indieberlin talks to Thomas Dybdahl, the Norwegian Nick Drake, about his brand new album What’s Left Is Forever, out today on Universal / Strange Cargo

IB: So you took about five years off from the last album?
TD: Well, that’s something that Universal says because actually I did an album three years ago, but they didn’t like it and didn’t put it out….I was very happy with it, it was called Waiting For That One Clear Moment, but it was more experimental and I don’t think anyone really saw the commercial potential…

IB: And how did you feel about it that? Saying that you really liked it…
TD: Yeah, I was very happy with it but, you know, at the same time, the internet is here, and if people really want to get hold of it they can.

IB: So you’re signed to Universal Norway or…?
TD: I’m signed to Universal UK, but it’s actually through a tiny little label called Strange Cargo, through my producer, a guy called Larry Klein. He was producing a lot of stuff for Universal artists and eventually they said, why don’t you set up your own sub-label and put your artists through that, and we’ll release it for you. So he has his own imprint called Strange Cargo but it’s basically a worldwide Universal deal.

IB: Do you get to enjoy some of the freedoms of the indie label?
TD: I have a lot of freedom, because I have a licensing deal basically, which means I provide an album, and then they do what they’ve got to do with it. But up until that point, I do what I need to do with it. But you know, being on Universal is like – 80 percent of all the labels in the world are under Universal, somehow, so I have no bearings in this label world, I don’t have a clue what’s where and who’s under who.

IB: No, I think many people don’t.
TD: And why would you?

IB: It’s all bullshit really.
TD: No, it is what it is, but I don’t have to know that. The people are the most important thing anyway, if there’s a good team of people at this label in that country then that’s great, you know. That’s all you need. Because the last thing you need is to go on a label where no one cares about your music but it’s something that they’ve got to do, because then you’re, well…sort of doomed.
You need some champions everywhere that you work, you need somebody who will…state your case. And I feel that I have that here.

IB: So you left the Quadraphonics around 2000 and then you put out a couple of solo albums – was that all on Universal?
TD: No, it wasn’t. I did two EPs and an instrumental record, and then three records, all myself. A friend of mine was running a label out of his club, sort of….there was a club in Stavanger called Checkpoint Charlie, and he started a label called Checkpoint Charlie Audio Productions, and I bought my way into that and we did it together, so the first six releases we did on our own. And for Norway we did really well….we did triple platinum on the first record, then double platinum, then another triple…it was really lucky, to come along at a time when people were digging it, they were craving that kind of thing, whatever it was that I brought to the table, they were into that at that time. So that was really cool. Timing was great.

IB: What’s it like in Norway – what’s it like to live there, to play there, as a musician, what’s the scene like?
TD: Well, Norway’s a rich country. Welfare system is good, people in a general sense are doing good. But that does mean that living there is expensive, and musicians as a group tend to be poor, so for musicians it’s pretty hard, but we do have some really good state-funded programs for artists and musicians, you can apply for all sorts of things, travel grants, grants to record albums, they’ve got it going on, they want a thriving music and arts society and thankfully they spend a little of the wealth that Norway has, to make sure that that happens.

IB: It’s really weird, there’s a constant wave of great people coming down from Scandinavia….do you know Thea Helmesund?
TD: I’m not sure, I know a singer called….Thea (unpronouncable).

IB: (laughs) er….that could be her. Plays a ukelele, loops her voice….she played at our venue in the south-west last week coincidentally.
TD: Yeah, great voice. Cool music.

IB: Okay, reading from your press release….it says that before you played with people from Norway, but with the last album you went to the US and recorded with Larry Klein and some new musicans from the US. Is that true? How did that come about?
TD: Yeah, we recorded it in a studio in LA called The Village. It was great…really scary. I shit my pants the first day, we didn’t have any time for any of the niceties, we had six days to record fifteen songs in, so it was, like, hi, how’re you doing, I’m happy you could join us, everything’s set up, one, two, one two three four and then we go….(laughing). So it was very full-on, very intense.

IB: Is that a more American way of doing things?
TD: It’s more of an old school way of doing things really. This producer Larry Klein is old school. He produced Joni Mitchell, he was married to her, he did lots of her records, and I think…some of these producers, they get set in their ways, Larry likes to go into a good live room with a bunch of good musicians and makes sure that you get the basic takes, the „ground“, the foundation for all the songs, you get it down live and solid and then, afterwards, you start working with details…

IB: It sounds like a good way of doing things…
TD: I loved it, it was great. We made sure we have a rock solid foundation, with the drums, bass, acoustic guitars and organ and went from there, and we said, okay, this is the take to build on, and started doing some percussion, extra keys, and then I did my guitar stuff, and yeah, it was a very cool way of working, but you have to know your musicians, and that’s why he chose them and I didn’t. And when there’s that little time, you had to be sure that you had to communicate what you wanted to get out of your musicians.

IB: So you mean it was more important that they could communicate with him than that they could communicate with you.
TD: Yeah.

IB: But had you played with them before? TD: No….

IB: What!? So you went straight into the studio and had never played with anyone there before…
TD: No, but these were musicians who I’d fucking dreamed of working with….we had Jay Bellerose on drums, he’s done all sorts of stuff, he worked with Dylan, with Ray LaMontaigne, he’s worked with Robert Plant…

IB: Must’ve been a wonderful feeling.
TD: Yeah, I mean, they’re all artists in their own way, we had a guitarist called Dean Parks, he’s worked with everyone, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Elton John…started his career working with Steely Dan…

IB: Were you intimidated? Or only for the first five minutes?
TD: I didn’t have time to be intimidated. I didn’t even get to enjoy it, until afterwards, you sit down with a beer and a cigarette and think, holy fuck, I did that….

IB: What do you think of the new album? How do you feel about it?
TD: I’m really, really happy. It was intimidating to work with a producer – I’d never worked with a producer before, I’d always done it myself, and so for me to let go of some of that control was…it was hard, you know, but you just had to take the plunge, but I made sure I knew him well, I took my family over, we spent months in LA, just getting to know Larry and talking to him about the record, so that – we had such little time, so when we went in the studio, we knew what we wanted, and how we wanted to get it, and knew what we wanted to achieve so it was…I couldn’t have done it just going right in there, I had to spend that time, you could call it a pre-production thing.

IB: …building up a trust with him.
TD: Yeah, I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t have that trust. He’s worked a lot of artists who are first and foremost singers and not guitarists, or writers or also producers, so I think that was something fresh for him too, to have someone who was very involved in the production and had all these thoughts on the arrangements, and he wanted to do something new…

IB: So he was quite open to your ideas…
TD: Yeah, he had a sort of patience that you can only get with age and experience, and the fact that he trusted his own intuition when he put a bunch of musicians that he liked in a great room and with a song that he believed in, he said, don’t stress it, this is going to happen, even though we have little time, it’s going to work out, these guys are great, the studio’s great, don’t stress it. He was very zen about the whole thing.
I was very stressed out, cause I’m younger – after ten minutes when something wasn’t working out I was shouting, what re we going to do!? But he was relaxed. So that was good having someone like that.
But now comes the hard part – we have to see if anybody likes it. I have no expectations, but I mean, I would like to have more people know me in Germany, and I’ve done a record now that I feel I can take this record to just about anyone and as long as I have a chance to play it to them they’ll like it. It’s a likeable record. I think people can like it for what it is. But of course it’s hard, you’re an unknown artist, it’s the fall, every big artist in Germany is going to come out with a record now.

IB: And what’s in the future for you?
TD: I like to keep expanding….I do film scores, I’ve been doing that a lot the last five years…I’ve done four movies for cinema, and for me that’s perfect to be able to do something else….you have a lot more freedom, no one cares about you, no one wants to talk to you…it’ great, it keeps me motivated and excited and happy….keeps me working…and it’s the closest thing to a normal job. I don’t like to travel so much now – I have a son….

IB: Well thanks very much for talking to me.
TD: Thank you too.

Interview by Noel Maurice

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