It’s the day before Michael Jackson’s death, and Tina Dico is sitting in a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, restaurant reminiscing about Live Aid. Then a seven-year-old in Aarhus, Denmark, she was so moved by the 1985 rock charity concert that, soon after, she sat down at the family piano and penned her first song. “It was about hungry children and injustice in the world,” says Dico. Of course, in a typical kid move, she ditched the piano for a guitar the minute Tracy Chapman came onto the scene a few years later.
Onstage in Birmingham, England, in 2008.
Now 31 and with five albums behind her, Dico (pronounced Dee-ko) is proving herself an anomaly amid the popified Lily Allen/Lady Gaga/Katy Perry movement of late. She writes all of her own songs, often bringing simply a pair of guitars—currently she owns seven—and her chilling falsetto onstage. (She only recently started touring with one or two other musicians.) And unlike those ostentatious, campy acts du jour, for whom fashion practically serves as a backup singer, Dico’s sartorial choices are all about discretion. “The point of the show is for me to try and disappear and let the music speak,” she says. “I think if there’s too much of a fashion statement going on, in my case, it’s not really a good thing.” But make no mistake, her outfit today is consciously chic: black leather biker jacket and gray strapless jumpsuit with superdroopy (and supertrendy) drawers, both by the Scandinavian label Day Birger et Mikkelsen, and studded suede booties from Zara.
Fashion icon or not, Dico is a superstar in Denmark. She headlines massive outdoor festivals, where her fans often “sing along so loudly that sometimes I can’t even hear myself,” she says. And on the streets, she’s unable to run an errand without being stopped for autographs and photos. Here in the States, though, Dico is still playing small venues like the Highline Ballroom in New York and the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles and occasionally appearing just as the opening act for bigger names. And she’s perfectly fine with that, thank you very much. “Fame is not what I strive for,” says Dico, who has called London home for the past seven years. “I’m sort of in the midst of parting with a lot of my ideas of what my career and life should be like and what, you know, was my dream and [whether it has] lived up. Fame in itself is not going to make anyone happy.”
Indeed, as she talks while nibbling at a beet and green apple salad, it becomes apparent that Dico is hardly amused by her current schedule. “Travel is beginning to wear me down a little bit, but the difficult thing, in the name of art and in the name of the music, is you can’t say it’s not worth it,” she says with a sigh. “I think it would be perfect if I could have some time to just sit and not know what to do.” Since releasing A Beginning, A Detour, An Open Ending (a three-CD box set) in January, she has toured the United States and Europe for the better half of the year and also shot a commercial for Scandinavian Airlines, now in heavy rotation overseas. After a mini holiday with her parents in Switzerland, Dico will play a slew of summer festivals in Germany and Denmark, followed by her second American tour of the year (beginning in New York on September 29) and then another European one. But not before W gets inside the mind of this fashion-cautious songstress by way of a little shopping spree.
Trying on a Steven Alan romper and Stella McCartney belt at Bird.
Dico in a Zero + Maria Cornejo onesie and belt.
First stop: Bird, a Williamsburg boutique stocked with pieces by up-and-coming designers, where Dico immediately homes in on a rack of Zero + Maria Cornejo, draping onesies and dresses over her arm. “I love jumpsuits,” she says, then asks just what the difference is between them and rompers. “I have a few from Diesel Black Gold that I really like, some from Danish designers and some vintage ones.” She tries on a navy striped Steven Alan romper that she deems “a little too everyday”; a geometric-print version by Mociun, a Brooklyn designer (it’s sold out in her size); as well as much of the Zero + Maria Cornejo lot. In the end, she takes Cornejo’s “just lovely” electric blue silk romper but says she will definitely pair it with dark tights onstage. “I have bad knees,” she laments. “And I don’t want people looking at my knees and not at my singing.” She also buys a wide black belt with a tortoiseshell buckle by Stella McCartney, and a Mociun cloth tote. Pleased with her new goods, Dico smiles and at one point even does a little dance in front of the mirror. “My only problem when I shop is I just don’t know where to start,” she explains. “But for inspiration, I love to try most of it.”
Our next jaunt is to designer Wendy Mullin’s store, Built by Wendy, where Dico goes for a black halter top (“It’s not for me,” she decides), as well as a floral minidress. “It’s a little too sweet, but I could roughen it up a bit with my new belt,” she notes, though in the end passes on the frock. We move on to Jumelle, another tiny Williamsburg shop, where she snags a pair of peep-toe booties (on sale!) by French designer Gaspard Yurkievich. They’re black suede trimmed in cream snakeskin, and Dico hopes they will replace “the most amazing shoes I’ve ever had”: white suede peep-toes by Marc Jacobs. “I wore them until they just could not last another concert,” she recalls. “The heels were starting to cave in.”
Hopefully, those Yurkievichs are really tough, because, whether she likes it or not, Dico has a busy road ahead of her, one that involves much more than concerts. She’s gearing up to record her sixth album (under her own label, Finest Gramophone, which she founded in 2000) next spring. But before that she may have a few red carpets to walk. She recently wrote the score for a Danish film, Vagn, directed by Nikolaj Steen, set for release in Scandinavia this December. “Tina owns a rare will, strength and courage to communicate her music without any compromise,” says Steen, who first heard Dico sing more than a decade ago at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, where she was a student and Steen a guest teacher. “I had a very specific idea that I wanted an acoustic score, no big symphony orchestra—only guitars, bass and maybe an old pedal organ. We both clicked on the idea of keeping the music melodic and simple, with a few vocals here and there.”
From top: Shopping at Jumelle; selecting a dress at Built by Wendy.
Dico recorded the soundtrack at the famed Electric Lady Studios in New York’s West Village, along with Danish pal Dennis Ahlgren and Icelandic musician Helgi Jónsson. While Dico and Ahlgren have long collaborated (she sang in his funk cover band when they were both 15), Jónsson is somewhat new to Dico’s lineup. “I was fascinated by this person, her views on life and her being so straightforward,” says Jónsson. “Only after working with her in the studio did I start falling for her songwriting and storytelling.”
Adds Ahlgren: “Tina is a well-balanced mix of pop star and classic singer-songwriter. But more than anything, she delivers universal soundtracks for people’s lives, and she has a unique ability to touch them.”
The trio toured together earlier this year and will likely do so again for the U.S. leg of Dico’s fall concert schedule. “Now I’m reluctant to do solo shows,” she says. “It’s too lonely. I want to have someone to share not only the music but, even more so, to enjoy life on the road.” Her biggest dream, however, is something simple to which most women can relate: to be involved in “an amazing relationship.” And on top of that, she’s still fantasizing about maybe, for once, having nothing to do. “The best thing that can happen in my life is to have a little bit of normality,” she adds. “And maybe a little bit of boredom.”
Dico performing: courtesy of Alexandra Bone