A Night in the Life: Prins Thomas
Interview conducted by Joshua P. Ferguson
by Joshua P. Ferguson
With his space jams in tow, Nordic cosmic-disco explorer Prins Thomas was scheduled to step onto virgin territory, descending from the heavens for his first visit to Chicago and his debut performance at Sonotheque tomorrow night. Unfortunately he's taken ill with a recurring lung infection so he won't be touching down after all. While we're all disappointed, our thoughts are with him—we wish him a speedy recovery and hope he's able to reschedule and join us again sometime soon.
Time Out Chicago: This’ll be your first ever trip to Chicago, are you excited that your new album, with fellow Norseman Lindstrom, is taking you to new places outside Europe?
Prins Thomas: Yes! We’ve been trying to really promote ourselves and set up an American tour for the last couple of years—over and over—but it’s always difficult. It’s a completely different thing traveling in the U.S. than it is in Europe. Here everything is within reach, only a couple hours and, well, I guess the economy is better.
TOC: So you’re saying you don’t make any money touring the States?
Prins Thomas: For me, it’s the same as going to Japan. You have to think of it as something different than just gigs and making money. When I go to Japan I play for independent promoters. There’s not a lot of money in it but you do it because you have to go there. There’re people buying your records and obviously I want to go, so I fund these trips by doing other gigs in Europe. I guess it’s the same with going to America.
TOC: How have your experiences been, playing here in the U.S.?
Prins Thomas: I had this idea the first time I came. I’m playing a lot of disco music and the expression here, at least here in Europe is, bringing coal to Newcastle or sand to Sahara or whatever. Why bring a European DJ playing disco to the motherland? But I realized the first time I played there, that there wasn’t any huge revival in the old stuff. I saw a new generation, people brought up listening to more punk music, with more diverse backgrounds and they were trying to do something new that wasn’t just based on the Paradise Garage or these legendary clubs. I realized there was more diversity coming from New York than I’d expected.
TOC: A lot of the kids heading to clubs these days are children of the eighties. They missed the best parts of disco. So there’s a side of this disco revival that’s very much a European thing. Like cosmic disco, I’m not sure many Americans know where that comes from.
Prins Thomas: I didn’t hear about the cosmic thing until the mid ‘90s. I was going to a regular night and a friend kept telling me about it. He was always talking about “the great cosmic DJ Daniele Baldelli,” but that side of the cosmic thing mainly grew up in Italy. Here in Oslo there’s never been any tradition or industry around this, I had to make up my own perspective because when I started you could only get a hold of import records. It became much more interesting doing my own thing by mixing it up, looking in strange places for tracks to fit together with acid house records and playing the crazy old P-Funk instrumental 12”s on 45 rpm instead of 33. That is more interesting to me than subscribing to the package that somebody else has already labeled.
TOC: And you are someone who has bounced around from playing in bands to deejaying, moving from punk to disco and so on.
Prins Thomas: Like you said, I have a good musical background, more as a listener and as a crazy record collecting nerd from when I was 8 or 9 and then bedroom deejaying from when I was 9 or 10. I was quite shocked when I realized just a couple days ago that I’ve been playing now for 25 years. That’s like some of the older generation of legendary DJs. But I haven’t been playing out professionally in clubs longer than since ’93 and in the mean time I have been dabbling, playing around in different kinds of bands and shaping my own musical ideas instead of trying to be a hip-hopper or a house DJ or whatever. I think it’s harder if you’re starting to DJ now. Even those uncategorizable things have a tag now. If you want to be a cross genre DJ, now there’s all these tags you can put on that as well. I think when people talk about the cosmic and the Balearic stuff it wasn’t meant to be a tag for a specific kind of music but more of a feeling or an umbrella for different kinds of music that you can put together. For me it’s more about having your own personal style. If you want to play Barbara Streisand then you’ll do it and if you’re a really good DJ and you know how to blend your records then you will make Streisand sound like the greatest record ever.
TOC: Tell us a little bit more about how you met Lindstrom and started working with him.
Prins Thomas: We met at a club in Oslo where I was playing. I played “Club Tropicana” by Wham! and he was really surprised that somebody had such good taste in music. This was at the end of the ‘90s when a lot of places were infested with really boring deep house. That was supposed to be the soundtrack for everybody’s night. Both of us were into buying records, Lindstrom had just moved to Oslo to go to the university and I had just moved here to make a living deejaying. The first musical encounter we had was while he was doing his first Lindstrom project, he wanted me to do a remix for him because I used to be play in bands and record in studios and also because of my taste in music. I basically got a computer just to do that remix, which is “Music In My Mind,” his second single on Feedelity.
TOC: And now, just last week, you’ve released your second collaborative album together. II, out now on Eskimo Recordings, is more live, organic and lo-fi than your previous record. How have you guys progressed together?
Prins Thomas: With the first record we were insecure musicians so we ended up sampling bits of ourselves playing, mixed with samples from records. Since then we’ve been playing more together in the studio. We share a big studio in downtown Oslo and we can just open the doors between our rooms and play together so this album was shaped by us playing more live. We also had this idea that it would be cool to do what felt like a programmed record but do it live instead of using loads of drum machines and really strict and rigid tempos. We built everything from scratch with really organic recordings of the room instead of direct line recordings, which can be too controlled. This got us some happy accidents on the way, often bringing a different magic out too.
TOC: Do you guys have aspirations of putting together a full live show?
Prins Thomas: We’ve talked about it and we actually have a guitar player sitting and waiting for more info, same with a drummer, so we can actually put together a proper band and do live shows. The problem is finding the time because we’re both busy doing loads of other projects that had been on hold while we recorded this album. I’m also busy recording the final bits of my own solo album and Hans-Peter (Lindstrom) is busy producing a singer he’s been working with. There’s constantly stuff to be done in the studio so finding the time to rehearse with a band for a month before going on the road… I’m not sure yet. We both want it to happen, but we’ll see if we find the time.
TOC: You’ve got two labels you’re running. What are the differences between Full Pupp and Internasjonal?
Prins Thomas: The basic idea is that Full Pupp is for all my Norwegian friends. I wanted to put out music from Blackbelt Andersen and all my other friends that made music. I wanted to get a spotlight on what is happening in Oslo because there are loads of people making great music in their bedrooms but nobody’s really taking it seriously. We’re not taking it too seriously either but it’s about progressing. Initially it wasn’t meant to be only Norwegian stuff, but I realized after a couple of years that we’d just been focusing on Norwegian artists and people referred to it as the “Norwegian rude Viking disco” sound or whatever so it was like ok, we actually have a selling point and we haven’t even thought about it. Now we have to milk it for what it is. Then when people sent me demos I started saying ‘well sorry, I’m only releasing Norwegian stuff for this label.’ As the demos got better and better I felt I had to do something and set up Internasjonal
TOC: When I started Internasjonal I was already aware that, even if you don’t want to, you can easily get stuck in some kind of category or label and usually within the first two or three releases you’re done. So I decided that each record had to be distinctly different to the last one. If I do a straight up house disco record then I’ll put out a downbeat one after it.
Like the smooth, breezy, summer vibes on the Studio remix of Windsurf’s “Bird of Paradise” which you just released.
Prins Thomas: We put out a whole album with Windsurf, which, for me, even before I put it out, had been the soundtrack to all my summers. When I played in America the last time, I hooked up with them in San Francisco and realized that we have a lot of influences in common. I was actually interviewed by a newspaper in San Francisco who talked about the distinctive similarities between what they are doing and what Lindstrom, myself and many other artists are doing. Even though most of us were born in the ‘70s, our musical influences came around in the late 80s and early 90s, listening to very eclectic, different stuff.
TOC: So to wrap things up, is your record going to come out on one of your labels or are you going to put it out on, say, Eskimo or something?
Prins Thomas: I think I want to put it out on my own label. I’m thinking about trying to license it away for some of the markets because we don’t have the machinery to do full-on promotion. There is a big different in how Eskimo puts out their stuff and how Hans-Peter and I put out our stuff. It’s like taking steps for the first time when you do something on your own because you have to get all these promotions companies on board and you have to set up all the interviews and stuff. Eskimo has that machinery already in place. I want to keep that baby for myself but if I find markets where I other people can do it better, like America, I’ll let them go for it.