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Thomas Dybdahl. Photo by Mathilda Österlund.

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Thomas Dybdahl. Photo by Mathilda Österlund.

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Thomas Dybdahl

Norwegian singer songwriter Thomas Dybdahl has found huge success in his home country, with his sixth studio album What’s Left is Forever, it’s time for him to shine abroad. We caught up to discuss film, music and his life as a muse.

You’re new album What’s Left is Forever is recorded in Los Angeles, can you tell us a bit about it?
– Yeah, we recorded it at a studio called The Village Recorder, which is one of those last great, big live rooms where you can go in and do a whole band session.

That sounds laid back
– Not really, we had six days, he laughs.

To do the whole record?!
– To do the recording of the band, then I came in for a week and did my stuff, you know, the details.

And it was produced by Larry Klein, Joni Mitchell’s producer/husband. How was that?
– Ahh that was great! We just spent a lot of time beforehand getting to know each other, so that when we went into the studio we wouldn’t be all nervous about working together or like, not knowing what the other person wanted to do or where we wanted to go in terms of direction.

I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic.
I don’t see myself as a gloomy person at all.

Your new record sounds quite different from the last one, Waiting For That One Clear Moment. Do you think that he had any part in that or was it something you really wanted?
– Well, I was going for it but he certainly played a huge part in the sound just by doing what he did as a producer, and he put together the band for this. They were musicians that I hadn’t worked with before, I hadn’t played with them, and they were people I was dying to play with.

Like who?
– Oh, like Jay Bellerose who plays drums, he’s played with Ray Lamontagne, Robert Plant, Bob Dylan… There were so many great musicians and to a huge extent that’s the sound of the record, it’s the sound of us in a room playing. So Larry definitely did his part, but then there was also the production where we went into detail work. He made a lot of things shine and come through, so we put emphasis on that. I love doing that stuff, Thomas smiles.

And what about Los Angeles as a place, do you think that affected the sound or were you not outside enough to make it matter?
– No, we weren’t out much, and I had my family there. We have a five-year-old boy, so we did all the usual stuff together, went fishing and went to playgrounds and then I went into the studio. I don’t think I ever saw LA at night.

Some people say this new record sounds more upbeat; did your family being around have any influence on that? Would you say the lyrics are more upbeat now?
– Well it’s very hopeful I think, but I’ve always considered myself a bit of a hopeless romantic in any case; I don’t tend to go for the gloomy stuff. If I write about a relationship that’s over I like to emphasise the fact that you’re happy it even happened – the good things about it. So I don’t see myself as a gloomy person at all.

Thomas Dybdahl. Photo by Mathilda Österlund.
Thomas Dybdahl. Photo by Mathilda Österlund.

It’s nice to be talked of in the same breath as people like Nick Drake, but do you ever get annoyed by the comparisons?
– No, no, not at all, you have to put people into context. You have to try and help readers and listeners to find out where you are as an artist. If they compared me to Slayer then obviously that’d be very misleading and people would buy it and say ‘what the fuck is this?’ he laughs, ‘this is not what I wanted at all!’

You’ve been super successful in Norway, you’ve had five number one albums and won two Norwegian Grammys.
– We’ve had a good run!

So why hasn’t Sweden discovered you yet?
– Well it’s been good in Sweden, but I’m virtually unknown. We’ve played so few gigs here and you have so little time, you tend to focus on the places where you have some momentum.

Is that why you released an album that was just for the US and Canada?
– Yeah, that was like a compilation of songs that were an introduction to, well an introduction to me. We’re going to go back there next year actually; first we’re touring Europe and Scandinavia, and then the UK, and then back to the US.

I’ve read that you’re popular with Philippe Starck too, it seems like you’re some sort of unofficial muse to him. What’s the story there?
– Hmm, well, he contacted me a few records ago and said that he wanted to do the cover for an album because I’d given him lots of inspiration and he wanted to give something back. So he did. He did the cover for an album called Science. And that was a pretty bizarre experience, because he lives in another world, he laughs. A different, crazy world.

Thomas Dybdahl. Photo by Mathilda Österlund.
Thomas Dybdahl. Photo by Mathilda Österlund.

Your music crosses over with the art world quite a lot, for example you’ve just written the score to the Swedish film Skumtimmen or Echoes From The Dead. Is that a different experience to what you usually do?
– Oh it’s very different, it’s like a totally different thing. But you bring what you know and hopefully I add another dimension to the movie.

Is the score recognisably you; is it recognisably your sound?
– I think so yeah, but I’m a novice. I’ve done four movies now, which is quite a lot, but I’ve done them over a short period of time so I still consider myself very new at the whole game. When a director asks me to do something like this I think they want a certain sound, if they wanted a Hans Zimmer score then they’d ask someone else, because I don’t know how to do that stuff, he laughs.

Are you going to do more music for film?
– Yes! I’d love to. But it’s very time consuming, it took me a year, so at the moment I’m focusing on the record. The record and touring are what I want to do at the moment. I don’t know, it just feels good to have different things to do so that you don’t get bored and you learn all the time.

Speaking of which you have Stavanger Vokalensemble on your new album.
– Yeah, that was a few years ago. That was one song that I never cracked. We did it live in a church, just me and this choir, and it’s a different version of the original song. The song, Shine, is on the record now, and the version by Stavanger Vokalensemble was just nice to put in there as a bonus, just to show what it sounded like before.

And this is your longest album, is that because you didn’t want to cut away those nice little extras or are you just a very generous person?
– Ha! Yeah I’m a generous man, music to the people!

Listen to Thomas Dybdahl’s What Left Is Forever here. On October 11 he will perform at Nalen in Stockholm.

Photos by Mathilda Österlund.