Quickly amassing over 100,000 followers on Instagram and gaining widespread recognition for her virtuosic ability and playful energy, Norwegian guitarist Tora Dahle Aagård has become one of the most revered new players in Europe. She is the band leader for the aptly named TORA, who released their debut album in February of last year, which was followed by performances alongside Paul Gilbert and Aaron Sterling, of John Mayer fame. Since then she’s performed on stages all over the globe, most notably Royal Albert Hall and at Molde International Jazz Festival, one of the oldest and most prestigious festivals in Norway. Below she tells us how it all began…
What first drew you to playing guitar?
“It’s a stupid thing, but I’m going to be honest. I watched this movie called School Of Rock and this kid was playing guitar and he was so good and so young. I thought, ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.’ I knew I had a lot of music in me, I’ve done a lot of singing and acting. I was like, ‘Well, I also want to be the coolest person in the world.’ I started practising and yeah, it made sense to me. The fact that he was young, and he played fast rock and roll like AC/DC. I love that music. I just wanted to be a rock star.”
Who are your main influences as a guitar player?
“I just practised songs, basically. Sweet Home Alabama, I practised that song for so long just to get everything right. I had music in my head, and I wanted to get it out, I wanted what’s in my heart to come out in my playing. I try to listen to jazz but I just I don’t like it. I like great songs, great choruses, great songwriters. That also means that I like guitar players who can build up a guitar solo like it’s a conversation. John Mayer, Derek Trucks, John Schofield… all of those guys. If I’m ever not motivated, I can go listen to them. They can tell a story.”
You’ve quickly amassed over 100,000 followers on Instagram. How has that impacted your career?
“I never really wanted to be a ‘guitar player’ but I wanted to be great at it. I wanted to do a little bit of this and be great because I am not a male. When I started sharing videos on Instagram, I noticed that people liked it, and I had to sit down and think ‘Why do they like this? What is it about this video that made it go viral?’ I think it’s not just the playing, it’s also the fact I look happy doing it. People like to see people smile. That led to the Chapman [Guitars] deal. I didn’t know what Chapman was! I thought it was a joke. Then all these magazines started to reach out. I was never in the guitar world; I was kind of thrown into it. All of a sudden people expect me to know things, but I’m just playing gigs with my band and just trying to make a living.”
2019 was a big year for you, releasing your debut album and playing with the likes of Paul Gilbert and Aaron Sterling. Tell us more about that…
“It was the year that everything happened. It’s going to be hard to try and top this year. But I have this list of things I want to do, and I have started out to tick them off. But there’s also been some things that I never thought would happen, like Aaron Sterling. I didn’t write that on my list! He’s playing on my next album, it’s crazy. The list has been expanded in different directions that I never thought it would go to. I wasn’t prepared for this.”
You also played at the Royal Albert Hall, too. Most players can only dream of a gig like that!
“I don’t get nervous anymore, but before walking on stage at the Royal Albert Hall my brain went, ‘Okay, so all this hard work for 10 years has paid off.’ You see people clapping and you start thinking, ‘A year ago, no one knew who I was.’ In eight or nine months I ended up there. There’s a video of me when I come on stage, I start playing and I have to stop. Because you have to take it in. You deserve it. Just take a second to breathe. Then I just had fun. I think it was one of my best performances yet.”
Is there a big blues scene in Norway?
“The blues thing is a mystery to me. It’s filled with old guys in Norway. Maybe it’s like that in the rest of the world as well. All leather and moustaches and harmonicas. I think they started noticing that they don’t sell as many tickets anymore and the kids aren’t going to it. It’s not cool. Then all of a sudden, I show up and I sometimes play blues licks. They’re like, ‘We’re gonna take you and put you in our genre, and we’re going to take care of you.’ They needed me and I needed them. It was like a two-way thing.”
You’re also the first female guitar player to become a Chapman endorsed artist. Why did you choose to work with Chapman and what’s your relationship with them like?
“They noticed me when no one else did, so I’m forever grateful. They’re huge, great guitars, but I don’t really know. They just called me and said we really like what you do, and would you be interested in us sending a guitar and being a part of our team.”
Tell us about your guitar of choice…
“I play a Strat. Almost every gig I have that with me. It’s a Vintage Strat, I have a white one. And the Chapman as well, I just mix between those two. Now I’m trying a Yamaha Revstar. So many guitars all of a sudden!”
What’s next for Tora?
“I think we have to tour more outside of Norway. Our music is kind of American. Norway isn’t ready yet for their bands to be as big as their pop musicians. I want to play more in the UK, the US, Germany… I just want to travel and be able to play with my band. We’re finishing the next album now and it’s so great. I mean, I’ve always been scared to put out music but this time I’m just like, ‘You just wait!’ We have Aaron Sterling joining us, and Joey Landreth is doing a duet with me.”
Tora’s new single, Money, is out now on Touchdown Music.