Meet Bebo Norman
For the Georgia-native who's no stranger to exploring various terrains, "home" for Bebo Norman has always been wherever he happened to be. But with a recent move to Nashville, and the completion of his second national release, Big Blue Sky, he has found himself settling down in more ways than one. By boldly offering what is arguably his most mature work to date, Bebo seems to have landed at the grounding point on his proverbial compass, and in the process found his way to a respectable career as a solo artist.
Bebo began his musical journey at the age of 17, but it wasn't until he entered college that he started to understand the impact music had on him. While studying Biology at a small South Carolina college in hopes of one day becoming a doctor, Bebo began playing at Young Life camps in his spare time. The friends he met at these camps encouraged him to pursue his talents, and with such constant support as a driving force, it was then that his road took a detour. After completing his degree in Biology and deciding to take "one year off" before medical school, Bebo started down the path that has taken him further and further away from the world of medicine.
From college, Bebo went on to record a successful independent record, The Fabric of Verse, and soon his ardent group of followers began inviting Bebo to play at their college campuses and hometown coffeehouses. Before long, Bebo's poignant songwriting sparked the interest of Cliff Young, frontman of the folk-rock group, Caedmon's Call. Following two tours as the band's opening act, Young snagged Bebo for his newly birthed label, Watershed Records. Upon signing, Bebo soon released his national debut project, Ten Thousand Days, with astounding response.
The album proved to be a major success, debuting at #3 on the Internet Sales Chart ahead of Backstreet Boys and Sarah MacLachlan. It has sold more than 125,000 copies in the US, and was also the top-selling new artist release in Europe for the year 2000. The album not only earned numerous accolades, but it also put Bebo on the covers of CCM, Release, Christian Single and Believe Magazines. This exposure and high-acclaim has expanded Bebo's impact far beyond the college-folk scene, proving his potential as a major player in Christian music.
Today, ten years after a small-town boy first picked up a guitar, this 27-year-old man has barely had time to stop and realize how far he's come. Touring for almost 10 months out of the past year, Bebo has found only scarce pockets of time to rest and concentrate on songwriting at his family's river cabin on the outskirts of Georgia. What he encountered during those brief respites was a humbling perspective of God, and the emergence of eleven carefully poured over stories that speak eloquently to the masses. In the end, this collection of songs has become Bebo's most satisfying work to date.
"I feel like the progression of these songs has developed from a more clear understanding of who I am as a person. And that understanding has afforded me a new freedom to be more creative on a musical level," Bebo says. "The way I look at what a song should be has definitely changed. Even though I still enjoy the mysterious nature of very lyrical songs, I've begun to appreciate how profound a simple and repetitive pop song can be."
This realization was cemented during the months spent fine-tuning his songs in the studio. Surrounding himself with breath-taking views, Bebo recorded Big Blue Sky, as well as his past two albums, not in a typical state-of-the-art facility, but in a place where he feels at home...the second-floor studio of a cozy North Carolina farmhouse belonging to his long-time friend and fellow-musician, producer Ed Cash (Caedmon's Call). In this quiet, secluded setting, with only pastures and lake waters for miles, Bebo and Cash gathered with friends, Garett Buell (Caedmon's Call) and renowned engineer Ben Wisch (Marc Cohn, Jonatha Brooke), to record the foundational tracks for Big Blue Sky.
Big Blue Sky represents as much of a progression in the production as it does the song writing. Taking subtle departures from his signature rootsy guitar sounds and richly woven lyrics, Bebo shows his willingness to change and explore a variety of different sounds. "It definitely feels bigger than my last record," explains Bebo. "While some of the production is still really simple and acoustic, just me and my guitar, quite a bit is more layered and pop-oriented."
And with his throaty, passionate vocals still in tact, the more prominent electric guitars and instrumentation only enhance the intricate songwriting Bebo has always been known for. "One of the main differences in these songs is that I tried not to take myself too seriously," says Bebo. "There are still songs on the record that will hopefully evoke some thought in people, but others just seem a little lighter and freer. I tried to get away from the idea that every lyric had to seem profound and realize that even simple words and repetition can say something important."
In the essence of ecclesiastical poetry, his first radio single, "I Am", offers a stirring example of Bebo's plainly put, yet deeply emotional lyrics about the nature of God.
I am in the sun, I am in the shade I am in the light that love has made. I am in the cold, I am in the warm I am in the center of your storm I am in the fire, I am in the flood I am in the marrow and the blood. When you cannot stand, I am.
Bebo's melodic imagery reminds his listeners and himself that in all we see around us, the beauty of this world, and often the darkness of it, God remains deep within the core of humankind. The every day pictures of humanity Bebo pauses to notice, and his ability to convey them with such genuine compassion, sets him apart not only as an artist, but also as a rare individual. Even more endearing, he takes no credit for his talents. "I am small and God is big," has been a simple realization that has affected Bebo deeply. Appropriately, this phrase became the theme of Big Blue Sky.
The profound, yet simple contrasts of God's breadth and human meekness are echoed in the pleading words of the up-tempo acoustic single "Cover Me", the spiritual and relational longings expressed in "Tip of My Heart" and "You Surround Me", the hope found in "Perhaps She'll Wait for Me" and the album's title track, "Big Blue Sky". His melodies tailored to fit a universal audience, Bebo has also geared his lyrics to relate to anyone who has ever wondered at the beauty of a mountain, stood amazed before crashing ocean waves, or been lulled by the silent sun on a quiet day.
The accessibility of his music is affirmed in Bebo's connection with audiences of every age. "I've always thought that college students were the audience I most easily related to because, like them, I could feel myself consistently battling who I was as a person," Bebo confesses. "But I've realized that even after college you don't just necessarily figure everything out or somehow instantly find your place in this world. " Over the years, Bebo has found his audience to continually define themselves; the more he has stretched, the more his audience has. With an opening spot on Jennifer Knapp's Back Forty tour in Spring 2001, a new album full of self-revealing songs, and a CD release tour spanning the country, expect to see Bebo's music and audience continue to grow.
"I hope that I never stop evolving as a musician or as a person and I pray that my music will always be relevant to people," Bebo says.
With his combination of humble charm and an extroverted ability to engage even someone seated on the back row of a theatre, Bebo frequently spends hours after shows with his audience members. He's equally at home whether sharing stories from stage or finding honest communion by talking with fans. What he learns through those conversations often becomes material for his songs. In turn, his songs have become the anthems of his fans' most intimate moments in life. "God uses music to connect people," Bebo observes.
Despite the confidence offered by people's heartfelt response and enduring respect for his music, deep down, Bebo is still just a regular guy. With a humble spirit, he approaches touring with apprehensive anticipation. "I am looking forward to but also very nervous about playing new songs for people. It's frightening when you've kept to yourself something so personal and intimate and then suddenly you have to put it out in the open where it's subject to the judgement of other people. My only hope is that these songs would just be very real to the people who hear them."
Once the busyness of unveiling his latest musical endeavor subsides for a moment, this artist will find time to rest in a place of his own. There, in a one-bedroom almost-furnished apartment, he'll do what he's done in everything he's ever considered a home: scribble down ideas, pluck his guitar, and draw inspiration from between the curtains. What he sees outside the window is more than vast, empty color stretching out before him; just as with his songwriting, Bebo Norman takes the ordinary and finds some meaning we can all hold onto… "Regardless of our circumstances, the sky is still blue and God is still God."