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INTERVIEW: Thomas Nordland

How would you classify your music?

Divide Avenue emerged out of a desire to explore different ways of bringing together various American Folk, Country, and Jazz influences. In particular, I wrote much of this music inspired by the music of people like Sarah Morris, Neil Young, Ry Cooder, Blake Mills, T Bone Burnett, Derek Trucks, Mathias Eick, Marc Johnson, Pat Metheny, and Bill Frisell, among others. That being said, over the past twenty years, I’ve had the chance to play music in a wide variety of genres, and all of that experience has accumulated on itself and become a part of the music that I make. At some point, I think that most music transcends its classifications, and I’m inspired by people who pursue the path of creative work regardless of whether or not it follows trends or conforms to specific genres.

Who are some of your top 5 musical influences? 

Bill Frisell, AnouarBrahem, Michael Hedges, Miles Davis, and Keith Jarrett.

What do you want fans to take from your music?

I’ve always loved music for its power to transport people into other worlds, to reconnect them with something deeper in themselves that they might feel. I hope that anyone who listens to this music truly enjoys it and feels inspired.

Can you tell us a bit about your latest album? When will it be released and how does it differ from your previous work? 

Divide Avenue is the first album I’ve ever released. The music was inspired by a road trip in Baja, Mexico. I traveled with the bassist on the album, Andrew Foreman, and we went from Tijuana to Bahia de Los Angeles. I met some of the most kind and gracious people there, and was also mesmerized by the land. There’s basically a single highway from north to south that branches off once or twice, and winds its way through mountains, cities and small towns, vast plains, and forests full of cacti and giant boulders. When I returned to Minnesota, I wanted to create music that unfolded like our road trip. All of the songs ended up feeling like one big song, but each one still has a character of its own, like the different regions through we which traveled. This music became something very different than almost everything I had been composing and performing up until that point. I had never played baritone guitar before starting to write this music. And it made me play guitar in a way that felt foreign at first, but gradually became the central voice in the music. I never thought I would release an album of music like this, but it’s what came out and I knew that I needed to follow it through.

What do you love and hate about the Music Business?

I love that we can be exposed to so many musicians from all over the world, and that there are spaces where people can share their music and even support themselves by doing so, despite the difficulties. I dislike the way in which the contradictions between art and commerce can sometimes lead one astray and undermine creative process and vision.

What is the best concert you have been to? What do you like most about playing live?

One of the most memorable performances I’ve seen was by the great guitarist Michael Hedges at the Civic Center in Madison, Wisconsin. He performed music from some of his classic albums, including Aerial Boundaries and Breakfast In The Field. He was wearing a long black robe and looked like a ninja. When he played, he would almost dance and played such complex music with such grace that it was completely mesmerizing. He was one of my biggest inspirations for a long time and still is.

Being able to share music with people and explore that connection directly while performing, is really important. I spend a lot of time alone in my studio practicing and composing. Live performance is the fulfillment of the process, where unexpected things happen, and the music always takes on a life of its own.

7. Is there a song on this latest CD that stands out as your personal favorite, and why? 

After spending hundreds of hours during the process of writing, demoing, recording, and mixing the album, you come to both love and hate every song. If I had to choose one, I might say Whiskey Rumination for the vibe of the song as a whole, and the melody. I love the way the baritone guitar sounds on that track, and that has a lot to do with the magic that Jason McGlone, who recorded and mixed the album, worked during the session.

8. How have you evolved as an artist over the last few years? What made you decide to come back into the music business?

From the start, I had the privilege of a music education and studied with great teachers for many years. During that time, I honed my technique and absorbed many styles from jazz to classical to acoustic to country. I learned theory, composition, and arranging. I’m still a student and always will be, and feel very humble about how infinite all of these things are, but now I’ve become more interested in applying what I do learn in my own way. I feel like the many stands are coming together in unexpected ways.

 9. If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, get drunk with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be? 

There’s so many. I would love to meet Bill Frisell. I think that he’s got an undeniably unique musical vision and style. He also seems like one of the most grounded musicians I know. He seems to engage every project with beginner’s mind. His endless curiosity and creativity continually inspire me.

10. So tell us what’s next?   

There’s always more than one project in the kiln. In addition to a stack of new songs for the next release, I’m working with Maryam Yusefzadeh, who sings on the third track of the album, Ensenada Nights. She was the singer and leader of the Twin Cities based Persian band Robayat for twenty-five years. We’re exploring the cross section between classical Persian and Jazz music.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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