Thomas Dolby, the iconic ’80s star whose smash hits “She Blinded Me With Science” and “Hyperactive” helped define the MTV generation/revolution, is preparing to break his 20-year silence with a new album later this year titled A Map of the Floating City. The album features appearances by special guest artists Mark Knopfler, Regina Spektor, Natalie MacMaster, Bruce Woolley and Imogen Heap. Leading up to the full-length, Dolby will release three digital-only EPs containing three or four songs apiece exclusively for signed-up members of his online fan community, The Flat Earth Society.
The five time Grammy™-nominated British artist quit the music business in the early ’90s and spent many years in Silicon Valley, where his tech company Beatnik Inc. created the ringtone synthesizer embedded in more than 3 billion mobile phones shipped by Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson and others. Now retired from Beatnik, Dolby has returned to his native UK and is busy recording an album of brand new songs in a renewable energy-powered studio he built aboard a 1930s lifeboat in the garden of his beach house on England’s North Sea coast.
“The new songs are organic and very personal,” says Dolby. “This album is a travelogue across three imaginary continents. In Amerikana I’m reflecting with affection on the years I spent living in the USA, and my fascination with its roots music. Urbanoia is a dark place, a little unsettling . . . I’m not a city person. And in Oceanea I return to my natural home on the windswept coastline.
“I marvel at the new landscape of the music business — distribution via the Internet and recording technologies I barely dreamed of when I started out,” he continues. “But this album does not sound electronic at all. I have zero desire to add to the myriad of machine-based, synth-driven grooves out there. The Net has made a music career approachable for thousands of bands — but I hear too few single-minded voices among them. What I do best is write songs, tell stories.”
To help tell his stories, Dolby has enlisted an impressive cast of guest musicians. Legendary guitarist Mark Knopfler helps drive the epic “17 Hills,” a song about a pair of hapless lovers and a jailbreak. Natalie MacMaster, the Cape Breton fiddler, adds spice to two songs. Scottish singer Eddi Reader takes a front seat on the ethereal “Oceanea.” Bruce Woolley (Camera Club) adds theremin. And Regina Spektor has a cameo as an East European waitress on “Evil Twin Brother.”
The first EP, Amerikana, will be available June 12 exclusively to signed-up members of The Flat Earth Society at www.thomasdolby.com. It includes the songs “Road to Reno,” “The Toad Lickers” and “17 Hills,” featuring Knopfler and MacMaster. Two additional EPs are to follow during 2010, culminating in a physical CD release that will add additional songs and complete the set. A multi-city live tour is likely for 2011.