Dido Armstrong’s songwriting has always oscillated between big, all-encompassing declarations and small, intimate snapshots. Think of the cinematic, life-or-death stakes of “White Flag” (“I’m in love, and always will be”) when compared with the mundane realities of “Thank You” (cold tea, catching the bus in the rain). Looking at her body of work, it feels safe to say that this is what love is to Dido — an iceberg that we only see pieces of in our day-to-day lives, but whose hidden, enormous mass underlies everything.
Despite her low profile over the past decade, Dido is still the most popular female UK solo artist of all time behind Adele, selling more than 40 million albums worldwide since 1999. This Friday, she’ll release a new album, Still on My Mind, after a five-year hiatus and embark on an international tour for the first time in 15 years. The album’s lead single, “Hurricanes”, is spare and haunting, and it uses the juxtapositions present in much of Dido’s earlier work to full effect: big statements and small, intimate moments, the metaphor of the catastrophic, destructive force of nature underpinned by emotions that feel just as dire.
It’s a strong return to form after years of changes and re-adjustments for Dido. She’s a mother now, and she explores her relationship with her seven-year-old son in “Have to Stay”: “When you wake up far too early, it’s a chance to start again.” “You Don’t Need a God” is an ode to the power of music itself, and “Give You Up” speaks to the act of detaching from a disappointing partner.
We talked with Dido ahead of her album’s March 8th release and 28-date international tour.
On Recording New Album Still on My Mind with Her Brother
I mean, it’s very easy. A lot of it is just hanging out. I think the lovely thing about writing with him [brother Rollo Armstrong] is it’s not like you’re sitting there in the studio and saying, “Right, what should we write about?” It’s more like we’re going about our lives and going for a long walk and having a good time together, and maybe an idea will come out, and we’ll put it down. It’s a very easy, natural process. I must say that I feel very lucky to have that. And after we made the record, you know, I feel kind of funny because I’m a solo artist, but I feel part of a team and all.
I’m not nervous [about the album], just excited about that bit. I feel, at this point, it’s just a celebration of the time that me and my brother had making it, and I’m proud of it.
On Her First International Tour in 15 Years
I’m really excited … and a little nervous. Nervous because I haven’t done it for so long. I remember that I liked it, but I don’t remember much else. But I’m really excited. I think, as time goes on, you sort of know the things that are the amazing moments – the repeated amazing moments in my life. When I look back on everything and think about what those moments are, it’s always when you’re at a show, and you have that high, you’re playing music with friends, and all those people made the effort to come out and see you. And you’re just having a moment, never repeated twice. It’s always different. And that, for me, is the fun of touring.
It’s about the songs. Nobody’s coming to see me dance [laughs]. I hope not. They’ll be really disappointed. So, it’s about the songs and the stories and just being there to share that moment, really. I’ll play guitar and probably play piano. I sort of play something when I feel like it’s the right thing to do. We do these acoustic shows where I tend to play more guitar just so there’s more sound. But I love singing while I play the guitar. It’s funny how it sort of frees up your voice in a way as well. It almost comes easier, which I know sounds strange. Something about directing your brain in that way makes it easier.
On Her Favorite Spots in London
I love walking. I love walking around London, everywhere. I love walking in the center of London and along the river and in the parks, and I love Hyde Park. I like being outside. And, actually, whenever I get to a city, one of the first things I do is I set down my bags and go for a walk, because you get such a feel for everything. I get really lost sometimes. I remember once I went for a walk in Tokyo and hadn’t really factored in that none of the signposts were in English. I was so lost and just struggling to get back to the gig. For me, London is so beautiful, and there are so many parts of it. It’s such a walking city.
On How the Music Industry Has Changed Over Her Career
That’s going back 25 years. I’m basically old [laughs]. I mean, it’s changed hugely, but, then I think in some ways that the same rules apply in that people respond to … I know that I still just really respond to a voice I love singing a song I love. To me, that’s still so much of what music is about. It doesn’t really matter what era that came from. You just get those moments where you’re like, “Oh, I love that.” Like when you hear Adele sing, and you’re like, “Oh, wow.”
Obviously, the way we can do music has changed. It’s changed in the making of it. We were laughing because I found all these old cassettes of mine the other day with all these old demos on them. And it was just taking so long to go through them. And I was remembering when I was trying to find the order of the songs on No Angel. I had like 15 different cassettes with different orders, and I would listen to them all separately. It’s funny you just forget how you even managed with that sort of technology.
When I was first doing this, it felt very special when I would be in a country on the other side of the world, and I would hear my songs or somebody would sing one of my songs or somebody would come up to me. It was amazing because it felt like, “Wow, how did they hear it?” But I also love now how music can translate so quickly everywhere. And I love the communication with people. In the past, I would only really have met fans at the show. After every show, we would sit out in the foyer and sign CDs and talk to people. And that was great, but it’s really lovely to be able to communicate with people in a different way, as well, online.
I love the freedom of now. I love that I can write a song tonight and put it out tomorrow. That’s very exciting to me. So, I’m quite enjoying the change, but I’ve always been someone who quite likes change. I’ve never had a problem with it. But it is cool because it does challenge you to be more, “How can I make this really fun?” And I think right now what I’m feeling is that music is actually really fun and that the industry is really fun. I like that fans seem to get to decide as opposed to it all being in the hands of radio or the record company. Now people can decide which songs they like, and I think there’s something really great about that.
I am [a skincare evangelist] from the inside out. I’m more about what I eat and what I do. I think, in a way, that sort of affects my skin more. There’s no amount of cream that can make up for it. Well, there might be, but I haven’t found it yet.
On Hanging Out with Her Family
We do a lot of music. We play a lot, listen to a lot. We go to gigs. And just hanging out. My son is like me. He likes walking all over the place. I really like hanging out with both of them, and you learn a lot from kids: the unself-consciousness and the honesty and the freedom and easygoing thing — it’s really amazing to be around.
He [her son] does [like her music], thank God. And I’m sure he’d tell me if he doesn’t. It’s funny because he’s been around for the whole making of it. He’s heard every song from its first moments till the end because a lot of it was done at home, and he’s not afraid to tell me if he doesn’t like something. It’s sorta great. You need that in your life. It’s lovely.
When the album came in a couple weeks ago, it was a genuinely exciting moment. And, for me, I don’t know if that’s why I’m a little more excited this time, but sharing this album with family … there’s been times in the past when these insane things happen in your life — the most incredible moments — but no one I knew was there to see it, so it didn’t feel real. But now it sort of feels real — the highs and lows — because you’re sharing it with someone. It makes it very different.
On Being a Christmas Baby
I don’t really know any different. I quite like it. It feels like a lot of people you don’t know are celebrating your birthday. It makes you feel quite special. I’ve actually met a lot of people born on Christmas day, because it comes up, and they all say the same thing.
On Being a Stan of “Stan”
It’s pretty crazy, but, in a way, that’s sort of his invention. But I only sort of realized that about a year ago and thought, “Wow, that’s pretty crazy.”
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