20 Questions: Thomas Dolby

Photo by Bruce and Jana

As the steampunk aesthetic embraces technology past, present, and future, so too Thomas Dolby personifies the creative and intellectual process of musical ideas past, present and future. He also turns out rather nicely in steampunk fashion. His new album, A Map of the Floating City, will release in the near future -- this summer.

For those of us unable to attend the reputable TED Conference, a staple of Thomas Dolby's varied energy and idea-generating processes (he's served as Musical Director at the conference since 2001), we've been bereft of his music-making for quite a while, now. The five time Grammy™-nominated British artist quit the music business in the early '90s and delved into the realms of ideas and technology both at TED and with his former company, Beatnik Inc., where he tinkered around with what would become the Beatnik Audio Engine -- every time your cell phone rings a little diddley of "William Tell Overture" (or the latest hit by you-name-the-pop star), think of Dolby.

As the steampunk aesthetic embraces technology past, present, and future, so too Dolby personifies the creative and intellectual process of music ideas past, present and future. He also turns out rather nicely in steampunk fashion. His new album, A Map of the Floating City, will release in the near future -- this summer.

Meanwhile, he updates us on some happenings in Dolby-land (which sounds like a very cool place to be) with his responses to PopMatters 20 Questions:

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

When I'm on a transatlantic flight, for some reason I get really weepy and emotional at the sappiest movies. This happened recently with some dreadful movie about a disabled kid who learns to play baseball! It must be the Male Menopause.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Mr, Bennett from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. My wife and daughter hate it when I say this! I just sit stoically in my study while all the histrionics carry on around me. But I can be depended on to go rescue a child from scandal in London when called on.

3. The greatest album, ever?

The one I'm working on, A Map of the Floating City. How can I say anything else? Every time I make an album I want it to be the greatest album, ever. But if I had to pick a single album by someone else, it would be Hejira by Joni Mitchell.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Trek, because at least it knows it's drivel. Star Wars takes itself far too seriously. The first couple of movies were quite charming in a goofy way, then they were followed by a bunch of hooey, IMO.

5. Your ideal brain food?

The TED Conference. The best minds on the planet bring you the newest ideas, and they spark off each other. You learn enough there in four days to last the whole year.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Helping build the Beatnik Audio Engine -- probably the most popular synthesiser ever made, with over two billion shipped, by the world's leading mobile phone manufacturers. The fact that it was primarily used for annoying ringtones is beside the point!

7. You want to be remembered for ...?

I'd like to be remembered for the wide spectrum of music I made, from the quirkiest uptempo funk to the most poignant, atmospheric ballads.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Dan Hicks, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Bowie, Bjork.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

"Beside You" by Van Morrison.

10. Your hidden talents...?

I'm a skilled helmsman of classic racing sailboats.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

When I was struggling with the difficulty of my job as TED's musical director and thinking of quitting, my wonderful wife Kathleen talked me out of it. She's TED's #1 fan, and felt it's good for the planet, good for my career and good for my soul. I've enjoyed ten years with the organisation, and it's grown into a global phenomenon.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

My vintage 1930s lifeboat, The Nutmeg of Consolation, which I bought on eBay for $2,200. I spent a year and countless thousands more bringing her to the garden of my beach house in East Anglia, restoring her, and converting her into a solar-powered recording studio, where I am currently finishing up my first new album in 20 years.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or ...?

Old sailing clothes. Thick sweaters, oilskin trousers, and thigh-high wellington boots.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Nicola Tesla. A mad genius who was too busy with his newest invention to take proper credit for his previous ones -- which included radio, AC current, and many innovations so far ahead of their time that we probably still haven't caught up to him, a century later.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

To Venice, the Italian Renaissance in the time of the Medicis. I adore the art, music and architecture from that period. The world was still an enormous and undiscovered place, yet the focus was on man-made beautiful things, and talent was prized above all.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

I'm a sucker for a spa vacation. Piles of clean towels, the fragrance of exotic oils, the sound of ocean waves, or even that ridiculous massage music (who on Earth is it that makes that stuff, and how do they keep themselves awake?)

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or ... ?

Coffee and chocolate. Or, if I'm too lazy to make coffee, espresso flavoured Green and Blacks chocolate!

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Country. I am not a city person. I gravitate towards water so I'd have to say, somewhere where I can sail, play tennis, and go for long walks on the beach. In fact, right here where I live!

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Don't be such a wimp. We've had a string of them here in the UK. They seem to lack all conviction. There's something about politics that distills it out of you, that saps your passion.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Getting ready to release my new album this summer, and then tour North America and Europe in the fall. It's great to be back making music after a long gap. I'm delighted and relieved that my hardcore fans have stayed loyal, and eager to meet a new generation of fans who weren't around when I last put out some music.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.