It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that indie pop band Norton is from Portugal. With the unfamiliar accents and layers of drums and synths that lend a bit of an Afrobeat quality to the otherwise pop feel, the music sounds distinctly un-American. It is as far from pretentious as possible—you imagine it being made on an open stage, not in a high-tech studio.
The band, made up of Rodolfo Matos (synthesizers, drums), Pedro Afonso (vocals, guitars), Leonel Soares (bass) and Manuel Simões (vocals, guitars), is from a small town in Portugal, and its members have known each other since they were teenagers. They played in a variety of bands at first and only formed Norton in 2002 after deciding to take music more seriously. Norton released its first EP, Make Me Sound, in 2003, and the band has since released four full-length albums, including this year’s Layers Of Love United.
The new album represents a new chapter for Norton, and not just because it features Afonso as lead singer and guitarist Simões as a full-time member for the first time. Since 2007’s Kersche, the band, with the help of long-time friend and producer Eduardo Vinhas, has worked to create a more adult sound. “We tried to make something we’ve been pursuing for some time—a less introspective record with more light, more up-tempo,” the band tells CMJ. Norton first recorded with Vinhas in 2005 and since then, he has been the only producer with whom the band has worked. As the band puts it, “When we’re in the studio, we are five Nortons. He is really one of us.”
Despite their Portuguese roots and the European feel of their music, the band members were more interested in American bands than European ones when they first began. “From our early teens, we were mainly influenced by North American alternative rock bands like Yo La Tengo and Pavement. We still like them, but lately we’ve been giving more attention to European bands. We like many types of music, from rock to Brazilian bossa-nova to German indietronica, but mostly good pop music,” its members say.
That Norton is influenced by such a wide variety of music is fitting when you consider its music—so clear are all of these influences that the band has trouble fitting into just one genre. “Our sound? Some people like to call it pop, others indie, others rock, others electronica. We think it’s a little bit of all, with a lot of sun, love and light.” While “sun, love and light” is not exactly a preconceived musical genre, it is perfectly apt when describing the feeling that this music elicits.
Although its members are already thinking about the next record and have even written some songs for it, Norton is concentrating for the moment on touring Layers Of Love United and basking in the feeling that its music brings to both listeners and its own members. “Right now, the world is a little bit chaotic, especially here in Portugal. With this record and the live shows, we want the listeners to free their minds and live it free—dancing, singing the chorus, sharing it with their best friends. Mostly, we want smiles and to give people a moment that they want to share.”
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