Provided by Paul Keeble
WARREN BROWN: A few years ago Larry Norman had a reputation for being radical and abrasive but the new Larry Norman seems to be a lot less contentious and a lot more contented with what he's doing. Is that a fair observation?
LARRY NORMAN: I was unhappy, so much so that I couldn't even smile on stage, and I think that my inability to release myself emotionally during my concerts made me seem very repressed spiritually. But it wasn't a spiritual problem, it was an emotional problem. It was a romantic problem. I had a lot of problems in my home life and although it didn't keep me from reading the Bible or studying Christianity it kept me from being able to express it with any emotions at all. It became more of an abstract intellectual exercise, as far as my communicating to anyone else. Today I would never write a song like 'Nightmare' but at that time Nightmare' was about as emotional as I could get. So today I smile on stage (and if I seem warmer) it's only because when you're dead you're cold and I'm no longer dead.
WARREN BROWN: You must enjoy doing concerts in Australia. This is your sixth trip here and your third concert in Brisbane in 18 months. It's obvious that Australian audiences love to see you perform because you're still getting a lot of people to your concerts. What is it about Australia that you like? Is it that you're more accepted over here than perhaps America?
LARRY NORMAN: I like the pioneer spirit of Australia. In this way, maybe I feel Australian or some of you might feel American in your international perspective. I know that some people believe the Australian to be provincial but there is a pioneering attitude that comes from your inheritance, from your grandparents and their parents. You've had to come to this country just like we in America had to go to a country of obstinate weather conditions and land conditions and you had to beat the country to survive and explore really long distances of unchartered territory and this wilfulness and singlemindedness has given the Australian not so much patience, because Americans are impatient, but there's a longsuffering endeavour, the long-range endeavour of surviving. We Americans were outcasts and religious rejects and political prisoners too, but we weren't put into America imprisoned. We were chased off to America because the Europeans believed America was worse than prison, I guess, and it may have seemed like it at first with the bitter winters on the East Coast and the Indians not wanting to share their land and buffalo and stuff, which seems right to me, and you also have aboriginals which is like our Indians. They were completely acclimatised to surviving and you weren't and you unfortunately slaughtered them as we slaughtered our Indians. They're a beaten race with problems with alcohol just like our Indians. There are a lot of parallels really.
WARREN BROWN: What albums have you got coming out and could you give us an idea of what they're going to be like?
LARRY NORMAN: I've just given an album called 'Quiet Night' to Australia and a retrospective called 'Down Under But Not Out' to Kevin Smith for the On Being Magazine. I've got another album called 'Behind The Curtain' which might be ready this year. Then I've got other albums which I will be releasing in other countries. I haven't released anything in England for years. There's an album called 'Europa'. I don't know if I should release all the albums one at a time to all the countries at the same time or if I should release the albums at different stages to different countries. I don't know. I'm an artist and I've made a lot of "paintings" and I don't know which paintings I should put out so I'm putting out different "paintings" in different countries. Later on, the other countries will catch up with the other "paintings".
WARREN BROWN: We mentioned earlier the new Larry Norman has mellowed a little. Do you think your music is mellowing as well or is it still rock 'n roll?
LARRY NORMAN: I think that I have mellowed a little, happiness does that to you and my softer songs are softer still because they're more positive but the harder songs are even harder than before. The sounds are harsh and the drums are more driving but the lyrics are more scriptural. So I'm using a lot more scripture. I'm trying to increase the potency of the medicine on the lyrical level and not talk so much about culture and society as I have in the past because society alters its intensities but not its sins. So cultures change but men's hearts remain very similar generation after generation. So my music is a lot more scripturally based and Biblical, even in the choice of words.
WARREN BROWN: Talking about your lyrics, I've always considered your lyrics to be brilliantly constructed and I was wondering if you could perhaps just pass on some things to our songwriters in Australia that you think of when you're constructing your lyrics.
LARRY NORMAN: To discuss the technique of writing:- first of all, you should be willing not to write. You should not be writing to be popular or commercial or to make money. You should be writing only if you have something to say. If you have something to say think about what it is and try to absorb the real colour and emotion of your concept first and then begin to write words that in a way surround that concept and without describing your idea on a propagandistic level. Instead of saying "Jesus is the Son of God" say something like "the warmth of the son brings life to the earth". Set up a metaphor and allegory so you touch upon the properties of Christ as both man and God in a poetic way instead of saying Jesus is God's son and if you don't accept Him you're going to burn. You might want to talk about "the Son brings warmth" and mightn't even want to talk about burning. Second, after you know what you want to say, do not settle for the rhyme pattern that comes to your mind. Beat your lyrics into shape over a period of days and keep editing and eliminating your ideas until you're convinced that you've finally said what you want to say even if you've had to give up some clever lines. Sometimes you can throw in too many ideas in a song and you might impress other musicians with how clever your rhymes are or how many different allegories you can cram into one metaphor but you'll end up destroying the ambience of the song and the mood of the lyric. Instead of communicating you'll just be creating words that are all pasted and glued together with rhymes and pentameters or whatever structure you choose. You don't want anybody to see your stitches. You don't want anybody to see the tape marks. You want to try to create a seamless mood without any major flaws. Because we're human beings we never create anything that's perfect but our flaws don't need to be so glaring that they distract people from the message and the spirit of the message.
WARREN BROWN: Have you ever looked back on some of your old songs and said "this would have been better in there?"
LARRY NORMAN: I've written songs I think are so terrible - just the worst. I think 'Ha Ha World' - if I have to explain that again to somebody I'll scream. If you have to explain a song then you shouldn't record it. Although I think 'Nightmare' from 'So Long Ago The Garden' album is a lot clearer, it's still too obtuse for most people to understand so I shouldn't have recorded it. I should have changed the symbolism and made it a little easier to understand. I think 'Reader's Digest' is a bad song because it's too topical. It becomes immediately dated. A year later it was out of date. People say, 'Alice Cooper, who's that?" But another problem (and I feel really bad about this) is although it always got a laugh when I said "Dear John, who's more popular now?" (which people remember was a reference to John saying "the Beatles are more popular than Christ") and I said "I've been listening to some of Paul's records and I think sometimes he really is dead." (which referred to the Paul is dead rumour) - that's the only time I've been unkind in a lyric to anybody. I was angry with the John Lennon remark about Christ's popularity. But it's still not right for me to make anything a personal issue with anybody even if they're big enough and famous enough it doesn't bother them. It's not a charitable, lyrical thing to do. So I regretted that.