Interview: Stephen Norton Talks Drums, Musical Influences, Louden Swain and More!
We’ve been bringing you spotlight interviews on the members of Louden Swain, and we have our third one for you! This time, it’s with Louden Swain‘s drummer extraordinaire, Stephen Norton! Stephen talked to us about how he got started with music, musical influences, Louden Swain, and of course, a few nerdy questions!
Nerds and Beyond: Can you tell us more about how you got into music and how you started playing the drums?
Stephen Norton: My older sister is really responsible for a lot of it. She had albums from Kiss, Duran Duran, Adam Ant, The Romantics, Queen, etc. around and those really got me started. As far as playing drums, I knew I wanted to play drums from about age 10 or 11, but my parents wanted me play other instruments, so I was stuck playing saxophone and piano for a while. A friend got a drum set and he would get frustrated because I would come over and just sit down and be able to play a lot of things and he would struggle with it. Drums came very naturally to me but it just took a bit for me to convince my parents to let me get a kit. Once I did, I spent countless hours in our basement playing along to every record I owned.
Nerds and Beyond: What was the first song you ever learned to play on the drums?
Norton: It was probably “Run To The Hills” by Iron Maiden on my friend’s drum set. I can remember the first day I got my own drum kit I sat down with headphones and played along to the Kiss album “Lick It Up” and the first track (on side 2) is a really straight forward (and fairly easy to play) song called “All Hell’s Breaking Loose” which got me excited to tackle other more difficult songs.
Nerds and Beyond: What was the first ever drum set you owned?
Norton: It was a gray 5 piece Ludwig kit. I’m pretty sure it was a low end kit, nothing special. I had the cheapest cymbals ever (I can’t even remember the brand name) and I remember hitting them so hard that the hi-hats literally inverted (which they’re not supposed to do!). It took me a while to save up enough money to buy decent cymbals and then I took out a loan at age 17 to buy a nicer Ludwig kit modeled after the Tommy Lee set up (double bass, two floor toms, two rack toms). I kept that kit through college.
Nerds and Beyond: What drum sets do you own now/which are your favorites to play?
Norton: I own a couple of DW kits that I love, (they’ve been very kind to me and I have an artist deal with them) – one is my touring kit, the other is a smaller kit that I use for local shows. I also still have the Ludwig Super Classic kit that I bought in LA when I first started playing with Rob & Mike, and I have another Ludwig QuestLove kit. Then I have an LP kit which is a pedal cajon and cajon snare that we use to rehearse with on tour using Zildjian low volume cymbals. Zildjian has also been incredibly supportive and I’m proud to be on their roster of artists and use their stuff exclusively now. I also have about 10 snare drums of all different types, and all kinds of percussion. I’d have to say the DW drum kit that I have on tour is my favorite but I love playing all of them!
Nerds and Beyond: Who are your musical influences? Who do you look up to?
Norton: My early influences were John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, Ringo Starr from The Beatles, Prince, Van Halen, Motley Crue, Sting, Queen, etc. There’s so much out there to be influenced by it’s hard to narrow down a list. I admire people who blaze their own path and do their own thing. I’m inspired by and honored to know all the guys I went to University of North Texas with and lived with early on in LA who have gone on to huge success in the music business. They’ve played with the some biggest names in music (The Who, Sheryl Crowe, Alanis Morissette, Melissa Ethridge, etc.) and it’s awesome to see them have that success. I’m always impressed by people who decided that they didn’t want to follow the everyday, 9 to 5 path and dedicated themselves to their passion. It’s not easy to do when most people will say “you’ll never make it” or “the odds are against you”. Whether it’s music or acting or art, or whatever, I’m a fan of people who go against the grain.
Nerds and Beyond: Which artist, album or song had the biggest influence on you as a musician?
Norton: Probably Prince’s “Love Symbol” album because it opened me up to a completely different style of music than what I grew up listening to. “Sexy M.F.” is my jam!
Nerds and Beyond: What’s your favorite Louden Swain song to perform and why?
Norton: I like playing “Juliet”, “CA Nation” (the latest version from “Splitting The Seams”), and “Cigarette”. They all have different challenges, feels, etc, but they all just speak to me. I like the groove in “CA Nation”, “Juliet” is fun because it’s got the section of fills at the end where I can go nuts (and I like songs where I’m challenged to both play and sing at the same time), and “Cigarette” is fun because it’s the most unique thing I’ve recorded from a drum part stand point.
Nerds and Beyond: What was your favorite song to re-imagine musically on Louden Swain’s new album, “Splitting the Seams”? Which do you think was the most challenging?
Norton: I love how “Mrs. Vance” came out. “Silverspoon” was great fun as well as that came about from Billy and I just sitting in the room one afternoon and asking ourselves, “What can we do differently on this?”. We had this idea to start with the middle section, and it took off quickly from that. “Big One” was a challenge because we weren’t loving the drum sounds we originally got in the studio on that one, so I ended up recording the brush stroke snare stuff in my living room in Arizona and sending that back to the guys. It took a few tries to get it right.
Nerds and Beyond: What do you enjoy most about the individual/smaller Louden Swain shows?
Norton: The energy that comes out of the crowd is always amazing and inspiring. It’s also really cool to know that we can go to a city and have people show up to support us. When we sold out the first show in Austin, that was a special moment and a great feeling. You just can’t beat the support of this family.
Nerds and Beyond: What’s one of your most favorite memories from performing?
Norton: Oh man, there are really too many to pick one. Playing “Purple Rain” in Minneapolis with my family in the audience, touring Europe for the first time back in 2011, playing Australia… all those were great adventures and great moments.
Nerds and Beyond: What do you find most challenging about playing music?
Norton: It’s that push and pull between the people you’re working with. Finding that creative magic and locking in with a group of people. That’s always special, especially when you just know that someone is going to do something without even having to look or plan it. That’s one of the best things about having played with the same guys for 15-20 years.
Nerds and Beyond: Who would your dream collaboration be with?
Norton: Dave Grohl? Sting? There are too many!
Nerds and Beyond:: So, as you know, we love to ask nerdy-type questions to close out an interview. In that regard, who is your favorite superhero?
Nerds and Beyond: What do you nerd out to, what are you a fan of?
Norton: I’m a die hard Green Bay Packers fan. I read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel every day to stay up on Packers news. I’m also a huge fan of my cats, Lucky and Lucy. They bring me joy and smiles every day. I’m also oddly fascinated by airplanes and flying. I read/study a lot of stuff about aviation.
Nerds and Beyond: A lot of people have comfort food. Do you have a comfort song?
Norton: If I had to pick one it would be “Somebody To Love” by Queen.
Nerds and Beyond: If you were in the Star Wars universe, what color lightsaber would you have?
Thank you again to Stephen for doing this interview with us! Stay tuned!