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Dot Allison

It's hard to write anything about Dot Allison without at least some mention of the band One Dove - those ethereal, dubbed-out forerunners of the trip-hop genre, who became 1993's most unfortunate vanishing act after their one and only record, Morning Dove White, was mismanaged by various label executives. It was a full six years before Dot - the lovely Scottish-born chanteuse who fronted One Dove - emerged with her first solo album in 1999, entitled Afterglow. Last month, she delivered her second solo offering, called We Are Science, and spent a little quality time on the phone to Zero from her London home.
"[We Are Science] seems nearer to Morning Dove White than it does to Afterglow," explains Dot, through a thick Edinburgh inflection. "It's more electronic, it's a bit darker, and it's got that psychedelic, curved-ball effect that Afterglow has got a slight veneer of, but not as much. Afterglow is, to me, more of a classic pop record whereas We Are Science is a little bit less playing by the rules in terms of architecture and lyrical content."
Even the most cursory listen to Dot's new album will make you inclined to agree: it weaves from the claustrophobic, airless head trip of "We're Only Science" into the atmospheric, near-formless "Precious". "Strung Out" almost rocks while "You Can Be Replaced" is classic shoegazing. Only "Wishing Stone" recalls the guitar-based, disciplined song structure that Dot practiced on Afterglow. If (as Dot claimed at the time) songwriters like Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris influenced that record, then We Are Science draws more of its inspiration from Dot's career as a DJ, and from the Manchester gloom-pioneers Joy Division.
"Having come out of the club culture in the early 90s, it was really a love of that kind of music that got me into making music," says Dot, "Turning it from something that was not just a hobby, but could be a professional thing for me. There's always a yearning for me to make a more electronic record again. As long as it's quite jarring and tripped out, and plays with your head a little bit - I love music that does that."
On the subject of psychedelia and head trips, there is indeed a pharmaceutically-inclined continuity to Dot's music which stretches all the way back to One Dove. While the suggestion that the band was named after the particularly potent strain of ecstasy that was making the rounds in the early 1990s is a matter of debate, the mind-altering soundscapes that sprawled across Morning Dove White caused many people to draw similar conclusions. Then, in 1998, Dot was involved in a serious road accident which kept her confined to a wheelchair and a morphine drip. The combination of the trauma and the opiates clearly informed the creation of Afterglow. While Dot contends that there was no singular event quite so pivotal that begat We Are Science, tracks like "Strung Out" seem to reinforce a running theme.
"I suppose music itself can feel sort of soporific," agrees Dot. "If it's pensive, or mantra-ish, it can send you off. It does actually do things to the brain - certain pitch changes will trigger emotional responses. It's physiologically proven, and that's why there's such a thing as music therapy. The music can be like a drug in a way, because you can have this trance-like effect induced upon you. So for that reason, this album feels quite druggy in that respect. But also, as it's associated with the world of clubbing, of course that's very drug-fuelled as well."
She pauses carefully at this point. "I think ultimately, drugs are not constructive things. I suppose it's down to the person themselves if, in moderation, they want to explore those things. That's up to them. But I think that it can be very destructive if it's ongoing." Dot also astutely points out the inherent contradiction in the associations people make between certain types of music and the consumption of narcotics. "The Chemical Brothers are a good example," she says. "Their name is kind of insinuating something to do with chemicals, and the music is based around the club culture, which is very druggyÉ but if you look at those people, they're actually at the studio at ten in the morning, working their arses off. Mike Skinner from The Streets, apparently he gets up first thing and spends the whole morning making beats. You know what I mean? I think it's a myth for people to think that they can take loads of drugs and still be really industrious and creative."
In support of We Are Science, Dot Allison is currently visiting our side of the Atlantic as the opening act for Saint Etienne. Reviews of the her record have been very positive, but as of yet, a headlining tour has not materialized. Does Dot believe that perhaps being identified as the leader of One Dove has hindered her ability to market herself as a solo artist?
"I don't really feel like that," she says. "If [Morning Dove White] was an album I wasn't proud of, or if I thought it was an album that people really just didn't get, then it might feel like a millstone. But because people hold it in quite high esteem, it's important to me that it's in the picture. It was well-received at the time, and although it was pretty underground and it didn't communicate with as many people as maybe we would have liked it to, it's still a part of me. I think of all three of the records as part of a set. There's continuity there."
Dot is vague about her current relations with the other two ex-members of One Dove ("I'm still in touch with one of them," she says, non-specifically. "The other one has kind of gone off on his own."). Perhaps if she can continue to record great music in the adventurous, free-form spirit of We Are Science, her interviews will not need to make mention of her former band. She'll have established a name that is all her own. Sam Robertson

Originally appeared in Zero Magazine, December 10, 2002. Copyright © Copyright, Zero Magazine. All Rights Reserved.