Kenneth Norton has always written music close to his heart.
It made perfect sense, then, to have his band, Graces Downfall, be the first to help The Weekender re-launch its Weekender Sessions, a series of intimate performances recorded professionally that allow listeners to delve deeper into local music in a unique and open setting.
‚??I‚??ve always loved music. Since I was a kid, I‚??ve always listened to music that was a little bit different, trying to imitate voices and just really getting deeper into the songs, more so the meaning of the lyrics and stuff like that. A great beat, a good song ‚?? it didn‚??t matter if it was really rap or rock,‚?Ě Norton told The Weekender after the shoot.
‚??What really got me started in music was my mother was a very good singer. She‚??s classically trained. When she was younger, like four or five years old, she used to take lessons with a woman. My mom had kind of a rough life, and she told me the stories. She trained me. She taught me how to sing,‚?Ě he continued.
‚??My dad always listened to music. He was in a band when he was younger. My sister is very talented too. My sister is a great singer. Compared me, I think she‚??s better, but my mom was by far the best.‚?Ě
The 27-year-old Scranton resident ‚??messed around‚?Ě with music throughout high school before forming Graces Downfall in 2005. The name was inspired by the Breaking Benjamin‚??s ‚??Simple Design‚?Ě and Seether‚??s ‚??Burrito‚?Ě both mentioning ‚??falling from grace;‚?Ě these influences can easily be heard in the group‚??s heavy alternative rock.
‚??Our sound really has just become this rock, metal, grunge-ish sound. Putting it all together, that‚??s what we want. Some songs will sound like Pearl Jam. Some songs will sound like All That Remains. Some songs will sound like Metallica. ‚?ĽThen you‚??ll hear a slow song,‚?Ě he explained.
‚??I try to write lyrics with meaning. Mark (Yanish) tries to write whatever challenges him a little bit, but you also have to write something catchy. You want to do your art, but you kind of have to sell it too.
‚??Now we have Grant Williams in the band and we kind of all have that same vibe now, and we‚??re writing our style through what we like and what we think the band is, so I‚??d say our sound has really come around within the last half a year.‚?Ě
The group currently features Yanish on guitar, Williams on bass, and Matt Stygar on drums. To some, they‚??re known as an exceptional cover band; to fans, they‚??re known for their three albums of original work, releasing their latest, ‚??Resplendent Indignity,‚?Ě last April. With about seven or eight songs written, they plan to head to Harrisburg to record a new EP in February or March.
‚??The covers around here are actually what pay your bills so you can go ahead and hop in the studio and pay $5,000 for a CD. We don‚??t do the Kickstarter thing. We try to do it all out of our own pockets because we do well in the cover scene. ‚?ĽAs a cover band when we started, we got a good following, and then we wrote the albums,‚?Ě Norton acknowledged.
‚??We get lucky. We play the covers, but our fans kind of come out really for the original stuff. We do alright in the area with that.‚?Ě
With radio stations reluctant to take chances on spinning original tracks and many bars forcing bands to draw crowds with popular covers, Graces has had to slowly introduce its original music into its regular sets.
‚??You can go ahead and play your original music and sneak it in there and bars are like, ‚??OK, I don‚??t mind that. They brought people and they can play cover music,‚??‚?Ě he noted.
‚??No one‚??s really clinging onto original songs anymore. No one‚??s really looking out for that. Everything is kind of a rip-off.‚?Ě
It is situations like this that inspired the return of Weekender Sessions, which has helped highlight original work by local and national acts for years, but became infrequent in 2012. With the help of award-winning filmmaker and producer Joe Van Wie and his Scranton-based production company, JVW Inc., the series has been given a new look and higher production values than ever before, shooting a new act each month.
‚??I‚??ve always enjoyed The Weekender. I think there‚??s a dominant force for entertainment behind it. They‚??ve always covered great bands. It was a great opportunity for us to film the sessions a little more cinematically and have a great relationship with The Weekender that could eventually blossom into more content,‚?Ě Van Wie emphasized.
‚??We took a different approach. We decided that the music was so epic and there were such heartfelt stories behind the writing of this original band that they deserve to be filmed a little more dynamically.‚?Ě
One way he plans to ‚??up the ante‚?Ě is by shooting in different locations; Graces Downfall was filmed in the basement studio of 119 Productions, a full service media design and music production company also based in Scranton.
‚??We‚??ve had a longstanding relationship with Joe on a couple different projects, mainly through the commercials for Lackawanna College. He never really saw the studio that much until that shoot, and then he‚??s like, ‚??This would be awesome to do the sessions in.‚?? I‚??m like, ‚??Yeah, I‚??m all for it.‚?? Anything for the local music scene,‚?Ě 119 owner Alex Molfetas recalled.
‚??It was a really great experience‚?Ľ I‚??m good friends with Kenny, and I‚??ve seen the band I don‚??t know how many times. Their original stuff is awesome.‚?Ě
‚??I didn‚??t really know the band. I just met them that day, but they seemed like good people and I was glad to work with them,‚?Ě Mike Ortiz, the head engineer who now runs the studio, added.
The results pleased everyone involved.
‚??I‚??m glad you guys had us. I think it‚??s awesome. We‚??re glad, and we‚??re honored we‚??re the first ones to really kick it off,‚?Ě Norton commented. ‚??It was a cool experience. It was fun to do.‚?Ě
‚??I just love this energy that we have with The Weekender because of its ability to reach out to more key bands and cherry pick some of the great talent in the area,‚?Ě Van Wie said. ‚??It‚??s easy for us to shoot these bands and give them the production value they deserve. We‚??re looking forward to a bright future of shooting some great musicians.‚?Ě
The session is now available for viewing on youtube.com/weekendervideo with free, downloadable mp3s of the songs available on theweekender.com.
The new Weekender Session features two original songs by Graces Downfall. Both have very different, but personal meanings for singer Kenneth Norton.
‚??Always the Victim‚?Ě
‚??My stuff comes from my life. A lot of stuff comes from, on the first CD, experiences I‚??ve had. ‚??Always the Victim‚?? is about people that just don‚??t take up to their own problems ‚?? they always blame somebody else. It‚??s always, ‚??Woe is me,‚?? and it‚??s just never their fault. That‚??s where ‚??Always the Victim‚?? really came from. That album has a lot of that influence on it,‚?Ě Norton explained.
‚??We chose ‚??Always the Victim‚?? because that was kind of our forefront song. It‚??s been the one that everyone‚??s clicked onto and everybody seems to enjoy the most. It‚??s a rocking song. It has the good hooks, it has the catchy melodies, and we feel it‚??s our best song.‚?Ě
‚??I wrote the lyrics about my mom and how she‚??s had this nerve disease, RSD (Reflex Sympathetic DystrophySyndrome), for 14 years now. My daughter will walk in the room, and my mom will be sitting in a chair. She won‚??t move ‚?? I don‚??t want to say for days ‚?? but she‚??ll be out of it, hurting,‚?Ě Norton shared.
‚??She‚??ll have good days and she‚??ll have bad days, but as soon as my daughter walks in the room and says, ‚??Hey, Nanny,‚?? she‚??s up, she‚??s moving. It doesn‚??t matter how much pain she‚??s in. It doesn‚??t matter how her days has been going. As soon my daughter walks in the room, it just brightens up her day. Whatever that kid wants to do, she‚??s going to do it just for her.‚?Ě
First Annual Steamtown Music Awards: Jan. 27, 6 p.m., Hilton Scranton & Conference Center (100 Adams Ave., Scranton). $10-50.
Graces Downfall; Sylex; Behind the Grey; Lies, Inc.; Darkness Descends: Jan. 18, 5 p.m., Arena Sports & Entertainment Bar & Grill (1521 Martin St., State College). $5.
Graces Downfall; The Last Brain Cells; Path of Motion; Crobot; Small Town Titans; From Georgia 2 Maine; Ripping X-Ray: Jan. 20, 2 p.m., The Rusty Nail (2580 Haverford Rd., Ardmore). $8.