Q&A: Prins Thomas

The Oslo audio artisan takes the wide-road approach to his career.
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In the off chance that you have been in a long deep sleep, or simply residing in another realm, here are a few things to know about Thomas Moen Hermansen, better known as the Norwegian DJ-producer Prins Thomas. A major force in the field of nu-disco/contemporary dance music since the early years of the millennium, he's often grouped with fellow Oslo, Sweden collaborators Hans-Peter Lindstrøm (with whom he has co-authored two LPs), Todd Terje, and Blackbelt Anderson; he's produced, remixed, and performed an amazingly varied body of work in the last dozen years or so; and he released his most recent LP, Prins Thomas III, in 2014, rendering him in a less discofied, funkier incarnation. The album's songs seem like casual sketches or experiments that go off in all sorts of unexpected directions, yielding some very rich results. Like his DJ sets, Thomas’s production palate has always been wildly varied: The former aspiring breakdancer and sometimes-bass player has had touches of funk, old school hip-hop, punk, electro, symphonic, and even country elements woven into his work. On Prins Thomas III, the more relaxed song structures allow his depth and breadth of interests to emerge in a fluid conversational way. Thomas recently sat down with his friend Dennis Kane (of Disques Sinthomme and Siren fame), to discuss life on the road, production versus DJing, and life in general.

How was this past weekend's travel? On the phone earlier, you seemed slightly anxious about the night-to-day turnaround from Italy to the Netherlands.
Thomas: The airport in Rome burned, so getting from the gig in Pescara to Amsterdam got more complicated. I took a train to Bologna and then direct to playing in Amsterdam. I’m not complaining, but there was definitely some comedy there.

The dynamics of travel are always part of the job. The American standup comedian Dom Irrera once said “I do the gig for free, you pay me for the travel.”
Thomas: It’s true, as long as I make the gig it’s cool, and I am only going out every other weekend these days.

Your most recent release was Prins Thomas III—does going out doing gigs feel different when you have an new album?
Thomas: It’s hard to say. Most of the time I don’t make music with the idea that I am going to feature it, or worry if it goes over. Really, I make music to have fun in the studio. I do it and that’s that, and this time around I made sort of an ambient album…not really ambient, but it doesn’t have conventional beats. I like being alone in the studio and working, and then I shift modes and get ready to go out and entertain.

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You have a strong history as a DJ, a sensibility that’s accrued and developed, and a reputation that's not based on one song or particular release. Things have changed—lately you see people who mainly make records to get themselves gigs. Production becomes something of a PR campaign.
Thomas: Things have changed a lot in the past five years. I mean, I’m happy things changed from when I was a kid—I never thought I would get to do this for a living. I have been able to do all of these different projects, DJing, remixing, my own production, running a bunch of labels—and soon some more. I mean, I juggle all
of these things, and really the synergy of that makes it possible, even if it sometimes feels chaotic. I have learned to use my time well and to get things done quickly.

Well, your output in total —all of it —has established your reputation, so you aren’t dependent on any one aspect of your practice.
Thomas: Right. My approach has always been organic, and it’s not that tactic-driven. I don’t need to be the biggest DJ in the world. Of course, I want to be known and appreciated for what I do, but mostly I want to be able to continue doing it for a long time. In the early days my agent was concerned that I was doing so many different things, but this wide-road approach has sustained a lot, and it has always felt like the right path intuitively.

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It also leaves the door open for growth. If you want to make a folk-based record next, you can, or if a very strong techno track comes down the pike.… People don’t have singular expectations of you.
Thomas: Yes, but I want to stay relevant, so it is a balancing act. And there are always new people on the scene…I don’t want to ever use the word “teach," but it is good to see people new to the music become intrigued by variety and some history and complexity—as opposed to a manipulative sameness or some dumbing-down. You need the energy of new people always. I like when they tell me I have schooled them a bit…especially when they are sweaty from dancing!

"I like exploring new genres of music, things I know nothing about, trying new approaches to playing."

New people equals new energy—you want to keep it fresh, keep your own curiosity engaged, and not ossify.
Thomas: Totally. I like exploring new genres of music, things I know nothing about, trying new approaches to playing. It’s always saddening when you meet someone after a gig who is disappointed because you didn’t play the way you “used to” or how they thought you should play. To me, it is so boring to stay in a fixed routine.

Definitely. A lot of DJs get trapped by other's expectations—and it doesn’t end up well, even if they keep a fan base. So what’s next on the horizon for you?
Thomas: I just finished an LP for Smalltown Supersound. It's going to be a double LP. I’ve done the Ying portion of it, now I am working on the Yang. LP One will be beatless, ambient sound, then the other portion will have beats. I’m also doing a triple CD mix —how’s that for a dinosaur project!?. There is a new double-pack 12-inch on Full Pupp to celebrate our label's 50th release, and then there’s a new label called Horizontal Mambo coming up as well as some new edit and techno stuff.

That’s an amazing output. It's been a great chat—I don’t want to hold you up, you should probably be getting back to work!
Thomas: Cool. I’m sending you a recipe for Norwegan style pancakes—see if your son likes them!

Dennis Kane's "five jams I like from the world of Prins Thomas"

1. Lindstrom and Prins Thomas "Claudja" (Eskimo. 2005)
A jewel from their collaborative efforts, "Claudja" is a haunting, deeply atmospheric track
with some lovely progressions and so much mood. This. on a great sound system early in the evening—boom!


2. Prins Thomas "Atter En Trall" (Full Pupp, 2010)

A great jam. Opening with acoustic guitar, in comes the fuzzy synths and bass, a terrific groove—and then it takes off, building toward the cosmic. Woodstock disco!


3. Todd Terje "Bodies" (Prins Thomas Orgasmatron mix) (Bear Funk, 2004)

A nasty remix that I had forgotten about —time to dust it off. Konk-style grooves here, funky bass, some Robert Plant vocals flanged in and out—party time.


4. Prins Thomas "Fehrara" (Full Pupp, 2006)

A big jam late nite styles—dark, dirty and floor moving. The strobe is on and I have lost all track of time.


5. Prins Thomas "Hans Majestet" (Long Version) (Full Pupp, 2014)

From the PTIII LP—funky, winding, slow-building, Marakesh grooving. A great trip, especially the long version.