Photo Credit: Essy Syed
There are some things people can just pick up with no hesitation. For me? It was baking. For artists such as Dot Allison, it was a myriad of creative elements that went into her 2021 release, ‘Heart-Shaped Scars’ like the ukulele. We talked about her new instrumentation, the poets that inspired her this time around, and more in this back and forth exchange.
Kendra: The world is such a different place now than it was when you dropped ‘Afterglow.’ From an artist’s perspective, what do you feel has been the wildest development for musicians from then to now?
Dot Allison: I guess streaming being the main way to listen to music and the way playlists are put together algorithmically, which might leave the quite enjoyable process of browsing more to say vinyl shops…I guess you can browse online still but it feels like there may be invisible ‘gate keepers’ only allowing for certain content etc, whereas in vinyl shops you might stumble upon some cool white label the retailer fell in love with and is playing while you search for the thing you thought you were looking for.
Kendra: Here in the present you have your July 2021 release, ‘Heart-Shaped Scars,’ a record rooted in poetic movement and I know you noted how you were often inspired by your favorite folk artists but were you ever enlightened by any poets as well?
Dot Allison: Yes, definitely. I love Megan Falley and in fact, I took part in her poetry workshop during lockdown, so it was an honour to have her feedback workshopping our poetry. Also, John Burnside’s poetry is pretty mind-blowing, Olivia Gatwood, Tishani Doshi, Esther Morgan, Rebecca Perry are favourites.
Kendra: With “Long Exposure,” this was your first time writing alongside the ukulele – which you’d just picked up. Have you always been someone who just learns something on their own better than in a formal setting with a teacher of some sort?
Dot Allison: I wouldn’t have said so, but the ukulele just played me in a way…it was strange as I found the chords pretty freely and easily and felt it brought out a level of musicality that I felt excelled from where I had gotten to with my ‘melodic/harmonic voice’ before. I think literally not having a clue about which strings were which, and which chords were which helped as I had to rely purely on my ear and I now always want to write like that. Kind of forgetting any theory I have learnt and ignoring it and listening purely.
Kendra: Alongside poetry, there are natural sounds incorporated throughout the record. Was that something you planned on doing before you even started composing the album, or was there a moment during the process when you heard a particular sound and thought – that’d sound perfect in this song?
Dot Allison: I felt like using everything at my disposal to create a sound palette and as I believe humans are best suited not entirely divorcing ourselves from nature and the universal mind so I felt the voice in nature should also have a place alongside mine. I enjoyed the conceptual side of making this album in a more pronounced way, and the song Entanglement is about quantum entanglement for example. So it made sense to me conceptually to have entangled and inter-connected voices in a sense.
Kendra: So one of my favorite tracks on the record is “Forever’s Not Much Time.” It’s got this haunting feel to it. I’d love to know where your head was at when this song came to mind…
Dot Allison: I guess it was a coalescence of a few different head-spaces over the passage of time as it was a title I had had for years literally. I liked the bittersweet slightly Celtic vibe of the chords and the ‘knitted together’ aspects of it…like with pitch-bent ukulele notes to imbue a sense of mystery and things being or feeling slightly curved and not exactly straight forwards. I like the drifting from minor chords into major while the melody remains…And that to me is like life in a way…we have to remain constant as life turns and winds around us going from the melancholy of certain experiences into the sweeter or calmer moments of resolve and healing, so for me it kind of captures that continuum.
Kendra: It’s still kind of hard to have a definite answer when it comes to future plans given the current state of everything, but as far as what you can control when it comes to your career and creativity – what do you have planned in the coming months for yourself?
Dot Allison: I plan to try to stay inspired and creative and productive. I have a few projects on and a new album after this one taking shape in my head already, so I am going to maintain a level of productivity now having taken such a long break before.