It’s hard not to listen, dumbfounded, when Dot Allison opens her mouth. First, there’s that voice—the lilting, ethereal, yet slightly tarnished voice—that worms its way around electronic beats and struggles to the top of the sonic mire before floating away into the distance. But enough about the way she sounds. Allison has a story to tell, one which begins in the cultured environs of Edinburgh, transitions to the seedy underground acid house clubs of Glasgow and reaches the height of commercial and critical acclaim before crawling back to more manageable plateaus. As the frontwoman of One Dove, the early ‘90s post-rave trio that made laidback, hypnotic electronica digestible for those who’d reached their peak too soon, Allison literally became the voice of a generation.
That is, until One Dove split. Which, in a way, was somewhat symbolic of the fractures making their way into electronic music culture at the time. Thus, the so-called “Queen of Chillout” found herself on top of a heap of imitators, so Allison did what only she could do—she came out with a traditional pop album.
Afterglow was a suitable melancholy affair, warmed over here and there by the subtleties of her vocal delivery, and shaded with elements of electronic programming. But Allison’s voice seemed not lost, but not fully exploited in that setting. That’s where We Are Science comes in.
Allison’s latest effort is an intriguing listen—full of sinister beats and dense lower registers at one moment, effervescent and dreamy the next. Co-produced by Keith Tenniswood (who also has a long-time partnership with fellow 2 Lone Swordsmen Andrew Weatherall, the producer behind One Dove’s seminal Morning Dove White), this album is a return to Allison’s roots, and one which reconnects with the defining era of electronic music—acid house—which forced Allison to re-examine her musical comfort zone. While in New York to promote her new album and spin a few DJ sets here and there, Allison took a moment to speak with PopMatters:PopMatters:
Your new album, We Are Science, seems to be quite a departure from Afterglow. How did you end up working with Keith Tenniswood on this?Dot Allison:
Basically because I was looking for somebody who would process the sound and balance the mix and not polish stuff up. Because the songwriting has gone in that direction and is a little bit more abstract, dancefloor friendly. Then I just decided to choose an engineer, with the sort of mixer that would enhance that, and just put a fingerprint on it that would gel with that idiom.PM:
Tenniswood seems like a natural choice for you, given that you’ve worked with his long-time partner from 2 Lone Swordsmen, Andrew Weatherall.DA:
I suppose it’s just about having that musical trust with someone. Knowing that if you sat down and cast about with what records you liked, you’d identify and you’d probably have record collections that wouldn’t offend each other! And I think that’s the bottom line. Is that you’ve got to work with people you have that with, because otherwise it’s a bit of a battle.PM:
The 2 Lone Swordsmen sound is very bottom heavy, very submarine and dark. How does that fit with or play on the qualities of your voice?DA:
I think it provides a very good contrast. My voice is really kind of textured and there’s a sort of bittersweet-ness to my voice. But there is a sweetness to it as well, though to me, it’s not sweet. The sweet side of that bittersweetness kind of gets counteracted by the moodiness of the mix. And I do quite a bit of DJing, and I’d always been into that electronic, underground thing. So that’s what got me into making music—going to the first acid house clubs in Glasgow. That was kind of my pivotal moment, because after that was a chain reaction where I ended up meeting the Slam guys [influential tech-house producers on the seminal Soma Recordings], putting a record out on their label. So it’s kind of always been there, it’s just manifested itself more in my own vinyl on this record than in Afterglow.PM:
You come from a very musical background. Is making music something you’ve always had laid out in front of you?DA:
No, it was strange, because I always played piano and was involved in music in one way or another during my life. But I never thought of it as a career! I went off to study a degree in Applied Biochemistry, so I sort of tried to do the inadvertent common-sensible thing, and see a degree, but I always felt a pull somewhere else, to art really, to do something more artistic. I suppose I had to go down that avenue to realize I couldn’t go down it, if you know what I mean.PM:
Does your interest in science carry over into how you create your music?DA:
I think in a really unconscious way it maybe does. I definitely wanted to get involved in the technological side of music, and I wasn’t satisfied with not trying. And also, I think you’ve either got a slightly logical brain, or if you potentially have a bit logical brain, I think it’s definitely something you should try and learn. Because I think if you don’t try to get involved in that side, you’re always relying on other people, which is not ideal.PM:
You really hit it big with One Dove. How does it feel to go it solo? To have total control?DA:
The good side is that you don’t have to clear your ideas with anyone. And also I think the hard thing about being in a band is if they come up with ideas you maybe don’t like, but it’s not like you can turn around and say, “I don’t like your ideas.” Sometimes I found myself working on things I really didn’t feel. I suppose I don’t really have to do that now, which is great, but the downside is that if you take knocks, you take them on your own. And there are always knocks! Certainly in the past, in the band situation, I was trying to experiment, and be very conscious that there were four people in the room watching, mates, and people hanging around. It just makes it difficult, because you’re always slightly cringing, going “Oh God.” Whereas on your own, you can do it, and you can really live with it, and you don’t have to let anyone hear it if it’s not right. If you are shy, you don’t have to put yourself through that! It’s quite good.PM:
So you must be in a very different state of mind these days, given the differences between We Are Science and Afterglow.DA:
Definitely. I think you’re just the product of your experiences. I’ve been writing a batch of new songs recently, and they’re very different yet again. I think your mindset is always changing. It’s always fluid, not constant.PM:
You’ve seen a lot. You’ve seen acid house born, and you’ve seen it through. Looking back, how do you feel about that particular era in music?DA:
I feel very sentimental, and quite passionately that that was an important time. It just felt like it was a revolution. I mean, it was, in a way. Technologically speaking as well. There had been huge, huge, huge developments in music at the time, and it felt really special. And I think it kind of shook everything up, saying everything didn’t have to be verse-bridge-chorus, verse-bridge-chorus.PM:
Your work with One Dove landed you a role as “the Queen of Chillout,” as one journalist said.DA:
Oh no! I don’t know where that came from!PM:
How did you react to it then, and what do you think of it now?DA:
I just think it’s silly. NME did a review of my gig, and it was a positive review, but the end of it said something like, “when Dot played a track from her first band, One Dove, it becomes apparent how long she’s been around and how much love she has for it. Maybe she should be the ‘Queen Mum of Electro-Pop’!” I was going, right, this has gone a bit too far! Queen of Chill I don’t mind, that’s not too bad. But I don’t agree with it necessarily—my stuff’s not that laidback!PM:
You’ve worked with plenty of other producers as well—remixes and otherwise. Do you have a particular collaboration that sticks out?DA:
Probably Andrew Weatherall. It was quite a magical time. He had just finished Screamadelica and I remember being on a beach in Rimini with him and the One Dove guys, and he played us the unmastered remixes of “Shine Like Stars.” And it was just really quite magical. And then he liked “Fallen,” and when I got back to the UK to mail him a white label of “Fallen,” because the Slam guys introduced me to him there, and said he’s someone you should talk to because they were wanting to see the record communicate with people. I was aware of him as a DJ, but not as a producer, of course, because he hadn’t produced Screamadelica yet (it was in the mastering process). When I got back to the UK I arranged to send him the white label, and I remember getting a phone call from him and he just said, “Only fucking record of the year!” That was the first thing that he said when he phoned up! I would say that would probably be the pivotal experience because first of all, it was the first producer I worked with, and secondly because it was all a kind of whirlwind, and quite a magical musical time as well. It felt like there were some really special records around, and it was at that point when the underground was starting to feel like it was something quite important. To us, anyway. I think everyone felt quite passionate about it.PM:
You’ve been in the music business for quite some time. Do you have any words of wisdom to share, or advice for those just getting their start?DA:
Definitely. I think tenacity is the main thing. If you develop and just shoot off your first ideas and sketches of things, and really force yourself to hone things down to something really pure, and keep adding layers and keep developing from ideas. I find myself doing that more now than I did before, and it really pays off if you really spend a lot of time on it. I suppose just be really disciplined in that respect. And you end up with results that are greater than you could have foreseen. Tenacity—even if you get knocks—because you just set yourself up when you try to get into music. You’re not going to please everyone. So do not be put off if somebody gives you a review you don’t agree with, or whatever. It’s only one person’s opinion, and not to let that affect you. Just continue—I suppose that’s the best advice.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/allison-dot-021002/