“When it came time to record a new album we took a month and a half and went away. The one thing that we kept coming back to was the fact that we wanted to be home,” explains Andrew Osenga, the band’s frontman and primary songsmith. “That’s what the record is about, from the first song to the last song. It is undeniable. These are guys who love making music and love each other, but they really just want to be home. They want a place to belong.”
The Normals spent that six weeks at the Kingston, New York home/studio of producer Malcolm Burn, jamming, writing, and experimenting with new sounds, new technologies, and new expressions of old truths. The result is their third, and most personal album to date - A Place Where You Belong. A thoughtful blend of eclectic soundscapes, moody guitar riffs, can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head melodies, and great rock tunes, A Place Where You Belong is a formidable, eleven-song collection that plumbs the depths of the human experience - Love and loneliness, life and life-everlasting, faith and futility. Each song stands on its own, yet each is inextricably tied to every song on the album. Each is individual, yet bares the indelible imprint of the band.
Osenga states, “I think people will listen to it for years. Our main goal was to make sure that every song sounded different from every other song. If any song sounded like anybody else, we scrapped it. And if it sounded like any song that we had already recorded, we scrapped it. Every song is unique, but very accessible. I think this is the first time we sound like a band -like five guys who couldn’t be anybody else.”
Conceived, gestated, and birthed under the watchful eye of legendary producer, Malcolm Burn (John Mellencamp, Emmylou Harris, the Neville Brothers, Midnight Oil), A Place Where You Belong manifestly showcases The Normals’ extraordinary songwriting ability. From the palpable, longing-for-home strains of the album’s acoustic opener, “I’ll Be Home Soon,” to the put-the-top-down, let-the-wind-blow-through-your-hair pop anthem “Romeo on the Radio,” it is evident these talented musicians are willing to explore provocative new directions, musically and lyrically. Delicate, almost fragile instrumentation decorates Osenga’s plaintive vocals on the moody, atmospheric ballad, “Grace,” while electronic wizardry creates a carnival calliope of sound to augment the triumphant declaration, “We're going home…and our questions have answers/ when the Traveler comes home,” from the album’s final cut, “Epilogue.”
A true collaborative effort, A Place Where You Belong draws on the expertise of all five band members, as well as input from the producer. “Malcolm gave us the freedom to be ourselves,” Osenga says. “He pushed us to do more, to work harder, to not settle for who we were, but to determine who we could be. The other guys had already been there for a couple of days before I arrived, which was great. When I came in they already had some really cool pieces, which if I had been involved in, they never would have come out. All the guys are great musicians and everybody pulled their own weight. This record definitely would not be the same if just one of the guys was not there.” The album's deft instrumentation, “recorded live” feel, and bare-bones honesty make it crystal clear this is not a band that is content with simply rehashing limited themes in familiar settings. Instead, with A Place Where You Belong, The Normals explore the power and possibilities of their music with the ease and confidence of seasoned professionals.
“A Place Where You Belong has its moody elements,” Osenga confesses, “but it is also an intensely personal record. We are never going to make an album that is not intense, that doesn’t have depth. But this record is also a little more joyful than our previous releases. There is some happy stuff on this record, but I think joy goes deeper than happy.”
“ ‘Life, it just goes on when the traveler’s gone’…Those are the first words on A Place Where You Belong,” Andrew Osenga muses. “The very last song on the record ends with, ‘Our questions have answers, when the traveler comes home.’ It’s a bookend showing the whole point is that the journey ends. And it ends at a place that is so much more beautiful – your home, the place where you belong.”
Life is a journey, an adventure and in many ways, a quest to find a place called “home.” Passionate and provocative, thought provoking and joy-evoking, A Place Where You Belong is an exuberant exploration of the land between leaving and coming home.