Dido Delivers Greatest Hits With Beauty, Style, Grace
Ultimately, Dido believes her upcoming collection of songs is “the crazy diary of my life” rather than a greatest hits record.
That and her three other studio albums, including last March’s Girl Who Got Away, are nicely represented on this 18-song compilation, along with treats such as the Academy Award-nominated “If I Rise” (with A.R. Rahman) and “NYC,” a lively new dance track that was released in October.
Eminem’s “Stan,” the rap single that put the UK woman who only needs one name on America’s map with a sample of “Thank You,” is also there, signifying the start of a remarkable global adventure.
The deluxe edition adds 13 remixes of some of her most popular songs, including a previously unreleased version of “White Flag (Timbaland Remix).”
Such examples provide proof that she was destined for greatness, yet during an overseas phone conversation last week, the lovely Londoner almost seemed embarrassed to attach superlatives to her work.
“Nice question,” Dido said in a playful tone ranging somewhere between sweet and sarcastic when asked what makes this particular collection of songs great.
“It’s not something that I would have suggested doing,” she explained softly. “I didn’t wake up one morning and think, ‘Oh, I’m going to do a greatest hits album.’ It never even crossed my mind.”
After Sony approached her with the idea, Dido said she still was in the middle of making Girl Who Got Away and needed some time to consider it.
“And I thought as long as I can put together something that I truly love, that feels like a proper celebration of the last 15 years,” there would be enough hours in the day to make it happen. Even for a Great Brit who’s balancing being a wife-mother-daughter-sister-singer-songwriter.
Not that she needs a career validation, but perhaps Greatest Hits will serve as a gentle reminder of what Dido has quietly but skillfully accomplished since bursting on the scene.
The effortless grace of her understated vocals blend splendidly with the powerfully personal nature of her lyrics. Of course, the cool chanteuse who for years was cranking out platinum records and imaginative but tasteful videos without a wrecking ball or sledgehammer in sight doesn’t mind some controlled chaos in her life.
The seasoned performer who plays various instruments, including guitar, keyboards, recorder and drums, enhances her sound with electronica dance beats, propulsive bass lines and impassioned collaborations with artists ranging from Eminem to Kendrick Lamar.
The winner of the MTV Europe Music Award for best new act in 2001 didn’t watch the EMA’s earlier this month, when Miley Cyrus’ latest publicity stunt went up in smoke, but still was curious enough to ask if it was a good show.
“I think it’s quite an exciting time,” Dido said of today’s pop music scene, too classy to diss anyone. “I like that people can put things out any which way. It’s not necessarily a whole album. It’s just sort of various collaborations and I think there’s a lot of good stuff around.”
Saying she’s discovering new things everyday, Dido at the moment is raving about electronic act Pete Lawrie Winfield (under the guise of Until the Ribbon Breaks), recent albums by London Grammar (If You Wait) and Lorde (Pure Heroine), then added, “I actually downloaded the Eminem album (The Marshall Mathers LP 2) a couple of days ago; I’m really enjoying that.”
Still, Dido remains a romantic throwback of sorts who still listens to music on the radio, influencing audiophiles who yearn for the days or yore before tell-all books and viral videos captured boys (and girls) behaving badly.
Simply put, she’s told, the beauty of her music lies in the beauty of her music.
“I mean, yeah, it’s sort of all I’ve got, really,” she modestly said with a laugh, remembering when people thought Dido was the name of a Swedish band. “But I mean that’s what I love. … Back then, we didn’t have to know each other quite so well. It was like, ‘I just like this music and I don’t care if I don’t know anything about this person’s life.’
“I think one of the reasons that someone like Adele resonates so much with people is that actually we don’t know much about her life. And I think that’s great. And it means that you listen to her songs and you make them your own.”
Having sold more than 29 million albums, Dido has plenty of listeners worldwide. And though she said she’s pleased with the response to Girl Who Got Away, her first studio album in five years after taking some time off to start a family, it only remained on the Billboard 200 charts for three weeks, peaking at No. 32. By comparison, her second album, Life For Rent, peaked at No. 4 and was on the list for 47 weeks.
In a world where fickle fans often ask — “What have you done for me lately?” — career interruptus might be an artist’s biggest fear.
Being out of the limelight for so long would scare almost anyone who craves attention. But Dido didn’t give it a second thought.
“It’s not like I’m trying to hang on to anything, if that makes sense,” she said, deciding to hold off on a “full-blown around-the-globe tour” until she completes her next record “hopefully” next year. “Like, you know, all I’m ever trying to do is make music and put it out there and it’s there for people if they want to hear it. But I’m not feeling like a desperate need to hang on to a certain level of fame or anything like that.”
Dido was more disappointed with the lukewarm reaction to 2008’s mostly overlooked Safe Trip Home, the album she co-produced with Jon Brion that features Mick Fleetwood (drums), Brian Eno (keyboards) and her co-songwriting brother, Rollo Armstrong. The timing seemed right to press pause and make family a priority.
“I put my heart and soul into that record,” she said without a tinge of bitterness. “And pretty much no one’s heard it, which is fine, and it’s sort of there to be heard one day.”
Personally, she considers “Grafton Street” her most meaningful song “by far,” written just after the 2006 death of her 68-year-old father, William O’Malley Armstrong, who had spent 10 years in the hospital.
No more trips to Grafton Street
No more going there
To see you lying still
While we all come and go
“‘Grafton Street’ still could make me cry,” she said. “I’m not a big crier but if I was feeling vulnerable, that one definitely could. …
“My whole life was sort of built around visiting him in the hospital and then getting on a plane and going and doing a show and then coming back and visiting the hospital,” she said. “You know, we spent so much time together. We had these amazing times, even though the hospital was this really dark place. We had amazing times in that room. And it’s sort of a song about, wow, actually really missing being with you in this place.”
Admittedly, though, this “very, very honest” song “was quite hard to sing live,” Dido said. “And I hadn’t really thought it through, you know. And a lot of that album was very dark and quite hard to do live. Of course, I didn’t really want to do a big tour on that particular record. And that’s when I thought I’d disappear from view a little bit.”
“Grafton Street” and “Quiet Times,” also from from Safe Trip Home, “were some of the best songs I’ve ever written,” she said. “And they don’t get their moment in the sun.”
Yet the ever resourceful entrepreneur decided to give them — and listeners — a second chance by including both in the Greatest Hits package.
When she finally committed to the project that “was sprung on me,” Dido took total control of song selection.
“I had a crazy, crazy couple of weeks of putting the whole thing together. But it was really enjoyable,” she said.
If others wanted to provide input, it was a matter of thanks, but no thanks.
“I basically told everyone that they were entitled to their opinions but … (laughs) I definitely, I was very much like I could’ve sent out an email saying, ‘You’re very welcome to tell me what you want on it but this is my record, so I’m choosing.’ … And I’m like, ‘You know what, this feels right for me, so I trust my instincts on it.’ ”
While her calming, inspirational voice shines on tracks such as “Here With Me” and “Thank You,” Dido revealed that she was a late bloomer when it came to singing.
“I don’t remember a time not playing music,” she said. “Like my earliest memories are from being at primary school playing recorder, playing music, and just running upstairs when I got home from school to practice. That’s just all I wanted to do.”
It’s easy to understand why she never took a voice lesson, but to this day the perfectionist in Dido still thinks, “Maybe I should.”
That’s hard to believe, especially after hearing her innate gift, those golden pipes that don’t require any fine-tuning.
Singing publicly for the first time as a 17-year-old at the boys school she attended, Dido recalled it was a risky move to perform “Summertime” and “Cry Me a River” with a jazz band and thought, “I was channeling Ella Fitzgerald.”
Dido went in another direction, and apparently made a few side trips to the Fountain of Youth. Now, nearly 25 years later (her 42nd birthday is on Christmas Day), she is raising another musician whose initial inkling is to play music, not sing it.
Like mother, like son.
“He’s an insane drummer,” Dido joyously said about her 2-year-old Stanley with husband Rohan Gavin, a British screenwriter who she said is also a great musician.
Since both parents learned to play music early in life, her son “is probably getting a little bit of that passed down through the DNA.” But Stanley’s passion even amazes her.
“He just doesn’t stop. … Since the moment he could move his hands, he hasn’t stopped drumming,” Dido said. “He won’t even let me on the drum kit. So I’ve never been able to show him how to drum because he always grabs the sticks and just sits there. … Everything’s a drum. Like every single piece of furniture, every toy eventually becomes a drum and he just loves it. …
“It’s so sweet to watch. You know what? He’ll probably forget all about it when he’s 4, but right now I think that’s one of his huge pleasures in life.”
For Dido, her little drummer boy undoubtedly is delivering the greatest hits of them all.
Dido publicity photos by Guy Aroch/RCA Records.