TuneDig is an in-depth and informed conversation between two lifelong friends about the power of music — one album at a time.

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Episode 009

Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child

Norma Jean

Local scenes are forces of nature, catching fire and burning out as people come and go. We kick off season 2 close to home, looking back at a scene stoked by an abrasive, electric mess of a thing from little ol’ Douglasville, Georgia, setting our unsuspecting Southern hometown all ablaze. Guess you had to be there.

Transcript

Note: our transcripts are mostly AI-generated for now. 

Episode 009: Norma Jean's "Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child": Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

Episode 009: Norma Jean's "Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child": this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

You're listening to TuneDig, a podcast for music lovers. The premise is simple: in each episode, we dig deep into an album we love and then we give away a copy to you of that album on vinyl. Go to TuneDig.com To see what's up for grabs and learn more about us.

Today we're talking about Norma Jean's "Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child".

This is definitely one of those welcome into the secret society type of records, you and a bunch of guys were way into this band and we're going to see them way before I was. And it was a few years like kind of in high school for me. I remember it plain as day. I was tired and it was angry. I was angsty and I had a long drive to somewhere and it was a real cold night. And I drove with all the windows down and for whatever reason decided to pop in my burned CD copy of it. Heat up, windows down, bitter cold outside. And that snare hit happened. And by the end of that two minutes, it was the same thing. It was like, I get it now. It's that abrasion and it just kind of warms you up and in its own way about.

Memphis will be laid to waste was just if you could bear hardcore, you had to like that song and you had to know it and you had to know the lyrics. And as comparatively formulaic as it is to the other songs that are on this record, it's still great.

It's got all these lines that are just so repeatable, the pre breakdown and the breakdown. Right. It's got two different ones that got crowds going for years and years. You can't beat mediocrity is the killer. It doesn't even have to mean anything. I'm 16. I don't need new nuance. I want to break everything. Appleby's people are boring. I mean, that's what they're really saying when they say stuff like that. It's a there were a lot of lines in the sand.

I mean, it's all just rock cliches as we get older. But we just have this interesting, unusual, weird vehicle that's kind of regionally specific to us, like all we had punk. That's why I think it's important for us to talk about this record, because it doesn't necessarily get surface globally the way some other scenes do.

Right. Like when we when we did that Husker Du album, you could tell that Zen Arcade was an album for a lot of people that hit them right at that. Just I'm ready to have something new and different hit me, because so many of the responses and messages that we got from people were like, you weren't there in nineteen eighty four in Minnesota.

You'll never really get this record like that, which I appreciate it a lot. Yeah. We, we got a lot of you guys are kind of missing the point. I'm like, all right, point well taken. So for me this is one of those records, this is our Zen Arcade with an easier to follow concept, but also very similarly recorded in a fairly short amount of time live in a room. So there is that same urgency. And so that's an interesting common thread as well.

So going back to Memphis, like you've got Aaron Wise from me without you coming in to do a spoken word thing on the song and like me without you is its own incredible band, making a ton of great music but in their own right. So Nourredine, to me, without you recorded a split before this album came out. Right. With a couple of different variations of two songs off of this record for Norma Jean, the combination of having Aaron Weiss come in and do this like weird, energetic, Aaron used to call it hollering anyway to hear him come in and kind of do this poetry over the backdrop of this like super kind of crushing post hardcore sound that they would have was just unlike anything else that was happening and unlike anything a lot of us had ever heard.

Welcome slam dance poetry.

The order of songs on this record is great because the very first song snare really loud noise and then it hits, then it comes on like a roar.

Dude, I don't know what.

And then it hits this groove that they do on this record. I know that they were inspired by bands like ISIS and like boccie, but they created this groove that people would keep trying to imitate. Honestly, Norma Jean themselves would keep trying to imitate over the years. But it was this combination of that heavy guitar tone with whatever it is that Daniel Davidson was doing. But there was something different and particularly unique about this interplay between we've got Josh Cogan's approach to vocals and the Daniel Davidson's approach to drums, I used to think Skogen was super cheesy and I liked his bands in spite of him.

I really, really respect over the years that he's like a he's a true artist in so many ways and he's trying to make things that don't exist and have a voice and express himself in the world.

I mean, they basically invented the break down that bands would continue to use for the next five years and just try to play in songs over and over again. But again, had a really hard time replicating because Skogen had a nuanced vocal delivery.

There were two parts to the move. Right. And the breakdown is really the the thing that became such a signature, a vocal part, was they took something really simple and impressionistic and visual, honestly, something real jailable, but in a different way than like old school punk bands. Right. Where that was more a rallying cry. This was more post-modern, like a like an excerpt of poetry. But then they did this really beautiful thing that nobody else was ever quite as good at, where a breakdown was just like the wheels coming off. It wasn't just about slowing it down and doing the same thing. Halftime, which is what the cookie cutter movie became. Right. But this band in this moment, the pieces just fell apart, like the flower just kind of wilted. And there's some of that on this record. But when they would do it live and I think Skogen took it to its logical extreme and the chariot and really made it part of the sound on the records. It was ugly and and never quite in concert, but it was all just tight enough that you knew that that's what was happening on this.

Whatever that thing was connected with my person in a way, in a way that I have, I wanted to extend myself into my CD player and just like be a part of whatever that sound was. Yeah. And then to do it, come back in and then do it again.

Slow down n.

There was something about the way that that Daniel kept hitting the snare in a particular way and they would create this groove that and I really want to say that was a Southern thing and maybe that's it felt that way, something that we all maybe over attributed in retrospect.

But the swing was something that the northern bands and especially the Pacific Northwest bands weren't weren't really doing. But that's such a component of Davison's natural feel. And you go on to hear some of his more recent stuff, like when he played with Colorable from Mississippi. Or even when he played with Every Time I die. He introduced sounds to both of those bands that he owned, the thing that they already had, he had swing in the way that in like that Buddy Rich way, like real manic, real, real hard hitting like that dude plays Bonzo hard. This band was sort of so boneheaded and such a wall of sound for a long time that it was hard to appreciate what he was doing back there. But you go back and you look and we've talked about this a lot of times, 15 years of Daniel Davidson's career arc. And you're like, this guy was really on to something that he was doing, something different from the time he was very young. And there's something about that that really needs to be acknowledged.

Most drummers even now in this type of a scene would focus on adult work or subgroups. In more technical or progressive types of music, like even the symbol work, but on this record, the snare and Toms created the mood that almost like set the palette that was needed for all of this noise.

It's very tribal. It's very primal. But it's interesting that you're right. It is totally different than what other people were doing in that way.

There's no way that the vibe that they made was intentional. But somehow it just it's always so creepy feeling.

It feels like the cover of the record. That is one of the things that continued for a long time with them was really strong art direction. I mean, the next record. Oh, God got nominated for a Grammy for the the packaging. But again, it wasn't like they were trying to be too visual or anything like that. Like it created a vibe like you couldn't necessarily really articulate. But it was like it was creepy. It was weird. Do you have a favorite song on this record or is it always put it on start to finish for you?

Shotgun message is one always worth calling out the shortest song in just channels more of like that early 20s Dillinger and Converge feel at the beginning. I mean, there are a lot of kind of Mathie parts in this record anyway, which I love, but they're not usually done at like a faster speed. So there's that and then on the other side of it is pretty soon, I don't know what, but something is going to happen, just this 15 minute long epic of a thing. There's this crazy riff that it drops into like two minutes in and then you get to about eight minutes and they do this thing where they just chant on and on on top of it.

I like sometimes it's our mistakes, so sometimes it's our mistakes that make for the greatest ideas.

Even though I love the abrasiveness of this record, I love the weird spookiness of that song. There's just there's a solitude to this record in a lot of ways, just kind of being in your own headspace, in a dark room with a big ceiling. So. But it's just really interesting because it's got such a mellow, watery vibe, but he still chooses to scream harshly over it, but it all just really works. And I just get that refrain of congratulations in my head at least once a week. But the record goes a lot of places, it's the long song, and then I think the shotgun message is immediately after and then it goes into sometimes our mistakes. So that three punch sequence is interesting and kind of courageous. And again, it's probably one of those things that they didn't put a whole mess of thought into, but it works really, really well. They didn't necessarily put all those dynamics into a song, but song into song and a song, that's where you sort of get dynamics. So it's hard to listen to the song, the songs at a song level, because the context of the record is so important. And the contrast of one thing against another thing works really brilliantly.

Yeah, and that song was a great example to write because that it ends with he just as a fortunate one and then it fades out.

And then the next song I say, cell phones now, I hate car accidents is just like a field recording to start with. And then just you just get, like, weird symbol to start it off and then you come back in like nothing was happening at all.

I even later in the same song, two and a half minutes in, you get weird chants, kind of a chorus of seeming men singing some kind of weird stuff. Base is so loud during that part and he subwoofers in my car, and it was just a great way to experience it because it was just insanely loud, that weird mid-range base that would vibrate everything in your car.

Yeah. Yeah. Oh, God, what keys do I have loose, like, what's in the side pocket of my car door?

And then, you know, in the song after that, creating something out of nothing only to destroy it again. We got these kind of Mathie elements. The song is an 11 eight, the good part of the time. And then you get Daniel Davidson, break it down into this little kind of Tom build up. And then they just say, like bringing a knife to a gunfight over and over.

Oh, so many times it always got the pig going.

I rather not show up.

But that was a good example of the tribal drums, like it was just primal. I mean, it was just raw release in that break down.

They went through it until you think it's about time to end it. They kind of stop and then you just hear the bass go, oh, my God, I'm not. And it had all these weird, interesting moments that you wouldn't normally get from hardcore record, there were a ton of them on that song that we just talked about. You get down to the human face, Divine, and then you get to this part where he's just growling flawless and people are just clapping.

When I think about this record, the older I get, the more I think of it like this, it was young people that had nothing going on around them. They wanted to be different. And a whole bunch of bands came after them and tried to sound like them. But they missed the point because it was more of an attitude than a sound.

The closest thing that I know of that sounds like this record is the Red Sea from ISIS, as the eyes can see.

You pointed out we were watching live videos before we started recording the live videos on YouTube or so hysterical because it's like those lights on at the rec center videos and nobody's doing anything types of situations and they're just going nuts under full light. But the thing that struck me that you said was there's basically no pedals other than a tuner was just like, let's just get it right and make it loud and weird and let's just go for it. They barely take a breath on this record, even though they take a long stretch in the middle of the record. It's still very intense. It's it's catharsis without the tension and release. So it's very different than ISIS in that way. I would say the other touch point and the one that people that didn't like this band or what they were meant always talked about was boccie was we are the Romans. And sound, it was ISIS for sure, but in style and structure, it was definitely boccie.

Well, you know, you mentioned at the beginning this. And of oddness of a Christian hardcore scene, and this is very much a part of that, but that that has its own story like so this album came out in 2002 on Solid-State, right. Just two, three, four years before that, Zao was releasing albums about suicide, depression, things like that. And because they were known as coming from a Christian hardcore scene, they were having trouble just playing at normal venues, getting on normal bills and and actually hitting the opposite kind of of what you would expect. Like normally you think about something like Christian Hardcore and you imagine a very insular situation of keeping out bad influences. And that was definitely a part of it. Right. But on the other hand, it took pioneering to have anyone who would even identify with a Christian movement to be a part of something that was specifically not. And so it took work like Zio to enable something like Bless the Martyr, to have the type of impact that it would so that a scene could blossom and just be southern hardcore. And we could nod to and understand the fact that a lot of these lyrics are heavily Christian.

To me, that was just like it never added up to me that these people could contain multitudes, you know, because Johnny Cash could make 40 gospel records, but then could also shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. And like all of country music, all of this other Southern music from a generation ago that our parents grew up with had that dissonance. There was alcoholism and cheating and like all all of the bad stuff and the demons, but then all of the worship. So it was weird that there was so much cognitive dissonance with people looking in upon the scene from the outside, because all of those things make sense because you just live with that as a person in the south all the time. And there's always that tension and it's so present that it just it really makes sense in that way.

And it's worth pointing out that we can collect a lot of the bands who were in that kind of middle area between scenes, and a lot of them were on Solid-State. And it's easy to talk about Solid-State as if it were more of the cause than the enablement. A lot of the reason why there became this separatist approach to music and culture was because there was a very intentionally created subculture throughout the 80s and 90s, and there was an actual attempt to create a separate culture that was marked and separated off from other people that weren't allowed to be there. And so you've got things like Christian bookstores. The older I get, the more offensive it just that it exists for a small but important group of people. Those little stores became ways to get access to darker and crazier things that you wanted to be able to see while having implicit approval from parents, whatever kind of culture you were a part of. And Solid-State was a huge part of that. But Mom, I bought it from life. Exactly right. And there is like a giant solid-state rack that was always in those stores. And so records like this, by all measurements, a terrifying record. It sounds terrifying. The cover art is terrifying to this day. I like everything about it is strange. And similarly, I mean, I know that I am Hollywood from he is a legend. I know that that was purchased for me through a Christian bookstore by someone else, which in retrospect is so weird.

It is so weird.

So for every time we kind of talk about that, this music got collected in a label like Solid-State. We have to at the same time, I think, nod to the fact that that record label found a way to break artists into a subculture that was nearly impossible to get into in any other way. They were almost exclusively riding that line, finding a way to connect just like a larger hardcore scene or in tooth and nail, like a larger emo scene, indie scene and that sort of thing. Like they did this for a lot of artists. Honestly, people like me owe them a debt of gratitude for exposing me to bands like that, because there was there was an easier entry point for me because as much of a a metal aficionado as I've become and was at the time, I was still and still to this day, I'm not a huge fan of like the Gore parts of the subculture. I understand violence as a motif artistically. And there are some bands like Nail's who talk about violence as a motif. I get that and I appreciate that and I like some of that. But there's definitely a line, you know, when cover art is just illustrated, violence, it's not fun to me. And so to be able to. Find a sound like this and go through it and go honestly in both directions, both historically and go back through ISIS and Fugazi and everything else and learn more about that, but then go forward and start to understand more about what sounds like this influenced was huge for me. This is just one of those things that has a really personal connection with us. And it's a record I love to share with people who haven't heard it because it was so celebrated here and still is. You can still go to pretty much any bar in East Atlanta and find somebody who wants to talk about this record with you or one of the guys that made this record chillin at the bar.

Yeah, totally.

It's worth bringing up is worth talking about one person who hasn't listened to it before.

It gives it a shot and tells us what they think of it. I want to hear somebody who is a full grown adult who is experiencing this record for the first time. I want to hear that person's feedback because it is so insular to us.

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ABOUT US

We're Cliff (left) and Kyle (right). We’re two dudes born and raised in ATL with day jobs in tech and entertainment, respectively.

We met in middle school, and in one way or another, music’s been the thing that’s kept us close for the two decades since — whether it’s sharing and talking about new music (like this podcast, except in our texts or over beers), going to shows, or working with our favorite record stores to help them survive and thrive.

We started TuneDig as a little art project that connects us more deeply ourselves and to the world through the infinite gift of music. We hope you’ll join us for the conversations, let us know what you think, and share discoveries of your own.

More About TuneDig

TuneDig began as a little something called MusicGrid.me, which we created after realizing there was no place online to directly exchange music recommendations with your friends. Our aim was simple: to make rating albums simple, useful, and social. We got some love from places like MashableWiredEvolver.fm, and Hypebot. We managed to foster conversation between music lovers, get thousands of reviews, and meet great people.

Along the way, we realized that record stores were an essential part of the music lovers’ community. After many a conversation about how we could helpfully connect them to the people who loved them, we began helping them leverage technology to create new revenue streams and embrace streaming services without giving up what’s unique to them: expertise and curation. (Long live the counter clerk who knows exactly which record will be the right introduction to jazz fusion!)

TuneDig is our vision to connect music lovers with the music they love, because no matter how much has changed in the way we discover and enjoy music, recommendations from people you trust and respect will always be the best way to find new music you’ll dig. With this podcast, we’re channeling the spirit of trusted curation pioneered by record stores, and bringing you something to take you deeper into music you can love.