Thomas Dybdahl Feels 'The Weight of a Lot of Bad Decisions' on 'All These Things': Premiere

Jean-Baptiste Mondino
Thomas Dybdahl

Listen to the title track off the Norwegian singer/songwriter’s upcoming album.

It all started with a David Crosby album.

Norwegian singer-songwriter Thomas Dybdahl played the L.A. troubadour’s 1971 solo debut, If I Could Only Remember My Name, on repeat as he painted and set up gear in his new studio. Crosby’s psychedelic folk dirges inspired the initial sketches for the songs that appear on Dybdahl’s introspective new album, All These Things, whose brooding, ethereal title track premieres Tuesday (Aug. 21) on Billboard.

Dybdahl teamed up with Grammy-winning producer Larry Klein and a virtuosic cast of musicians for a marathon recording session at Hollywood’s Sunset Sound Studios, where they cut all nine songs from All These Things live in three days. The session’s raw vulnerability manifests itself on the title track (which also opens the album), as smoky Hammond B3 organ chords and bluesy guitar fills unravel around Dybdahl’s plaintive croon, which barely rises above a whisper. The accompanying video documents the recording session, cutting between musicians in real time, captivating in its simplicity.

“Lyrically, it just broods on the subject of the weight of a lot of bad decisions piled on top of each other,” Dybdahl says of “All These Things.” “Material stuff you can just get rid of usually, but it’s hard to redo stupid shit you’ve done.” After composing the hypnotic, synth-laden soundtrack to Arild Ostin Ommundsen’s Now It’s Dark, Dybdahl longed to get back in a room with other musicians and take a more organic, communal approach to his songwriting. Needless to say, he got his wish, working with veteran session guitarist Dean Parks (Steely Dan, Michael Jackson), keyboardist Patrick Warren (Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen) and drummer James Gadson (The Temptations, Bill Withers), among others. “It wasn’t easy or problem-free, but then it shouldn’t be,” Dybdahl admits. “The days were long, and even though it was only a three-day session, I felt like a changed man after it was done.”

Dybdahl previously worked with Klein on 2011’s Songs compilation and 2013’s What’s Left is Forever. After preliminary group writing sessions proved fruitful, they decided to stick with the approach throughout the writing and recording process. “As the group of songs emerged… I started seeing a story unfold about the dark side of Hollywood and Los Angeles,” says Klein, who previously won Grammys for Joni Mitchell’s Turbulent Indigo and Both Sides Now and Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters. “I might have mentioned it to Thomas, but generally we keep these ideas about the ‘meaning’ of things to ourselves. It seems to work better when it isn’t spoken about too much. The album still feels very much like a darkly programmatic tone poem about things going wrong in L.A. to me—a subject quite close to my dark heart.”

Klein’s previous collaborations with Dybdahl helped break him into the United States; What’s Left is Forever earned a Grammy nomination for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical in 2014. Dybdahl hopes to harness that momentum and further expand his stateside audience when he releases All These Things on Oct. 12, though he’s trying to temper his expectations. “I don’t really see myself having anything that would resemble a radio hit or anything that would catapult me into people’s homes, but word is spreading and the playground is getting bigger and bigger,” he says. “I have a nice career and I love what I do. I have freedom. It could be worse.”