Thomas Dybdahl: Norwegian Invasion

Sep 4, 2011
Originally published on September 4, 2011 5:35 pm

In his home country of Norway, Thomas Dybdahl is already a star. The singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has released five well-received albums there over the past decade.

Now, he's making his U.S. debut with Songs, a compilation of the best of his Norwegian hits. One thing that's making the transition easy: His songs are all in English.

"I've done some Norwegian singing. But having grown up with English pop and rock music, it's almost more natural to sing and make music in English," Dybdahl says. "A lot of it has to do with English as an instrument — the way the language sounds, the way that you're used to playing it."

Songs includes a track called "One Day You'll Dance for Me, New York City," the title cut from Dybdahl's third album. Dybdahl actually lived in New York briefly in his early 20s.

"It's the biggest cliché of them all," he says with a laugh. "I went there because I wanted New York to dazzle me and eat me up alive and consume me. I wanted to feel that and make music out of it."

Dybdahl says he no longer wants to live in New York, but that every time he visits, he still feels the thrill of anticipation on his way there.

"There's a bit of beauty in that longing," he says, "that might be even better than the real thing."

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Now to some music that's a little less heavy. It comes from singer Thomas Dybdahl. He's huge in his native Norway. He's made five albums there, with a bunch of hits. But he's never cracked the U.S. market. He's hoping to change that with his first American release, a greatest hits album called "Songs."

THOMAS DYBDAHL: There's no way of telling how an American audience is going to perceive this music or if they're going to like it, or what they're going to think about it. I mean, there's no way of telling because people are different. The cultural climate is different in the two countries, and the trends are different. So it's - I don't really - I don't feel too secure ever, really, when I'm releasing anything because you don't know. You never know. If you knew, you'd just do that every time. But you don't, so there's always a risk for it.


DYBDAHL: (Singing) One of these days now, you'll start dreaming of the past.

SULLIVAN: Do you always sing in English?

DYBDAHL: But I think a lot of it has to do with English as a - almost like a - like an instrument, the way the language sounds and the way that you're used to playing it, almost, you know? You know the different sounds, and you know the different words and how they sing, and which words sing better than others. And I don't know, there's something there that makes me, you know, look at it almost like an instrument, and not really a decision as to whether I should sing in Norwegian or English.

SULLIVAN: Well, let's listen to the first track off of the new album. This is called "From Grace."


DYBDAHL: (Singing) And it seems my weakness will become my final stage. And it's here that I'll give, yeah, I'll give you all my love. And it's here that I'll give, yeah, I'll give you all my love.

SULLIVAN: Thomas, I think it's fair to say that there's a reason that this is the album opener. I mean, this is the song that really got your career started.

DYBDAHL: But it was just a feeling of, you know, all right, it's going to happen now. And then it did, in Norway. You know, that's where we released our records because we were a tiny label. We were basically doing it ourselves. I was making the cover and printing it out on the printer, and putting it in a CDR and sending it to the labels. And that's how we got started.

SULLIVAN: You've said once that you like doing a sort of soul-funk music but with a basement style. What do you mean by that?

DYBDAHL: You don't want it to become slick and overproduced in any way. And even if I wanted to, I couldn't make that happen. Because the way I make the records, and the way I record is, it's the same as, you know, day one. I use as little equipment as I can. I try to limit it, you know, so that the focus is on the creativity. So it's very hard for me to make something that sounds very, very clean. And it's always probably going to have a little bit of that homemade vibe - you know, that living room record vibe.

SULLIVAN: Well, you can hear a lot of that in the song "Don't Lose Yourself." So let's listen to that one.


DYBDAHL: (Singing) These dark but colorful dreams you can't ignore. Less than pure, bloodstained and green, will you open the door? Let them in and feed their will, lust over love and pain over thrill. So don't lose yourself.

SULLIVAN: On July 22nd, you were on tour here in the United States, and that plan...

DYBDAHL: I was in Chicago. And...

SULLIVAN: You were in Chicago at the time, and that's when the horrible news came across about the shootings and bombing in Oslo. You flew home, and you've been home since then. How have things in Norway been since that day?

DYBDAHL: I was really proud of the way that they handled it and the way the Norwegian people, you know, kind of responded to this horrific thing - because it was not like a gung ho rage or we'll-get-you response. It was - I don't know, it was beautiful. And it made me proud, you know, to be from Norway at that point.

SULLIVAN: That's Norwegian singer-musician Thomas Dybdahl. His new album is called "Songs," and he joined me from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation in Norway. Thomas, thanks so much.

DYBDAHL: Oh, thank you very much for having me.


DYBDAHL: (Singing) I came with a dream shared by more than a few, it seems. Fall asleep now, New York City.

SULLIVAN: And for Sunday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan. Remember, you can hear the best of this program on our podcast. Subscribe or listen at iTunes or at We post a new episode Sunday nights. Guy Raz returns to the radio next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening, and have a great week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.