By Alex Green
Dido is not an artist that rushes things. Still On My Mind is testament to that. The album - her first in six years - comes as she prepares to embark on her first tour in a decade and a half. All's change for the singer, now 47, whose soft tones have come to symbolise a certain period of early noughties British history.
Born Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong, in London, she is unnervingly unchanged by age. Her voice, her looks, even her style remain familiar. Also unchanged is her commitment to taking things slow. "I don't know a life without music. I've always been playing music or writing songs," she says. "It's just that, by coincidence, five times it's turned into a record. But that's it." Her son, Stanley, is now seven and after nearly a decade of marriage to writer Rohan Gavin she says she's in one of the most stable, relaxed and happy periods of her life. This is reflected in the music.
Out of the chaotic first years of motherhood, she is revisiting the sounds that defined her. Over 12 tracks she dips into her past as a singer in the electronica band Faithless, which her brother Rollo founded with Sister Bliss and Maxi Jazz. She admits she hasn't had a night out in years. But there's always dance music playing at home. "I've got a kid who loves music," she says. "He's always listening to stuff and discovering things." Often it feels as if every album Dido releases is marketed as a comeback. And thus it was so with Still On My Mind, which was produced by her brother and is possibly her most adventurous yet. It's an album she wrote to tour, a fact that surprised even her. "I'm really excited about this record - in a really new way that I can't explain," she says, sitting comfortably at the back of her management's office.
Dressed in a white sweatshirt and silver hoop earrings, she sports the same short crop dubbed the Dido flip by the press more than 15 years ago. "The first record, I was really excited to just have a record. I didn't really know what would happen after that. I just wanted to have my songs recorded. That was the pinnacle. "This time, the touring feels like a new start. It's been a really long time." Many fans will remember that 1999 album - No Angel - which totalled roughly 22 million sales. Then came Life For Rent, which sold a still impressive 12 million. After that was Safe Trip Home, a mature and thoughtful collection of songs written for her father, who died in 2006 from the autoimmune disease lupus.
She admits now that she "didn't think it through". She had written an album of songs so personal she was unable to sing them in public. She decided not to tour. "There was one period of my life where I didn't want to sing the songs I'd written, and that was on the third album," she says, casting her mind back. "I love the third album. It's got most of my favourite songs on it. But I couldn't sing them live. "It was so raw at the time. My dad had just died. Loads of them were about that. It was like, 'Oh God, I can't talk about this'. I didn't think it through." But a decade on, she feels ready to perform those songs - as well as mega-hits Thank You, White Flag and Life For Rent - in front of audiences large and small. "I would play those songs now because time has passed. It's not quite so raw. "I was so in it.
There was a time when I didn't want to sing White Flag for a minute. I was really heartbroken and it was just really hard to sing." Five UK dates nestle amongst a 27-date world tour which will see her settle in with a new band and new music. Does she feel the pressure of baring her soul in front of crowds? The short answer is no. "There's no commercial pressure. For me, I don't feel like any pressure at all. It's a really liberating thing, this." If anything she's impatient, longing to get back on the road. And she's carefully picked smaller venues where she feels she can connect with the crowd. Union Chapel, a space off Islington's well-to-do Upper Street, was an inspiration for the album. Dido wanted to be able to imagine performing each song inside the ornate concert hall.
The quality of Dido's lyrics have always been as important as her voice - specific enough that we sense her desolate heartbreak but ambiguous enough that we find something familiar to cling on to. Hurricanes, which opens the new record, is a whispered, intense glimpse into domesticity that strikes this balance. As our conversation comes to a close, Dido admits she's always been intrigued by the minutiae - even at the expense of the bigger picture. "It always seems to be those small moments that are the most memorable," she says. "Those moments, where you feel pure happiness, they tend to be when you're just playing with your kids, you're just playing some game, you're laughing. "Those are the moments I find to be the most inspiring. I don't think I've ever written a song about the world." Dido's new album Still On My Mind is available now. For details of her international tour, which begins in May and includes UK and Irish venues, visit www.didomusic.com