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Thomas Dybdahl talk new album and German fans

By Erlend Buflaten Posted: 07. Aug, 2017

Thomas Dybdahl (photo: Julie Pike)

Returning to Berlin to perform on Radioeins Lounge, Reuben from Music Norway’s Berlin office caught up with Thomas Dybdahl

First of all, congratulations on your new album this year, The Great Plains. Can you tell me about your approach to writing this album?

Thank you. Yeah, first it was just chaos, no method really. I was just writing as much as I could and as often as I could. Then after a while I looked at what I had and tried to figure out, you know subconsciously, if there was a theme to it. Something I was thinking about more than other things. When I figured that out, I tried to pick out something that had a narrative to it and that fit together. Then just piecing it together and adding, if I felt I was missing a song, I’d go write it. But usually it’s how I do it, it’s all chaos first and then I try to make sense of it. I don’t know, I think every writing process has that one moment where you go ‘ah ok’, so that’s what this record is. Sometimes it comes early, sometimes it comes late, and sometimes it doesn’t come at all. That’s a bad sign.

You mentioned trying to figure out if there was a theme, did you end up with a theme for this album?

Yeah, it’s a mild mid-life crisis themed album I would say. Just sort of looking back at childhood, upbringing and my family, trying to figure out what kind of events, what kind of people and what things made me who I am today. I mean that can all change of course, but I see myself now and my most important traits, where do they come from and also were there things I can remember being or feeling important. You get a feeling sometimes that you’re living your own history, like this episode or this thing is important for the rest of your life. I mean it’s like one of those. I mean obviously you have decisions like having kids or material things like buying a house, where are you going to live, all those things but obviously other things as well.

When you talk about this album as looking back on everything, how would you describe how growing up in Norway influenced you musical and creative self?

I mean obviously it shaped it immensely, but some are harder to tell in which ways. You have the obvious things which are what kind of music filters into Norway, what kind of popular culture and culture in general filters into Norway, because some things get lost on the way because they don’t transfer well to another culture. So you have those things and then you have the proximity to the nature and being surrounded by pretty wild and savage nature all the time.  I think it grinds you, as well as the climate obviously. If it rains for 100 days straight then that’s going to do something to your psyche, whether you like it or not.

How was it working with Ferryhouse Productions for this album?

Ferryhouse have been fantastic. What a great, small but dedicated team they’ve been. They’ve been able to do so many things on this record that we haven’t had earlier. I mean I was on Universal for the last record. Obviously, it feels that more is happening now than it ever did when I was at Universal but you know that’s how it goes sometimes when you’re on a major. I think that the big companies are really, really good at taking advantage of whatever momentum is there. If you get a head start, I think that’s probably mainly how they operate now anyways. I don’t think they develop too much on their own. They wait for other people to do it and then they see that something is going on here and then they can take over, which is fine because honestly not that many other, not too many small companies have the capacity to take advantage of someone who has a little wind in his hair and got a little bit of hair blowing. But no, they’ve been fantastic. I’m doing more promo now in Germany than I have done for years, which is nice.

How would you describe performing for German audiences?

I like them. Sometimes they are a bit of a weird bunch. They’re very enthusiastic but at the same time they are direct in ways Norwegian people would never ever dream of being direct. You can go after a show and see an old fan or someone who has been to a show before and say ‘hi, how are you doing’ and they’ll say, ‘great but it was better last time’. So just this ‘to the point’ kind of thing, you know when you’re not used to it it’s sort of creepy. But you get used to it and you even learn to like it even because it’s what you need people to do those things.

Especially when you come from Scandinavian ‘passive aggression’.

Yeah yeah, we say it with our eyes, when we smile.

How would you then compare performing for audiences back home in Norway?
I mean obviously Norway for me is different because I have a lot more of an audience, but at the same time in Norway I’ve had great success. So with great success comes the fact that you’re just a regular pop artist and here I would be labelled like some kind of indie artist. Which to me is great, but it’s just weird that that can exist at the same time because in Norway I do the same music, do the same shows but no one would ever dream of calling it anything indie, but here they would, because you’re under the radar.

Do you have any rituals or routines for when you go on tour?

No, they’ve all changed, those kinds of things, cause we’ve been doing it for so long now. It’s funny now because the people you meet now on tour, which are the same people that were there 15 years ago, you’d meet them when you’re out jogging instead of at the bar. Because the people who are always just going to the bar they’re not there anymore cause they have a tendency to get really burnt out and that’s what touring does to you because it makes you old if you don’t take a little bit of care.

Is there any advice or encouragement you might pass on to other Norwegian artists who are thinking of taking the plunge into the German music market?

No I don’t know I can give too much advice. I don’t think I followed my own advice even. I mean it’s like anything else, you have to try and be just a little bit smart and calculated about it. You know, don’t go out there and blow all your money or your tour support on your first tour, playing in all new cities unless you know that you got great momentum. It’s better to just be a little bit careful and do the kind of shows you think will help you along. That way you know the money will last longer and it’s always a question of that anyways. We’re lucky in Norway because we do have great support and opportunities from the government. Still they’re not just going to continue supporting you if you just churn through the money. Yeah just find out where the love is and go there and try and build it. But yeah I haven’t really followed my own advice so there is not too much I can give.

What experiences of Norwegian stereotypes or misconceptions have you encountered whilst being abroad?

From people in Germany?

Germany or anywhere you’ve toured.

Well obviously the easiest thing is the Americans, because they always think you’re a town in Sweden. That gets old. Generally in Europe I find people to be pretty enlightened about Europe, where things are, how things are and also curious. People find Norway kind of exotic, because we’re not just the nature thing, but being social democracy and seemingly a very well functioning one. I think people look at it like some kind of utopia sometimes. Obviously we’re spoiled because we’ve been able to do it with free money coming out of the ground, but still seems to work though. It’s still something that I’m proud of when I go somewhere else to say where I’m from. I’m still proud to say I’m from Norway. We’re not the worst bunch, or the worst government. I mean it’s got its problems of course. And there are some issues that are pretty grim, just like the immigration policies are strict as hell. But maybe it has something to do with it too, I mean there has got to be a reason why people want to come there.

Where do you see yourself in the next couple of years? Anything you would like to accomplish?

I still have another album that I’m working on now. I want to finish touring this one and then give that one a real chance. Then I think it would be nice to take a few years of a different sort of life, maybe go live somewhere else with my family. You know my wife has plans she wants to do and I’ve had plenty of chances to do my thing now so it would be nice to step back and let her do her thing. So we’ll see.


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