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Cover Story [Issue # 5 ]
Dido: Dido Gives Thanks Again

By Dave Lewis

Life For Rent ( CD Arista )

Though she ran the risk of being known only for her 1999 collaboration with controversial rapper Eminem on the hit single "Stan," British pop diva Dido was able to escape the shadow of Slim Shady and come into commercial and artistic success on her own.

Her debut album, No Angel, sold more than twelve million copies worldwide and spawned the hit singles "Thank You" (which served as the basis for "Stan") and "Here With Me" (heard as the theme song to TV's "Roswell"). September 30th signaled the release of her strong sophomore disc, Life For Rent.

After the massive success of No Angel, sales expectations for Life For Rent were increased exponentially. Did the pressure to match her previous sales influence Dido’s work on the new CD? "Not musically, no," Dido said in a recent telephone interview, "because I don't really think that record sales affect the way you make music, you just make the music that you want to make and that feels good, and it's more of an emotional thing. But I definitely felt that there was a lot of people watching before the album came out. It seemed like an inordinate amount of attention. It made it all the more exciting when the record did come out. It just feels great."

Before "Stan," No Angel, and global fame, Dido resided primarily outside of the spotlight. As a backup singer in her brother Rollo’s now-defunct club/hip-hop group Faithless, Dido first discovered her calling as an artist and songwriter. Though producer Rollo and producer/DJ Sister Bliss were the focal point of the group, Dido's contributions were worthy of note. The band broke up after a few short years. Happily, Rollo continues to work with his sister, and the bulk of Life For Rent was co-written and co-produced by him. Rollo plays the studio-bound techie yin to Dido's more outgoing yang.

Despite their family ties, Dido claimed there isn't any professional sibling rivalry between Rollo and herself. "I think both of us live in mortal fear of having the other one's job," she said. "He would hate to have my job, and I'd get frustrated if I was in a studio everyday of my life. I like to be in the studio for a year and then tour for a year. He would just hate to be onstage. He doesn't even like his picture being taken."

Rollo's input, as well as that of other producer-artists like Sister Bliss and British hip-hopper P*nut, helped Dido create an atmospheric enigma of a record in Life For Rent. On the one hand, the danceable beats are addictive, the synths are warm and sensual and Dido's voice is gorgeous. On the other hand, Life for Rent's lyrics are for the most part melancholy, and the overall effect of the CD is bittersweet. Songs like "White Flag" (the lead-off single) and "Stoned," sound lush and soothing, but are actually fairly dark tales of lost love and heartbreak. Such tracks resonate with a certain recurring sadness and finality that is present in much of Dido's music (and, for that matter, a lot of British pop in general).

Musically, Life For Rent gracefully shifts gears from the laid-back hip-hop of "Who Makes You Feel" to the acoustic folk-soul of the title track. The result is a CD as ready for club play as it is for your headphones.

Life For Rent also features extensive production work form Dido. Already a prolific songwriter, Dido sees production as a logical extension of the craft. She justified her increasing interest in self-production by saying, "I Just figure it's my stuff and I'm the one who has to listen to it, sing it and talk about it for the next couple of years, and I’m never going to let someone else do it, you know?"

Dido's willingness to experiment in the studio reflects her eclectic tastes in music. Eager to discuss her preferences, she offered up a list of her current faves: Irish singer-songwriter Damien Rice ("I love that album," she gushed), "Cerys Matthews, who used to sing for Catatonia, a lot of dance music, a lot of hip-hop, all sorts of stuff actually."

A perfect explanation for the reason that Dido's musicsounds the way it does is the fact that she listens to "anything from Neil Young and James Taylor, and then right through into techno." That dichotomy describes her music in a nutshell.

Life For Rent signals a shift further towards hip-hop territory for Dido. Her song with Eminem may be her most famous work in the genre, but her stint with Faithless was also heavily influenced by hip-hop. She sees it as an integral part of her musical formula, and she said that further collaborations with hip-hop artists are inevitable. "That sort of thing will always happen, because that's how I started. I started singing by singing the hooks on hip-hop tracks. So, I feel like that will probably always happen because my voice is suited for it. I'm into doing more stuff with P*nut, whose album has just come out in England. It's a great UK hip-hop album, which is not an easy thing to achieve. It's very rare that any great hip-hop comes out of England. I mean there are a few greats and he’s one of them.

The multi-platinum Dido is just as candid about the hot-button topic of Internet piracy. She admitted that she has a "confusing" stance on the issue, one that she fears her record company will find "annoying." "As far as my songs getting all over the Internet, a) that's inevitable and b) I find it quite
flattering," she revealed. "I'm an artist and I might need it to have my music heard. Ultimately, it doesn't really bother me, but I know it does my record company.

In fact, Dido believes that file sharing may have even benefited her when she was up-and-coming. "For me the internet kind of showed me a way of making word-of-mouth really happen for me, especially on the first record," she claimed. "I remember reading that it was one of the most downloaded records ever, and it was like it works for me in a way. Ultimately, I've got my house and I've got a car. I'm happy. I just want people to hear my music. I love that. That gives me pleasure. So, I'm never going to be cross about copies I didn't sell. I couldn't care less." Dido does, however, have a few reservations about piracy. "My fear would be if something ended up unfinished on the Internet," she said. "I would be furious, and I would pull everything to shut it down." She is also concerned with the negative effect piracy can have on lesser-known artists. "I think when it bothers me more is when I see friends of mine who are doing really well on the Internet, and they're not doing very well in hard sales, and they get dropped by the record company. Then you just think nobody's winning at that point. So, I think that it needs to be controlled.

Dido clearly believes that music - and music fans - prevails over the almighty buck, and that as long as there is good music out there, people will buy it. "I think it’s important as an artist actually making your album worth buying as a CD. So, make a great record. And, you know, I've taken a lot of care over the packaging and stuff like that. I would like you to buy the record because it'll be better quality and I'd rather you heard it as the actual CD. But if you're just curious, and just wanted a song, then go ahead (and download).

It may come as a shock to discover that, though classically trained in piano, violin and the recorder as a child, Dido, now known primarily for her voice, never had any vocal training. "I never learned to sing, I've never had singing lessons," she readily admitted. "I don't really want to either. I sort of like the fact that I discovered things on my own and thought 'Oh cool! Well, that was cool - it was an accident and it worked.

"Thank You," her biggest hit, works so well partially because of her vocal hiccups in the song's catchy chorus. Dido mused, "I think that the chorus of 'Thank You' was sort of accidental, you know because your voice does weird shit. I remember I went for one singing lesson when I was younger, and she (the teacher) kept trying to take the break out of my voice. It would be so awful if I'd continued because then I'd sound like everyone else." Truer words have rarely been spoken. As Dido's vocal skills on Life For Rent testify, it would be awful indeed if she just sounded like everyone else. Lucky for us she doesn't.

Life For Rent

Dido Gives Thanks Again Dido Life For Rent

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