Tracking Down is a Stereogum franchise in which we talk to artists who have been out of the spotlight for a minute.
The last time Dido booked a tour, it was 2003 and the soft-pop singer was riding high on the success of mid-’00s radio megahits “Thank You,” “Here With Me,” “White Flag,” and “Life For Rent.” But the singer/songwriter had been touring for nearly a decade, and the relentless on-the-road lifestyle was starting to wear her down. So she did what a lot of musicians won’t — she stopped.
“That’s sort of been the way I’ve been with everything in life,” the British singer says over the phone. “If I’m not feeling like I want to put the music out, then I won’t put the music out. Or if I’m not feeling the need to get up on stage, then I won’t get up on stage.”
But life didn’t stop, and Dido continued releasing music. She has a son. And now, following up her 2013 collection Girl Who Got Away, Dido has released her fifth studio album, Still On My Mind, and is set to embark on a full world tour in May.
“It’s a bit scary, to be honest,” she admits. “When someone actually counted it up, and they were like, ‘Do you know it’s been 15 years since you did a show?’ I was like, ‘What?’ It does not feel like that.”
It also doesn’t feel like nearly 20 years since Dido first made a Stateside impression by letting Eminem sample her breakthrough track “Thank You” on his far darker, murderous superfan single, “Stan.” But Dido has only the fondest memories of appearing in the song’s music video as Stan’s (played by a wild-eyed Devon Sawa) pregnant girlfriend.
Below, Dido opens up about her latest music, how being a parent has shifted her perspective, what it was like to be on the set of the “Stan” music video, and what ultimately made her stop touring 15 years ago.
STEREOGUM: How has life shifted for you since the last time you released music five or so years ago?
DIDO: Well, the big change has obviously been family, and having my son. Obviously, that changes everything, but I also think it sort of changes music in a way. In a funny sort of way, it’s made me maybe more confident, or more easygoing about the music. It’s sort of hard to explain, but I think it just sort of broadens your world. So you end up … I don’t know, I just feel much more confidence this time around, if that makes sense.
STEREOGUM: It does. I know that when a lot of people start families, they talk about how things are kind of reoriented, or put into perspective in a way. Is that along the lines of what you mean?
DIDO: I think so. I mean, on a practical level, it makes you really amazingly productive with the time you do have. You lose out on a bit of that lonely thinking time, which is a thing of the past. For whatever reason, your brain is just on fire when you have got the time, and that’s been a really lovely thing.
Yes, it obviously puts everything into perspective. First, after I had [my son], I definitely personally don’t think anything I wrote in the first year, and a bit after that was that great. I always write, but whether the songs see the light of day is a whole other thing. Partly because what I write about are small moments of conflict. Every song has a bit of light and a bit of dark in it, and that’s what inspires me to write is when I see the conflict in the situation. When you have a kid, you just don’t feel that. Well, I didn’t, I just felt love.
I was like, “OK. I don’t really have anything interesting to say about it.” In a way, it was good, I just sort of took a step away, and then a few things happened, and a few things got me writing again, and suddenly seeing the world in that way again, where you could see the light, and the dark, and everything.
STEREOGUM: Right. Did you have your son prior to your previous album?
DIDO: I did. I was pregnant when I was singing Girl Who Got Away. Then, it came out when he was like a teeny baby. To be honest, my mind was elsewhere. I was in that phase where you feel like you’ve been hit over the head, and it’s taking you into another dimension. Before I had him, I’m like, “OK. Cool. We’ll put the album out. I’ll go on tour with a baby.” Then, I’m just like, “No, that’s just not gonna happen.” I think I was just living in a dream world. I admire anybody that’s done it, but I’m always in awe of people. I’m like, “How are you doing that?”
STEREOGUM: Why did this feel like the right time to release Still On My Mind?
DIDO: You know what it was? I was out of my record deal, and there was no expectation for me to make a record. I was always writing, that never stopped, but in those moments of clarity you get — I remembered what music started [like for] me. It was basically hanging out with my brother [Rollo], and my friends, and we all were doing our own thing.
We were all part of this studio in London. Everybody was making their albums, and we were all singing on each other’s, and we created this brilliant collective. Music was a byproduct of hanging out, and just wanting to be with these people, and these were all my friends. I just felt like, “That’s what music is to me. I’ve been really lucky to have that, and if I’m gonna do this, that’s how I wanna do it.”
That’s how this album was made. It was basically me and my brother hanging out with each other, sometimes with some other people. I pretty much only worked with close friends, and family on this record, and it’s just lovely. The music just gets made that way. It feels natural, and it felt right, and it feels right to sing the songs, because they’ve come from a natural place, you know?
I think another part about having a kid is that you become very clear on what you like, and what you don’t. You’re like, “This is what I wanna do.” You sort of have a real appreciation of time, and just what you wanna do with your time. What I wanted to do was have those great moments hanging out with people I love.
STEREOGUM: Of course. What were you thinking about while writing the song “Hurricanes”? Would you say it reflects the way you’ve experienced long-term partnership?
DIDO: Yeah. You know what that song is to me? It really is just about that strength of long-term love, and it’s about when you really are made stronger by being with someone, and you can really look someone in the eye, and go through those trickier moments. A hurricane is sort of a metaphor for the chaos of everything. Actually, when the world is a bit chaotic, and uncontrollable, that you have this real strength between you.
Marriage is huge. I think marriage is just a very romantic thing to do in a way. Some people see it the other way, and I don’t see it that way. I think there is a difference. You feel a difference when you get married, and that’s what that song is about, I think.
STEREOGUM: Well, I read that you’re heading back out on tour for the first time in quite a while as well. Do you remember what it was that made you hit your breaking point in terms of the touring lifestyle?
DIDO: Yes. It was like nine years straight. I was like, “You know what? I probably need to stop.”
I think it came to a natural end, and then I had absolutely no desire to go back out for a while. It wasn’t like, “I’m stopping …” It was, “OK. This whole tour is finished.” I did a few shows in 2005, and then I was like, “I’m just, I’m done.” I didn’t have that burning need to go back out … I didn’t for about 15 years.
STEREOGUM: You seem to really know how to listen to yourself.
DIDO: Yeah. Although, you don’t wanna listen to yourself too much. There are two parts of me. There’s the part that will listen, and then there’s the other part that just says, “Yes. We’ll worry about it later.” If you listened too much, there’s a million things you’d never do — probably most of the big life things, if you actually really thought it through, you’d probably not do them. I think there has to be a bit of a balance, and a pull of, “Yeah. Sure. Let’s do that, and worry about it when the time comes.”
With the last two records, it was also just … The third album has actually probably got my favorite songs on that album, but when it came to singing them live, because it was sort of after my dad had died, and a whole lot of the album was about that. I started doing some shows, and I was like, “Oh, my God. I can’t do this, I can’t sing these songs every night.” I really get into the songs. When I’m singing at the show, I’m living the moment that I wrote it. I always end up going back, so I think I just found that too difficult. Then, I was like, “I don’t wanna tour this record.” Then, by the fourth album, I had a small baby, and I was like, “I’m definitely not going on tour.”
STEREOGUM: Switching gears for a moment, you know what’s crazy? It’s been nearly 20 years since Eminem sampled “Thank You” on “Stan” in 2000.
DIDO: That song is a happy song for me. It’s so funny. I still love singing it, which is a relief, because I can’t not sing it. It would be a nightmare if you had a song that you were like, “Oh, my God. I never wanna sing that again.”
It just creates this little bit of magic. It’s just got such a nice vibe, and people have told me so many lovely stories about what it meant for them, or maybe they played it at their wedding, or whatever. That song sort of went on such a journey, and took me on such a crazy journey.
STEREOGUM: Do you think, when “Thank You” itself came out as its own single, Americans were surprised by the change in that song’s tone? The snippet we hear on “Stan” is so minor-key moody.
DIDO: Yes. That pretty much sums up the way I write. That’s the whole thing is that every song has that conflict. I actually came up with the chorus first, and I’m like, “Well, that’s really pretty, but the verses need to be about a bad day.” If I had just written a song about how I was just having a really, really great day, and, “I thank you.” There’s nothing in that, that’s just cheesy. That’s sort where the whole M.O. for songwriting for me came about in a way. That was a classic example, where you’ve got this lovely chorus, which is just a nice thing to say to someone, but the verses need to be about something darker.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of “Stan,” a few years ago I interviewed Devon Sawa, and one of the things that we spoke at length about at the time was that he had to convince his managers to even let him do the “Stan” video, because it was so at odds with his all-American boy, child actor image.
DIDO: Is that right? He was so good in that video.
STEREOGUM: Yeah. He’s scary!
DIDO: Yeah. He really got into the part. He was method acting all the way. I was just like this sort of … I just put on this pregnancy suit, and was just like, “Wow. I’m making a video with Dr. Dre directing it.” He was so, oh, my God, he was so in it. When I’m looking scared, I’m a little scared.
STEREOGUM: Do you recall what it was like acting opposite him?
DIDO: He did such a good job. He was so good, because he was so professional, and he sort of acted for both of us, if you know what I mean, because I am no actress. He was so brilliant, and so convincing, and so real, all I had to do was react to how brilliant he was.
I don’t know. It felt really real, and he really was that part, and he was … I would have to say that filming that video, if I was writing a list of really fun experiences in my life, that would definitely be on it.
I remember actually there’s [a cut of the video] where I’m crying, and I actually am crying, because I’m so clumsy, and I got in the trunk of the car, and I actually managed to hit my head on this piece of metal that was in there. I was sort of tied up, and then I’m actually crying. I was like, “Well, there you go. There’s a bit of method acting.”