Tuning into Thomas Dolby
It's been almost 25 years since he blinded us with science, but 80s synth-pop pioneer Thomas Dolby is back again and performing on a one-man national tour. He plays St. Petersburg's State Theatre with fellow electronica artist B.T. on Sunday, Dec. 17.
And he's the star of this week's Stuck in the 80s podcast. (Click here to listen) Calling from Austin, Texas, Thomas talked for about 30 minutes, answering my questions ranging from his new live album (see review), the inspiration behind songs like One of Our Submarines and I Live in a Suitcase to the reasons behind his departure from the music biz back in the early 80s.
"During the course of the 80s and at the advent of the CD, it seemed to turn into a numbers game for the record companies," Dolby told Stuck in the 80s. "The record companies kept putting pressure on me to come up with 'She Blinded Me With Geometry' or 'She Blinded Me With Dentistry.' "
"They had a standard formula they applied and they assumed I'd want nothing more than to milk it for all it's worth," Dolby said. "Music fans were being increasingly treated like consumers of soap powder or paper napkins. I felt it was very fake."
So instead, Dolby formed Beatnik Inc., a technology company that produced many of the ring tones used in cellular phones today. But the itch to return to music and his fans prompted him to play a few live shows earlier this year in California, where he now lives.
"I wanted to get in front of an audience again and see where I'm at in 2006 and see who in my audience had lasted the 15 years or so that I'd been away," he said. "But I also wanted to update the music in 21st century terms with new sounds and new styles."
Though Dolby performs his shows solo, the experience is anything but solitary for fans. Dolby employs a "video DJ" who uses the screens on the stage to show snippets of old music videos and live, close-up footage of the unique array of synthesizers and gadgets used by the musician to play his songs.
"My core audience loves the fact that I'm willing to lift up the tent and give them a peek inside," Dolby said. "If it's a song you've known and lived with for 20 years, it's a fascinating thing to see. It's kind of like looking inside my head."
At a glance: "An Evening With B.T. and Thomas Dolby," Sunday, Dec. 17, 8:30 p.m., State Theatre, St. Petersburg, $18-$20. Stuck in the 80s will be there, so if you see us, say hello.