Interviewed by David Felix
Date: January 10, 2007
Back in 1986, a little band from Jersey called NORWAY took flight. They truly earned their wings after releasing two powerful AOR classics, “Night Dreams” and “Arrival, ” but their journey was cut short in the early 2000’s due to records company disputes and personnel conflicts. Now, almost seven years later, NORWAY has returned with a new lead singer in David Baldwin (TRADIA, DEPARTURE) , a new album appropriately called “Rising Up From The Ashes” and are ready to shake off their old wounds and take to the sky once again.
I recently caught up with Jersey native and NORWAY founder Jim Santos. Here’s what he had to say…
David Felix: Hi Jim, it’s so nice to finally speak with you. Congratulations on the release of the new CD! It really is a great album and I wish you guys a lot of success with it.
Jim Santos: Thanks, man! I hope so… or at least enough so that MTM will let us do another one.
David Felix: So lets start off with the most obvious question… you guys have always been based here out of Jersey… so why NORWAY?
Jim Santos: THE single most commonly asked question! (laughs) It goes back a long time, as you would know from being around here, back to when the club days use to be big. Before there was a NORWAY, our original bass player and our original singer, Glen Pierson, use to be in a band called NORTH. So essentially, we had gotten together… started writing some songs and wanted to do a showcase. Then we called up a promoter who was doing one of those deals with like five bands and such and he agreed to let us on to close the show. The next words out of his mouth were, “So what’s your name?,” and we all started just kinda looking at each other and NORTH almost came out but Glen was like, “Don’t use NORTH! Don’t use NORTH!” and it just came out “NOR---WAY!” Honestly… and we’ve used it since. (laughs) Glen always liked it at the time because there were so many other bands like that in that era. There was ASIA, EUROPE, BOSTON, NEW ENGLAND… they were just places. And then there were also bands like FOREIGNER, TOTO… you couldn’t tell what kind of music they played by the name. You can NOW, but you couldn’t back then.
David Felix: Your first album, “Night Dreams,” was released to critical acclaim way back in 1986. After that, the band just seemed to disappear until the release of your follow up CD, “Arrival,” in 2000. What happened to the band during that time and why did it take almost 14 years until your second release?
Jim Santos: Well, my idol is Tom Scholtz from BOSTON! (laughs) I’m just kidding… it didn’t quite actually happen that way. 1986 was right about when we first got together and actually the stuff for “Night Dreams” was indeed recorded back in the late 80’s/ early 90’s but was never actually released until 1997. So it was actually only about three years between the releases of “Night Dreams” and “Arrival. ”
David Felix: Really? Huh… in your press release it says “Night Dreams” was released in 1986.
Jim Santos: No it doesn’t, does it? Where did you get that from?
David Felix: You management company!
Jim Santos: (Laughs) Oh well… a little typo on their part I guess. But yeah, 1986 was the year we actually first got together and went through all our various incarnations. Sorry about that! (laughs) I guess I’ll have to just smack ‘em around a little bit… (laughs)
David Felix: They really are a very good management company… I’ve enjoyed working with them. They really seem to be on top of things as far as promoting their artists goes.
Jim Santos: Ya know, they really are. The whole overall experience has been better so far with Oliver over at ArtistWorxx. He lines stuff up, he calls me back, sends me reminder notices… it’s just been a really great experience as compared to the last record.
David Felix: With the release of the new CD, “Rising Up From The Ashes,” it’s REALLY been seven years since your last one.
Jim Santos: (Laughs) Ok, guilty! Ya got me this time! (laughs)
David Felix: Do you find it difficult to maintain any kind of a fan base with that much time between releases?
Jim Santos: Absolutely! With the exception of a handful of “die hard” fans, which only numbers maybe a couple of hundred, it’s almost like starting over.
David Felix: What do you feel you have to do to rebuild that?
Jim Santos: Well, by releasing albums of our music, speaking with nice people such as yourself, doing interviews and just spreading the word any way we can.
David Felix: Now the band IS from Jersey here in the U.S. but you’ve always seemed to focus your releases on other parts of the world. Why is that?
Jim Santos: Well, I haven’t found a U.S. label that loves me enough to release any of our records! Even with this one, we shopped it around and even having two previous records out that gained some attention, it was still “slim pickins” as far as finding a label. In this country, the labels are even fewer and further in between as far as doing something with an artist that plays our kind of music. So, quite honestly the bigger buying audience is in Europe or Japan. I will say this, though. My good pal Tom over at Perris Records would have put it out if all else failed and talks broke down with MTM or whatever. He’s a real nice guy.
David Felix: Are you finding it a bit more acceptable to play your style of music here in the U.S. or do you still think it’s just as difficult as it was through out the 90’s?
Jim Santos: For the last five or six years, we really haven’t been a performing band so from that side, I can’t tell. But it really, really does look like it’s getting better. People, again, are starting to broaden their scope as far as what they are willing to listen to. I guess I can say “grunge” is officially dead! (laughs)… thank God! But there are some new bands out there trying to do some good things and I think radio is starting to loosen up a bit as well mostly due to the addition of things such as satellite radio and the internet.
David Felix: What do you think it would take your style of music to become mainstream again?
Jim Santos: Everything comes around. I think it would take a younger “super” group, which can capture the attention of the younger crowd. All those 13 to say, 21 year olds with all that extra money to buy CD’s and DVD’s… but it hasn’t happened yet.
David Felix: So let’s get into the new album. You have a new singer in David Baldwin. How did you hook up with him and what happened to original vocalist Glen Pierson?
Jim Santos: What happened was, about a year after we released “Arrival,” we went up to our label, which was Now & Then Records at the time, and were like, “Ok, we want to start recording! Let’s start getting our budget together.” And that initiated about three years of stalling and no money. So during that time, things just slowed to a crawl and we asked to be released from that contract… which we were. Shortly after that, I started recording some of my own tracks with Marty (Brasington) and Glen and I had always worked as partners. But he had some things going on in his life and was essentially unavailable to work on music. So literally another year went by with no partner. I didn’t really want to work on it too intensely because I could have spent six months or more working on all the guitars and he could have walked back in and been like, “I hate all of it!” So I was kind of just waiting for Glen. That eventually got to the point where we just parted ways… but on a friendly basis.
Now Dave Baldwin I got hooked up with by a guy named Hal Selzer. He use to write for East Coast Rocker and such… but anyway, when we were doing that benefit song “Bridge of Faith,” he was trying to hook me up with several people so we could record it and one of those guys was Dave Baldwin. It turned out he only lived about ten minutes from me. So he came over and did the vocals for “Bridge Of Faith.” About a year and a half ago, he gave me a call and wanted to come over and record some acoustic song he was working on and I was like, “Sure.” So he came down and everything had gone so well when we recorded “Bridge of Faith” that I just went up to him and said, “There really won’t be another NORWAY album without you.” So he agreed and here we are!
David Felix: Has his addition and experience brought about a new dimension to the band?
Jim Santos: I think so! Glen and I had a deep partnership for many, many years but I still basically wrote everything. He was a great person to bounce things off of, though. It would be like, “Change a chord here. Change a couple of words here and there”…. That was basically the way our collaborations worked. Dave, on the other hand, is a very strong songwriter. He, for example, brought the first track “Save Me” to the band. Then we co-wrote the second song “Anything At All” with our bass player Joe Slattery in only like a night or two. So Dave’s been a great addition to the band.
David Felix: Who does most of the writing for the band at this point?
Jim Santos: At this point I would still say it has to be me. Probably about 70% me and the other 30% a collaboration with Dave and Joe. Dave is writing a lot though but he’s working on a solo release so he’s not gonna let me see any of that! (laughs)
David Felix: How did you decide on the title “Rising Up From The Ashes” and does it have any particular meaning to you?
Jim Santos: Yeah… there’s the obvious connotation to it with literally, and as you noted, losing our fan base and being reborn and “rising up from the ashes” of a band we never thought would ever have another album come out and getting back together and creating one of the best albums we’ve ever put out. Other than that, there was a review of our very first record in the English magazine Power Play and they raved on the album and said NORWAY was the phoenix rising from the ashes of the dead AOR scene in the U.S.! (laughs) So we remembered that and it was Marty who actually threw that one out there as a possible title for the CD and that’s the one that stuck.
David Felix: As oppose to your previous releases, what did you find most challenging in the writing and recording this time around?
Jim Santos: For me, personally, since the band was founded I’ve always worked with Glen Pierson and once we parted ways, pretty much all the responsibilities from writing, arranging and getting everything recorded fell on my shoulders… as well as the business end of everything. That’s been the greatest challenge for me. You almost have to stop for a second… you don’t want to second-guess anything, but you stop a little longer and think about what you’re doing because you’re charting the course. Plus, when it was Glen and I, because we were so tight we pretty much did everything. Literally I would write the bass parts and drum parts and then give them to Marty and Joe and say, “Play this!”… Which, of course, they didn’t like. But on this one, I was like, “Ok, we’re starting fresh without Glen,” so I didn’t do any of that. I cut guide tracks, laid down some guitar, had Dave sing a rough lead vocal and then just gave it to Marty and Joe to come up with their own parts. So it’s almost like a whole new band… that was different too.
David Felix: As we’ve touched on already, it has been almost seven years since the release of your last album. What did you guys do to keep busy during that time?
Jim Santos: Well, I don’t know about the other guys but masturbation worked pretty good for me! (laughs) You better not put that in there! (laughs). But seriously… it’s funny because it all goes by so fast. Month after month, email after email, arguing with the label, then no money, and then getting out of the contract, then Glen having his personal issues… it seemed like four years went by in a whirlwind! Meanwhile the whole time I’m still writing, bought some basic recording equipment and started recording some of the stuff, which would become part of “Rising Up.” So, for me, I was active and keeping busy. Actually, for the first couple of years after “Arrival,” the band was still getting together, playing and working on new material. So… I don’t know what to say other than that.
David Felix: By the time this is posted, “Rising Up From The Ashes” will have been released. But up till now, what’s the response been like so far?
Jim Santos: It’s been very good. I’m cautiously optimistic. It seems to be going really well and I’ve heard nothing but positive response. I’ve seen a couple of “smacks in the faces” because they say there’re too many slow songs on the record. I did one interview for a German magazine and he asked me that question specifically… “Why did you focus so much on the slow songs?” And I was like, “We didn’t! That’s just what we wrote for this one… the next album will be different.” It’s just the way this package came out. I mean lets face it, if I step back and take a look at the album, yeah… I could have used maybe one or two more up-tempo songs but we’re back to that seven years… it was time! I wasn’t going to take any more time to write more songs or change anything. That’s the way it’s going to be. The next album will have new songs.
David Felix: I also understand that the band is donating 50% of its royalties from the song “Bridge of Faith” to MUSICRISING.org. Tell me a little bit about that and how the band got involved with it.
Jim Santos: That was my own personal decision to do that. I wrote the song, so that’ll be money going to a worthwhile charity rather than into my pocket. The song was originally written for a project called “United” which was supposed to be a “9/11” tribute. That was supposed to come out on 9/11/2003… two years after on Now & Then Records. An English journalist named Nicky Baldrian arranged the whole thing but, in the end, Now & Then never released it. I know it was a big deal at the time… some people spent a lot of time and money trying to do this for something that’d be worthwhile and then to have it not released didn’t go over well with a lot of people. But… bottom line, I had the opportunity here to get it released and even if I can only generate a few dollars from it, I thought that a charity would benefit most from it and wanted it released in the same spirit. To help people that had something taken away.
David Felix: Tell me a little bit more about the charity specifically… what is it all about.
Jim Santos: MUSICRISING.org provides instrument replacement for the musicians who lost all their instruments in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Edge from U2 is heavily involved with it… along with ABSCAP and Guitar Center; they’re all sponsors as well. That’s pretty much it! I know it doesn’t sound like much, but you have to realize that not only did these people lose their instruments but their livelihood as well. I mean, I look around here in my basement where I have like 20 guitars and whatnot… what if I came home tomorrow and everything was flooded out? That’s 20 guitars, gone! All my studio and equipment, gone! And not only did they have that happen to them, but then all the clubs were gone too! 50% of the places they use to play haven’t even been able to rebuild yet. So you don’t have your equipment, you don’t have your studios and on top of that, you don’t even have a place to earn a living! So… it’s just another step in the rebuilding process.
David Felix: Do you have a favorite track off the new album and why?
Jim Santos: Probably the second song, “Anything At All.” For me, that’s the song that best says, “Hey! Here’s a new NORWAY!” It’s got influences from old and new with Dave Baldwin contributing and in the recording of it; we even tried to do that a little bit differently. We tried to make the chorus’ sound different, the way the background vocals are recorded, the middle of the pre-chorus’ and the section after the guitar solo has a little bit of a U2 feel to them. But yeah, it’s just a new NORWAY with a different collaboration and a different feel.
David Felix: If you could change one thing in the recording, writing and/or releasing of “Rising Up From The Ashes,” what would it be and why?
Jim Santos: It would be the recording. Again, after getting dissed by Now & Then, I started laying out money to buy my own recording equipment. Of course, you can only buy what you can afford, so I started with a used mixing board and such and I recorded all the drums in my family room. It’s not a great sounding room for drums, not a great recording environment. It was basically like, “Hey, move the couch!” and there was our studio! That’s basically the way the drums were recorded and I just wish that it had gone down the way it should have with the label fronting us the money and properly recording the drums in a real studio. As you know, if you have a solid foundation you can build on it and that was my biggest disappointment. That’s the one thing I would change. If I could go back and start over I’d go back and re-record the drums and remix the whole thing.
David Felix: How’s MTM been treating you so far?
Jim Santos: Ask me next year! (laughs) Right now it’s all kisses and love… you know what I mean? But I am very grateful for MTM and everything they’ve done for us so far. There’re only a handful of labels in our genre you can go to and I know Mario (Lehman) was receptive to hearing from us and we mutually found a way to get this record released on MTM Records. I’m grateful to them for giving us the opportunity to get our new record out and it seems to me that they’re doing a great job.
David Felix: What motivates you both as a guitarist and as a musician in general?
Jim Santos: You’ve heard this a hundred times, Dave… but it’s like a drug. Once you do it, you’re addicted to it. If you do it for years, you just can’t stop doing it… I can’t stop doing it! Nothing else motivates me more than the fact that I love to do it and the hope that someday I can write that GREAT song that motivates other people somehow and inspire someone else to do something. McCartney had “Yesterday.” QUEEN had “Bohemian Rhapsody” and there’re thousands of others… I’d just like to write a spectacular song that does something. Either becomes a soundtrack on a movie or another artist records it and makes it a big hit! Something like that… and I think that’s a dream of every artist.
David Felix: In contrast, what pisses you off?
Jim Santos: The EXACT SAME THING!!! (laughs) Back in the day and coming up in the clubs, I’ve seen a lot of artists both make it and fade. I’ve been at this a long time, had some opportunities… there’ve been bands along the way that have had the contracts sitting there on the table which just never seemed to happen. So that’s what always pisses you off. That you know there’re people out there that necessarily aren’t as talented as you signed just because they happened to be in the right place at the right time.
David Felix: Are there any plans for any kind of tour in support of the release?
Jim Santos: I get asked that a lot and the answer is... it depends on how the record does. In our contract with MTM, there’re some agreed upon levels where if we can sell “x” amount of records, they’ll proved “x” amount of tour support and help us put together something and have us go over to Europe and play a few shows. Beyond that, there’re no plans. Hey, maybe WE’LL be that band I’ve been talking about… the band that gets popular! (laughs) Who knows… anything can happen but most likely, not in the U.S.
David Felix: If you were to play any shows, do you think there would be any possibility of you guys playing any where in the States?
Jim Santos: I would hope so.
David Felix: So is there any fear that this may be the last we hear of NORWAY or just a new beginning?
Jim Santos: (laughs) Well, it’s hardly a new beginning but it’s definitely not the last you’re going to hear from us. I have some new ideas that I’m working on. Actually, right now I’m mixing a few tracks for another project called FROZEN RAIN… it’s got some great tracks but I’m helping him mix and at the same time, I’ve got three or four new tunes scribbled down here in a notebook and as soon as I finish with this, I’m gonna start laying the ground work. I’ve already put the calls out to “the boys” so we can get this in gear and we’ll be ready to go to MTM with another finished album within a reasonable amount of time… say, maybe a year and a half.
David Felix: Awesome… that’s great to hear!
Jim Santos: That’s my plan. I don’t know what’s going to happen though. I spoke with Glen not too long ago and he indicated he’d be willing to come in and work on something with us. That wouldn’t be too shabby to have Dave and Glen singing on the same record. But I have a lot of other songs written as well that just are not necessarily NORWAY songs. They’re a bit heavier… a little more pumpin’ so, it may just be time to whip some of that stuff out. I don’t want people to think I’m starting to get mellow in my old age! (laughs) So yeah, I think you’ll see another NORWAY release within a year and a halt to two years after this one and it’ll be more up-tempo, rockin’… a lot of good stuff. I feel good!
David Felix: That’s about it, Jim. Thank you so much again for taking the time to do this, best of luck with the new album and we look forward to hearing more from you in the future!
Jim Santos: Thank you, Dave. And I’d just like to add to all of our fans… God bless you! Thank you for sticking with us for all these years and we really appreciate your support. We do it for you!
Don’t forget to pick up your copy of “Rising Up From The Ashes” AND if you’re in the area, both Jim and Joe will be appearing at Ted Poley’s “Collateral Damage” release party on Saturday February 17, 2007 at THE CUP in Linden, NJ. They’ll be available all night long selling copies of the new album, signing autographs and “maybe” we can get them up on stage for a song or so! So, come on out and show you support and say hello to Jim, Joe, Ted, the ROCKEYEZ staff and everyone else who’ll be on hand that evening! Should be a GREAT time for everyone!