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Rose Elinor Dougall: In the Studio

The former Pipette discusses her upcoming debut solo album Without Why

Mar 22, 2010 Web Exclusive Photography by Derrick Santini Bookmark and Share

The Most Anticipated Albums of 2010 section in Under the Radar‘s Winter 2010 Issue includes a short article on Rose Elinor Dougall’s debut album. Below is the full Q&A of that interview.

In December of 2008, less than a year after leaving the female-fronted Brighton pop group The Pipettes, Rose Elinor Dougall released her first single as a solo artist, “Another Version of Pop Song.” The following February, Dougall blogged on her MySpace page that her debut album was nearly finished. Things seemed to be moving fast for the now London-based singer/songwriter. Two subsequent singles“Start/Stop/Synchro” and “Fallen Over”were released in 2009, and her fourth single, “Find Me Out,” is due on May 3 in the U.K. But, more than a year after that February 2009 MySpace post, Dougall’s debut album Without Why has yet to be released. On the morning of the eve of 2010, Dougall was in good spirits, frequently breaking into giggles, as she discussed her impending album with Under the Radar and divulged the logical reasons for her record’s extended incubation.

Where are you right now? Where are you based?

Rose Elinor Dougall: I’m at my flat in North London.

It’s New Year’s Eve. Do you have anything special planned for tonight?

A lot of my friends live quite nearby, so I think we might sort of walk around and go to people’s houses at different points of the night. [Laughs] I’m hoping to avoid being in any sort of public place and also having to do with any bastards that will be around.

How far along are you with your album? You posted in February that it was nearly completed. What’s been happening in the meantime?

[Laughs] I felt like I was maybe done in February, and then lots of different things happened. I’m basically finished. It actually is this year. Me and my producer gave ourselves till the end of the year as the last possible [deadline] to stop changing anything drastically. I did record a whole new version of one song last Monday. [Laughs] But I think that was the last thing that we’ll be doing. So now we’re just talking about track listings and all those sorts of things. It just needs to go to the masters basically, which is terrifying and very strange. But I guess part of the reason why it took such time is because I did actually have the time. I’m not signed. I don’t have any label breathing down my neck to deliver anything on time. So I have been able to take as long as I like. I really, really just wanted to make sure that every single part of it felt right. I guess I cannot expect to necessarily really like my own record, but I really wanted to feel comfortable about putting out my first solo venture. I wanted it to be something that I really believed in. And also, my band has more of an influence on certain parts of the record, as we’ve been playing live more. And we’ve been writing together a bit, and some new ideas have come through that whole process, and I wanted that to be reflected in elements of the record. So it’s one of those things that grew in its own way. But yeah, it’s been a long slog [laughs], it’s been like two years. But I’m kind of pleased, it’s all quite neat the way it’s sort of finished at the end of this year, and it’s gonna come out the next decade [2010].

What was the song you were working on on Monday?

It’s a song called “I Know I’ll Never.”

I’ve heard a stripped-down version of that and a band version.

My dad [Alastair Dougall] is a really fantastic folk guitar player, and he was playing a little version of it the other day. I went out to see him, and he had done this version of it, and it was really lovely. And we got in and redid it together. I’m really pleased with it. It sort of changed the song in a way. I think it works better in a folk song context. I don’t know, we’ll see, but that was the last thing we did.

How many songs have you recorded?

I’ve recorded about 16, 17, which is too many. I think it’s going to be about 11 or 12 tracks long. I don’t want it to be longer than 40 minutes. I don’t know why. I don’t want to outstay my welcome.

Is it because you used to play cassette tapes?

That’s partly why. And also I feel if you haven’t said what you’re trying to say in that amount of time, then it might not be worth saying. I’m not sure. [Laughs]

Will the singles appear on the album?

I reckon so. I definitely want them to be on there because they represent that one part of what I’ve done, which is a more poppy, straightforward part of the record, and I quite wanted them to sit in conjunction with some slightly more experimental, less direct stuff that we’ve recorded. That was kind of the point of releasing them this year, as a kind of introduction to the way the record sounded.

One of our writers [Kyle Lemmon] talked to you last year, and in his article, he mentioned a few titles: “Hanging Around,” “Find Me Out,” “May Holiday.” Have you recorded those for the album?

Yeah, but I don’t know if “Hanging Around”‘s going to be on the record. Yeah, those have been recorded. I’ve recorded everything that I’ve written. I’ve done it properly, as opposed to just in my bedroom, demos or whatever. But it’s just a case of working out what works best together.

There’s a song called “Carry On,” is that right?

Yeah, that is something we as a band wrote together. We recorded that a couple of months ago, ‘cause I always really loved that song. That’s definitely going to be on there, too.

And “Come Away With Me”?

Yup, that’s there. [Laughs]

How would you describe the tone of the album? Are there any recurring themes?

I guess there’s a relationships theme that runs through it, about engaging with other people and working out how I feel about people. [Laughs] It’s not like a really upbeat record. It’s melancholy in a way, but I didn’t want it to be miserable and self-indulgent. I wanted there to be light and shade in it…. I wanted there to be some kind of hopefulness in it as well, and looking outward as well as inward. There’s been such a learning process in making this record. It’s really difficult because it’s so close to me still. Not that many people have heard it. I haven’t fed it to the lions yet, so it still feels like mine, and I’m getting ready to cast it out to sea. So I haven’t established how I feel about it yet. It’s almost as if it doesn’t become real until everyone else starts fucking telling me whether it’s shit or good. [Laughs]

When did writing for this album begin? Are there songs older than the singles?

Yeah, definitely. A couple of the songs are actually…over two years [old] really, and the writing didn’t really stop until this summer of this year [2009], so there’s some songs that we may use at a later date in a different way, for another record potentially, or we may just draw a line under this whole bit and start afresh. But yeah, about two years. The bulk of it was written in spring/summer last year [2008].

Where have you been recording?

In Brighton, with my producer Lee Baker. He has a little studio there. I used to live in Brighton, so it’s a nice way of getting back there. I also really wanted to do it away from London and all the distractions of the big city. [Laughs] It’s a good place to concentrate and focus on what you’re trying to do.

Is he producing all the tracks?

Mmm hmm.

Will the album feature any guest musicians or singers?

No singers, but my dad might be on one. [Laughs] And also I’ve got one track, “Find Me Out,” Phil Sumner from British Sea Power came and played some really beautiful cornet for me, which I was very grateful for. And my band are on a few tracks as well.

Oh, so just a few of the songs?

Yeah, ‘cause when I started recording the album, I didn’t even have a band at that point. But I think it feels like a cohesive thing. It belongs to each other as a family of sound.

The name of the band is the Distractions?

Yeah, but we might change it. [Laughs]

And who are the band members?

They’re just friends, really. My younger brother Tom plays guitar. An old friend of mine, Georgia [Lee], plays bass. In fact, she’s my first-ever friend. I used to live in London, and we knew each other when we were tiny, and met in the park when we were three. And we left contact for about 15 years, and we both moved away. Then my mom came across her dad through work, over email; they suddenly realized that they knew each other. And they asked, “How are your kids?” and stuff. And it turned out me and Georgia were both living within a mile of where we met when we were very small, back in London. And we went on this weird blind date, and we met in a pub, and we got on really well. And then she’s, “Oh yeah, I play bass.” And at this point, I was like, “Fuck, I really want to play in a band again.” I don’t know how to put bands together; I have no idea. And I sort of said, “Do you want to come and play bass with me?” And she did, so it kind of feels like it was written in the stars. [Laughs] And then a friend of mine Raleigh [Long] plays guitar and a bit of mandolin and a bit of other stuff, and I’ve got a drummer, Al [Craig]. There’s five of us.

The album’s title is Without Why?


And that comes from a poem?

Yeah, it’s a Silesius poem. The line taken from it is: “The rose is without why/She blooms because she blooms.” It’s a lot to do with the idea of things happening without necessarily anyone caring. When I was doing the record, it was like, “No one really gives a shit if I make this or not, so I’ve got to find a way of justifying this process for myself.” And it’s also related to the fact that it exists even if no one ever hears it. That’s kind of what I was thinking about.

Did it also strike you that your name was in that line?

Yeah, partly, arrogance and all that stuff. [Laughs]

How did you discover the poem?

A friend of mine emailed it to me, and he said, “That would be a good name for your record.” I had a couple of working titles, and I read the poem and really loved it, and it felt like the right thing to do.

The album will be out in May?

Yeah, I think that’s the plan. Currently, I think we’re just going to put it out ourselves. Some things may change during the interim, but I feel that it kind of makes sense in a way, because the whole thing’s been done completely independently, with no help from any outside company. That’s partly why it’s taken so long, lack of funds and all that kind of stuff. But I’m really glad, in retrospect, even though it was, at times, really difficult. I have managed to make this happen just through love and favors, really, and I’m very lucky to have some people who really dedicate themselves to the project, just because they felt it was worth bothering with. And, in that sense, there’s been a lot of autonomy, and I probably wouldn’t have made the record I’ve made had I had to adhere to other people’s perceptions and requirements of what I was to do. And, in a way, for me to give it over to a label at this stage might change what it is. But that’s not to say, if the right people come along, that I would be averse to that.

Would it come out in the States at the same time?

Well, that’s the plan. I’d really like to get the whole thing out in one go. We’re sort of talking to maybe licensing it in various territories. So, that’s the idea, currently.

Do you think there will be another single before the album comes out?

Yeah, there might be.

You haven’t picked one yet?

I haven’t. There’s two in the running for it, and it depends how brave I’m feeling. I might release a slow four minutes or I might put out a quick 2:30. [Laughs]

Do you write mostly on piano or keyboards?

Yeah, it’s mainly piano and keyboards, really.

What can you tell me about the work you’re doing with Mark Ronson?

Umm, I don’t know what I can tell you, really. It was all out of the blue. In August this year, I just got an email from him, saying that he was writing his new record and he wondered if I’d like to come and have a go, helping him out in New York. So, I said, “All right.” [Laughs] It’s no secret that I love pop music as well, and I guess, at that point, it came at a good time, because I was feeling a little overwhelmed with my own record, and it was a really nice, liberating thing to go and work with someone else. I actually think about pop music in a different way to what I’ve been doing by myself for the last year and a half, and lots of other people have been involved in working with him, and some of the musicians I got to play with are completely amazing. It was a really amazing experience for me; I learned a lot through it. I went back out there in November for a while as well. We cut a few tracks. I’m singing on a few things. It’s obviously up to him what gets used. I may even not turn up on it. But he’s a great person to work with. I have a great lot of respect for him, not knowing him that well before. Yeah, it was good, and I think it will be a really great record.

Yeah, I was going to ask if you had met before.

We’d met a couple of times briefly, but he was always a big fan of The Pipettes and used to talk about that record quite a lot. So I guess that was sort of the link, but he came across “Start/Stop/Synchro”it was one of the feature tracks in the NME when it came outand he went and listened to it, and it sort of felt like it represented some of his own ideas for his own record. And he seemed to be a fan of my voice, so it seemed like a good idea for him at the time. But he did kind of take a punt on it. I mean, it could have gone terribly wrong. [Laughs] But it wasn’t my money, so fuck it! [Laughs] It wasn’t really like that. This is one of those funny things that sort of came out of nowhere. We shall see what happens.

And if anything happens with those tracks, they’re his? They will be released under his name?


So, you did some writing for that?

Yeah, I did. I wrote a few songs, collaborated with some people and did some singing as well. I wasn’t desperate to be this kind of girl that just comes on and sings a track. Even though I wouldn’t have minded, I feel more comfortable working as a writer as well. It was just more interesting for me, as a musician, I guess, to be able to put my two pennies worth in.

Even though your music is quite different from The Pipettes, are there aspects of your experience with them that have been valuable to the writing and recording this record?

Oh, absolutely, completely. Those four years taught me how to write, really, in a lot of ways. I’d been writing before I joined the band, when I was very young, but because I’d been writing in that specific mindset for those years in that band, I had to kind of relearn a lot of things when I left, and I was no longer working within that construct, because it was a very clear, defined objective. And then, for me suddenly to be on my own and actually have no parameters, it almost was something tonot work against, but was a kind of, “This is one way of doing it. Now I need to think about something else.” And so that kind of spurred on a different process for me, just because I’d had that previous experience, if that makes sense. The whole record that I’ve made is very much centered around melodies and melodic structures, and there’s a link in that way. And also, there are poppier parts of my record still. Especially when I first started writing, I’d think about, “What would [Monster] Bobby think about this?” It took me a little while to get out of certain habits that I’d learned through that process with them. I think everything you do influences your output, and any experience I’ve had, I’m sure, has led me to where I am now, and it would be really childish of me to sort of reject that whole time as irrelevant to this record, because it just can’t possibly be.


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January 10th 2011

Rose Elinor Dougall has moved away from the playful, sassy tone of the Pipettes, and embraced a deeper, more earnest approach to thinking about relationships, appropriate for someone entering her mid-twenties. Whereas she previously sang songs mainly about infatuation and the politics of casual dating, she’s dealing with stronger, more complicated feelings now. “Rolex Submariner

January 14th 2012

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