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Thomas Dolby: Tinker Talker Singer Guy

Bruce + Jana photo credit

Thomas Dolby is coming to Ferndale’s Magic Bag Theater (moved Royal Oak Music Theater) this Sunday with a trifecta of a show. Part film, Q & A and concert performance, his tour is the culmination of Thomas taking his music and creativity to the next level and giving his fans a truly unique experience. Being a fan of Thomas Dolby since the early 80’s and having continued to follow his career, talking with him I found him to be amiable while dropping hints of his tremendous talent and intellect. 

MCB: Your almost midway through the tour, how has it been going?
TD: It’s going very well. There are 3 parts to the show. The first part is the film portion, the middle part is a Q & A with special guests and the last part is made up of songs. It’s quite a well-rounded program and while people don’t know quite to expect from this kind of show it seems to be working rather well.
MCB: I read that you really like playing the Detroit area, what do you like about it?
TD: I am very fond of Detroit. I like the people and I think it’s a good city. The sadness I have about my lighthouse, there’s a similarity to Detroit. And despite the best efforts, I see the city struggling. I see a sort of kindred spirit there.
MCB: Can you tell me more about the show on Sunday?
TD: Yes, I’m going to be interviewed by a graphic artist, Paul Sizer, who has worked with me on the graphics and game that I’ve done for this album and he’s a fascinating artist. We do a Q & A section in the middle of the show where I’ve had local people at each tour stop interview me. The feel of it is kind of like Inside the Actors Studio and we go off in a conversation that way. Also, onstage with me is Blake Leyh, a very fine sound designer, and between us we do the score and live sound effects for the film. 
MCB: When I’ve seen you play in the past you told anecdotes about your life, but this time it seems you’re getting more personal with the audience this tour, why and what has the response been?
TD: Well, with the the film is more of a collective comment. It’s very impressionistic, with 6 songs drawn from my entire catalog during it. It really kind of explains how I am very strongly influenced by geography, history and the environment of where I live and the atmosphere. I don’t try to explain it documentary style, it’s more poetic. I think I make it loose enough for people to impose their own memories in with it. It’s really an exploration of my childhood memories of the lighthouse but with other interesting stories linked in. For example, the lighthouse crops up in the case of a most famous UFO sighting.   

MCB: You’ve always been a tinkerer where does that come from? 
TD: Yes, well I have a short attention span. I’m not a scientist, I just like flashes of creative exploration like when I play around with devices. I love messing around with new things. I think the fact that I chose film this time around as the medium of this piece is a reflection me toying with technology that has become very accessible. Equipment that used to be very expensive has now come down to street level and that’s a great opportunity for me to plunge in and fool around and see what I can do with it. It’s the same case with music, suddenly you can make a record without a music label and a budget.  
MCB: Is there a downside to getting tools and technology freely into the hands of everybody?
TD: With the arrival of an affordable technology it may not fill in the fundamentals. With Garageband in 10 minutes  you can feel like you’re making some sophisticated music. The problem is there are 10,000 other people in the world making that same exact combination of loops and thinking they are making brilliant music as well. So it does unleash a lot of mediocrity, but you have to believe it’s going reveal a diamond in the rough.  To find it  you have to go underneath it. Kids have an amazing ability to drill down into a world like this and come up with a new way of using it that has never been done. They are making amazing sounds I’ve never heard  before.
MCB: I see 2 sides to you one very social and the other a more desolate person…
TD: Desolate is may be too strong a word but I do like my solitude and my own company.  When I am up on stage I’m a bit of an exhibitionist but ‘m actually quite introverted.

MCB: You have had chart topping hits, successful business ventures, and more. What do you tell young people today about what defines a satisfying life?
TD: Getting yourself into a position where you can pursue your art and your creativity without being at the whim of a label or an individual is the idea of success for me. So many people, in order to pay for the privilege of being an artist sort have to bite the bullet and make compromises that fit somebody else’s definitions. I’ve been working the last 5 -6 years on what I want to without paying heed from others. That to me is success and I wouldn’t trade it off for being one’s errand boy while having a lot of commercial success and making a ton of money. I always set off to emulate my heroes  growing up, people like Captain Beefhart, Dan Hicks and Joni Mitchell. These were people that were not at the top of the charts but were still highly acclaimed. I feel I’m at the point in my life where I’m doing exactly the work I want to do while also doing some of the best work of my career. 
MCB: What’s next for you after the tour?
TD: I really don’t have a clue yet. I feel I’ve been very self-centered the past years, my album, my tour. I think I’m due for some collaboration, maybe work with some contemporary artists. In the old days I did this with Prefab Sprout and others. I feel it really enriched me as an artist in the 80’s and 90’s. 

This post by Mikel OD of MPAD Media