Home Interviews Manuela Langotsch chats with Tora Dahle Aagård of TORA

Manuela Langotsch chats with Tora Dahle Aagård of TORA

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By Manuela Langotsch 

After having to cancel their first UK tour in 2020 due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the band is finally set for the UK, where they will give two exclusive shows.

Firstly, at the Boileroom in Guildford Sunday 24th September (support act: Brave Rival), followed by the Half Moon Putney in London on the 25th September (support act: Lucky 13s).

TORA is a Norwegian Grammy-nominated pop/rock band fronted by guitar heroine and Instagram phenomenon Tora Dahle Aagård, who is subject to worldwide praise and popularity due to her playful virtuosity and mesmerising stage presence. She is followed by over 150k guitar aficionados from all over the world on Instagram. The band is celebrated for their raw and energetic shows.

“…Norwegian guitarist Tora Dahle Aagård has become one of the most revered new players in Europe.” 

guitar.com

TORA’s third album “Seventeen” was released in 2022 and features timeless and catchy tunes. Guitar legend Cory Wong features on the track “This is it”. Their previous album “Girls” received a Norwegian Grammy nomination and featured appearances from Joey Landreth and drummer Aaron Sterling. 

“Tora will become Norway’s biggest guitar export of her generation.”

Amund Maarud 

Tora Dahle Aagård has had an hitherto eventful career: The talented guitarist has performed in London’s Royal Albert Hall, jammed with guitar legends such as Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson), Paul Gilbert (Mr Big) and Aaron Sterling (John Mayer). She has even shared the main stage of the world’s biggest virtual guitar festival guitar.com LIVE with renowned names such as Joe Bonamassa, Carlos Santana, St Vincent and John McLaughlin.

Tora Dahle Aaagård is International Ambassador for Marceau Guitars with her very own limited edition signature guitar model designed for her.

TORA consists of Tora Dahle Aagård (guitar and lead vocals), Isak Seltveit (bass guitar), Guri Tranås (backing vocals), Anders Brønstad (guitar) and Magnus Galguften (drums).

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MPM: Is this the first time you are touring the UK?

Tora: Yes, it is the first time touring with my band outside of Norway. I’ve played in different countries before but never with my band or with my own project.

MPM: You have jammed with Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson) and Paul Gilbert (Mr Big). How did this come about?

Tora: It was many years ago at a festival in Norway. I was going there to just play 40 minutes and I was nervous, because I knew Jennifer was going to be there and I am the biggest Michael Jackson fan ever. I only agreed to do this festival, because she was there and I was hoping to get a picture with her. At the end of night there was a jam and the head of the festival said ‘do you want to go up and jam with her?’ and I was like ‘ok’ and so I did and it was really fun.

And with Paul Gilbert, they wanted someone local from Norway to join him on stage, maybe that was his wish as well, I don’t know. They asked me and I said yes of course and we jammed a little bit and that was cool. 

MPM: Your new album ‘Seventeen’ has a pop vibe, was this intentional or did that just happen?

Tora: I really don’t like being put in these boxes. We love to put everything in boxes to understand it. From the beginning here in Norway I was put in the blues box. They wanted me to be a blues artist and a blues guitar player but I never really listen to Blues music so I didn’t understand that, maybe my playing was bluesy, I don’t know. But I took it and said ok, let’s go, let’s do that, but as I said, I always listened to Michael Jackson, Beyonce and Bruno Mars and I didn’t know who Paul Gilbert was, before I went on stage with him. I am not this guitar person but I love my instrument. So the ‘Seventeen’ album felt like something I had to get out, I had to feel free, be box free and make the songs sound as good as possible and not think about the genre or what box people want to put me in. I was really scared of people saying ‘well we don’t like you anymore’ because you are not Rock enough or Blues enough or whatever. But I survived, thank God and I am really proud of this album because making a pop album is very difficult I think. I guess it was planned a little bit. 

MPM: What is the Norwegian music scene like? Are the artists all in boxes? Is there a pop scene, a rock scene, a blues scene etc.?

Tora: Musicians all know each other, it’s a small country. I would say there are many boxes but luckily for us as a band and for me as a songwriter because I have three very different albums out, we kind of fit in every kind of festival. We do everything from Blues to Rock to Pop and many Jazz festivals as well so you can put us whereever you want and that’s where I want to be. I don’t want to just do one thing because being able to do different festivals, you learn so much instead of only do these dark blues clubs with an older audience. At festivals, I get to meet people my age and see how they do it and I also think our show is not a show people would expect. I want it to be a Michael Jackson show, I want it to be huge with lights and videos and me dancing. It’s not a typical show of a band with guitar players and a drummer. It’s different and cool I think.  

MPM: What music do you listen to at home when you relax? What music inspires you as a singer songwriter?

Tora: I really like soul music, Motown of course, I listen to a lot of Hip Hop because of the groove. Every time I write a song, I start with the drums, the drum groove, 90% of the time I start with the drums. Rappers are amazing when it comes to rhythm and words and being creative that way, so I really like listening to Hip Hop music. But it depends, right now I am in a writing stage, I am trying to finish my fourth album and then you need all the inspiration you can get. So I try to listen to everything all at once and I don’t know if that’s smart. I am kind of all over the place right now and finding groove inspiration, that’s where I am right now. I just started writing.

MPM: What did you do during lockdown? Did you do a lot of writing?

Tora: I don’t want to brag, but I think I was kind of smart.  The moment I realised that everything was fu**ed, what I did was, I had a huge following on Instagram, so I kind of embraced that, I started to be very present and started to talk in English for the first time. Just to connect with people, since we are all alone and that really worked. My following increased. I posted every day, because that was all we really had and that really worked and paid off later and also I wrote ‘Seventeen’ during lockdown, basically the whole album and I produced it as well. We also had a lot of streaming concerts, which made sure I survived money wise. That’s how I made it through. So in many ways those two years were the best years of my life. I worked my ass off and it was really fun. And I didn’t have to travel and that was really good. 

MPM: How familiar are you with the UK Blues/Rock scene? Brave Rival recently came to Norway and played at the same festival as you. Did you manage to see them live?

Tora: I heard them play when I was backstage, but didn’t get the chance to watch them. But I’ve seen some clips on YouTube and I think they are great. No, I am not that familiar with the UK Blues/Rock scene but I hope when I am in the UK I will get more into it and get to know people and musicians. That would be amazing, but it’s my first time, so I am just going to jump in and fingers crossed. 

MPM: Did you always want to play the guitar when you were growing up or have you played any other instruments prior?

Tora: I come from a musical family, so I always played the piano. I had to sing too because that’s what we did at home. I didn’t like it but I did it. But I was really a football (soccer) player, I wanted to be David Beckham for a very long time. That was kind of my thing. But with the guitar, I picked it up when I was 15 and I thought this will make me look very cool one day if I just learn how to play it. For some reason from not knowing anything to knowing a little bit, that went really fast, so it came natural to me. I am lucky because it’s not an easy instrument but I am really stubborn, I am just gonna try to be the best in the world and see how it goes.

MPM: When you first started out, did you always write and sing in English?

Tora: Yes only English, I wanted to be Michael Jackson. 

MPM: You mentioned you come from a musical family. Are your parents and siblings musicians too?

Tora: My dad is a musician, but now he works as a music teacher. My mum not so much. She was born being a mum, she loves being a mum, she has 4 children and she is the best ever. But it’s mostly my siblings, my sister is a jazz singer, my brother is a guitar player and he also produced my first two albums and played in my band for many years and my other sister used to be an actor. I grew up like that, there was no other way, there was always music, all the time.

MPM: You are from Norway and live in Oslo. Are you originally from Oslo?

Tora: No, I’ve been living in Oslo for 6 years but I come from a very small town in the North of Norway near the ocean. About 1000 people live there. So Oslo is huge for me, it’s massive, so many cars and buses. The thing is, there are two options when you grow up in a small place, you either love it or you just wanna leave. And I wanted to leave and I’m never going back. 

MPM: Do you feel it is more difficult as a female to be a guitarist and taken seriously? 

Tora: I’ve been asked this question a lot, especially in the early days. People really cared about the fact that I have boobs. I didn’t really understand why, because I never thought about it. It’s more society and people around you asking ‘how is it?’ In the beginning there were all these men who asked ‘can I help you with your pedal board, do you need help with the microphone?’ They thought I needed help just to get on stage. It was so weird. But as years went by, I made a name for myself and now that doesn’t happen that often. It still does but way less. It is what it is. But I do like the element of surprise when people see me up there thinking what is she gonna do and then I just play really good. And then they are quiet and that’s the best way to kind of say ‘shut up!’ 

MPM: The majority of female musicians are either drummers or bass players, very rarely lead guitarists like Jennifer Batten or Nita Strauss. Why do you think that is? Are females too scared to pick up a guitar?

Tora: I don’t really know. I think girls are more scared in general, because we feel everything we do has to be perfect from the moment we start, because that’s how we were raised and that’s how we are built.  We are scared to fail, I think that’s got a lot to do with it. The only way to be more like the boys is to stop being scared. Because they are not that scared, they just go out there and do what they really suck at and with a lot of confidence.  They just go for it. Nobody cares that they suck and they are just proud of themselves.

We are more like ‘no I have to practise for 5 years and then maybe…’ I think we need to learn something from the boys and this is what I tell younger girls who approach me – to stop being scared. Just try and fail and try and fail. That’s the only way. They usually want to know ‘how can I get to do what you do? Play shows with my band and my songs and make a living’. There is no easy answer to that. There are a million things that have to fall into place. It has to be a lifestyle. There is no Plan B. It has to be the only thing you think about. Every day. And you are gonna be exhausted and sad and lose sleep and fail and fail and fail and hopefully maybe one day something happens. But there is no guarantee so you can’t think ‘what if this doesn’t work out’. You just have to think ‘this is a fun process, I love the process of it, I love seeing what happens’. That’s the only way.

MPM: Is there anything you would like to say to your UK fans, ahead of your UK tour?

Tora: I am looking forward to the UK shows and I hope people come and check us out.  I am really excited, it’s a big thing and a risk when you play abroad, but I just wanna try it and I am kind of proud of that. 

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