine, even if its original form is still recognizable as well. I do think that the gold standard for artists is to do something with an instantly recognizable personal identity. Prince played around with a lot of different genres, but he (He?) never failed to sound like Prince. So for me, the most inspirational artists tend to be the people I can recognize immediately, the people with the most obvious sonic signature. ....
Sometimes that means the artist has a very specific production style and works within a specific genre. Sometimes it means they have a particular way of pronouncing certain sounds. There are lots of ways to create a unique sound. But the people I love the most — Prince, Dylan, Bowie, Kate Bush, etc. — are the people who can retain their uniqueness in a wide array of different musical settings. That’s incredibly inspirational to me. In terms of songwriting...I tend to write from my own experiences. I admire people who can take a more novelistic approach to songwriting, but when I try to write for other characters, it always feels a bit forced to me. Maybe I’ll get there eventually, but for now, I’m most effective writing from what I know. I like the wordplay of, say, Elvis Costello; but I also like the more poetical imagery of somebody like Leonard Cohen or mid-60s Dylan. I also think, as Dylan exemplifies, that you can write your influences into your songs directly sometimes. Sometimes being unique is a matter of how you do the collage of the things you like, rather than being truly sui generis. At the end of the day, for what I want to accomplish musically over the rest of my life, the main thing is that I want to keep finding new influences and casting a wider and wider net. I think it’s important never to close yourself off to new sounds or ideas. I also believe that anything and everything can be an inspiration. So I try to keep my ears open and to pounce every time an idea strikes. Not all ideas are good, but all of them deserve at least a cursory investigation.
Feel free to check out more of Graham's doings at his website : https://grahamnorwoodmusic.com/
Special thanks to Jeff and Sue for their work shooting Porch Stomp Presents live from Governors Island.