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Central Washington University

Norrish Reaction Not Just for Scientists Anymore

In organic chemistry, a Norrish reaction describes a particular photochemical reaction. It was named for British chemist Ronald George Wreyford Norrish.

In rock 'n' roll, Norrish Reaction is a new, high-energy band that has just released its first CD. It’s named for CWU geology professor Winston Norrish.

“I’ve been playing music a lot longer than I’ve been in science,” Norrish said. “I started playing guitar when I was in elementary school. My parents saw that I had interest in it and they encouraged that.”

Norrish is in his sixth year as a member of the CWU geology faculty, where he teaches the only petroleum geology class in the Pacific Northwest. Before arriving in Ellensburg, he worked as a professional petroleum geologist in Houston, Texas. 

“I spent about 10 years with BP as a development and exploration geologist and several years working for a smaller software company servicing the industry,” he said. “When I began teaching here, I was asked to put together a course that draws on my experience as a professional geologist, so putting together a petroleum geology course seemed logical.  It's a course where students see how various aspects of geology are applied in industry.”

Despite having full-time teaching and administrative responsibilities, Norrish and drummer, and fellow CWU professor, Robert Lupton, Information Technology and Administrative Management (ITAM), found time to write, rehearse, and record.

The self-titled Norrish Reaction CD was released last summer.

“Bob was really good about keeping the project rolling forward,” Norrish said. “It was like working on a thesis. When I wasn’t working on it, I felt like I probably should be.”

Norrish and Lupton first started playing together in a local cover band, “Rusted Souls.” The idea for the CD came up more than two years ago.

“His wife, [ITAM professor] Natalie [Lupton], saw that we had fun playing together [in the band] and liked the way we sounded,” Norrish acknowledged. “She suggested recording a CD to him. Bob called and said that he would really like to do a recording project with me, and I was just all over it. I’ve always wanted to do something like this.

Lupton said, “Winston is an unbelievable songwriter, unbelievable guitar player. I can’t say enough about how fortunate I am to work with such a great artist.”

The first fruit of the project was heard at the 2011 CWU Symposium for University Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE), which was promoted with the CD’s first completed track, “Turn It Up.”

“We put it out there as a theme song,” Norrish said. “It got massaged and changed it a little bit between last year’s and this year’s SOURCE, when it got used again. The majority of the writing and recording happened within the past year and it really picked up in December of last year.”

Norrish had actually started to document song concepts years ago with the aid of a small, digital recorder. Many of those ideas were included on the CD, as they were fully developed in Norrish’s home studio, sometimes at 2 a.m., typically with the music first and then the lyrics.

“Writing the lyrics was tough. That’s something I’ve always avoided in the past,” Norrish noted, with a laugh. “When you listen to a lot of popular music, when you listen to the lyrics, you can tell they were whipped out quickly without a lot of thought. That just doesn’t seem very genuine to me. And so, I spent a lot of time working with the lyrics until I was happy with them.”

Lupton agreed, saying, “These are songs that, when you listen to the lyrics or read the lyrics on a website you’ll say ‘I get it,’ ‘I understand it.’”

Norrish would then send the draft tracks to Lupton for review and suggestions. 

“The process of crafting a song can be exhausting, exhilarating, and intriguing,“ Lupton said. With modern technology, including the Internet and digital engineering, we would create a solid musical foundation for each song before taking them to London Bridge Studios in Seattle for final tracking.

Norrish admitted, “I did not set out to write any of these songs and have them sound like they ended up sounding. Every one of these songs surprised me when it was finished.”

Originally, the idea was to record the CD using both Norrish’s and Lupton’s home studios, something Norris was comfortable with after having dabbling in home recording over the years. Then the plan was to take the audio files to a professional studio for final mixing and mastering. However, Lenny Price, world-class saxophonist and former CWU music department special assistant in jazz, encouraged Norrish and Lupton to actually record in a professional Seattle studio.

Price, who played keyboards on the CD, said, “Having worked in some great rooms, like United Sound in Detroit, and some of the rooms in Atlanta where I recorded with [jazz legend] Earl Klugh, when I heard how epic the song [Walked Away] could be, I knew this project would benefit from having that level of quality, expertise, and technology available.”  

Norrish added, “One of the owners, Geoff Ott, ended up being the producer and engineer on our project. He talked us into recording the drums there and we just never looked back. London Bridge has a long history of recording some great bands—like Pearl Jam—they’ve got great people there, and it’s noted for a big drum sound.”

An obviously pleased Lupton added, “Big—big and bad drums.”

Ott said, “I was immediately blown away by [Winton’s] vocal and melodies, and he’s a great guitar player—he’s a shredder—he has lots of skills on the guitar. He and Bob had tons of ideas and it was a great collaboration getting Winston’s vision across.” 

Called a “Seattle Inspired Retro-Contemporary Alternative Rock” CD by by last.fm, Norrish Reaction is now available at Amazon, iTunes, Rhapsody, ReverbNation, and other websites.

“It was really a fun, satisfying thing to create something out of nothing,” Norrish acknowledged. Lupton added. “I still get goose bumps when listening to the songs on the CD, even after hearing the tracks literally more than 100 times through the recording process.” 

Lupton’s daughter, Alexandra, 14, also played drums, percussion, and keyboards for the CD, as did CWU alumnus Caspar van Haalen, of Seattle, on bass.

As to whether there be a second CD, Norrish said, “I’m working on it. I had way too much fun on the first one and I think Bob would say the same. There’s no turning back now.” 

You can see more about the making of Norrish Reaction here

Photo (l. to r.) Caspar Van Haalen, Bob Lupton, and Winston Norrish