Norfolk & Western have just released their brilliant third album, 'A Winter Farewell', just in time for Spring. it has been released, like its two predecessors, 'A Collection of ' and "Centralia' on the FILMGuerrero label.

Think sparse and soothing indie folk with beautiful arrangements and atmosphere.  Finely crafted songs and lullabies that seem timeless.

Adam Selzer, who is also a producer and an engineer, is the group's mainstay. I spoke to him about the band and also life in the studio


PB : How did Norfolk & Western come together?

AS : I moved to Portland, Oregon about five years ago, and shortly after that I opened Type Foundry, my own recording studio. I didn't have a band but I was recording my own songs when I had time in-between clients. I wasn't sure what the recordings were for, or what it was going to be called, but eventually I had enough songs that I felt okay about releasing. Since then, I've recorded 2 other records, and on all three of them I've enlisted the help of other musicians. Now it's at a point where it is a band. There are five members, but I want to maintain the ability to make records wherein the recordings stand far apart from the live setting which may mean having some people in the band not play on certain songs, as well as involving a lot of outside players that will bring new sounds and new instrumentation to the songs.

PB : Tell me more about your studio, Type Foundry.

AS : It started about five years ago, and it is now in its second home which is a really beautiful space. Its a very large room with wood floors in an old building in an industrial area of Portland. I've been in the new space for about a year now which includes a 1" 16-track machine with a good amount of nice microphones and other relevant gear...but the best part of the studio is definitely the room. The acoustics are exactly what I wanted to find in a space. I like how music sounds reflected off wood in a large room. As far as clients go, so far its almost exclusively been local bands or artists, and a lot of them are my close friends. Of those they would include M.Ward, Little Wings, Jeff London, Corrina Repp, and a great deal others. I just finished recording my friend Greg Olin who records under the guise of York Roberts and I'm really excited for that to come out.

PB : How do you go about writing songs?

AS : Usually I write them on acoustic guitar so they all tend to be a bit more folk based. When we're in the studio, I try to change the approach so the record doesn't end up sounding to singer/songwritery.

I like to use a lot of "snippets" to bridge the songs together to give the records more of a completed feel. They tend to be either parts of songs, or just improvised pieces. Some people might find this approach to have just the opposite effect, that the little extra bits make it sound so incomplete...but to me, it sounds more like a project rather than a collection of songs.

As far as the songs in the more traditional way go, I usually write the chord progression first, then the melody, and finally the lyrics. I'd love to write songs differently, and on other instruments, but it never really works for me. Every once and a while, I'll hear a melody in my head, then I'll try to find the chords on the guitar. Sometimes I'll write a chord progression and have some words somewhere and I'll press record and see what happens, see if I can improvise a melody.That's how the song ''Final Gratitude' was written. I've done that a few times, and they usually turn out better if the chord progression is very simple. Its nice because it always sounds different than if you're writing the melody with the progression or if you're working it out to much. The little surprises are always nice because sometimes they sound like something I would never think I would do.

PB : Your record's artwork is amazing. Is it part of the process?

AS : The artwork is definitely an integral part of what I am trying to accomplish.  To me, the aesthetics set the tone for the record, though of course there are plenty of records that I love wherein I don't care for the artwork. 

For 'Centralia', I knew I wanted to do something using a letterpress machine, but I'm not a designer so I found thes folks at a local printing shop Firefly ,who were still relatively new and they turned out to be really friendly and they liked the record ( I had finished it before I sought out any art for it).  When I went down to their shop, I knew I was in the right place. Beautiful posters that they had designed and printed were all over the walls and I really admired all the huge printing presses that were in there that were all manual and you could see all the gears...you knew exactly how everything worked just by looking at it.  Today that's such a rare thing, and I am really glad I was able to support people still using traditional methods of printing which I think looks superior. 

For 'Winter Farewell', I still wanted to use the package design that Firefly created, but I wanted my good friend John King to create a painting for the artwork.  So Firefly pretty much organized the whole endeavor and had it printed at a four-colour printer here in Portland.  I really like the di-cut design Firefly came up with...it reminds me a bit of a gatefold lp design, and since I've yet to get anything released on vinyl, it's the closest thing...and I love the fact that there is no plastic involved in the packaging.

PB : Growing up-what were your fave records?

AS : I don't think that the records I listened to growing up have had much of an effect on what I'm doing now (other than providing the obvious proverbial path) but when I was in high school I was a huge Camper Van Beethoven fan.  But I was also into some embarrassing bands. Who wasn't?  I was in college in the early 90's and was involved in the radio station so I got to be tuned on to a lot of really great records.  And of course, like the majority of the population, I was an avid Beatles fan.  They were the reason I wanted to get into recording.  In high school and college I would exclusively listen to 'Rubber Soul' and the albums that followed it (post '65) but in the last couple of years I've really been intrigued by the early songs.  They're much more about the songs than the medium of delivery.  And I love the chord progressions.

PB : There's lot of indie/folk/alt-country/whatever music out right now.  How do you make yourself stand out?

AS : I'm not really sure.  Looking back, I think the name Norfolk and Western is a bit of a stigma in that people tend to assume we are folk or we are alt-country, but to be honest that never occurred to me when I adopted the name .  It is the name of a now defunct train line from Virginia, and when I was putting together the first record , ) I took a photo of a train that said Norfolk and Western on it.  So I figured that would be the name of the band or project as it were, that way I wouldn't have to put any text on the cover. 

But I don't know how to make us stand out.  If I knew that, more people would know who we are.  It seems like everyone always says this, but it's so true, that most respectable artists just do what they do, and then people put a label on it, and some of them find greater success than others.  It doesn't always have much to do with the quality.  I think it's mostly luck.

PB : Tell me about the scene in Portland.

ADAM-Portland is an interesting town in that there are a lot of people making music because it's relatively cheap to live here, and there are a lot of venues to play.  I come in to contact with a lot of musicians due to running the recording studio, and I've never had a problem with anyone.  I've enjoyed working with everyone I've recorded over the past four years, even if I wasn't too fond of their music.  Most people are very supportive of each other, but however the down side of having so many musicians in one place is that it becomes difficult for bands to make a name for themselves locally.  Most of my friends have found more success playing out of town which is necessary if you want to progress.

PB : How did you hook up with your label, FILMguerrero?

ADAM-John Askew, who is one of the two guys who run the label, has been a friend of mine for over ten years.  We went to college together.  When he was putting out his own record ( Tracker) he decided to release it himself, and when it was time to do mine, I figured I would use his label. H e was just helping me in that I could use his website and all the connections that he had established.  Then it started to grow a bit and they took a more active roll in the releases and made it more legitimate.  Now they do all the work which is nice for me.  It's nice to have people you know and trust putting out your record.

PB : What's up next?  New record?  Tour?

AS : -Well, we're going to start recording this week.  I have no idea when the next record will be complete, but I hope to have it done within six months.  I don't want to wait as long to put out the next one as I did with 'Winter Farewell'.  There was a two year gap between it and 'Centralia'. I think one record a year is a good goal to have, as long as the material is strong enough.  If there aren't enough songs that I feel are worthy enough for release, then it may be longer.  It seems for every song that makes it, another one or two don't. 

As far as touring goes, we'd love to do it more.  We just did a few shows with Jonathan Richman  which was fun, but our music is very different than his.  I would say that the cross over was about 20%, but that was still a lot of people.  He does very well, his fans are very loyal.  We're doing a little ten day stint in California at the end of May, but that's about it. 

We want to tour more, but I'm trying to get us on a tour with someone who has a draw, and whose fans might find us interesting.  This is difficult to accomplish and becomes very frustrating.  Everyone in the band has had their fare share of tours where the venues are poor, and nobody shows up, and none of us want that anymore. 

But at the same time, we know that it's hard work and we're willing to face hardships.  We don't expect things to be given to us.  We do really want to come to Europe, and ideally we'd like to find a label over there to put out our music.  As it stands now, it's only available as an import, but we still find more interest from overseas than we do here. 

PB : Thank you











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