SXSW Interview with the Magical French Musician Norma
Written by Parnia Razi on March 19, 2019
With SXSW in full swing, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the most talented international artists featured at this year’s music showcases in Austin. Norma is a singer, musician, and producer from France who recently released her debut album Female Jungle. With a glamorous yet simple, unapologetically feminine, old-Hollywood style, Norma is incredibly unique in music right now. Her raw talent shines through as soon as you press play on her album, and I couldn’t help but fall for her vulnerable yet powerful voice and presence.
“I just learned by myself on the computer, at first I was in my room and I didn’t want anybody to hear what I was doing because I felt like I was not legitimate.”
Chatting with Norma was lovely, and we began by talking about where she grew up and her musical background. Norma grew up in the small town of Toulouse, France, and shared that her parents’ love for music is what sparked her interest. “My dad is a musician, so I always grew up listening to music and singing,” Norma said. She also noted the influence of MTV and American artists like Britney Spears in her decision to become a singer. Most of all, she says discovering Fiona Apple was her biggest influence and inspiration for her wanting to become a singer, and this is definitely reflected in her music and style. Being a female producer, I also asked Norma about her journey learning how to produce music. “I just learned by myself on the computer, at first I was in my room and I didn’t want anybody to hear what I was doing because I felt like I was not legitimate.” Even as she grew in her skills and worked on her first EP, she discusses still feeling afraid to produce for herself. “My musician friends produced it for me, I had my demos at home but I did not feel like they were good enough to put out.” However, with her album Female Jungle, Norma talked about deciding to take the leap and produce it herself even though she felt like it was still awkward and not the best at times, she is proud of it being her own work.
“When you’re a woman musician, it’s hard to be taken seriously. And as a producer, people will always assume there is a guy behind it.”
Having clear prominent themes of gender, I was curious about some of the inspiration behind Norma’s album Female Jungle. I started by asking her what she sees as some of the challenges for women in music right now. “When you’re a woman musician, it’s hard to be taken seriously. And as a producer, people will always assume there is a guy behind it.” She then went on to discuss how this leads to women in music working harder, and even over-working themselves, in order to prove themselves and their worth. Even bringing her own personal experiences, Norma expresses the frustration this causes her, and how it leads to sometimes pushing herself too far. “I push myself to the maximum when I just shouldn’t. I could work with other people, but I feel like I have to prove so much.” However, she also believes things are starting to change for the better because people are talking about these issues more. Norma clarified that it seems to be more of a trend on the surface though, and not quite settled in to manifest in reality yet. We talked about the positive effects of women speaking up more, and with a more globalized community, the world is more connected than before in making progress about gender issues. She also notes the rise in female producers and sound engineers, which is very encouraging and exciting for her.
Next, Norma and I talked about some of the inspirations behind Female Jungle, and she notes womanhood and dealing with the troubles of her long relationship as some of the main influences. “It was what I was going through at the time that I was writing it,” she says, as she specifically mentions her relationship and coming of age as a woman as being some of personal experiences at the time. Norma proclaims herself a feminist, and cites its reflections in her album, but also mentions the contradictions within in that claim. Especially now as we see a rise in modern feminism, women can often hold shame about the contradictions in that identity. Norma talks about this, and how sometimes what she was feeling wasn’t the thing she was most proud of, but she decided to say it anyway on this album which makes it so real and raw. She also discusses struggling with gender roles as being a theme of her album.
“It’s difficult for both men and women to live up to the roles, like women are supposed to be tender, devoted, men are supposed to provide, this kind of stuff. It’s a big conflict and it can really have an impact on love and romance.”
In regards to the title and old-Hollywood vibe, Norma says the film “Female Jungle,” featuring Jayne Mansfield is where she drew the inspiration for the title and look of the album. “I worked with an American photographer, and we went quite literal for the cover art with the jungle,” as she further discussed how the leafy, messy nature of the jungle also reflected her feelings and the themes of the album well. With this new album, Norma decided to take her music a step further and challenge herself more with touring and live shows around the world. She discussed how musicians in France can be privileged, and how going on a solo tour last year helped her toughen up as an artist and performer. With more music in the works and hopeful to play more shows in the U.S., Norma and I wrapped up by talking about her future goals to connect with more people through music.
“I worked with an American photographer, and we went quite literal for the cover art with the jungle,” as she further discussed how the leafy, messy nature of the jungle also reflected her feelings and the themes of the album well.
I got to catch Norma play a set while in Austin as well, and her live performance was really where the magic of her artistry and this album came to life. Her vocals on her recorded music do not even do her beautiful voice justice, as she was so powerful and elegant when she sang live. Switching between her guitar and keyboard, it was clear how talented Norma is with music, and her presence and connection with her audience really helped convey the raw and intimate nature of her songs as well. Proud in her femininity and womanhood, she strikes a perfect balance of youthful playfulness and mature elegance, and her live set surely felt like magic took over the room.