Dido Armstrong - Biography & Career
"For me, it's about the little things, the detail. Always has been, always will be. As in life, I concentrate on that, leaving the big stuff to just take care of itself." Such is the secret to the songwriting ethic which produced 1999's 'No Angel' a debut album which so captivated the listening public that it went on to achieve sales in excess of 12 million copies - and, in doing so, confirmed Dido as one of only a handful of British artists capable of breaking through to a global audience in the new millenium. Those songs of life and love, delivered in a voice that is artlessly, unaffectedly beautiful, proved conclusively that the small-scale and specific can strike a universal chord. Everywhere and ever since, fans have been hungry for more. And now, at last, a successor, 'Life For Rent' is complete.
"The title, and the song from which itТs taken, represents how I feel about my life right now, and how I want to live it in the future," she explains. "It's about not being afraid to take chances, or to live life to the full. It's so easy to slip into complacency, or to disengage from the world. This album works as a constant reminder to myself not to do that."
No-one expected the north London girl to be a multi-platinum, world-conquering success, least of all Dido herself. For her, simply getting an album recorded and released was a result. "Because it was a struggle," she recalls. "I
However relaxed her backers might be about the creative process, you might think Dido herself would feel under new pressure as a result of recent achievements. Not so. "OK, maybe I thought about that for like a minute, but no more than that. And anyway, everywhere I turned, I heard all this talk about the Difficult Second Album Syndrome. So that was fine with me, straight back to being the underdog again! It'll always be like that, I think, because no matter how successful I am, I'm always going to be trying to be a better singer or songwriter or producer or player or whatever. In my own mind, I'm always going to be coming from behind, and that seems to suit me."
Galling, though, for it to be suggested that 'No Angel's' success can simply be put down to luck. Eminem's decision to sample the Dido song
'Thankyou' on his own deeply malevolent and disturbing 'Stan' is what fuelled that erroneous point of view. "It was bolt from the blue when I got word of his interest," she admits. "It was the spring of 2000 and I was in New York when this CD arrived with a covering letter. When I played it, I was completely blown away, I already loved his stuff, but this was something a bit different as well. Yet naively, I just didn't predict the effect it would have on my career. I simply told a few mates who also thought Eminem was cool and, hence, who I knew would be impressed, and then carried on promoting my own album. But, of course, the eventual effect would be insane."
Yes, of course, she credits the collaboration with having brought her to the attention of a far wider public, particularly in the UK, where 'No Angel' had not yet been available. But Dido had already been promoting the record for a whole year in the US (it was released there in June 1999), selling over a million units along the way. Hardly an unknown quantity, then. "and I'm blown away that so many people decided to investigate or buy my record on the strength of hearing 6 lines of it on 'Stan'. I think that's brilliant." There was a further advantage to having broken America in advance of other territories, too. "Had it all just gone off everywhere with the first breath of the album, I think I would have freaked. As it was,
I was ready. By the time it went suddenly crazy everywhere else, I had a great team around me, and a really experienced band that had been playing together around America for 18 months.
I was prepared."
Dido continued to tour and promote 'No Angel' until May 2002, by which point the whole music-conscious world had become aware of her.
Needing to find some time and space in which to collect her thoughts, she then began to indulge a newly-available luxury that of spontaneous,
unexplained travel. "For me, it's the ultimate treat, to be able to get on a plane at a moment's notice and just take off. Writing songs in un-familiar places, randomly meeting people, and then getting back home again without most people even realising you've been away I love it. And even more, I love the fact that I've had success without too much fame, so my ability to travel alone and at will hasn't yet been com-promised." Seeking to begin work in earnest on new material, Dido then rented a house in the middle of nowhere, installed a home studio, and decamped.
Unfortunately, just days after settling in there, her father was taken seriously ill (happily, he has since made a full recovery) and she found herself rushing home again. Even so, it had been a productive time, with several of the song ideas born there making it on to the final album. A majority of the 11 new tracks were built up on piano and guitar, either there or back home in London. Some were collaborations with Rollo, others with Rick Nowels, who helped produce 'No Angel'. And studio assistant from those sessions, Pnut, has also had imput into 'Life For Rent'. "It turns out we had a hip hop genius in our midst," says Dido proudly. "I'm often nervous when people hand me backing tracks they've made, because I find it hard to be any-thing other than painfully honest about what I hear. But in this case it was, 'Wow! Unbelievable! I want to write lyrics to this right away.'"
The result is an album every bit as fresh and beguiling as its predecessor, but one characterised by a new-found confidence and musical maturity. "There's a little of everything I myself like to listen to thrown in to the mix: folk, rock, pop, dance, hip hop, whatever. And there's a bit of serendipity too. The photographer clicking away while I was doing a vocal, or the person who leant on the mixing desk at just the right moment We've left it all in. I'm not saying that Rollo and I are a pair of hopeless, accident-prone idiots who don't have a clue what they're doing! But neither of us likes music that's polished to perfection and lacking in edge. We wanted a multi-layered sound, so that a year from now you might notice in the mix something you've never heard before. But we also have a good sense of when to say, 'OK! Enough! Stop! This is great, so let's just leave it."
Lyrically, fans will find Dido to have further refined her talent for sketching vignettes of romantic and domestic life that, though intimate, frequently have a twist or sting in their tail. From the opening track and first single 'White Flag', through to the epic closer 'See The Sun', she and Rollo have created a soundscape that one can imagine instantly become a soundtrack to life in millions of homes around the world. "There's nothing there to upset or alienate existing fans. I mean, it's not as if I've suddenly gone nu-metal, or something" she judges. "But I've pushed the boundaries and incorporated more influences so that the music is diverse enough to draw in new listeners, without ever sounding like it's by anyone other than me." In short, an album that's as singular as 'No Angel' but even stronger, and one that's wholly, uniquely and unmistakeably Dido. Sounds perfect? Well, yes, in fact it does.
The single 'White Flag' is released September 1st on BMG. The album 'Life For Rent' is out September 29th.