Former Pipette Rose Elinor Dougall Hangs Up The Polka Dots To Go It Alone

With her solo single on the way, Rose Elinor Dougall tells The Quietus about the perils and pleasures of leaving the pop world behind

Emerging from a band modelled on the 60s school of hit-making where no individual member is more important than the collective, to then carve out your own identity as both a singer and a musician must be a tricky proposition. But Rose Elinor Dougall (nee Rosay)’s debut single ‘Another Version Of Pop Song’ (out on Monday on her own Scarlett Records) suggests that she might well be pulling off that difficult task. There are hints of the Sundays here, but there’s more going on than just fey ’90s indie; think whirling maypole psychedelia and Fairport folk with a very contemporary, pop feel. Moreover, her voice has escaped the harmonies and confines of the Pipettes to acquire a strength all of its own. This is why, in part, that there’s nothing precious or twee about this project. Additionally, live appearances to introduce her band (called The Distractions) reveal a group of musicians who play as impeccably as they dress, like Brideshead types on a peculiar caper – the drummer, in particular, has the air of a manic Sopwith Camel pilot inexplicably overjoyed that he’s just been shot down by the Red Baron. In a time where young female musicians are expected to either be drearily brassy soul belters (Duffy, Adele), painfully retiring folk damsels (Laura Marling) or so cringeworthily kooky that you might as well call them Pritchard and pack ’em off to drama academy (Florence & The Machine), it’ll be interesting to see how Dougall’s well-crafted, decidedly English songs of love and loss might be received.

What have you been up to Post-Pipettes?

Leaving the Pipettes was a hard decision to make and once I’d got over the thrill of making such a bold move, there was a period of adjustment, shall we say. But once I’d pulled myself together, I’ve really just been working on getting these songs together and finding the right people to work on the project with, and making a record on my own terms with my own material to see what happens. This year I have been focused on exploring my own songwriting processes, and lately I have been concentrating more on developing those ideas sonically. I’ve also returned to my natural role as barmaid, which provided some source material for the ol’ tunes. Remembering what it’s like to stay in one place for more than a few weeks at a time has also been good.

How has it been recording on your own rather than as part of a collaborative project?

At first I found it a slightly daunting prospect; just being able to articulate exactly what you mean in a way that is satisfactory to both oneself and a producer can be a challenge for a start. I suppose the stakes feel so much higher to me now that the songs are all my own and far more personal, so I feel much more precious and protective, but I have also tried to be free enough to let unexpected things happen. I am lucky because I have found a producer, Lee Baker, who I really trust and I’ve worked very closely with him in terms of arrangement. We have tried to deconstruct most songs and rebuild them to assure that everything is there for a reason, and that has been a fascinating process for me. Also I haven’t been recording with a band, (although The Distractions are due to come and record a few tracks in the next month or two), so it hasn’t been a ‘press record and go’ situation, which in some ways it was in the Pipettes. This has meant that everything has had to be constructed in the studio and finding the right direction for each song feels a bit like carving something out of stone, you chip away and hopefully it reveals itself eventually. I have basically loved every minute of the experience so far.

Why are you releasing the single yourself?

After being involved with record labels for the last few years I really wanted to try and do something on my own terms to begin with. Everything I have done so far has been pretty D.I.Y., and I have really enjoyed being in control in that way. It was really important that I established a sound for myself away from any industry eyes, and this was the first song I finished with my producer that felt that it was heading in the right direction. I just really wanted to get something out before 2009 as a sort of punctuation to a very strange year and hopefully to lead me into another one.

The Pipettes worked in what became a very pop milieu with the signing to Interscope and so on; is it nice to go back to basics?

I have to say it is yes. I can’t deny that I had a really incredible experience and am aware that much of what I did in The Pipettes is unlikely to be repeated through what I’m doing now. It’s important to remember that The Pipettes came from quite lowly beginnings and I have done my fair share of toilet circuits and stinking minibuses and am looking forward to returning to all that soon. However, I can’t imagine seeing my face on the side of Tower records in Tokyo for example, and at times the whole thing felt like a very bizarre dream. So it is really lovely to, (without sounding like a complete arsehole), ‘get back to the music’. I can’t believe I just said that.

What of your band, where did you dig them up? Why are they Distractions?

Well one of them is my brother Tom, I found him skulking around my flat so I thought I should put that skulking to good use. The other guitarist is a good friend of mine, Ralegh, who is also in a couple of other bands, Patrick Hamilton and Two Seat Bicycle, both of which the lovely Alex plays drums for, so we’ve got him with us as well. Georgia is on bass, who is my very first friend from when I was about two. we went to nursery together but were tragically separated for 17 years when our parents took us away from the big smoke. We have since both returned only a mile or so away from where we first met and by some strange twist of fate found ourselves chatting in the local. It turns out that she a great musician and so I nabbed her quick smart and now we’re together again. They are all distractions from my own ego. I’ve also been thinking about all of the horrible temptations that stop people from doing the things they really mean to do; I’ve witnessed it happening with some people I know and I think it’s a really frightening but interesting thing.

Can you tell us a little about the musical influences that have shaped you over the years?

Well I grew up in a very musical house, my Dad plays the guitar and writes songs, so I was always exposed to those sorts of noises. He has an amazing record collection, (which me and my brother have pillaged over the years), and is responsible for my love of folk and ignited my interest in songwriting as a whole. My mum was always into reggae and soul too which broadened my musical awareness. I was about 10 at the height of Britpop so was too young to go to any of the gigs, but I remember seeing Blur, Pulp, Elastica and all that stuff on the TV and really being totally consumed by it all, and I think that’s when I decided I wanted to be in a band and make music.

Is it nice to be able to sit down for gigs, rather than having to prance around in a polka dot dress?

Yes it is certainly less tiring and I don’t tend to have make up pouring down my face at the end of a gig, but part of me misses jumping around like an idiot. I’m still working on the whole stage thing, I think I would like to do a bit more standing up, because I love moving and you can get a bit stuck in your chair, but at the moment the main thing is concentrating on singing, which I have to say is really lovely.

Your granddad announced the declaration of the Second World War on the wireless. What historical event, hypothetical or otherwise, would you like to announce, and why?

It would be really great to announce that chocolate doesn’t make you fat, drinking doesn’t lead to health problems and smoking doesn’t give you cancer.

Please state three non-musical influences or inspirations:

Egon Schiele, Richard Brautigan, Ashdown Forest, Kent.

What is your ultimate ambition for the Rose & The Distractions project?

I would just love to get this record out and for it to do OK, enough for me to make another one and go and play it to people…I really want to have a record of my own which i feel reflects the time that i made it in, and i think that i am getting close to that. I can’t really think beyond that at the moment, but fundamentally I sort of want to do this forever really.

Visit Rose’s mySpace for a listen to ‘Another Version Of Pop Song’ and to see forthcoming tour dates

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