The 'Girl Who Got Away': Dido Gets Free

Mar 24, 2013
Originally published on March 24, 2013 4:50 pm

Since her 1999 debut hit, "Here With Me," Dido has sold nearly 30 million albums and been nominated for an Oscar — but the British singer-songwriter wasn't always at center stage. She got her start by filling in for other singers on demos for Faithless, a group founded by her brother.

Although their dynamic has shifted, Dido and her brother, Rollo Armstrong, have continued to work together over the years. Her new album, Girl Who Got Away, is no exception; Armstrong wrote most of the lyrics for the title track.

"I was in a hotel room in California, and it was a very hot day, and I basically just sort of sat there and read these lyrics he sent and wrote the song in 10 minutes," Dido says. "There's something about America that makes me aspire to sort of write a bigger and better song. ... I think it's the openness of America. It somehow makes music really limitless."

Here, Dido speaks with NPR's Rachel Martin about making Girl Who Got Away and the role music has played in her life. Click the audio link on this page to hear their conversation, and read on for highlights — including some that didn't make the broadcast.

Interview Highlights

On working with her brother

"We're both sort of incredibly passionate about music, so we get on great as brother and sister. But sometimes we have phenomenal arguments about music that go on for months. ... It's quite tough. The problem is he's my older brother, so I can't help but be a bit unsettled and think that he might be right because, you know, that's just what you think. I think because I worshipped him from when I was a little girl — that doesn't really go away. There's an element of that which is always there. But then, it's my record and I feel confident that I know what I'm talking about."

On the song "No Freedom"

"The lyrics to this are really sort of everything I feel about love and a whole lot of other stuff as well, sort of poured into one song. It started when I was thinking about my dad years ago and how, you know, I was traveling the world and he was sort of there at home being such a support and sort of force of love. And then just different periods of my life where you sort of feel like — when you're on your own and you're doing these amazing things and if there's someone loving you somewhere, they feel incredible. And if there isn't a sort of grounded base at home somewhere or just someone loving you, it just feels like loneliness instead of that amazing feeling of being alone and freedom."

On collaborating with Kendrick Lamar on the song "Let Us Move On"

"I did the track with Jeff Bhasker, who's a brilliant producer. I wanted to work with him because I'd heard what he'd done with Kanye West and Alicia Keys and people. And you know, we left this big gap because it just felt like it would be great with a rap in there to tell a story. You know, what I love about hip-hop is the sort of storytelling that can be done that you can't always get in lyrics — you know, in straight-up sort of verse/chorus lyrics. Anyway, we sent it to Kendrick. ... The way his voice sounds and what he's talking about — it's like he sort of took the meaning of the song and made it so much more."

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If your full name was Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle Armstrong, you too might decide to just go by Dido.


DIDO: (Singing) And I won't leave, and I can't hide, I cannot be until you're resting here with me...

MARTIN: That's Dido's debut 1999 hit "Here With Me" from the album "No Angel." Dido has sold nearly 30 million albums since then. Her newest is out this week and it's called "Girl Who Got Away." I spoke with her about her music and where she is in her career right now. But first, I had to ask her about that extremely long name her parents gave her.

DIDO: I was always called Dido. And then on the day of my christening and filling in my birth certificate, they came up with all these other names.


MARTIN: How very fancy.

DIDO: Yeah. And confusing. Bit of an identity crisis.

MARTIN: Your mom does have a penchant for words. She's a poet, right?

DIDO: Yes.

MARTIN: And that obviously, I would assume, kind of rubbed off on you in the form of songwriting. But did it trigger some kind of love of poetry for you in particular?

DIDO: Yeah, I mean, I think so. Just a love of words. You know, I think I come from a family, you know, my brother's a great writer too. And I just think that love of words and finding images to describe the things you see is innate in me probably from them.

MARTIN: Let's talk a little bit about your new album. The title track is called "Girl Who Got Away." Let's take a listen to this.


MARTIN: What's the story behind that song?

DIDO: It's actually a song that my brother wrote most of the lyrics for and then I just loved. And I was in a hotel room in California and it was a very hot day, and I basically just sort of sat there and read these lyrics he sent and wrote the song in 10 minutes.



MARTIN: You mention your brother. He produced his album with you. And you two have had a long professional relationship. What is it like working with him?

DIDO: We're both sort of incredibly passionate about music. So, we get on great as brother and sister but sometimes we have phenomenal arguments about music.

MARTIN: Who wins?

DIDO: They go on for months. Well, it's quite tough. The problem is, is he's my older brother so I can't help but be a bit unsettled and think he might be right, because I worshiped him from when I was a little girl. That doesn't really go away. But then it's my record and I feel comfort in that I know what I'm talking about. So, that's where you get the sort of, you know, if I was nine, I would just give in and agree with him. But, you know, I'm not; 41 and I've done a few records.

MARTIN: As you mentioned, you've worked together for a long time. I mean, when you were just starting out - some people may not know - you sang vocals and toured with his group, Faithless. I imagine there was a power dynamic that shifted somewhere.

DIDO: Oh, definitely.

MARTIN: I mean, as you mentioned, you're the younger sister and then you became this huge success.

DIDO: It was funny 'cause when I started, you know, I'd just be like his little sister hanging around and if the singer didn't turn up or was late, you know, maybe I would get to, like, sing something in preparation for the real singer that was turning up. I'd sing a lot of his demos and stuff for the real singers. And then what happened that certain producers and DJs started hearing the demos and they were like who's singing on that? And he's like, oh, it's just my little sister. And they're like, well, can we use her? If you're not going to use her, we'll use her. And I think that's when he started realizing that something was afoot.

MARTIN: Let's get back into the music a little bit. I'd like to play the first single from the album. This is called "No Freedom."


MARTIN: It's a lovely song, and I have to admit that as someone who plays the acoustic guitar very badly, what I do love is that sometimes you build a song with really simple chord structure.

DIDO: Yeah. No, you can play that one.

MARTIN: That's what I figured.

DIDO: I can teach you that in three seconds.

MARTIN: Can you?

DIDO: Yeah.

MARTIN: What are the chords?

DIDO: It's so easy. It's literally C-G-A minor-F.



MARTIN: How do you feel about performing? Is it something that comes easy to you?

DIDO: Thinking about it makes me quite nervous often because I guess when I write the songs, I'm so sort of insular and I'm forgetting about having to perform them. And then before every gig, I actually get super nervous. And then the minute it starts, I just think, oh, this is where I like being. This is great.

MARTIN: I did read that you used to suffer from panic attacks. Were those directly linked to performances or was that something else?

DIDO: Actually, no, not at all. Strangely enough, singing is one of the few things that would stop them. But yeah, no, that was just a random thing that just suddenly hit me years ago in my early 20s. And you want to get away from yourself and you just can't get away from yourself. And it's when you realize that really, sanity and your health is just the most precious thing.

MARTIN: How did you work your way through those attacks? That was just a chapter in your life but was there something specific that helped you cope?

DIDO: Music, for me, was a huge comfort during that time and making music and making "No Angel." I mean, that's what I did while I was having them.

MARTIN: So, that was the album you made in - it was released in 1999. Many people might remember that Eminem sampled your song "Thank You."


MARTIN: What was that like for you?

DIDO: Unbelievable at the time. I mean, I was a big Eminem fan. And I got this letter in the post, you know, old school, when people actually sent letters, and a CD from Eminem saying, you know, I've sampled this, I love it and can I use it? And, oh, I was so excited. I still remember that feeling. I remember where I was. I remember everything. And I was just like what a brilliant track.


DIDO: Lyrically, on his part, "Stan" was just incredible.

MARTIN: Before I let you go, I'd like to ask kind of a big meta-question. But was there ever a song that you could point to and say that song changed my life? That song has made me want to be a songwriter.

DIDO: I think maybe "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor. Obviously, she didn't write it - Prince wrote it - but her version. I think that made me want to be a singer. As a songwriter, Carole King, I would just love one day to sit in a room with Carole King and write a song. That would be my dream come true.

MARTIN: Let's make that happen. Can't your people call her people and?

DIDO: Yeah. I know, they should, right? It's almost like too much of a dream. You know when you don't want - you sort of almost don't want your dreams realized. You just want to have it as a dream. But Carole King, oh, that would be a moment.


MARTIN: Dido joined us from the BBC in London. Thanks so much for making the time.

DIDO: Total pleasure. Thank you.


MARTIN: Dido's new album, "Girl Who Got Away," is out this week. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.