Her new record might be called Girl Who Got Away, but Sony Music has never allowed itself to slip into a situation where Dido would ever want to sign elsewhere.
The UK star’s new LP, which features contributions from the likes of Brian Eno and hip-hop maestro du jour Kendrick Lamar, is the fourth in a row she has released through the major label.
Her three previous releases have all been million-sellers, not least her debut No Angel (2000), which has shifted more than 21 million units worldwide, and was the second-biggest-selling album of the Noughties in the UK. Her second LP, the seven-times platinum Life For Rent, contained global smash single White Flag.
Since her last studio album, Safe Trip Home (2008), Dido has been keeping abreast of new music – during her chat with Music Week, she pays dues to The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Kristina Train (“her voice blew me away”).
Girl Who Got Away (out March 4) is her first album since the birth of son Stanley, and the apple of her eye isn’t the only new arrival in Team Dido in 2012: her professional collective now includes recently-appointed RCA UK boss Colin Barlow and manager Craig Logan, who has stepped into the shoes of Nettwerk’s Peter Leak. (“Craig seems like a really good manager – he’s got a great track record and clearly gets what I’m trying to do,” she says.)
As with Dido’s three other albums, Faithless founder and brother Rollo has returned for the majority of production duties on Girl Who Got Away. Lead comeback single No Freedom is a lean, upbeat track with catchy echoes of No Woman No Cry and a elementary repeated lyric tailor-made for radio airplay (“No love without freedom/No freedom without love”).
Not all of the new record is quite so obviously joyful, however; Let Us Move On – featuring a refreshing verse from Lamar - is a brooding, driving lament whilst album highlight End Of The Night showcases Dido’s way with a withering break-up sentiment.
What keeps you so loyal to Sony?
They’ve just always let me do my thing and been respectful of that. They’ve always been brilliant and supportive and stuck with me. What more do you want? There’s still lots of people there I’ve worked with from the beginning. The nice thing about this record is that it feels so much like No Angel – [RCA CEO in the US] Pete Edge, who I really like and respect enormously, was there at the beginning; [A&R director] Mike Sault’s now back at Warner/Chappell; my brother’s working with me again… it’s like everyone’s there from the word go.
Lots of people say a long-lasting relationship with a major like the one you enjoy is very difficult to maintain these days. How come your relationship is so strong?
I was lucky: when I first put No Angel out it was at a time when record companies would stick through a few songs before they were like, ‘Nah, you’re dropped.’ I got my chance; they gave me time and built it up properly. I promoted No Angel for at least three years. I haven’t got a bad word to say about Sony whatsoever – I’m not going to be one of those artists who says: [puts on childish voice] “I hate my label.”
You and Rollo seem to take care of most of your A&R yourselves. Do you still take advice from others on board?
Yeah, the A&R is done by Rollo and then Pete Edge in America. When I say, “Who can I work with?”, Pete’s brilliant. On this album I’ve worked (co-writing and/or production) with Greg Kurstin, Jeff Bhasker, Rick Nowels and Brian Eno – although the Eno thing came about more naturally. After that point [of introducing collaborators] they kind of leave me to it. I’ve never needed songs found for me, but I love being put in with interesting people. Pete and Rollo have been there since 1996, that’s 17 years of trust built up. They’re just like very opinionated friends.
How did the Kendrick Lamar meeting come about?
That was a classic Pete Edge thing. I’d been working with Jeff on the track and I loved it, but I’d recently listened to Kendrick’s stuff and I was like: “God, I’d really love to hear his voice on this.” Pete set it up, Kendrick liked the track, did the rap and then when I got it back it just sounded so good. His album [Good Kid, m.A.A.d City] is fantastic; it’s one of the few albums recently of which I’ve enjoyed every minute. He gives my track this heaviness just when it needs it – I love it.
You started out with Faithless, write intensely personal lyrics and got super-famous by collaborating with an angry young Eminem. Now you have the hottest young rapper in the world on your album. So why do some critics continue to suggest your music is depressing or even dull?
Who knows? Maybe they don’t know about my beginnings. You know, that tag has always zoomed over my head a little bit, it just feels so irrelevant to me. My first response when people used to say that about my music always used to be: “You know what? Turn it up!” Music’s so subjective and I can’t control what people like. I’ll keep doing what I do and I guess people will make their own judgements.
There was only one million-seller in the UK last year – Emeli Sande’s Our Version Of Events. Do the state of album sales alarm you?
Not really. That’s not something you think about when you make an album. You just want it to be heard if you’re proud of it. I don’t think I’ve ever cared how it’s heard; whether people are buying it, listening to it on radio or whatever. I genuinely don’t care how you hear my music, I just want you to enjoy it. It’s that simple. I guess with the decline in CD sales, there’s other really exciting ways of having your music out there. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.
A lot of new artists say that they do think of that stuff now – simply because they have to. The traditional music industry is smaller…
Maybe. And maybe it’s hard if you’re a new artist and there’s the threat of being dropped when you don’t sell instantly. That’s tough. I didn’t have that problem – I was given time and a slow build-up. That counts for a huge amount. In this day and age, if people were expecting an instant thing [from No Angel], who knows what could happen? It was an easier time in that respect. I think it would be sad if you have an artist today who needed that old school A&R development just like I had – I spent a good year on stage building up my confidence, barely saying a word. If they hadn’t nurtured me through that, I probably wouldn’t be sat here now making the records I want to make.
Adele’s record-breaking 21 has happened since your last record. Is that inspiring?
She’s amazing; a beautiful voice that moves you singing great songs that resonate with people. And she’s successful. You see, the world hasn’t changed that much…
What advice would you give today’s young artists?
Try not to ever hold stuff back. If you’ve made music and you’re proud of it, don’t get too precious about not putting this or that out. Don’t complicate things too much. That’s been my attitude with this album: here are some songs, it would be nice if people heard them. I was very free and easy in my early days – I’d sing on this or sing on this or that and then, as has been well documented, get paid with a curry. Also, when I first got signed, I remember not worrying about the business side of things too much, it was all about, “Do I like these people?” These people [industry execs] are going to be in your life – you have to be okay with that. And music’s a personal thing, you don’t want people you don’t like getting involved with it.
You collaborated with Brian Eno on your last LP, co-writing Grafton Street. Now you’ve composed another track with him on Girl Who Got Away - called Day Before We Went to War. He must like working with you…
He’s just an amazing guy. He’s so clever, I’m a huge fan. It was one of those: ‘Who would you most like to work with?’ things. Easy, Brian Eno please! He’s interested in everything and is interesting in every way. He’s brilliant company, has a brilliant brain and is a brilliant musician. I would happily always have a track or two with him on every record for as long as I live. I’ll never get bored of listening to his music. The amount of time I’ve spent listening to albums like Another Green World is ridiculous, driving around with the sun going down in America. It’s perfect. Life doesn’t get better than that, musically.
What’s it been like working with your brother all these years? Is there ever sibling rivalry - do you ever have spats?
We definitely have spats but I don’t think there’s ever been a feeling of rivalry. We’re almost like two halves of the same brain. We think of such different things, that’s what makes it work. When I’m working with him, I feel like he’s the missing part of what I’m trying to create. It’s the easiest thing in the world working with him. Having said that, some of the biggest fights I’ve had in my life have been with Rollo! But it’s never about the big things - family or values or anything like that. It’s always some musical point. But you know what? I sort of love it. He’s so passionate about my stuff, when we’re fighting about my records I do sometimes think: ‘God, who else in this world has got a producer who cares quite this much?’