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BBC OCTOBER 27, 2008 - by Peter Bowes
DIDO CHILLS OUT IN CALIFORNIA
It is five years since Dido's last album, the hugely successful Life For Rent, which was one of the biggest selling albums of 2003. The CD was the follow up to the singer's debut album, No Angel, which sold twelve million copies.
There is little wonder that her latest studio album, Safe Trip Home, is hugely anticipated. The CD is released next month. "I've had a lot of fun making it and I'm now just happy people are going to hear it," says Dido, thirty-six.
In the past few years, Dido has made California her second home. Dressed casually in jeans and looking relaxed, she met me at a ramshackle recording studio in the heart of Hollywood. Returning from a shopping trip to a local health food store, the British singer seemed to be at ease in the land of make-believe.
In Los Angeles she has developed new collaborations, learned a few instruments and even attended university to study music.
But Dido has not changed. She is still dreamy, melancholy and as romantic as ever. If anything, California has made her even more reflective.
The cover to the new album features an astronaut floating in space. Dido says the image inspired the CD's title, Safe Trip Home.
"The picture on the front of the album is one of my favourite pictures and has been for quite a few years," she explains.
"I often just stare at it and imagine what it would be like to just be floating free in space - there wasn't too much rational thought that went into it, it was more of a sort of emotional thing."
After completing her second album Dido spent a couple of years touring. There was, she says, no grand plan to spend five years working on her next collection of songs.
"There's not a huge amount of conscious thought that goes into my life," she laughs.
The first single from the album, Don't Believe In Love, is already the subject of much online debate about its meaning. The song appears to be about a heartless woman's desire for her man to get up and go home before she awakes after a night of passion.
The lyrics include: "I wanna go to bed with arms around me but wake up on my own... pretend that I'm sleeping until you go home."
The track is, according to Dido, "fast turning into one of the more misunderstood songs of my career."
Don't Believe In Love evokes some powerful images about the meaning of love.
"I guess the basic concept is the world's a better place with love than it is without, but there's a whole lot of stuff to get to that point," explains Dido.
"The fact that I never truly explain what a song is about means that I feel very unlimited in what I put in. I think it is mainly journalists who want to work your life out from your songs."
Dido opens up, to a point, about the mournful track, Grafton Street, which features the drumming talents of Mick Fleetwood and was co-written by Brian Eno. The song is a tribute to Dido's late father.
"I enjoyed playing the recorder on it because it's my childhood instrument so it really reminded me of when we were kids. Dad would be singing all these fantastic songs to us, all his Irish songs and stuff. I just listen to that song and I remember him and it's great."
But the singer is, once again, reluctant to reveal much more about her emotions.
"I don't want to make music that doesn't move me. So there will always be this constant dilemma - that I always feel slightly queasy having these conversations, which I do, you know, I find it so awkward, but I'm also an incredibly honest person."
Safe Trip Home features Dido, not only on vocals, but a variety of instruments. "When I'm writing it's so much fun to be able to go from instrument to instrument because it unlocks different parts of your brain. When you're writing a song you can move from the guitar to the piano, and it's really freeing to be able to then go and play the drums."
The album was recorded at the home of Jon Brion, Dido's co-producer.
"I recorded all the vocals, well a lot of them, in a broom cupboard," she says.
"He suggested the shower first and I didn't like the sound in there and then I found this little closet in the corridor and I was like, 'well can I do it in here,' and it was fantastic. I had to squeeze in and it was very dusty, but actually it's sort of come out on the record and I love that."
Dido, who grew up in London, says she had to be persuaded to move to Los Angeles.
"It certainly wasn't alluring at first," she says.
"It's a real dark and light thing with LA. There's a real darkness here as well, amongst all the sunshine."
But Dido managed to avoid LA's dark side. She embraced California's outdoor lifestyle and carefree culture.
"It's actually an amazing place to come on your own and have an adventure," she explains.
"Some of my best experiences were driving around listening to Brian Eno records in the desert while the sun's setting. I've lived in England or Ireland my whole life and there's something still very exciting about big scenery. It's big here!"
As well as enjoying the scenery and working on her album, Dido studied music and English at the University of California.
"I just wanted to use my brain, I went to study some orchestration stuff because I got so inspired working with all the orchestras and everything.
"I would go off a couple of evenings a week and come back to the studio completely fired and my brain in a completely different place.
"It's actually amazing because you go so far into another side of your brain when you're studying something completely different, and I loved it."
Being able to go back to school and blend into the background is another aspect of LA life that appealed.
Asked how her fellow students responded, she said: "No one noticed, it's great, no one ever does."
"I certainly don't go out of my way to be noticed, but I wasn't wearing a fake beard or anything."