Normanton Street are a four piece soul and hip hop band based in Brighton, UK. In their short life together as a band, they have just dropped a killer EP ‘Life’s Real’ and have played festivals such as South by South West and supported the likes of Talib Kweli.
The band comprises of Nicholson (bass, guitar and vocals) Ned (also on bass, guitar and vocals), Phoebe (vocals) and Nico (drums).
After watching recent performances at Nozstock and Echoes Bar. Harry Upton caught up with founders Ned and Nicholson to talk jazz drumming, the rise of video content for fans and what’s different about their new EP Life’s Real.
Thanks for your time, what have you been up to? Busy weekend?
Nicholson: Actually, this weekend was our first weekend in a very long time. It may be the only weekend for many to come where we don’t have much planned in terms of gigs or festivals, so kind of like a weekend off. But we were still planning a lot for this summer and putting some stuff together for the label QM records that we run and just general emailing and what not.
So a bit of an admin weekend then?
Nicholson: (Laughs) Yeah, I mean we still had a chance to go out, but we were busy though.
It’s been a crazy year for you right, what are some of the highlights?
Ned: Some of the highlights would be playing at SXSW in America was great, also we just released ‘Life’s Real’ so that’s a nice highlight which is gonna be real good. We also just announced a show at Concorde 2 in Brighton which is a bit of a prestigious venue here so that’s another one.
Nicholson: Another highlight would be when we got back from SXSW and released ‘Life’s Real’ we got featured in the Independent newspaper which was amazing.
So I know you guys grew up together, but can you tell me about the full band got together?
Nicholson: Yeah, we were a different line up at the beginning, it was myself and Ned and a fella called Jack who I went to university with and another local friend who we grew up with. We all finished university around 2011-2012 and just decided to move in together and we decided on Brighton. So when we moved down here we were all sort of making our own solo songs and we ended up moving to 1 Normanton Street in Brighton, so that is where the name comes from. We played for a couple of years and then around 2013 we met Phoebe (Vocals) and then started doing what we are still doing now.
Nice, so does everyone in the group now share similar tastes in music or is it varied?
Ned: We all bring different vibes and different energies I believe, some more like soul and stuff, some more like Hip Hop. Phoebe is a big soul head and she likes like jazz singers and stuff. Me and Nick like a lot of bass stuff, a bit of everything else as well, but like Wu-Tang and classic hip hop and the grime stuff that is going on now as well. Nico (Drums) is like a real jazz head, to be honest he’s into the more obscure like jazz people. Great jazz, but yeah he’s deep into it and that’s real cool.
So does he hold his drum sticks like a jazz drummer?
Ned: Yeah he’s got like jazz brushes, (laughs) but we are all jazz heads as well, I do like classic Jazz.
I’ve seen you a couple of times now but for those that haven’t seen you live, how do you describe your show?
Nicholson: At a live show we are trying to bring that funky vibe. The music I probably wouldn’t put it in the funk genre but some people do. If you come to a Normanton Street show I think you will see two types of people. Some people listen closely; nod their head, and then some people start to freak and start dancing. (Laughs) So bring your dancing shoes I guess!
But yeah, we are trying to bring a nice vibe, a nice soulful hip hop thing going on.
You guys do seem to have a good time while you are on stage, is there stuff that just kind of happens mid set?
Nicholson: Yeah, I mean we write a set list most of the time but ah sometimes different crowds, different vibe so we might spontaneously change something real quick. Sometimes we get it right, a couple times we might get it wrong but nevertheless there is still going to be a vibe in the room (laughs)
And when you guys sit down to write and record, how’s that process work?
Ned: There is no one in particular who kicks it off, it’s more like we all bring ideas to the table and just organically put it together. We could have like fragments of songs and then we get together and just jam to bring it together and sort of arrange it. It’s quite a collaborative effort.
You mentioned earlier the new EP – ‘Life’s Real,’ that’s just come out. Can you tell us about that? It’s a bit different to earlier EP’s?
Ned: Yeah man, the thing about ‘Life’s Real’ is that we recorded it in a studio in West London, so we had like a couple of engineers working with us, which was a first. It’s the first one that we didn’t do on our own I guess, so that really got an overview of the vibe more than anything. And we just got a chance to work with some sick producers - that was good. The balance is good as well, there are some real chilled out songs on there and a couple of upbeat ones. Then songs like ‘Angelene’, that were really quickly put together and formed by a vibe we had in our house. We had the song ready on New Year’s Eve and the energy was just so good that we recorded it. So it was a really fresh recorded song.
We’re really excited to have it out.
You also just released a video for ‘First Night’, yesterday if I am right. You seem to have lots of video content out there, do you find the visual side of music is more important these days?
Nicholson: 100%. As long as we’ve got free distribution of videos by way of YouTube and others, it just makes it incredibly easy and interactive for fans to get involved. We try and do it as much as we can. Most of the time we have quite a lot of input with the video so sometimes it’s just as fun as writing a song, we really enjoy it. We’ve got some good links and contacts that like working with us and vice versa so they’re a big part of what we do I think.
You mentioned briefly about the record label, so that is something that you two started?
Ned: Yeah, Nicholson and I started QM Records in 2013, funnily enough. We started it to release our own projects, in the end a lot of people wanted us to do residencies around Brighton, so we started doing nights instead under the QM banner. That has really progressed into a very valuable asset, we bring through a lot of up and coming artists. We’re going to start formalizing it as a proper label soon. We want to take it slow and make sure we’re doing it good.
What’s coming up next for Normanton Street?
Ned: We are about to go on tour. We’re hitting Soundwave in Croatia and we play in Amsterdam.
Nicholson: Yeah, we’ve got this tour starting on Thursday in Amsterdam, then we go to Croatia, Barcelona, Madrid, Portugal and hopefully something in the South of France on our way back.
That sounds like a good summer!
Nicholson: Yeah it should be really cool, hopefully a bit nicer than Brighton today, because Brighton isn’t looking very bright.
(Laughs) Yeah I’m in London right now, I know what you mean. Any tips for keeping sane on a big tour like that?
Ned: Listen to music. Have good people around and take breaks.
Any plans to get to Australia?
Nicholson: Actually, when we released ‘Much Respect’ EP, a bloke over in Australia hit us up and wrote a review, which I think until today is the nicest thing anyone has ever written about us. I’ve forgotten the name of the bloke now! (Laughs) It was like two years ago. But there was a brief mention of Australia then. Since then, last time we were in Barcelona we met some Kiwis that were super keen on getting us to a festival over in New Zealand. Either one though, I won’t be picky but we need to get over there real quick!
Good to hear. Now, the last question I have is what Stimulates your Soul?
Ned: Good food and good music and just good people stimulate my soul
Nicholson: I don’t mean to be lazy but I was genuinely thinking exactly the same thing! Ahh.. oh yeah, I tell you what I really like, only recently, is family gatherings. When I meet the family now, I love that shit, it’s great!
Cool, thanks very much guys.
Check out our website for a link to listen to or purchase 'Life’s Real.'