GIRL WITH A SAMPLER
Dot Allison Interview
by Alexander Laurence
Her record is called AFTERGLOW.
She is from Scotland. She came into
America during a hurricane just to do this interview.
Your doing a tour with Arab Strap in Britain right now. How is that
DA: It's good. There's fifteen dates around Britain. There's a real camaraderie between us. They did a remix for "Message Personnel" on my album. I loved it. I like it because the formats are almost identical and the fact that the remix comes up as a sort of reprise. I want to get away from the classical remixing mentality. I like to get back to A sides and B sides. It's not your usual remix either.
AL: You have all these famous musicians on the record like Kevin Shields, Mani, and B. J. Cole. How did you pick them?
DA: They are like session musicians on my record but they're not co-writers. I worked with B. J. Cole before and I think he is the best at what he does. I love that instrument, the pedal steel guitar. There was an Emmylou Harris vibe to me. There wasn't any real master plan. It was just a matter of listening to the songs, and thinking what the song needed really. Doing it for the sake of the song, rather than the name.
AL: You mentioned Emmylou Harris. I though a few songs sounded like there was an influence from Country music and American folk.
DA: There's a sentiment that is similar I think. It has got a heart-rending chord progression underneath it, like certain Country music has. But it's not similar in production too much. I always do the music first. While I'm writing the song and the music, and all the time I'm hearing a melodies over it. Then eventually I'll record the vocals on top of it, but I never do lyrics or melody first. For me, the voice is an instrument.
AL: You're from Scotland but have lived in London for the past three years. How has that affected you?
DA: There are quite a lot of cultural differences, everything from sense of humor to being more densely populated. But London has treated me well. Any major uprooting and moving gives you a perspective on things that you never had because you have pretty different stimuli. It makes you more inquiring in some ways because you're constantly absorbing new things. When you're in your own little town and know why everything is there around you. I think it's good to have a geographical move and having a closed chapter in your life.
AL: You felt like you had a lot of freedom when making Afterglow and you were able to make choices?
DA: It's very much my record because I co-produced it as well as wrote most of it. I came up with the production ideas and samples. The other producer was involved in the shaping of the sounds, but it was up to me to decide what it was like. It was very much a case of me saying "Make this happen or make that happen" if I couldn't do it, technologically speaking. It's very much like if Jason Pierce of Spiritualized co-produced a record with someone but it was his solo record, he'd be telling the other people what he wanted.
AL: When I listen to your record I think of images and films. Is film a big influence?
DA: Yeah. I like soundtracks. I'm a fan of John Barry and Ennio Morricone. I would like to get into writing music for films. I'm not against sampling. Art is about expression and making something new. You can take old ingredients, but if you make something new, that's art. I don't do too much sampling.
AL: Do you watch TV? Are there any TV programs you like?
DA: Yeah. Not the music on TV. But I like "The Fast Show." It's a comedy show in Britain. It's quite surreal. And "Smack The Pony." They're both quite similar. It's very abstract humor, and it's not something you necessarily get. You have to watch a few. "Smack The Pony" came out in the last year.
AL: Are you interested in acting in a film?
DA: I'm doing a little bit of acting actually. It's a tiny part. It's an art house film with a Scottish director. It's a hobby. I have to put music to that film as well. Putting music to films I'm interested in very much. Doing a full soundtrack is an ambition of mine.
AL: You played all these festivals in Britain this last summer. Is it intimidating going in front of all those people, who may not be familiar with your songs?
DA: I prefer it. A lot of my stuff has done really well because it is so melodic. Even though people haven't heard the album when I gigged, the tracks are so melodic, the crowd got into them. The chord progressions are very memorable, so they went down very well actually. I find it easier to play to a bigger crowd because they rise to the occasion. You do a better gig than in a small intimate club where you can be so scrutinized. The crowd is in your face. You feel so under the microscope.
AL: You have this song "Mo' Pop" which has a French bit on it. What is that song about?
DA: The songs on the album are about love, loss, growth, rebirth, and escapism. To me those themes run along each other. "MO Pop" is an unrequited love song. As far as the French bit, I've always been a fan of François Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg, and I like that sort of sound. There's a tip of the hat to that and the chorus relates to a certain person who wrote a letter to me. Does that make sense? This album is very personal and honest.
AL: What are some other records that you have like in the last year?
DA: I like The Beta Band. I like the new Chemical Brothers' record and the new one by Mercury Rev. I like the Shack album. I have Beck's album as well. There have not been a lot of records that have inspired me recently.
AL: You do a little bit of DJing and play with samplers. Why aren't there more girl DJ s?
DA: Programming is not as hard as you think it is. I would like to see more girls buying samplers and technological equipment. You don't have to rely on anyone to help you write your song in the studio. Don't be scared of technology and you can be you're own boss. You have to move with technology or you'll be left behind. If Mozart were alive today, he'd be using samplers and guitars and flutes and the entire spectrum of musical equipment. If you turn your back on the full palette of colors, you're narrowing your potential sound.
AL: This record seems like something you might want to put on after the party or really late at night or early the next morning while not having slept. How do you feel about that?
DA: I don't mind that. Those can be quite magical times. I quite like that idea.