In 2003 I opened for Stephanie Dosen at Churchill’s Coffeehouse in Springfield, MO, and it was like opening for a pixie from another planet who spends her free time lassoing stars and befriending constellations. Since we were at a coffeehouse, it was not difficult for me to imagine her pouring milk from the Milky Way into her coffee and sweetening it with a pinch of stardust instead of sugar. She was living in Milwaukee, WI at the time and had just released her debut album, Ghosts, Mice, and Vagabonds (Buy It Here). I was wrapping up work on my Master’s degree and realizing I would never pursue music professionally. She was pursuing music professionally and trying to adapt to life on Earth.
The years have passed and, in the interim, she moved to England and successfully lassoed a few stars. I suspect that, as a Cocteau Twins‘ enthusiast, she nearly exploded into a blissed-out supernova after signing a deal with Bella Union, a record label that happens to be owned by Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde. She also lent her otherworldly vocals to Massive Attack (See her sing the band’s classic “Teardrop” with them here) and has gone on to form a band with her musical hero, the aforementioned Mr. Raymonde, called Snowbird. Her second record, A Lily for the Spectre, was released on Bella Union in 2007. When it came out, I looked for it everywhere – under my bed, at the local record stores, in cupboards, in the freezer section at the local grocer, etc. I could not find it.
It was available for sale in the UK, but what did I know about pounds (£)? Sure, I had a few to spare, but I was not interested in liposuction. I could not imagine myself mailing a pound of flesh to London in exchange for an album by someone who knew no mortal coil herself (This, you see, is a not-so-clever reference to This Mortal Coil, who belonged to 4AD’s stable of artists along with the Cocteau Twins once upon a time). Being something of a hologram or a ghost, I suspect she would have no use for anything so Earthly. She’s not a flesh-eating alien, after all (at least that I know of).
This year when I turned 32 in September, my lovely wife Rebekah Christine somehow secured a copy of the album for me, for which I was very grateful indeed. I caught up with Stephanie over email recently and, borrowing one of the ghost traps the Ghostbusters used to capture their ectoplasmic, free-roaming specters, I managed to imprison her if only for a moment. She would answer my questions or else.
Where can Americans get your latest record, and why is it hiding from us? Is it afraid?
Oh. So it’s finally become available to us Stateside folks. Good. Are you working on new material?
Simon Raymonde and I have been in the studio for almost two years working on our project “Snowbird”. The songs were all written in 2 weeks but its taken us 2 years to find the time to work on getting them to sound just how we want them. I feel like I was able to be really open on the record and talk about what I want to talk about (i.e. frozen bears & stuff). We have some really exciting people making appearances on the record so I can’t wait until it all comes together.
Three records you absolutely could not live without. Go.
Cocteau Twins’ Four-Calendar Café, Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, and Midlake’s The Trials of Van Occupanther.
What, in your estimate, would be the advantage of recording an album in Antarctica?
Yes, I love tacos. They are my all time favorite food. I miss them because England doesn’t believe in them (i.e. No, I’m not going to Antarcti-whatever-you-said because they don’t have tacos).
(Note: I have noticed that Ms. Dosen frequently tweets about food on Twitter. Doritos, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, you name it. Of course, being a phantasmal, free-roaming vaporous apparition from another dimension, she often eats strange things, or at least talks of eating strange things. One tweet reads, “I can tell you for a fact that butterflies are not made of butter. They really taste a lot more like paper.” Follow her on Twitter.)
Where do all of the fairy tale images in your music come from? Is there a world in your head where boats are filled with stars and this is commonplace? What are the origins of all this ethereal business?
I’ve been asked this question a lot and it has got me thinking. Maybe it is because the first movie I ever saw in the movie theatre was Snow White. It came back to theaters in the ’70s when I was about 3. I had the book and record (No, we didnt have VCRs or cable tv in those days… I had a dodgy record player and a few storybook records.) Anyway, when the film was re-released my parents made a huge deal of getting to see it. The fact that it was my first theater experience, and that I saw it about the time when a kid starts to make huge assumptions about the nature of life, probably adds up to all this. And by this I mean that I sing to animals in the forest and keep gnomes under my bed. I don’t really like apples though. I guess that’s a good thing.
Right. I can see how you’d want to avoid apples if you were Snow White. Next question: If you could cover an entire building in potting soil and flowers from top to bottom, what building would it be, and what flowers would you choose?
It would be my house. I would like tulips on the roof. The walls can be ivy, morning glory and moonflower. All around the edges we need hollyhock: pink and yellow and poppies galore. It needs to have the Wizard of Oz feel like when Dorothy just arrived. The pathway could be painted like yellow bricks. Big lilac trees will hang over the path with violets crammed around the trunks. Pom Poms, lampyride, pink thistle minus the thorns, and lanterns need to float & hover in the air all around. Then I would hang little flower baskets in the eaves and put kittens in them.
Well, you just convinced me. My wife and I have 5 cats. And frankly, 5 isn’t enough. 25 wouldn’t be enough. What are your plans for the future? You can start with eating Belgian waffles for breakfast tomorrow morning if you like. Give us a closeup or a telescopic view, depending on what you prefer…
I need more coffee. Then I have to work on some little knits that I have been working up in my studio. (I publish knitting patterns in my spare time.) Must walk doggy, then Spurs play Man U this weekend so I’ll be going to that. Then we have a Bella Union show in Paris that I am really excited about. After that, I will be publishing my knitting book, finishing my novel, making another record, setting up a studio in the house, hiding in my attic & buying tiny creepy old dolls on eBay and putting them in little boxes with fur and feathers.
Although your last comment terrifies me completely, I have one final question: If you could make a record with anyone, who would it be, what would the resulting record be called, and name five tracks that would appear on the album (Off the top of your head, of course).
I’m making a record already with him! Besides that though, maybe someone like Stephen Wilkinson who does Bibio. Somebody up for making a round record that is full from the inside out. It’s so easy to make a stringy record. I like something thoroughly connected in a world with a big heart all on its own. Can’t name the baby until you meet the soul though. I always learn the names last.
Thanks, Ms. Dosen. Be well, and go lasso some stars.