While heads might be still picking over Prins Thomas' "Paradise Goulash" mix from last year—a three-part masterclass in selection, sequencing, and licensing—the Norwegian DJ and producer is already rolling out his next ambitious project this month: a for-home-listening, ambient-inspired 4XLP called Principe del Norte, out on Smalltown Supersound.
"I usually don't have a plan when I'm making something most of the time, you know?" Thomas tells THUMP from his studio in Oslo, where he says he's spent the last 12 hours putting together a couple more albums. "With [Principe del Norte], for the first time in a very long time, I had an idea when I sat down and started to record stuff. The first idea was to take the drums out—to not limit myself to just adding stuff on top of a rigid drum track." He pauses, and backtracks slightly: "But the album didn't really turn out as an ambient record anyway. Half of it is stuff with drums. But, yeah, it's inspired by ambient records."
With that in mind, we asked the Scandinavian maestro to dive into some of the ambient masterpieces in his record collection—no small feat for someone who confesses he owns somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 records. Along the way, we also ended up talking about rediscovered Bowie, Arthur Russell's many bearded fans, and the importance of stubbornly listening to something over and over again until you like it. Listen to our premiere of Thomas' "A2" off Principe del Norte, and read about his favorite ambient records below.
1. Black Dog - Spanners
This record Spanners by Black Dog was an influence. It's before they started doing more like industrial techno, which I guess is what they're doing nowadays? And I don't really know their music that well, but this record I bought accidentally, let's say 21 years ago. With the background I'm coming from—playing in bands and not really being into electronic music in the mid-90s—there's a lot of stuff I really didn't check until later. Stuff like Aphex Twin, which I didn't really care much for until like the last maybe 15 years. But somehow this Black Dog record I kept on listening to.
It wasn't my first pick. I don't know, it's like when David Bowie died—now, I started listening to all his records. I've been listening to them all. Every day, many of them, over and over. My two-year-old daughter says, "Is it David Bowie?" Now she recognizes his voice. But with him, it's like I started listening to the records I hadn't heard before, the ones I hadn't bothered checking, you know, because I was in the mood to dive deep into it. And there's no need to keep on playing "Ziggy Stardust," and "Hunky Dory," or "Heroes" over and over, because I know them so well anyway.
So this is basically what happened with this Black Dog record. I spent maybe $20. It was like, "Aw, he put the wrong record in the bag." I was like, "I'm gonna keep on listening to it until I like it." It's got a special place in my heart.
2. Brian Eno - Discreet Music
Which brings me to the next Brian Eno record, which I think a lot of his stuff—especially those one-sided long things—they're the kind of records that you really need to invest time into to appreciate. I'm not gonna complain about kids and their iPods, but the way younger people consume music now is pretty strange. I can't see stuff like this surviving the listening habits of younger people nowadays. You've got 20-30 minute long tracks with all this repetition, but with all this small nuance happening. Which really requires you to invest time in the music you bought... or stole.
As an idea, it helped inspired this new record. Even if I didn't think of it while I was making the record, it became this thing where one of the most important things is if you do vinyl, make sure it sounds good. There's a limit to how much music you can put on one side, which means I ended up with a quadruple LP. Damn, that's kind of like a statement, even if it's not meant as one. You need to invest time in this record, I think. There's no use in skipping tracks to go to the one you like. It's a record for the diehard fans, if I have any.
I've never met Eno. The closest I was being emailed by one of Bryan Ferry's sons while he was hanging out with his father and Brian Eno listening to me and Lindstrom's remix of "Avalon". They enjoyed it. I also have this idea that you shouldn't really meet your heroes.
3. Arthur Russell - World of Echo
I'm not gonna spend much time talking about the brilliance of everything Arthur Russell ever did. But what I feel is really inspiring about this record and what I'm currently—or constantly—inspired by is when I work on rhythms, all kinds of rhythms. If it's something going on in the background or if it's how add percussion. This record, the way all these rhythms come out of his voice and his cello, it's almost a technical reference. At the same time, it's obviously been dear to me for at least 20 years now. Everything he ever did, I love it all.
There have been many waves of "now is the time it's time for Arthur Russell to get some recognition." But I think it's the same 1,000 guys with beards around the world buying the same record, repressed or re-issued over and over, like "Oh, it's got another track or shitty unreleased Walter Gibbons remix we've never heard before!"
4. Michael Rother - Katzenmuzik
Michael Rother from Neu! might have ten solo albums. I really have no idea, but I think I have three, and they're all really amazing. They sound like very little out there. It reminds me of Angelo Badalamenti's music for Twin Peaks, who must have been aware of this music. Otherwise, they were both listening to the same source.
This one record Katzenmuzik basically means "cat music". And the tracks are KM1 up to KM12. It has these repeating themes. This melody from one track shows up in a different track in a different way. It's a pretty sparse record with him playing guitar and Jaki Liebezeit from Can playing drums. But it doesn't feel like it's missing anything. It's two guys in the studio making this super beautiful record. It's like super romantic music, but super simple. It's guitar played with very few notes, not much finesse or masturbation going on. It's truly awesome. For all my friends who don't like when I say, "You have to buy Still Life Talking by Pat Metheny," and they hate Pat Metheny... well, at least, they'll like this one. It's like opening a door. It's like all my friends who don't like country music, then I'll play them Flying Burrito Brothers, and they're like "that's too country." Try the Byrds. [laughs]
5. Haruomi Hosono & Yokoo - Cochin Moon
Hosono which was one of the writers and also the bass player for Yellow Magic Orchestra, and he also played in this really cool band called Happy End, which is either late 60s or early 70s in the Japanese scene. They sound slightly like the Swedish band Dungen. Maybe not as hairy. Like a shaved Dungen.
This record is a pretty random selection. It could be any of Hosono's records. He has a lot of quite playful, experimental records. He did a lot of groundbreaking stuff. He's been one of my constant inspirations for a long time. This record is pretty dark, pretty electronic compared to a lot of his stuff. He's doing "Chattanooga Choo Choo", these kind of records in half English, half Japanese. He made a record with Steely Dan at some point, in the vein of Steely Dan almost. A quite random record.
6. The KLF - Chill Out
The sad thing is that I only have this bootleg copy, which leaves a couple seconds of silence between the tracks, so it stops flowing the way it's supposed to. I never thought of it as a sonically perfect record. There's all these flaws and faults that are kind of part of the record. When I started working on this Smalltown record, I thought what I hadn't done in the last ten years, was sampling. Maybe I should start looking at sources, movies, YouTube, whatever, and incorporate it into the music. And I thought, "That's gonna take ages. Fuck it." So I made a record that's partially inspired by this record without actually going the full length and repurposing stuff. I just recorded it myself instead.
7. Collin Walcott - Cloud Dance
Walcott was a sitar player who made a bunch of horrible records on ECM Records. But there's this one track called "Margueritti." When I play this record, I get loads of people coming up to me in different situations and asking what this is. It's this unclassifiable record. It's definitely jazz, but at the same time, I can picture Jose Padilla playing this at Cafe Del Mar in the 80s or David Mancuso playing it at the Loft and even, on a good day, Francois Kervorkian playing it at Deep Space. Next time I see Harvey, I should give him a copy too. He might play it, if he found the right ten-hour set.