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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Thomas Dolby: Guest DJ on KCRW

Like so many other music and gear geeks, I really dug Thomas Dolby's work, especially so after his "Blinded Me with Science" period.  I loved "Aliens ate my Buick" and followed him for a while after he moved to San Mateo county and started an internet audio plugin company.  Here he is at Santa Monica's Guest DJ Project. Enjoy...

Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby

WED MAR 14, 2012
Thomas Dolby topped the charts in the 80’s by being among the first to embrace synthesizers in pop music and then proceeded to invent technology that made ringtones possible.  He compares Joni Mitchell’s melodies to jazz, shares a story about Bowie, and picks his favorite city anthem in his Guest DJ set. Dolby is touring the U.S. this Spring and will be appearing at the SXSW Music Conference.

For More:

Note: he has two showcases on WED and FRI:
1. Beside You - Van Morrison
2.  Edith And The Kingpin - Joni Mitchell
3.  Heroes - David Bowie
4.  Sign O The Times - Prince
5.  The Passenger - Iggy Pop

Eric: Hi, I'm Eric J. Lawrence, and I am here with Thomas Dolby. Of course we all know him from his music career, but what you may not know is his involvement in developing groundbreaking technology such as cell phone ring tones, as well as serving as the Music Director for the acclaimed Ted Conferences. Today, we're going to talk about some songs that he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Thomas, thank you so much for coming down.

Thomas: Hey, nice to be here.

Eric:  What's the first song you got for us?

Thomas: The first song is a Van Morrison song, it's called "Beside You". And, Van, in his lyrics, often talks about radio and you get the sense that he had this love affair with radio when he was a kid, you know, and that it was sort of what got him through a difficult time. He also strikes me as a guy that is never that comfortable in his own skin and you just feel that when he's at his best, he's seeking refuge in his music. And I think the absolute peak of that was the "Astral Weeks" album, which is so transcendent. And my favorite cut off the album is this one, which is about the only one in a minor key, and there's something spooky about the start of this song that's just always stuck with me.

Song: Van Morrison – “Beside You”

Eric:  That was Van Morrison with "Beside You", as selected by our guest Thomas Dolby. Well, what's the next track you've got for us?

Thomas:  The next one is Joni Mitchell. "Edith and The Kingpin", is really one of my favorite songs of hers, off one of my favorite albums "The Hissing of Summer Lawns".

And there's something about "Edith and The Kingpin", the melancholy of it, and the way that an apparently simple chord sequence sort of morphs into something a bit jazzier. There's this line she sings, "He tilts their tired faces gently to the spoon" -- that's the most evocative line that just summons up that period so well. But she goes so out melodically, I mean, it's like the most beautiful piece of Jazz that you've ever heard.

Song: Joni Mitchell – Beside You

Thomas: I think the first album I ever bought with my own pocket money was "For the Roses" and I had an interesting experience, because I used to learn the piano parts from those albums and once found myself in a piano warehouse with Joni, where we had been asked by the studio we were working in to pick a new grand piano for them.

And I would start playing intros to Joni's songs, and she'd go, "Wow what was that one?",
I'd go "'Ladies of the Canyon' side 2, song 3?". "Oh yeah!", and she'd sort of join in with it. So from opposite end of this piano warehouse, we were sort of jamming on these old songs of hers.

Eric:    That was Joni Mitchell with "Edith and the Kingpin" as selected by our guest Thomas Dolby. What's the next song you got for us?

Thomas:  This is a David Bowie song, "Heroes". Like many of my generation of British teens, we were completely in love with David Bowie through all of the changes in his career, the chameleon like volt faces that he did. And I suppose the most influential moment of his career, for me, was when he turned his back on rock ‘n’ roll and went to Berlin with Brian Eno and recorded a couple of albums -- "Low" and "Heroes" -- which were really the first time electronic music had really hit the mainstream, both in the pop charts, and the side 2's, which were the first time ambient music had really sort of hit the mainstream.

Song: David Bowie – Heroes

Thomas: "Heroes" is a particularly memorable song for me because I played with Bowie at Live Aid at Wembley in 1985, and I was very nervous onstage because he had been very busy at the time and we played 4 songs that we've never rehearsed back to back. We had a young band that we'd thrown together, and I was convinced that this song that had been an anthem through my teenage years, I was going to be the one to screw it up in front of a billion and a half people. But when I got up there, I was staring at Bowie's back about ten feet away, and behind him the Wembley audience, beyond that this invisible massive world TV audience, and my fingers did the walking, you know? It's just they were playing themselves; it was a magic carpet ride.

Eric: Now, how did you transition from this life of the rock star to doing things in technology?  [ more ]

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