Norman Lake on ‘the emotions that terrify us and we run from’

The album cover of Norman Lakes debut album, Songs for Long Distance Lovers, which features a woman standing looking out over a field. Lake sat down and talked about this album with the Northern Star last week.

Courtesy of Norman Lake

The album cover of Norman Lake’s debut album, “Songs for Long Distance Lovers,” which features a woman standing looking out over a field. Lake sat down and talked about this album with the Northern Star last week.

By Nick Glover, Lifestyle Editor

Norman Lake’s “Songs for Long Distance Lovers” delves deep into what it means to be apart from the one you love.

Joey MacMahan is the man behind Norman Lake, a name that MacMahan uses as a stage name. MacMahan showed up to our meeting in a gray wool turtleneck and a brown corduroy suit jacket. His studio headphones were still on his head, keeping his hair back.

He joined our Zoom call Tuesday sitting inside his L.A. studio, Structurally Sound Studios. There were guitars propped up against the walls, and the top of the icon tweed of a Fender Deluxe amp peeked into view.

MacMahan has been releasing music under the name Norman Lake since 2020. The first single of his, “Mother Mary,” is a three-minute ballad full of character.

At that point in his career, MacMahan hadn’t developed the voice he has today. While sometimes he stumbled onto his big-boy voice on “Mother Mary” and a little more on the EP he released after, “The Polaroid EP,” MacMahan’s voice didn’t stabilize until this year.

The album’s 11 tracks are all different but totally connected.

Starting with “Accusing God of Foul Play,” MacMahan’s nasally and soft voice, reminiscent of an even more careful Elliott Smith combined with the tone of Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano, rests over a simple yet gorgeous track full of twinkling piano and soft, percussive acoustic guitar.

As the album progresses, MacMahan goes deeper into his heavier and aggressive influence on songs like “Back to Berlin,” but he also attaches more to the singer-songwriter softness that makes up some of his earlier work on songs like “All Good Things Must End” and “Island Life is Getting Lonely.”

The album is at its best when it looks to delve deep into emotions.

“The album started as a concept for an EP while I was in a long-distance relationship,” MacMahan said. “The emotional dread of being in love with somebody who is so far away inspired a lot of music.”

MacMahan’s exploration of this theme sent him to new places, eventually seeing that it wasn’t purely a physical distance he was writing about.

“As I continued to explore the concept and gather the songs I wanted to do, I did not want to limit it to a physical distance,” MacMahon said. “There are so many ways that distance and closeness interplay in romantic relationships.”

Outside of the conceptual approach, MacMahan wants to invoke emotions. Instead of getting bogged down in the theory — which MacMahan admitted to me he knew very little about — MacMahan wants his music to reflect the deepest emotions, the ones that are at the core of being human.

“I think music is a really great conduit for communicating things that are universal but a person might not admit or know that they feel,” MacMahon said. “I think the best music communicates something that you are terrified to say and the listener resonates with without knowing that they have felt before.”

MacMahan makes his music to heal — both the listener and himself.

“The emotions that terrify us and we run from, those are the things we manifest in our own lives, MacMahan said. “Embracing the things that terrify us and that our culture tells us we should not feel, that is the fastest way to heal and let those pass.”

As our chat went on, MacMahan talked about the process of making the album more and more, but he kept returning back to the idea that art is a force for good.

“Art is not just an expression of feeling, but a methodology of healing those things that ail us,” MacMahan said.

“Songs for Long Distance Lovers” by Norman Lake released March 3 and is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music now.