In the world of pop music, that overwhelmingly endorses the new and the highly prolific, it’s hard for a star’s acclaim not to dwindle in absentia. Not Dido. Six years since her last album and after a 15-year absence from touring, her star is shining bright as ever.
Sarah Osei: It’s been six years since your last record. What are you reflecting on in the time between that record and this new one?
Dido: There are so many things that happen in the space between each album. There are so many aspects of life in each album, and I think this album encapsulates more than the others. Some songs are older thoughts that have traveled with me and might have changed, and there are other songs which are new. It’s a very honest album. I made it when I didn’t have a record deal, I didn’t know if I would even put it out, but I knew I needed to make this record. I didn’t go into a studio, I made it at home, just got the songs down and did it in a way that I felt was right. It’s quite an instinctive album. I thought “maybe I’ll put it out, maybe I won’t” (laughs).
SO: There’s a lot of talk about the fact that you’ve taken time between records, which it seems like almost nobody does anymore. Do you ever feel self-consciousness about taking that time?
D: No, no. I’m just living, and I only write when I have something to say. So no, it doesn’t scare me to not put a record out. If I never put another record out, I would still be playing music, I would still be writing – that will never stop, because that’s how I see the world. But yeah, it’s certainly exciting the moment people start hearing it. When you’re making the record and no one’s hearing it, you’re in your own headspace, and I’m always very interested in what people think.
SO: There are many artists now who are under this enormous pressure to always be accessible. Fans want to know everything that’s going on in your life in a tweet or over Instagram. Do you ever feel that pressure to overshare?
D: No, and I never will. It’s just not who I am. I want to be able to put everything into a song and not have it muddled with my life. What I like about when people meet me on the street and they tell me what a song meant to them – they’re referring to their life, they’re not referring to my life. They’re not going, “Oh you know that song about when you–” I don’t want it to be specific to me. It’s not relevant. I put my all, all my emotion into the song, but then it’s for someone else to hear it how they want to hear it.
SO: How do you know when you’re ready to put music into the world again?
D: You just get this feeling of really wanting people to hear it, you know? It’s a mixture of feeling really proud of what you’ve done and wanting people to hear it. What became really important to me this time around was performing live. Those moments onstage where you’re with your band playing music, talking to fans, when you’re all in the room together, you learn so much about your songs. It’s really inspiring and the high point of it all. The bit I’m really looking forward to is those nights on tour.
SO: I actually read that you still get nervous.
D: Oh my god, yeah. Totally.
D: Yeah, and I always have, ever since I started performing when I was six – I don’t know why. I was a classical musician and I used to get so nervous. And then ‘No Angel’ came out… I mean, when I made ‘No Angel’ I didn’t think anyone was going to hear it past my room, and I had never done shows like that. I would literally go onto stage, sing the songs and run away again. I was so nervous. As time went on I got a bit better, but I’ll still be nervous, but excited too. I think this time it will be a little easier, because in a way, as you get older, you get this sort of easy confidence with what’s important. What’s the worst that can happen?
SO: Much of this album deals with heartbreak. ‘Give you up’ has been hailed as “the perfect break up song”, what inspired this song? Is it about anyone in particular?
D: I didn’t write that song. That’s the first song I’ve ever recorded that I didn’t write. I get sent tons of songs, and I’ve never recorded any. I always thought “why would I? I’m a songwriter”. It’s funny, because I never entertained the idea. Then I got sent this song. When I heard it I knew I wanted to record it, because I could really relate to it. I’ve been through that feeling so many times: that moment where you start to think “maybe I’m actually over it”, and you’re beginning to feel strong again, but your brain is telling you you’re not over it at all.
SO: You also have a song on the album, ‘Have to stay’, which deals explicitly with motherhood. Was there any hesitation over releasing it?
D: I wasn’t going to put that out. I’ve always thought that I didn’t want to write about being a mum. But this song was going around in my head, and I had put it down. At first I didn’t intend for anyone to hear it. Then everyone I played it to just loved it, and I was proud of how I honestly put down that feeling of unconditional love. That feeling where you will walk away if you need to walk away, but you’re absolutely there for someone.
SO: Does your son realise his mum is Dido?
D: Yeah! I don’t think he knows any different. There’s always been music and I’ve always got friends around playing music and singing, it’s a musical house.. I think he finds it funny when people come up to me in the street, but he’s very cool about it.
“I’m not going to disappear into the ether again this time.”
SO: After this album comes out and after the tour, are you going back into hiding?
D: (Laughs) Probably not, because I’m quite enjoying this and I’m finding a balance of having the music in my life and not having it take over. My ideal life is one where I can really enjoy my family and friends and also make music. I’ve actually already written a ton more stuff and I’m already making this other record. So, no, I’m not going to disappear into the ether again this time. I’ve got a lot of things I’m working on that I’m really enjoying. There will be much, much, much more music coming out. And if I enjoy the tour, I’ll tour some more. Yeah, I think this is the beginning of a longer phase of easy-going music making.
SO: That’s a nice change.
D: Yeah. Well putting music out is a bit different now, isn’t it? You can put an album out, or a couple of songs, then get involved in a completely different project. I love this new world. It suits the way I work a lot better, because I can be a little more impulsive. I can have another album out in a few months if I want to. That’s quite exciting to me.
SO: I wanted to ask about that. A lot of artists are more in control now because of streaming, but there’s also a catch. Because of this surplus people have so much choice and such short attention spans. Many people only listen to one song and not the whole album.
D: I think it works both ways. You get tracks that end up on playlists that people might never have bothered to listen to on the album. I’ve made an album where, if you want to listen to it as an album, you can, because I’ve taken a lot of care with the order and the twelve songs I chose are a sort of journey through this record. I also like the fact that it’s no longer pre-decided what people are going to hear. Before the thing was: “This is the single, this is what we’re playing on radio,” and then that’s the only song anyone hears. Whereas this way, people listen in quite a varied way. I like the fact that the people who are actually listening to the music get to decide what they like as opposed to being told what they should like.
SO: This leads me to ask, are you surprised by how timeless your music is? Because your older hits are still very popular.
D: It’s funny, because someone asked me how I was going to do the old stuff and the new stuff live – I hadn’t even questioned that! Actually, when we were rehearsing on Friday it all just fit together. The old songs don’t sound particularly different from the new stuff. It’s not intentional, I just write and produce songs in a certain way that just feels right. I don’t overthink anything.
SO: Do you see yourself doing this for the rest of your life or do you ever see yourself retiring?
D: I don’t know. I think I’ll always write songs, and I’ve always loved singing so I can’t imagine a life where I don’t do those things. How many people I will sing to is a whole other thing.
Dido’s album ‘Still on My Mind’ comes out March 8th. Pre-order it here