BETWEEN THE LINER NOTES
Bebo Norman: The Family Guy
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
NASHVILLE -- With a new record label, fresh ideas, and a renewed commitment to his music, Bebo Norman, a 700 Club favorite, released his self-titled album this past fall.
The self-titled project is rooted in the tuneful sensibilities of comparable artists like James Taylor and John Mayer; all the while, confidently stretching the musical arrangements to his worshipful melodies.
CBN.com program director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Norman to discuss the new project, a new kind of tension that influences his songwriting, and the transition from being a self-proclaimed “single guy” to married family man.
You are working on a new studio project set to release in coming days. Tell me about it.
We have kind of taken a different approach with it. We have kind of split this record into halves which has been kind of a cool thing. It is a sort of new approach where I wrote about eight or nine songs and we picked our favorite five. I have always just written and that is what we recorded. Some of those that didn’t make the top five list, we would go back and re-address why they didn’t make it and then try to make them better. We would disregard some all together. But we recorded the first five, mixed them, everything. It was like one little record. And then we would go back and I would write for about another month, come up with eight or nine more, and then go back in and record the second half of it.
Why did you make the decision to approach the recording process as you did?
I think mainly just to give myself some breathing room. A lot of times when you go in to make a record it is so intense. You get your head down and you get so deep into it that you kind of lose your ears a little bit. You just get so oversaturated with hearing everything. With this, we went into these five and then stepped back from them readdressed whatever holes we may have missed in terms of what other new songs we could write and sort of went from there.
Are the songs you have been working on since your last album a reflection of your spiritual growth during that period?
Oh yeah. I don’t really know how to write unless I am writing out of my experience on some level. Certainly, everything I have experienced, from marriage to fatherhood to relationships to being on the road to culture, it is all filtered through what I believe and through my faith. There is no way around it for me for it not to be some reflection. Uniquely, this record is kind of written about the things I am seeing around me in the relationships that are closest to me. There are fewer songs that are written directly from my personal experience except for the idea that they are from my personal experience of living life with someone who is experiencing some things. There is definitely some turmoil and some tension happening in terms of the lives of some of the people around me. Some of it is sickness. Some of it is struggling marriages. Some of it is addiction.
Your whole vibe used to be that you were the “single guy”. Then you got married and that tension went away. So, based on what you just said I have to assume you are looking for something new to provide the tension.
(laughs) That is actually the truth. It’s funny because there is a certain part of me in the last three, four, or five years that has been in a real peaceful place. I had never written from that place before and I really have always written with a certain amount of tension as a single man for a lot of years writing about my insecurities as a believer, my insecurities as a musician, the loneliness that came with being on the road all the time – so it is interesting that the focus has sort of shifted to the tension that I see around me as opposed to the tension from within me. It is interesting to me that I am still a magnet to the tension. I don’t know how to write the happy, happy, joy songs.
Has that been your greatest challenge in making this latest record?
Yes, probably so. Honestly, because my life in the last three or four years has become so relationship driven, meaning marriage does that, it has been a beautiful catalyst in my life. Falling in love with my wife was like taking a long drink of water. I didn’t realize how barren relationally I had been and how desolate it was. I was with people all the time but I was very much alone and had let any real sense of community sort of lapse. My marriage and falling in love with my wife became this catalyst for narrowing my life down to a few intense friendships and community. Because of that, when you live in community with people you live their burdens for them and with them.
Changing gears, the album “Myself, When I am Real” is sort of the watershed album for you professionally and personally. It is the one that really put you on the map. You also met the woman who would become your wife during this period. Would you agree that this album was a turning point for you?
I would completely agree with that. That record was written in a particular season and it is almost like God responded to the calls and to the cries of that record. In terms of providing, you are exactly right. For example, I knew my wife when I wrote the song “When the Trees Stand Still” but we weren’t even remotely dating. It was written for her but I didn’t even know it. Literally, when I was touring with that record was when my wife and I started dating.
Several years ago you performed in our CBN studios. I remember that performance for two reasons – number one, you are a great storyteller and you relate well to the audience; and number two, a lot of young, single women were clambering for your attention. Has your audience changed over the years?
I think it has definitely changed but that is part of the challenge for me right now. I don’t mean challenge in a bad way. In a lot of ways it has changed because I am not 22 years old anymore. I just turned 35 and I think in a lot of ways my audience has grown older with me. They have got kids now and are 15 years into a career. I am 13 years into this music thing which is crazy. But I think part of the challenge is the idea that a lot of the subject matter of what I write about really speaks to my audience and people my age but I think it also really has a voice within the twenty-something age group. My goal on this record has been to make the music match the tension of those lyrics a little bit better. This decision has made it a little more of an aggressive record and a little bit darker. This theme is a little bit more fitting for the twenty-something audience.
You are the proud papa of a little boy. How has fatherhood changed you?
Everything I say about fatherhood will probably sound clichéd but they are clichés for a reason – like your capacity to love. Where marriage was the catalyst for me, focusing my life on a handful of relationships, which by the way is really the way Jesus lived his life too. We, in this mass marketed world that we live in sometimes falls victim to this idea that we have got to be big and be out there when really, Jesus Christ by example calls us to live in community and let that community affect the world. If everyone in the church was living in their own corner of the world, this world would be covered if they were living effectively in those relationships. My son has been an extension of that in a dramatic way. He reminds me of my capacity to serve someone else before myself. Because serving him has been a catalyst for me it is a catalyst for me serving my wife and a handful of relationships. Writing these songs is me serving those people in my life by writing songs from their perspective. It is interesting that I am writing songs that are less from my own perspective and more from trying to understand the perspective of these people that I am in a relationship with. So, even my songs are less about me. I think that is a good thing.
Final question, what is God showing you these days?
Oh man, I usually define what is on my heart by what I end up writing about. The thing that tends to be a sort of recurring theme in these new songs is trying to figure out that rub between what we are promised and even what we see glimpses of in that peace with the realities that this world is a hard place to live in. How do you live in between those spaces? In light of that you try to figure out what faith really looks like. What does that mean as a believer to live by faith? A friend of mine said to me recently that we can try to define faith all we want but my favorite definition of faith is that it is a desperate clinging to Christ. I thought that was just a beautiful picture in the midst of things like addiction, cancer, marital struggles, and relational strife. Even in the midst of things like peace and hope, we get these beautiful glimpses of a beautiful world and a beautiful God. The idea of just clinging to Christ in the middle of those things really defines what faith really is. That is probably the thing that I am being taught the most because that is the thing I seem to be writing about the most.
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* Some material used courtesy of BEC Recordings
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