Der norwegische Musiker Thomas Dybdahl gilt hierzulande immer noch als Geheimtipp, obgleich er auf eine umfangreiche Diskographie zurückblickt – und das nicht nur solo: Mal leiht er seine Stimme den Downbeat-Pionieren von Morcheeba, mal hilft er als Gitarrist bei den Quadraphonics aus, und bei der Supergroup National Bank mischt er auch noch mit. Vor gut zwei Jahren schickte Dybdahl sich an, mit einer schlicht Songs getauften Kompilation seiner bisherigen Stücke auch die Musikliebhaber jenseits von Skandinavien zu erobern. Diesen Feldzug setzt er nun mit seinem neuen Album What’s Left Is Forever fort – seinem ersten international bei einem großen Label veröffentlichten Soloalbum.
Und gleich mit dem Titeltrack gelingt es dem sensiblen Künstler, der sich aufgrund seines fragil-introvertierten Vokal-Stils schon mal Vergleiche mit Nick Drake, James Blake & Co. gefallen lassen muss, das Befinden einer ganzen Generation auf den Punkt zu bringen. Die Quarter-Life-Crisis weit hinter sich, die Midlife-Crisis noch längst nicht in Sicht, sei es recht eigentlich die Zeit zwischen dem dreißigsten und vierzigsten Lebensjahr, in der das eigene Leben mehr als sonst auf dem Prüfstand steht: Bin ich froh damit, was ich bis jetzt erreicht habe? Waren die Entscheidungen, die ich getroffen habe, richtig? Mag ich die Dinge, mit denen ich mich umgebe, tun mir die Menschen in meinem Umfeld gut? Denn jetzt ist auch die – vielleicht letzte – Chance zur radikalen Kurskorrektur. Was danach übrig bleibt, ist für den Rest des Lebens gemacht: What’s left ist forever.
Anfang September hat mir Thomas Dybdahl aber nicht nur verraten, was es mit dem Titelsong seiner neuen Platte auf sich hat, sondern auch, warum er keinen Sinn darin sieht, dem großen Reigen der aktuellen Alben, die das Repertoire von Great American Songbook & Co. beinhalten, eine weitere hinzuzufügen, und weshalb er sich in erster Linie immer noch als Gitarrist und nicht als Sänger betrachtet. Ich wünsche beim Lesen dieses Interviews viel Freude!
Klangverführer: Alright then, let’s talk about your new album …
Thomas Dybdahl: Uh, let’s talk about something else! (laughs)
Okay! What about dogs?
Yeah, let’s do an interview about dogs!
Do you have a dog?
I do not.
Well, I’m afraid in this case we better talk about your album. Let’s start with a rather philosophical question. Your new album is called What’s Left Is Forever. Tell me, what is it that will remain forever when we’re gone, according to your opinion?
I was thinking of it more sort of … you know, I feel I have to make a few choices regarding sort of the rest of my life, sort of my goals: What kind of things my life brings and is there anything in my life that I don’t wanna continue doing or having or seeing, because I feel it’s sort of life’s crossrads time, in the sense that I’m thirty-four years old, so I’m not old – but I’m not young, either. It’s sort of an in-between age. I feel that there were some choices I had to make in order to feel that I’m spending my time on the things I wanna spend my time on. I think when you get older it’s just natural to feel that time is a little bit different, you know, a little bit more precious, you wanna fill it with stuff that gives you a meaning. That whole title is just basically a sort of hope that I’ve done the right choices. I feel that what I have now in my life is what I will have, going forward, and it’ll stay that way. Because I like my life like it is right now, I like the choices that I made … some choices I regret, obviously, but I am all the things that make up my life rigth now and I’m really happy about it. And also, it’s just a variation of that other title which has been used so many times, When the dust settles. That sort of thing. What do you see after a big fight. Yeah, that’s it!
Rising like Phoenix from the ashes …
(laughs) My new life! Life 2.0!
Your previous album Songs was more or less a selection of your previously released music. So What’s Left Is Forever is your first original album that will be released outside of Scandinavia, your first international solo album, so to say …
Well, I think the three first albums were released but they were all on really small labels – but they were out there, you know. But it’s the first in a while.
What I was getting at is: What went into this album that is different from Songs and what kind of opportunities are you looking forward to by the release?
To be honest, I’m really really really just hoping to get an audience in parts of the world where I haven’t had it before, for example in Germany. I mean, I’ve had an audience in Germany, in the sense that I could go on tour and I could play in clubs and have lots of people coming, but it limits itself to playing in four or five places and that’s it. But Germany is such a big country, there is more audience to meet. So I’m just really really hoping to meet a bigger audience because I think I’ve got something now with this album that I’m really hopeful about people – if they just get a chance to listen to it, I think they can like it! -, which is a good feeling. So yeah, I’m just hoping to really meet a new audience and to kinda get a new group of people to give it a chance, to give it a listen.
And it’s the first album in a little while that I’ve done with these kind of songs, very clear cut songs. It’s a pretty straight album, I think as well, in comparison to what I’ve done before. I’ve done more like music for films and scores and stuff like that, so I’ve been working with lots of different things and it was great to go back to that format of writing songs again because it’s such a great tradition. The four-minute-pop-song is such a simple little thing but it’s so hard to get the right ingrediences in there, to not overload it, to not make it too difficult or whatever.
And I worked with a great producer called Larry Klein who’s done a lot of cool stuff, you know, he’s done Joni Mitchell, he’s done Herbie Hancock, he’s done Tracy Chapman … a lot of stuff that I’ve listened to, you know. And it was a good thing cuz I had to let go a little bit, I had to let go a little bit control – cuz if I was working with a producer, there was no point in doing it half-way, so I sort of had to trust him!
Does that mean that your albums which you have released before were self-produced?
So it’s the first time you’re working with a producer. Tell me, how did this cooperation come about?
Like all other things – it was just a long series of coincidences that sort of suddenly materialized into this. He’s gotten the song from a friend of his almost four years ago, a song called Love Story which is on a different record that I made. And that friend has gotten it through another friend, a French photographer called Jean Baptiste Mondino, so this song sort of passed through a whole chain of friends and ended up on Larrys desk in Los Angeles. Initially, he didn’t really know what to do with it – but he loved it. But then he got the chance to start his own little label under Universal, a label called Strange Cargo. When they set up this little label for him, they said: Go and work with the people you wanna work with and release the records that you wanna release – and the first thing that came into his mind was the song that he’s been keeping on his desk for a long time and he thought like, yes, there’s finally an opening to do something with it. So he called me and then came to Norway and saw a show and it was it! And then we started working.
So you’ve been the first signing of Strange Cargo?
Yeah, I think maybe I was!
Wow. How does that feel if somebody from Los Angeles calles you and tells you he wants to sign you for his label which is under the roof of Universal Music?
I’m glad you said the latter cuz sometimes you get called from labels that … you know, anyone can have a label! I can start a label and call someone! It doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. But this was serious, so it was great. It feels very coincidental, sometimes, because you know there are so many odd twists and turns before it turns out the way it turns out.
Maybe it’s some sort of destiniy, who knows … Well, let’s talk about the individual songs on the new record. Love Is Here To Stay sounds a bit like Prince-goes-Curtis-Mayfield to my ears … How much is your vocal style influenced by Classic Soul, how much by Contemporary R&B?
Well, I was raised on Prince. I have two older brothers who were massively into Prince, so I started listening to Prince when I was very young, maybe by the age of seven. So Prince has always been a part of my musical life. And then I always gravitated towards great Soul singers, and for me one of the greatest albums of the Two-Thousands is Voodoo by D’Angelo which is such a massively cool record!
I love his debut Brown Sugar …
Yeah, that’s great, too, but …
… you are into Voodoo!
Yeah. So Soul singers have always appealed to me, I like the way they can sort of … even if there’s a full blaring band and a big production behind it, they can go on top of that, sort of very carelessly flow on top of it, they don’t barge to it. I have one of those voices whereas I try to make it big it becomes small. So I think it’s richer when I just hold back. And that’s just because of what I’ve been listening to, I think.
Like finding your own style through imitating other’s styles at first?
It might be. You know, everything else is very conscious in how I do it and what I wanna sound like and all these things, but vocals … it’s a weird part in the whole creation because there is no possible way of faking it, faking a feeling. So it’s sort of it either works – or it doesn’t. And basically a singer would do anything to make it work. To make it fit right so that it sort of feels like it’s part of the music and not that it’s glued on or anything like that. So right from the start we talked about doing big lush productions that then put in the vocals just right on top of it, like this little delicate thing, very careful, and we were trying consciously to do it in this way.
We have just talked about incorporating influences from Soul. What further influences can you name, who else helped you shape your voice and your sound in general?
Obviously a million different things, but there is no way I can get past without saying it’s some of the great songwriters like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tim Buckley, Jimmy Webb, Paul Simon – all these classical songwriters that shaped the Sixties and Seventies in such a way that they did. But then, also more classic stuff like Serge Gainsbourg who is really a big influence. I like the way he’s … sometimes you might have a melody, but rather as a guidline and then you can sort of meander around it, you can wander around that a little bit. So he’s a big influence on that kind of thing. And then, there’s other stuff, like Milton Nascimento, and also newer bands, of course, like Beach House, Dirty Projectors, White Denim … All bands that kind of mix new sounds with the old way of thinking melody. It’s like a little puzzle there with old pieces and new pieces and I really like some of the stuff that they’ve bee doing. Sometimes it sounds quite normal but there’s a little glitch in the matrix, little things that make you go like: What? What’s just happened? I like the subtle things that people do sometimes when they take something and they flip it just a little bit, you know, it’s not massive but it’s a little thing.
Yeah, but these are the things that make music interesting and engaging! Well, we’ve been talking about the Soul-influenced Love Is Here To Stay. On the other hand, there are songs like Easy Tiger which I would describe as rather folky. How would you best describe your kind of music? Soulful Singer/Songwriter? Folkgroove? I think MTV used to call it „Widescreen Folk“ or even „after-hours folk“ …
I have no idea! First of all, I would think it’s pop music. And then it’s … it’s in a singer/songwriter tradition but I try to have elements what some people would call „Art Folk“ – like Folk influences but with a little bit of a twist in there. I try to make sure that all of the time the arrangements are interesting, and even when they are very straight forward we try to add another dimension to it, even though it’s subtle things. I like to think that we are constantly trying to make sure that the arrangements are rich and that they’re layered, so you can listen to them a lot of times and maybe find something new each time. Maybe there’s some pattern there that you didn’t listen to the first times and maybe you get it the third time … All these things just to make it interesting, I think.
Yeah, that exactly meets my listening experience. Well, if I heard it right, you started your musical career as the guitar player of the Quadraphonics – and guitar parts still seem to play an important part in your music. Do you feel rather like a singing guitar player or like a guitar playing singer?
I feel like a singing guitar player as the guitar has always been my thing and I still consider myself as a guitar player. Guitars on this record were such a big part of the whole thing cuz we did the record with the band. We did the core takes, you know, and I had a great guitar player with me for that, a guitar player called Dean Parks. But then, after that, after those six days that we had in the studio with the band, we moved the production to a smaller studio where we did all the stuff that would turn out to be the detail work, you know, all that interesting little touches to the production and to the arrangements, and for that we kind of created this role of this sort of „lazy guitar player“ who’s sort of doing his thing but without really following the rest of the band too much. Because we needed this not to be … like, very rigid and stale, we needed some of the elements to be almost sort of this buzzing electron that was going around and sort of not caring too much about the frame. So we kind of created this role of this guitar player that would go in and not give a fuck about the rest of the song but just play! And we would play maybe five or six takes of that, playing around the most whatever came into my mind … and we would go through those takes afterwards and we would pick out the little things that we liked. But I had to detach from it because sometimes you just get so obsessed about following everything, and it was such a great thing to be able to just sit there and just play. I think that really helped to loosen things up a little bit for my own part of it.
Let’s stick with the Quaadraphonics for two more questions. The sound of the band can be described as Jazz-inspired. Does Jazz as a genre still play some sort of role in your current work?
No, not really. Maybe the improvisational thing has something to do with Jazz. But other than that … it’s not something that I listen to. I mean, I listen to the classic stuff but traditional Jazz right now is something that I don’t get a kick out of. Because I sort of feel like there is no point in doing it because it’s been done, you know? So I just don’t get a kick out of it. But what I do get a kick out of is people who take it just so many steps further.
So you don’t really see a deeper sense in recording the repertoire of the Great American Songbook like it became again so popular lately?
I don’t get a kick out of it, though. But people are different, people are very different.
That’s for sure. The term „Quadraphonic sound“ also refers to what we now call 4.0 surround sound: using four channels in wich speakers are positioned at the four corners of the listening space while the reproduced signals are independent from one another. Does the audiophile aspect of music play a role for you?
Yeah, obviously it does! But more in terms of … I’m not that into gear, into equipment, but I’m very into production. To make sure that you utilze every aspect of what you would call almost a one hundred and eighty degree sound vision. For me, production is where things really really come alive and get interesting and where you can add that little dimension that I really like. So in that sense – I’m not an audiophile, but it has to sound just like the thing you want to get on tape, I think. Which is very hard because there are so many coincidences in recording – but once you get that thing you were envisioning – that’s a great feeling. So as far as being an audiophile: Not on the technical side of things, but more on the emotional side.
What’s Left Is Forever wurde am 13. September 2013 auf Strange Cargo/ Universal veröffentlicht. Die deutsche Version des Interviews und die Rezension des Albums finden Sie bald auch auf fairaudio. Eine Kurzrezension von mir ist bereits bei Jazz thing erschienen.