By Matt Marn
For Phoenix guitarist and songwriter Ryne Norman, every new opportunity is a chance for something great. Every new fan, each potential collaboration with another local artist means so much to him, he gives everything he has to each new venture – and to every word he writes.
“Internally, I am really challenged,” Norman said. “I am challenged to make sure the crowd is engaged, following me… Challenged to make sure I’m more than just another songwriter up there. There’s something about when people come to hear what you have to say, when people want to hear your music. It’s about the experience. I want this to be an experience.”
For Norman, the biggest part of that experience is the lyrics he works on so hard to make sure each word is perfect. Norman said he spends so much time on each line of every song; it can take weeks to write a second verse. But while finishing the piles of half-done songs can be a challenge, it is that much more worthwhile when he does.
“Knowing I have slaved so hard over every word to know it is truly finished is something to be proud of,” he said. “To me, lyrics are the most important part, what I take the most pride in; I want people to be able to connect with me.”
Some of the inspiration for those lyrics comes from Norman’s personal experiences, but many are simply observations from life.
“A lot of these songs are lessons I’ve learned the hard way,” he said. “I also like to make things a little vague, more open-ended. A lot more people can relate to it that way.”
This adds even more significance to Norman’s album. Even the title, This Tempered Tongue, has a lot of meaning behind it – the imagery of something treated; made stronger so it won’t shatter when broken means something very new when you apply it to your spirit, your voice – especially when it comes from lessons learned the hard way.
Norman elaborated on the meaning and significance behind “War,” a track from his album. It begins with a quiet acoustic guitar, and a soft-spoken Norman expresses fatigue from his struggle between darkness and light, and staying cautious with his choices and actions. The chorus begins: “This is the war I lived/From two sides of my skin/The inside is growing weaker/I think the outside might win.” Yet as the song progresses, it changes not only in tone, but even how the song is played – the music grows louder, with electric guitar joining in to back the acoustic. Even Norman’s voice grows louder towards the end of the song, as if stronger, rejuvenated: “We’re all searching for darkness/In the corners of light/I won’t succumb to such madness/For I know I’ll survive.”
Norman said he prefers to end songs with that style of uplifting message, reminding the listener the world is not full of cold and despair, there is hope… never stop fighting.
“It’s like I take a piece of my heart, my life… and I put that pain, that experience, that life on the page,” he said. “It’s more real when I write with that level of emotion. And when I go back and sing it again later, it doesn’t hurt as bad. I like being that honest and truthful. If I hesitate to say something – if I flinch when I say this – then I know it’s just truthful enough.”
Speaking truth, and bringing the listeners to a place where they can think and feel something real, is something Norman truly stands behind. Norman’s mantra is, “I don’t aim to distract you, I aim to inspire you.” He explained a lot of music now is written to get your mind off your life and your issues, but he has a different way of seeing music.
“I want to really hone in on the idea of not distracting you, but inspiring you to do something about the world around you,” Norman said. “I want to focus on that for the rest of my life.”
He has been focused on this dream of singer/songwriter for quite some time. While he has been playing guitar and writing songs since he was a young child, he was 18 and performing at the Hard Rock Café with a group when he truly decided for certain this was to be his calling in life.
“While I was up onstage, a feeling came over me,” Norman said. “At that moment, I knew – regardless of the ebbs and flows of life, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I could make bare minimum the rest of my life, but be truly happy doing this.”
And Norman does plan to give performing and songwriting everything he has. In fact, come January of next year, he plans to pack up everything and move to Nashville. He visited the city once, and fell in love right away. He knows Nashville is where his road is headed.
“The main reason I’m moving to Nashville: they are very collaborative, very welcoming,” he said. “You never know what song could be written, or who you could meet and play alongside. You hear stories… Nashville is a pinnacle city for music. I know everybody and their mother moves there, but I just want to get involved in the scene there.”
Norman said no matter what comes in life, if you fear you aren’t ready for something new, you are never going to be ready for it.
“So I thought, there’s no time like the present,” he said. “I like change, and I love music… Why not Nashville? If all else fails, if I grow at all from the experience, it would be worth it. I want to inspire and influence people – I want to play music. If I do that, I am content.”
For now, you can still catch Norman performing around the Valley. He plays a set August 26 at Last Exit Live in Phoenix with his full band and plans to release two new songs that very same night. Find him on Facebook or on his website. His album, This Tempered Tongue, is available now.