Seven Questions w/ Dot Allison on Returning to Music After Twelve Years Gone

When in 1993 One Dove released their only album, Morning Dove White, it was an immediate sensation – going Top 30 in the UK, and garnering a significant cult audience in the US. The Glasgow trio forwarded a very zeitgeisty brand of cool dance pop that was at once ethereal and even a bit aloof, but also eminently hummable. Their enigmatic vocalist, Dot Allison, was a significant part of their appeal.

She went on to record four solo albums, the last of which was 2009’s Room 7 1/2, with PJ Harvey producer Rob Ellis at the controls. Then she mostly disappeared from music, to focus on her family.

But deep into this long pandemic, word of her fifth album surfaced, and on July 30 she released Heart-Shaped Scars (via SA Recordings), an intimate, emotionally confessional work, which seems to draw greatly on old English folk traditions. Indeed, tracks like ‘The Haunted’ and ‘Can You Hear Nature Sing?’ evince an almost sylvan quality (‘Entanglement’ even features chirping birds), whilst others remind of Kate Bush, or could even be forgotten tracks from the Led Zeppelin III sessions.

Fittingly, she sat down in her own Edinburgh living room to record on video several stark, acoustic versions of some of the songs from the album, and BlackBook premieres here this alternate take on ‘Forever’s Not Much Time.’ We also chatted with her about the new album, and why this was the right time to release it.

You haven’t made a solo record in quite some time. What have you been up to, and what was the impetus for writing and recording Heart-Shaped Stars?

I took a break as I became a mum. I had initially wondered if I would make more music as an artist myself, and I had in a very part-time sense retained my connection via songwriting sessions. I never stopped writing and to be honest the ideas never, ever stop coming. I guess the impetus was to process feelings and to make something out of nothing again, as I do find that process rewarding. And also I feel if you are able and have the opportunity to create something that may hopefully bring some joy to other people, there is a certain responsibility to honor that in a way.

If anyone had lost track of you, they might be surprised that the person who did ‘White Love’ and ‘We’re Only Science’ is now making music that sounds like it was influenced by medieval English folk stylings, right?

I guess I see all instruments as fair game in a way…anything that can create a sound is a potential instrument in my mind. I also enjoy trying to cut a new path every time I create something, and to not stagnate either in my sound or conceptually. Otherwise I would feel I am just re-packaging something old.

On ‘Long Exposure’ you sing, “I called through the trees / I called from the beach”, and on ‘Constellations,’ “Waves crashing down.” There do seem to be a lot of references to nature in the songs – does communing with the natural world help you to write?

I think I just have a yearning to connect with nature – I believe a connection with nature is good for us. I feel a sense of comfort and alignment when I am surrounded by nature, although at the same time I am a city girl, too. I read some Esther Morgan poetry in the lockdown, and in her poem The Reason I noted her use of the landscape, and I wrote a poem about autumn transitioning into winter, which was plundered heavily in the writing sessions for ‘Can You Hear Nature Sing?’ – so I did draw from it more directly in that song, for sure.

There also seems to be a theme of confronting difficult feelings. Was writing this album a cathartic experience?

Yes, for sure. I think there is a bit of my own narrative in all my work, whilst once the song begins to take shape it then governs what it says. So between my narrative and the narrative that completes the song in the best possible way, the song always has to “win.”

Fiona Cruickshank co-produced the album with you – did these songs need a woman’s empathy?

Well, maybe. Although there are plenty of wonderfully empathic guys I work with too. But I guess I also just wanted a feeling of female energy. And there was a part of me that thought, “How many albums are all male and totally un-noteworthy in that respect?” I would love to get to a point where an all female album is not noteworthy either. 

What sparked the idea of releasing the living room “sessions”?

It was in my house, and that’s where I write. I guess it just felt nice to be in an intimate space and somewhere that is not a sterile studio environment kind of thing.

Heart-Shaped Scars seems a deeply personal album. How do you hope people will connect with it?

I hope people form their own relationship with the record; I love the idea that it can mean a myriad of different things to different people. I hope it allows people to connect to themselves and to feel deeply, and I hope people can also daydream to it and shuffle the cards in their own minds in whatever way needs to happen. I find that is what I love about music – like when we sleep and the mind settles things. I feel when I listen to music, I am processing things too; and I guess if it can be that kind of backdrop to any feeling, daydream or internal flight then I would be happy. 

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