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Bebo Norman: Going the Distance

Bebo Norman: Going the Distance

Caroline Lusk
Monday, October 01, 2012
“I’m so over myself,” says Bebo Norman with a small laugh.

“I’m long past this idea in my mind that music will be what I do with the rest of my life. The commercial glory days are behind me and the weird thing is that’s not a weird thing to me.”

Well, it seems a bit weird to us to declare Bebo Norman irrelevant in the commercial realm. Nonetheless, his humility is quite compelling…and transparent, particularly on his latest project, Lights of Distant Cities.

“I’ve found that this particular record is one of the more pure representations of me in a long time,” he shares. “I just feel like I’m at a place that I’m ok with whatever happens on a musical level and life level.”

An interesting distinction for the veteran singer/songwriter, who says the two don’t intersect as frequently as one might suspect.

“It may sound strange, but I don’t really pull my guitar out at home,” he shares. “It doesn’t have a lot to do with my daily world in terms of my family and community. My oldest son thinks I work at the airport and my youngest one thinks I build houses. I have no idea why,” he shares with another laugh.

With one son in kindergarten and a three year old at home, Bebo plays Mr. Mom when he’s not touring…which is becoming more and more frequent, as he has made decisions about his travel schedule with his family in mind, currently committing to no more than 50 shows a year.

“The decisions to stay home were not noble decisions,” he shares. “Those were decisions of survival. I’m not built to be on the road. If I played more than I am now, I don’t think I would play music anymore. It takes more from me than I can handle — spiritually and with my community and family.”

And so, with his touring schedule now complementing and not complicating his family, his work and his heart, Bebo has managed to transition into a healthier place of contentment — not a road that is easily found or traversed.

“This record was written in two different seasons,” he explains. “I had slipped into sort of this desert season. Life had caught up with me. When I get into that place when I feel distant from God, I start to question a lot of things, doubt a lot of things. If this world looks like it’s falling apart, then love is not winning. If love is not winning, God is not winning. If God is not winning, is God really God?

“This all just snuck up on me and in the process of expressing those songs I wanted to be really honest,” he continues. “I didn’t have an answer to everything. So I went on a trip by myself. It was one of the first times I fasted. I had this really beautiful kind of awakening experience. It was very simple…no lighting bolts, no big dream. It was very subtle, very surreal, life-altering…

“I stumbled on this quote from a German mystic, ‘If the soul could have known God without the world, then God would never have created the world.’ There is a real goodness about God. Even when it seems the world has gone dark, there are still beautiful things to hope for…”

That hope found its way through Bebo’s soul searching all the way to the record. The title track, “Lights of Distant Cities” is one of the greatest examples of the dichotomy of a deep search for hope…and the illumination of hope found.

“That song is the most joyful song on the record,” Bebo shares. “It was represented by hope and that was kind of the goal, especially on songs with darker lyrical content. In the production phase, the real goal is to create moments where the contrast is very represented — hope and lack of hope. That’s where Gabe and Ben really took off and ran with things.”

Gabe and one might surmise… are Bebo’s cohorts who comprised the production team behind the record. Gabe Scott is Bebo’s band leader who has toured with him for ten years.

“He’s played nearly every show I’ve done,” says Bebo. “But we had never once written a song together.”

Suffice it to say, that is no longer the case. Not only did the two write over half the record together, Gabe and Bebo produced the record along with their friend and other musical mastermind Ben Shive.

“They [Gabe and Ben] have this idea where they look at the music itself as an emotional component. What does joy sound like? We started from that angle and they took the whole record in a direction that was totally new. It has this real songwriter feel to it,” Bebo shares.

And for better or worse, commercially, that feel is exactly what they were going for. “Gabe has been in the business for a long time too,” says Bebo. “He’s seen radio love and play every song that I write and then…not. We decided to create these songs exactly how we wanted to create them and pay no mind to commercial appeal. Not because that’s bad, but to create what we want to hear and just let it go. There was so much freedom in that.

“I want people to get it on the fourth or fifth listen,” he says with a little laugh. “Sometimes you sacrifice depth and quality for initial or instant success. Hopefully there will be something there for everyone. After all these years in music, I’m ok with that if it doesn’t happen commercially.”

While the ‘success’ in industry terms remains to be seen, it’s clear that the artist and the songs are a genuine manifestation of the Spirit at work.

Nothing to prove…nothing to hide… nothing to boast about.

Yes…without question…Bebo Norman is over himself.

Fortunately, for those of us who are not over him, he’s in no hurry to hang up his songwriting hat.

“I don’t feel resigned to being done with music at all,” he says. “I’m just inspired to do it on whatever level. No need to prove anything.”


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