“I've always written from a place of fiction,” Andy Shauf tells Apple Music. “When I was making [2016’s] The Party, I was going to a lot of parties. When I was writing [2020’s] The Neon Skyline, I was drinking at a bar called the Skyline. It feels now like it was a bit unimaginative, but I think I was trying to do the thing that people tell you to do, which is write what you know. I came to this realization that if I want to take a step forward, I need to write something that's outside of writing what I know.” Like its forebears, Norm, the Toronto singer-songwriter's eighth solo LP, takes a magnifying glass to its central character, but its stories are told through a series of narrators. That’s partly because when Shauf started writing it, there wasn’t a concept at all. “I was going to call the album Norm, and it was just going to be a normal album—like a normal batch of songs,” he says. But once he wrote “Telephone,” the seed for a storyline was planted. “It was about someone longing to be on the phone,” he says. “Then it flips to show the perspective of this person looking in the window while they're calling, and it has this stalker vibe to it. I just made a mental note that this could be a character and I could call them Norm.” With the help of a friend—Shauf writes, plays all the instruments, and records on his own—he sewed the narrative together, coloring in the detail of Norm’s increasing creepiness while constantly in God’s presence. (Shauf was raised Christian in small-town Saskatchewan, but doesn’t consider himself religious now.) “I think Norm is a pretty normal guy,” he says. “He's a bit of a fuck-up, and he has a side of him that's really disconnected from reality. And he's got some pretty serious problems. He's introduced very relatably, but at a certain point there's a shift that can change your perspective on everything that's happened before.” Here Shauf talks through how Norm’s story takes shape, track by track. “Wasted on You” “I was reading the Old Testament and looking for stories where I could flip the perspective so that God was narrating them, so that you heard this sort of imperfect God explaining his side of it. I was picturing this conversation between God and Jesus. My familiarity with Christianity—or just cartoon Christianity—made me feel like this was the most spoon-fed, 'Here's God as a narrator’ story, but I like that it's a little bit vague.” “Catch Your Eye” “This is the first introduction to Norm. We're in his head, and we are just getting a picture of that longing. It's a gentle introduction. I think by the end of the song, you're going to realize that something is a little bit off with what he's doing.” “Telephone” “I wrote it kind of as a joke, where it was the pandemic and I was trying to connect with someone and we were talking on the telephone a lot. And there was a lot of running out of things to talk about. I was starting to dread it. I decided I would write a song that at first seemed like I really loved the telephone, and by the end of it, it just had a lot of questions or it just turned on its side. I think you could still read that song as a love song—maybe if you aren't paying attention for the second half.” “You Didn't See” “I needed to have a point where the relationship between Norm and God was explained. You get a glimpse into why Norm is getting away with what he's doing, to a certain extent, while he's under the eye of God—so this is a song from God's perspective.” “Paradise Cinema” “You go from God's perspective of Norm standing behind a tree and God's just continuing to keep an eye on him to this. It's a lazy…maybe it's a Sunday afternoon stroll to the cinema—for more than one person.” “Norm” “Originally I wrote it about Norm standing in line to buy a sandwich, and then I realized that the story in that song sucked. But it was also because in any story involving God, I think there's the need for a divine intervention of sorts, or God needs to make himself known. So on one instance, he helped Norm, and on this instance, he needs to tell Norm that he's no longer okay with what he is doing. And at the same time, it's just Norm grazing around, watching some Price Is Right.” “Halloween Store” “I thought that my next record was going to be a disco record. At a certain point, I just realized that I was making—I don't know—like cartoon music. It was like I was becoming a caricature of myself making this weird, throwback...cartoon music is the best way I can say it. But this song, I wrote it with those songs and it's got this super-fast triangle and like a four-on-the-floor, dancy beat. I had the first two verses of it for a long time, and it just stuck around until I found a place for it in the Norm universe. This is the point in the story where the thing that Norm has been waiting for is finally happening, and he's not even sure if it's happening.” “Sunset” “It’s the furthering of the event in ‘Halloween Store’—it's too good to be true, and it's too easy. I wanted it to be so simple that you're wondering why it's even possible, or it's a terrible thing that's happening and it's the result of something that was not intended to be terrible or was not intended to have any weight at all, which is what happens in the next song—the flipped perspective of it.” “Daylight Dreaming” “This was the hardest part of the record for me. This is essentially someone just trying to play a joke on someone else, and there's history between these people, and there's a history of this joke specifically. But this time it turns into something that's completely unintended and gives Norm his opportunity.” “Long Throw” “We're sticking with the same perspective. I struggled with this story in how to tie it together, and I had this weird thing happen where I was watching Mulholland Drive, looking for some inspiration, and a certain scene in the movie froze. I watched it for about five minutes thinking that I was watching an insane creative choice, and I took a lot of meaning from it in the plot of the movie. It made me realize that this story has an ending that doesn't really need to be in the lyrics or in the story at all. And it's a very simple story, and this song is the ending of it, where the third perspective is just not getting a phone call.” “Don't Let It Get to You” “I was writing a lot with the synthesizer, and just trying to use atmosphere as much as possible. This song is a summary of the story, where there's a lot of chance happenings, certain decisions affecting other decisions. This is the sentiment of a cruel God just saying, 'All these things happen and you just can't let it get to you.' But something that I was trying to do with this record a little bit more was to let almost an improvisation guide melodies. I would play a line and then that would be the line, instead of writing a melody. I would just play it until the moment was gone, and then I'd recreate that and maybe harmonize to it.” “All of My Love” “This is kind of all three perspectives on the record. If there's a theme to the story, it's this idea of a really flawed love or a really flawed perspective of what love is or what love could be. Each of these perspectives are asking the same question. It's essentially the same structure as the first song, musically, but it's shifted to a very dark version of that. If the story of Norm is showed to you in a gradually darkening way, the music is doing the same thing—where at first, it sounds really nice, and probably by the second half of the second side, the music has also gone a bit sideways—it's got a sinister element to it.”

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