February 21 2012 – As we previously reported, Thomas Dolby kicks off his latest tour on March 16 in Austin, Texas. We were fortunate enough to be able to secure a phone interview with Thomas and get some insights into the tour, the album and the man himself. As if that was not enough, we also have an exclusive contest after the interview segment of this article.
1. Thomas, thank you very much for taking time out to talk to us. We really enjoyed your latest album (A Map of The Floating City) and noticed there were definite sci-fi elements to it. It also had a very unique launch strategy. You released a multi-player PC game called Floating City whose theme tied into the album. The game featured music downloads from your career and the launch of that album was tied into the game. How did you come about with that very cool concept for the album and the game?
a. DOLBY: Well I had been working on the album for a couple of years, and as you may know, I work out of an converted lifeboat in East Anglia, on the beach by where my house is. It’s powered by the wind and the sun and I have to wait sometimes until there is enough energy to make some music. I stare out from my wheel house over to the North Sea – I am close to one of the biggest container ports in Europe so I see these massive floating cities going in and out of there. So I started imagining a sort of a post-apocalyptic future where land was becoming uninhabitable so the only way to survive was to push out into the sea and the hulls of abandoned vessels. There is no fuel so by rafting up one vessel to another these tribes sort of make their way north to where it’s cooler and they get around by trading and barter. There is a number of items in their cargo and all those items are named in my songs going back to the 1980’s. So in other words any object I have ever named or place named or person named is involved in the game. It was very interesting because half the people that played the game were hardcore Dolby nuts and half were gamers and they had to collaborate to solve problems. The gamers were probably more familiar with some of the conventions of gaming but they had to go ask the Dolby nuts for answers to the clues that existed in the game and it was a very collaborative experience.
2. As a side question: do you play video games yourself?
a. DOLBY: I don’t, I am not really a gamer actually, my kids do a little bit but I am not a big time gamer myself.
3. You spent a number of years away from the music industry and ran a company called Beatnik that made polyphonic ring tones for phones, what drew you back into music?
a. DOLBY: That’s not what we did. We made the synthesizer which played the ringtones so it was an embedded technology. It was a synthesizer that was embedded in about 3 billion mobile phones. As for the music industry it was my first love and what I am best at and I never really intended to spend that many years away from music. But one thing led to another with my company Beatnik and it took a while of sort of doing laps before we found a way to be successful. When that business matured there was less need for me really as I am more of a germ of an idea guy and I am at my best when people are standing around not knowing what they need to be doing – that is when I am at my most effective.
4. Are you done working in the tech industry?
a. DOLBY: It’s hard to say really because technology continues to fascinate me and when I see possibilities for new technology that haven’t really been thought of yet, I like to be one of the first ones to get in there and experiment with it.
5. The new album has a very sophisticated sound and I can envision it being played anywhere from the beach lounges of Ibiza to a hotel bar in Tokyo. One notable exception is Toad Lickers which has Bluegrass influence and a unique sound. How did you decide to venture into new musical territory?
a. DOLBY: Every time I set out to make music I try to venture into new musical territory. I don’t feel like I belong to any one particular genre or style. I like employing a new musical idiom to help me tell a story, and if it’s one I am not that familiar with then I have a lot of fun exploring it. And also exploring the juxtapositions of different styles of music like Toad Lickers is really Techno and Bluegrass mashed up.
6. Your current tour which kicks off in Austin at SXSW in mid-March features a Time Capsule in which people can record their own 30 second video clip which can be uploaded to Twitter and YouTube. The question asked to them will be “If you had 30 seconds to explain to an alien visitor what went wrong with our civilization, what would you say?” Thomas, is it a given that something has indeed gone wrong with our civilization?
a. DOLBY: Well I think it is a given and hopefully it won’t be necessary to encapsulate our thoughts before we get wiped off the planet altogether (laughing). You know when you watch old Star Treks they are always arriving at an abandoned planet and they put a glass bead in a piece of chrome and you see a video message with interference from the final survivor of the space station (or whatever it was). So I sort of imagined if that was you with the desperate distress message to future visitors of the planet, what would you say? It’s kind of an ironic look at it because I am hoping it won’t be necessary.
7. So you are hoping it’s not too late to change course obviously?
a. DOLBY: Throughout my life I have been fixated with visions of the future and people’s views of the way civilization was going and I’m fascinated with the fact that you never knew what was around the corner. You never knew which of your predictions were going to turn out to be right or wrong and so just going back through the ages, with hindsight we can laugh at some of those things. I think the visionary people who tried to look into the future got so much wrong – I mean they got some stuff right but it was never that accurate. So now that we are in the thick of things when you get people to talk directly to the cameras as if they are talking to the future you get something different out of them from what you would if they were talking to their peers today.
8. Your concerts seems to be much more multifaceted than other artists and just as an example the Time Capsule will be present. How important has it been for you as an artist to express yourself more than just with music alone when you are performing?
a. DOLBY: I have always loved to do that, even going right back to music videos with MTV and in the early days of the web and even mobile phones. I find it fascinating to extend the sentiment and the feelings that are in the music into other media and I love dabbling in the hot media of the time and using that as a way to express myself. So to answer your question – yes absolutely.
|Thomas Dolby’s Time Capsule|
9. In 1984 you said in an interview “If the pop success were to die away I could see myself ending up doing small clubs just with a piano. It’d be really good, much more of a test of myself as a performer than using all the props of the big show.” Are you at that place right now (maybe not just with a piano but without the props of a big show?)
a. DOLBY: Yea there are moments in the show, there is a song in the album for example called Love Is A Loaded Pistol which is just me and a piano and a story that goes with. I think what set me apart from many of my contemporaries is that I could just play songs with a piano and get a good sense of it. I think so many pop songs back then and now as well, were so dependent on the groove and the production values that they wouldn’t have stood up with just a piano and a voice. But that’s a more rarefied commodity because the barrier to entry is down both with the music making and recording technology which is very very accessible, very affordable. Anybody can make an album on their laptop in this day and age but the flip side is that there are now 20,000 other guys trying to do the same thing as you. So the challenge is, how do you differentiate yourself and certainly I am not willing to pick up that challenge if it’s only about the groove, the beat or production values. But I am willing to go head to head with anyone as far as song writing goes because I think that is a much rarer skill and so that is what I am focused with on this new album.
10. Back in 1983 you had the number 1 song in Canada so I have to ask – do you get sick of playing She Blinded Me With Science?
a. DOLBY: You know there are other parts of the world that had other songs that were more successful. In the UK Hyperactive was my biggest hit. I was just in Australia and that was also the case. After Australia I was in Japan and my biggest hit was a song I did with Ryuichi Sakamoto called Field Work. So it varies a little bit from place to place. Do I get sick of playing it? No, I mean it’s a fun song to play. I think that almost everyone that comes down to the shows is aware of several other songs. Maybe not the more obscure ones, but the really hardcore Dolby fanatics they barely listen to She Blinded With Science they are more likely to be into Screen Kiss, or I Love You Goodbye, or Airwaves or One of Our Submarines and so its really nice to get the full spectrum.
11. We look forward to hearing She Blinded Me with Science and all the other songs in Canada.
a. DOLBY: I am looking forward to coming back, its going to be great to be back and playing some shows.
12. I think it’s safe to say you love both music and technology and by all accounts you have had a successful career in both. Are you content with your life’s work and what you have accomplished so far?
a. DOLBY: Content – yes, am I finished – no. I am not finished. I’ve got a lot more good music to make and a lot more collaborations to do. I would like to pass on the wisdom that I have hopefully acquired to somebody up and coming and I wish I’ve had a mentor like me when I was in 21. (laughing)
13. Anyone you are working with that you can name?
a. DOLBY: Not at present. At the moment I am just working on my own stuff but I think I’m gonna begin to do more collaborations after this.
Thomas we thank you greatly for your time and look forward to seeing you in Toronto’s Mod Club on April 2nd. Tickets are $22.50 and are available here for all cities in the tour.
EXCLUSIVE CONTEST: Thanks to Thomas we have a special Thomas Dolby prize pack to giveaway to one lucky person. The prize pack consists of:
- Autographed Thomas Dolby trading cards
- Deluxe Map Of The Lost City
- Map of the City CD autographed by Thomas Dolby
To enter follow Thomas Dolby and us on Twitter and leave your Twitter name in the comments section below. Contest is open until 12pm April 8th. Remember you must be following both Thomas Dolby and TMAK World on Twitter to enter. This contest is open globally so you can enter no matter where you are!