Don't bother reading too much into the name of Dido's fourth album, The Girl Who Got Away. Because even if the British singer-songwriter took a five-year hiatus from the music biz, she clearly could not stay away. Many consider 1999's No Angel an era-defining album – it sold 29 million copies, helped along, in part, when Eminem sampled Thank You for his chart-topper, Stan. Born Dido Florian Cloud de Bounevialle O'Malley Armstrong, Dido once again worked closely with her brother, Rollo, on the new disc, while adding a few heavyweight producers, including Brian Eno, to the mix. The result: familiar, reassuring songs mixed with a newly assertive, electro sound. In a phone interview from London last month, Dido discussed the album's sole cameo, her son's influence and what happens when being matched up with a producer goes awry.
You seem to have avoided standard industry pressures of churning out albums non-stop.
Yeah, I think they've given up trying on that front. After the first album, I toured for three years and then went straight back in to make Life for Rent. The day I walked out of the studio, I walked into the TV studio to promote it. So I got to 2004 and had basically been on the road for eight years solid and just felt like I should go home and clean up.
Being off the radar didn't bother you?
Oh God no, not at all. It's great. A lot of people have said, 'How could you just disappear like that when you were at the height of everything?' I guess I didn't really see it like that. I felt so lucky with how the first albums did – it was just unbelievable. But that was not going to dictate the way I made records forever.
How has motherhood changed the way you work ?
It's changed everything. I'll tell you what's so fun about it – ever since Stanley [her son] came along, it's like, in one moment, [I] completely saw the world through fresh eyes again. You're looking at things with this amazing pair of Technicolor glasses and you see things for what they are. But I haven't actually written anything about him – the love is almost too big. I can't quite diminish it down into a song. And that's fine.
The first single, Freedom, sounds like an anthem of sorts with a message that could be applied to any number of issues, from religion to gay marriage. Was that your intention?
Usually, I end up writing bigger songs about little moments. That's a little song about big moments. I'd been travelling the world and restlessly moving on and on and it sort of hit me, when you have love and stability and someone loving you at home, all that travel really feels like freedom. But exactly the same thing applies in reverse: If there isn't someone loving you, it just feels like loneliness. It's a little bizarre, all the other interpretations I've heard, like war and resolution.
Given the success of your collaboration with Eminem, did you feel there needed to be a crossover hip-hop track on this album?
I would never think like that unless [I] had a song that just needed it. It's more like music dictates what you need.
But you couldn't have chosen a hotter artist right now than Kendrick Lamar.
I know, it's crazy. I did that track a couple of years ago and [Lamar] came on a year ago. I just really liked what he was doing and then afterward, I heard his album and I loved it. And I feel so lucky; he made the song more emotional.
Your brother has produced a number of songs again, so clearly you work well together. But what about when you work with producers you don't know well?
If it's going well, it's like the best thing in the world…. But I also now know what works and what doesn't – like when sometimes, people fix you up with other people and then you go in knowing it's not going to work and you have to stay there the whole day, not even wanting to be there.
That sounds worse than a bad date.
It's like a bad date times 10 because I'm not the person who is going to say, "This isn't working, I'm outta here.' Even with a date, I think everyone has one dinner in them; just finding out about another human being over dinner – nobody is that bad. Well okay, maybe a couple people are. I've had a couple. But if you're in the studio and you have to bare your soul a bit, I just can't take this.
Would you consider the album to be optimistic? Because it ends on a melancholic note.
It is generally, but I can't help a bit of darkness creeping in. It's the way my brain works; it's the way I love music.
Hopefully doing some shows, getting out there and making another record faster than this one.
Will your son come?
Yeah, I'd hate for him not to be there. And he loves rehearsals and is very good with the cymbals.
This interview has been edited and condensed.