Thomas Dahl - Interview for Øyvind Jazzforum Magazine 2007
This interview was featured in the printed programme I made for the first edition of Øyvind Jazzforum as a one-day festival. Prior to this it had been a very low-key concert series. Thomas Dahl is really magnificent guitarist and musician, with great versatility but also his own voice in everything he does. I have played a lot with Thomas, most notably in the band BMX. At Øyvind Jazzforum Extravaganza 2007, we played an improvised quartet with Hilmar Jensson and drummer Øyvind Hegg-Lunde.
ØYVIND: Have you made up any thoughts regarding the upcoming performance with Hilmar Jensson and two drummers?
THOMAS: I'm very excited. I think it will give me challenges, and then subsequent joy from creating good art. Both drums and guitar have a big range. So I think it will be varied, and good.
ØYVIND: You play all styles, from metal to pop to bop. What's the motivation behind this?
THOMAS: Good music isn't limited to any one genre. As long as there is nerve, energy and dynamics that's exciting enough for me. There will always be challenges. That alone can be all the motivation I need. For instance, I'm personally not that into listening to fusion music from the 80s, but it is challenging to play, and that makes it fun.
ØYVIND: No moral issues with playing something you can't stand listening to?
THOMAS: No. I'm not that snobbish. As long as I feel I can perform it well, and I feel that I can help improve the quality of it, that's not a problem. But the moment I feel like I'm not doing the genre justice, I will leave it alone. As for 80s fusion, after all that was a big part of my upbringing, so I have no problems with doing that.
ØYVIND: What are the upsides to this practice?
THOMAS: One of the upsides is that I meet all music with the same attitude. I give my best and stay focused. I hate me self if I feel I have done things half-heartedly. If I were an actor I think I would be sad if I were to play only one role. Music can be put together in so many different ways. Different styles works with very different terminology and very different parameters. Some places it is wrong to be a good player, and then you need to be careful not to step on anyones toes. So I have learnt a lot about time and place...
ØYVIND: Are there any problems in doing things this way? Do you ever feel it is hard to focus on anything by working in all directions all the time?
THOMAS: Time can be a problem. In periods there might be maybe too much of one thing and too little of another. The problem is usually never that there is too much of one thing, the problem is more that there is too little of the other. When it is busy, with performances all over the place, it can be hard to get to practice. Now and then I need to go in the shed. It's easy to keep repeating the same stuff. Hard to avoid, but important to resist.
ØYVIND: What do you work on when you do this shedding sessions?
THOMAS: First of all try t get my technique up and running. After a while it can get a bit sloppy. I work with the pick for a while. If the pick works with me, usually I'm fine. Other than that I try to construct things I haven't played before. This is often more complex things, both rhythmically, harmonically and technical. I try to have an adaptable technique. Creativity and expression I work on whilst playing with others, so that's not something I work on on my own.
ØYVIND: Despite this very broad approach you are one of the few people who manage to sound like yourself in all these different settings. Is this something you've worked consciously towards?
THOMAS: In my development I've had an intense focus on one artist at a time. One period it was KISS. Then Stevie Ray Vaughn, Pat Metheny, Scofield, Scott Henderson, Holdsworth... and the list goes on. After stealing everything I found useful from all of these, something that might be consider me had started to show itself. At the same time I've been lucky enough to work with bands like Krøyt, Dingobats and Skomsork, which have all worked on their own expression, and have been developing this for more than 10 years. I haven't paused and looked and what I was becoming, or who I wanted to be. I have just followed my gut feeling and went for it.
ØYVIND: You never had a band under your own name. Why not?
THOMAS: I've never felt the need to realise myself. I like it better on the sides. I feel like I'm better at supporting others. At the same time I don't like being in the centre of everyone attention. Maybe a bit cowardish...
ØYVIND: Which do you prefer? Steady bands or ad hoc settings?
THOMAS: Steady bands that develops over time with a lot of work involved, is without a doubt the best. It demands a lot of energy, but it's usually worth it. Ad hoc can be very fun as well, but you're not really building so much for the future then. It can almost be a bit depressing if it was really great, and you know it will never happen again.
That being said, I've participated in several ad hoc settings that was so successful that it led to more gigs... But in general I like it better when working continuously with a band that plans at least a year ahead.
ØYVIND: You have, as a realtively grown up man, gone back to school. You're now doing a Masters degree. You could easily have lived on as a respected and great guitar player. What are you hoping to gain from this?
THOMAS: We touched on it earlier in this interview: Time. There hasn't been much time for myself or my craft. I'm hoping to work a bit more on my own development and my own music. Maybe create some new aquaintances. There hasn't been tme for that in a while. Now it's time to get to work again.