Blinded by Ambition

Thomas Dolby continues searching for science and some overdue respect

Speaking from Northern California on the eve of an American tour, Thomas Dolby sounds energized, ready to bring out machines old and new, to dress up like an aviator lost in an electronics store, anxious to prove yet again that he is anything but an '80s one-hit wonder.

"People who know me also know that there's a lot more to me than one or two songs," says Dolby, whose 1984 hit "She Blinded Me With Science" has become entrenched as a cultural touchstone for both ushering in new wave/electronic pop and championing the nerdy, lab-rat stereotype.

"So few songs become evergreen, and I'm so fortunate to have one that did," says Dolby. Occasionally however, Dolby has expressed frustration with being associated with the massive hit. "I've never said that I didn't like the song," he quickly adds. "It's just my most shallow in some ways." Yet the success of "Science" has allowed Dolby to create a sturdy (if infrequently released) body of work that shows him to be more versatile than most people realize.

Thomas Dolby may be partially responsible for electroclash, but we forgive him.
Thomas Dolby may be partially responsible for electroclash, but we forgive him.

"Over the years, people who've stuck with my music have actually been drawn to the sublime songs," says Dolby, speaking of cuts such as "Europa and the Pirate Twins" and "One of Our Submarines" as well as more recent collections such as Astronauts & Heretics.

Touring in support of The Sole Inhabitant, the just released and pristine-sounding live CD, Dolby is eager to connect with a Texas audience that he hasn't visited since 1988.

"I've started writing songs for a new record," says Dolby, "But I just wanted to revisit the old ones and get face-to-face with the fans again."

Besides inventing the polyphonic ringtone technology used in more than 100 million cell phones, Dolby has worked with a surprisingly diverse group of artists as both a performer and a producer. Just a small sampling of his collaborators includes Foreigner, Def Leppard, Eddie Van Halen, Jerry Garcia, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Little Richard and Robyn Hitchcock, just about anyone who wanted to avail themselves of some of Dolby's instrumental dexterity and studio wizardry.

"I like to juxtapose different styles," says Dolby. "Folks like Foreigner and Def Leppard wanted to add some tenderness to their sound without sounding wimpy."

Dolby is now concentrating solely on performing and happily awaiting EMI's long overdue reissue of his entire back catalog and a DVD compilation of all of his videos.

"I'm trying to survive on the embers," says Dolby, speaking with a keen sense of self-depreciation that suits the significance of his undervalued contributions.

 
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