I have had the great pleasure of meeting Thomas Dybdahl the other day to talk about his newest album "What’s Left Forever", midlife-crisis and how it was working with the two grammy winners Larry Klein (producer, worked with Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancocks etc.) and Tchad Blake (mix, The Black Keys, Sheryl Crow…). Of course it’ll be published in German as well. If you wonder why I love the album, my first question says it already. It’s like this soft, warm spring (or autumn) sunshine - not that awful summer sun. It’s feeling comfy but in music and words.
The first time I heard and met Thomas was about 2 years ago when he released “Songs” in Europe, some sort of Best Of from his former albums or an introduction to a new crowd. However, with “What’s Left Is Forever” he done some new very honest and soulful pop music. I hope you enjoy this interview.
Dörte: I love your new album. For me it is a warm fuzzy feeling – is it supposed to be like this?
Thomas Dybdahl: In a way I wasn’t trying to be too emotional but I wanted it to be a warm experience, that the songs would be warm, the production would be warm and just sort of enjoyable. I think it’s a very straight record, the way it is produced is and the way the songs are written, they’re pretty simple and the frame is very is simple in a way. It’s the first time I have written songs in that way in a long time. I just sort of went nuts with…I listened to all the people who had written good pop songs, I was trying to listen to them long before I started writing, so I could get into the mode of it.
Did it work?
I think so. I started writing after a little while and in the beginning it didn’t feel right, the songs didn’t feel right and then I immersed myself more into the music, listened more to it and then after a while I got into a zone where everything you write is connected, every song is connected to the other song. But it took a while because I hadn’t done it in a while. I did an album before that, “Waiting For That One Clear Moment”, which was a lot less structured in a way. It was more mixed between movie music and songs. It was hard to just get back to write songs like that but it was great, I wanted to do that. I was eager to just write like that. And also working with a producer like that, I have never done that before either.
What did it change? You’ve changed the working process basically.
Not so much the writing but very much the choosing which song to record and how to record them and choosing songs on a basis that… maybe I had a better song but maybe it didn’t fit, I didn’t feel like it…. so sometimes we would chose the lesser song for the better one because it fit better but it was weird. That producer, Larry Klein, he is an old timer and he has done lots of shit.
I have read about him and I thought if you work with such a person who has done so much really, really good stuff, I would have had so much respect, I wouldn’t know if I could work decently for the first day.
We worked so much before we went into the studio and I went to LA and I brought my family and we stayed there for months and I just got to know him and we wrote together and he set me up with other writing partners and we were just listening to music and were thinking about how we wanted to do this, what kind of musicians do we want. So, by the time we went into the studio we knew each other and we knew that what we wanted to do was basically the same thing.
But he has another patience, being so much younger than him, I don’t have that patience. He is very much like “get the right song, the right people in the right studio. Don’t worry about it, it’ll work out”. It’s such a calmness to him that was very weird but it was good for me because I am so impatient, after 10 minutes if it doesn’t sound right I am like “what the fuck, what’s happening” and all these things. He was cool, he was very calm.
It seems then that “Easy Tiger” is a song for yourself - I have been wondering if it was a song for yourself or - if you have a son - your son.
Yes, I have a five year old son. He is very much like me, he is very impatient. He is crazy. When he doesn’t get things right right away, he gets very frustrated and he wants to do everything at once. And so “Easy Tiger” is a mix between something I wished my dad had told me and something that I wanted to tell my son. Not for now tho, maybe for a little bit later. So, when he is a little bit older. When you get to be 14/15 and you feel like grown up and there are so many things that you plunge into. If I ever have to write a road map of the things I wished my dad told me that’s what I wrote in that song. It was both, for me and for my son, I think.
For me it’s such a wise song…
It was a hard song to write, I thought, because it’s so hard not to get cheesy when you write stuff like that. You can come across as if your trying to be like Mr. Know-It-All or something. I just wanted it not to be like as if I would I knew anything more or like I knew the answer but just some things you learn when you get older.
What I found interesting about your album was the first thing I thought about it: I didn’t think about you as a singer-songwriter being like a soul singer because of the way you sing. I don’t know why, I might be completely wrong.
No, I mean singer-songwriter is very vague, someone who sings and is writing songs.
Yes, and you have always a picture in head what a singer-songwriter is.
And I fit the mould because I have the beard and I look like a singer-songwriter. It was one thing about this album that we worked a lot with the vocals to stay extremely relaxed like on top of the rest of the album. I did it lying down on the floor recording it. Because we tried so many things how to get the right sound and how to get the right feeling for it and that’s ended up being lying on the floor. Because when I was lying on the floor I could relax but it still sounded like I was reaching for something. When I had to do small jumps or if I had to go a little bit higher it sounded like I was reaching for something because it is harder when you’re lying down. It’s not like when you’re standing up and it’s very effortless.
So, we wanted to try to get a mix of sounding very calm and relaxed and still having to reach that little bit to get to the notes. That was a weird thing. I have had the blinds, the shades, down and I lay down on the floor and did the vocals. But it worked.
I find the cover artwork, made by Jens Carelius, quite nice. First it seems to be meant for vinyl because you have all the lyrics written down on your face.
In a way it’s true because we’re doing vinyl, we are doing a really nice vinyl with a big fold out it the middle. But that guy, the designer, I fucking love him. I think he is so cool in the way he approaches things. I always wanted him to do something with the lyrics, to use it as a graphic element. And I think the way he did it was great but he is also a great artist. He has done two albums that are really cool.
So, he is one of those overall creative people…
[Thomas answers with a smile] Yes, the guys you hate who can do everything, that makes you pissed off.
Well, if you can do everything the problem is you want to do everything. If you have just one thing to focus on, it’s easier, I guess. What I thought when I saw it first was, that it seems like the songs are what defines you at least on a superficial basis. I might be wrong with this impression.
You’re not wrong in the sense that like I said it’s been a really long time since I have written songs that are very autobiographical or what the hell you want to call it. Usually I just go for a story, whatever it takes to get a good story it’s cool. But I didn’t do that this time. All the songs and even the title “What’s Left Is Forever” is almost like an early midlife crises. It’s almost like you’re at this point where you got to chose the path for later. It’s now or never, you can’t go on doing all the things you’ve done all the time. There are some relationships, some friendships and some things that need to end because they have been going on like an autopilot thing. For me now time is just different. I feel like…that’s another part of the midlife crisis is that you feel that there is less time. I feel like I have to be more careful what I use it for. The title meant to indicate a choice. The choice of path: what do you want to do now, what do you want to keep in your life and what you want to throw away.
Did it help you figure out everything?
Yes, it did and that’s the weird thing about those lyrics that they’re very autobiographic. They are just very honest in one way and it’s not storytelling like I have done before. This is a relationship record. Everything is about some sort of relationship whether it’s family, my wife and I or our family, our friends, it’s all.
You also worked with Tchat Blake who mixed the record.
He is a genius. He is incredible. We chose him because he mixed that record “El Camino” by the Black Keys and that record sounds fucking amazing, I think. We just chose him because he was doing such a good work. We didn’t know if he gonna say yes. Fortunately him and Larry Klein had known each other through previous stuff. They have never worked close but he did it. It was very weird. I was never there when he mixed it. We gave him an album and said “Can you do this?” and he said “yes, send the stuff” and it sounded great. Whatever the small things needed to be fixed, he fixed it. But we could tell right away that he is not the kind of guy where you go to and say I want it like this because he wouldn’t do that. When we got things back then we thought can you do it like this and then he would go back and do it like that. He would do this tiny adjustment that how much he would do. It was basically the same. He did what he wanted to do and that was great. But he is nuts, the way he works is…
Because he is just like an artist. He has his sound and the way he wants it to be and you can’t really force him to do anything else. So, if you’re not happy with it you just need to take it out and go somewhere else. Because you couldn’t really dictate him what to do, he had a vision for what he wanted to do with it.
I imagine it must be very odd.
Yes, of course, because I am used to be mixing it myself. I am used to sitting there and doing all these things myself. Also, it was nice getting to that point…everything that I haven’t done before I welcome it. I am really open to it. Because I feel like sometimes I missed out on a few things just by being close-minded, being like if it doesn’t sound like a good idea within the first 5 seconds then let’s not do it. I am not like that any more. I’d rather stay really, really open, give things a little bit more time, maybe do something stupid every once in a while but I rather do that and just be open then doing what I have always done.
Is it part of the midlife crisis?
I think so and it’s a good part of it. I like just being open. I have been very close-minded. I have done all those things I wanted to do just the way I wanted and now… That will also mean that I will make some big blunders here and there and that’s fine. I don’t care. As long as they don’t ruin me completely then it’s fine.
Is this also the reason why you say you’re the most proud of this album?
There is no way to say anything else really because you’re so consumed with it when you spend such a long time on it that your mind gets into this gear where you commit to it. You say “This is it. This is what we’re doing now.” and I think if I was thinking something like “I like the previous one better”. I don’t know if that would work because you put so much effort into it and you go around the world and talk to people… So, I don’t know if there is any way around it. I don’t know if I could ever say anything else. But yes, I am enormously proud of it but I don’t know if that is something I could go around. I don’t know how much that counts. But Larry told me that he was extremely happy with this record. A lot of people he works with are not that involved. They write the songs and they sing but they’re not involved in production. I was very involved in this, basically that’s what I do.
You’re used to do this on your own.
I think for him and for me as well it was a cool experience to work with someone who is very into the detail stuff. He didn’t had to pull the weight of this alone. He had someone to really work with.
You’re probably quite like minded on this or was it a lot of discussions?
No, we did the fighting before we went into the studio, so we were OK when we went into the studio.
Was it different to be L.A. to make the record?
I don’t know about L.A. really, it could be anywhere in the world probably. It would be the same. It was nice to not be home. It was nice to be somewhere else. When you go somewhere for the first time you have that honeymoon feeling where everything is really cool and exciting. And I think that helps on the energy of things from my side. I was really into it, really excited.
You also have a limited amount of time.
Yes, we only had 6 days in the studio.
I guess it helps to focus and not lose yourself in the details. I imagine you’re a person who can be lost in the details.
Yes, obviously I can but we did the details afterwards basically. So we did 6 days in the studio where we did what we call the basic takes, we did the band takes. It was me on acoustic guitar, it was the drums, the Hammond organ, guitar and bass. That was what we did, there was no detail work whatsoever. After we did this we moved to another studio where we spend two weeks - double the time - on just doing details. It wasn’t like I couldn’t do details.
You shifted the details to a later point.
Yes, and that was great. I love the details. And I was so happy that I could spend so much time on the details because that’s what I fucking love: fiddling around with all sort small things, with guitar things and the prepared piano. I had a blast doing that because that’s when starts to shine. You get out of the studio after the first week… and it’s like a car but it has no paint and it has no interior but it’s a car, it works maybe and you can drive it but it looks like shit and it doesn’t feel right. So, when you start with the details you’re making it interesting.
Thank you for the interview, Thomas.
Thomas Dybdahl will be playing on the Reeperbahn Festival twice, both gigs will be on Saturday. I am really looking forward to his gigs there. It’s my first time on this festival and by now it’s becoming torture to chose where to go. Dybdahl is, however, on top of this list.
There will be a big tour in Norway and Denmark and a few more dates in Germany.
It took a while to write about it but I love the new David Bowie record “The Next Day”. I saw it coming when he released “Where Are We Now?” a short while ago.
With “Where Are We Now?" he picked up the nostalgic feelings which occasionally overwhelm me when I think about Berlin. I haven’t been born when Bowie was here. I was 7 when the wall came down but this town has changed so much since I had been born. I know it is part of every town but with Berlin I think it is a bit more extreme as there are two parts growing together which had been divided for so long (and I think it’s still not really finished). For me the song (apart from being about Berlin) comes with such an emotional power, it’s almost overwhelming. It is in every note played, the synths, the way Bowie sings, simply in everything. Sometimes it just hits me in “one of the moments” everyone has and my tears are filling my eyes. Those are the things I didn’t wrote down when I posted the video weeks ago.
But it’s not only because of one song that I fell in love with this album. It’s easy to say that he didn’t do anything new, that he is his old self or anything into that direction but the music, the melodies, the songs and lyrics he created on this album are still a lot more interesting, original and creative than all the Pop/Electropop/Rock/etc. you get to hear from a lot of the younger bands. And there some little sound parts in Bowie’s new songs which remind me of bands I fell in love in with in the last couple of years (e.g. Bowie’s “If You Can See Me” and Screaming Maldini's, I think, “Secret Sound” - I am sure SM haven't invented that bit either but I love it).
Throughout the whole album Bowie keeps on mentioning names - they seem to be companions in his life, some as inspirations, some as friends. I find “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" weird, funny and in a way disturbing. It’s like Bowie is criticising the thing he is having a benefit of himself: the worship of celebrities, of stars, by "normal" people. The worship not of the art they create but simply by what they act in public and how the stars make us, the “normal” people, a ball in their game. I love the lyric sheet they posted on his website (look here) which shows an idea for a video: “Video - stars like Greek gods, cruel and controlling”.
I especially love the second half of the deluxe album - most songs sound like a good party…with a little 80’s touch. One of my most favourite and most played tracks on the album is “Dancing Out In Space" - I love the swirling guitars and the steady beat and how it sound like two very different people dancing with each other.
“(You Will) Set The World On Fire" hosts a fabulous riff in the middle, comes with a bunch of names like Ochs, Van Ron and Baez - all Folk and protest singers. I have talked about this topic in some of my most recent interviews with other artists, wondering if there is still the need for such singers. There is because even though many things haven’t changed people still need to be reminded of all the things going wrong. Music is a good way of doing so. Or as Kasper Eistrup of Kashmir put it: “That little country of freedom can inspire the rest of the assholes to do things in a different way" (read here the rest of the interview). I keep wondering who Bowie is singing about.
It took a few listens and a bit of time until I started to really like “Heat" - compared to the previous songs, it is dark. I need the time to wrap my mind around the lyrics. The lines I like the most are "And I tell myself/I don’t know who I am" because they feel kind of familiar. I guess it is this wish of wanting to be different from your roots and the wish of being able to change your personality. All these character traits that make me stumble so often - as much as I try to change they are always coming back.
The deluxe version of “The Next Day” comes with three bonus tracks. The instrumental “Plan" which has a little psychedelic touch and somehow doesn’t feel complete to me - not because of the missing words but there is an end missing.
“So She" and "I’ll Take You There" are just enjoyable to listen to. I like their energy, especially “I’ll Take You There”. I somehow think “Hold my hand and/ I’ll take you there" are perfect lines to end the whole album. Basically he doesn’t leave me (us) alone after the album is finished and neither does his music. It keeps buzzing through my head, heart and body. That is what I love about the album. I keep on wanting to listen to this album and nothing else…for weeks now. Also, for me it closes a circle. In the first song "The Next Day" he sings "Here am I/Not quite dying" with such emphasis that it seems Bowie want to tell the world he is still alive. In addition he is not only alive but he can still take us with him.
If you fancy to know anything about the cover artwork of “The Next Day” I can highly recommend Jonathan Barnbrooks blog post about it - I can’t add any more or different thoughts on it:
Thank you for reading,
While everyone is talking about Amanda Palmer, we could as well check out the project Brian Viglione’s called Gentlemen & Assassins. I have listened to both records a lot in the last days as I have been writing about them for the German online magazine FastForward. I don’t want to compare the two albums, I just save some time by writing about both in the same blog post.
It’s amazing what Amanda Palmer archived with the Kickstarter campaign - I mean she got almost 1.2 million dollar for her new record and her creativity is amazing. However, I just have a problem with the new record “Theatre Is Evil”. I find it a tad boring and the reason is quite simple: whenever I listen to it, I try to figure out where I have heard the melody of the song before and that happens with almost with every song. I know, I know, it’s about the lyrics and what she says between the lines but if the sound of a song can’t catch me, it is most often very difficult to keep listening to it more than once. She is around in some 80’s influenced music and Pop, Punk, Rock and a bit of Classic here and there. Well, the introduction may give a hint towards this. It reminds of something of the time of the Cabaret.
The first few songs “The Killing Type”, “Do It With A Rockstar” and “Want It Back” are actually pretty catchy. I really like the little reference to Mackie Messer of Brechts “Dreigroschenoper” in “The Killing Type”- one sign of Palmers love of German literature. “Want It Back” reminds me of some Tegan and Sara song. One of the songs I find most difficult to listen to is “Grown Man Cry” - it just reminds of a really bad 80’s ballad - one of those kinds which you don’t even want to listen to on the radio anymore. Not even the lyrics are helping me out there. The following song “Trout Heart Replica” is one of my most favourites. It a beautiful song, I love the piano and string arrangements. Beautiful has to be seen relatively as it sounds very chased and unsettled. Superficially seen it is a song that criticise mass fish keeping and their killing. Funnily the one animal that some “vegetarians” still eat and which living conditions are just as worse as the conditions for other animals but they are less cute or something but that’s a different story. You can fully sink into the song and then the instrumental piece “A Grand Theft Intermission” will jolt you out of your thoughts. After this intermission it continues like beforehand. Well, the album is build like a theatre piece - stirring parts alternate with softer melodies (like “The Bed Song”) and end in an ultimate climax. For “Olly Olly Oxen Free” they use the whole wall of sound they have to offer and eventually you will be released into silence.
As expected she delivers a lot to think about but the melodies are way too familiar. That is the reason why I can’t really enjoy the album: I miss some interesting and innovative melodies to underline the lyrics to catch my interest for longer. It’s the lyrics that lift the album from mediocrity but if you just listen to it in passing, it’s really not more than mediocrity. You can download a free or pay as much as you like version of it, find lots of tour dates all around the world and information on how you can join her on stage on her website: http://www.amandapalmer.net.
As I already said Gentlemen & Assassins have their first album out. Next to Brian Viglione the band consists of two of my favourite musicians: Sxip Shirey and Elyas Khan. The album “Mother Says We’re innocent” is without a doubt one of the most interesting and fascinating albums the year had to offer until now. The reason is relatively easy, it’s the combination of very unique musicians who create a one of a kind sound. It is almost rare to find such a one of a kind band these days.
For those who haven’t read all the words I have already written about Sxip Shirey: he create music out of things that make noise like glass bowls with marbles, bells, penny whistles, guitars with paper clips and so on. And not only he creates music but he creates stories and landscapes and such. Adding Elyas and Brian to this picture sets it into a Rock Folk Punk frame. Another thing that is very difficult to describe is Elyas voice. Still. I have seen him so often and listened to his music so much and yet I lack words that could jsut nearly fit. Someone once said he sounds like “melted fucking chocolate over bourbon” and that kind of fits. Also, I always thought that you can hear all his roots in his voice. You can hear London, New York, India, Punk and all of that. In addition to singing many of the songs, he also plays bass or guitar.
What you can still hear is a reference to former times when it fits like in “Grandpa Charlie”. The music fits the title, it sounds like when our Grandparents were still young. “I Live In New York City” is an older song of Sxip, sounds like New York and with the band it is converted into a Rock version. “Istanbul” draws a picture of the city which even works when you have never been there. It kind of shows a traditional and a modern side of the city which seem to be in conflict with but still can exist next to each other. Some of older songs of Nervous Cabaret, Elyas band, got a new paintjob as well. What I like about Elyas lyrics is that he has his very own way to put what is going on in the world in his own words.
The album just never ceases to amaze me - it’s thought provoking and at the same time a pleasure to listen to and you can also dance if you want to. If you fancy watching them you have the chance today and the day after tomorrow in Berlin. Brian won’t be there but therefore Romain Vincente will join them for the drums:
20. September, Wild at Heart
22. September, Knochenbox
Last but not least an impression of G&A live:
Thank you for reading,