“I had a 21-year-old correct me the other day because I called someone by the wrong pronouns,” says Beth Ditto, the famously progressive Gossip frontwoman. “They had just recently transitioned,” she clarifies of the omission, “and this 21-year-old corrected me and I was like, I love this world!”
As Beth talks to Clash, several signifiers of the late-’90s are permeating modern culture - Bikini Kill will headline Brixton Academy in the days immediately after, as Keanu Reeves trends on Twitter and even Spice Girls, perhaps the most prominent display of commercial feminism for a generation between Ditto’s and a 21-year-old’s, are playing shows - but “this world” is a different place to the one which provoked the arrival of (the) Gossip in 1999.
“There’s so much information. When I listen to my niece talking… just how fast information spreads. It’s so much easier to educate yourself and be connected isn’t it?” suggests Ditto. “Like, you can be in a band with people who are 3000 miles away and make a record together and never be in the same room. I mean I guess Fleetwood Mac did that too.”
Beth wears silicon body suit by Sinead O’Dwyer
In the two decades since she formed Gossip with Nathan Howdeshell and 10 years after the pair, with drummer Hannah Blilie, delivered their Rick Rubin-produced, major label-backed fourth studio album ‘Music For Men’, the cultural landscape has visibly changed. The issues and social movements important to her at 18 have gone mainstream - both for good and bad - with the conversations wider reaching, the language largely more nuanced, and multiple components appropriated by capitalism, but Ditto, as per interviews read in anticipation of our conversation, remains for the most part, at least, unchanged- allergies and a nagging to-do list for an imminent trip to Paris aside. “Have you seen the thing where it releases endorphins when you cross things off?” she enthuses mid-way through. “Well, I believe it, I believe it!”
Released in 2012, ‘A Joyful Noise’ would be the band’s final release prior to Gossip going on hiatus in 2016, nearly a decade after the re-release of ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’, a song written in response to the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment that propelled their industry acclaim in 2007. In the recent interim, Howdeshell returned to Arkansas to embrace, he tells Clash by email, “farming, living a quiet life. Enjoying slowness, sobriety, and the joys of family.”
Meanwhile for Hannah, the trio’s departure from one another took more adjusting. “I’d been touring and travelling consistently for a decade,” she writes. “When that suddenly ended, I didn’t know what to do. But I knew I had to stay active with music to stay sane.” She’s subsequently been involved with “about 10 different musical projects since 2013” and, ahead of regrouping with Nathan and Beth, has been playing in three specific outfits including an all-femme Dolly Parton covers band.
Beth wears knit cape by Mark Fast
In anticipation of the ‘Music For Men’ anniversary, in March a series of European gigs were announced for the summer: Gossip’s first tour in seven years. “It’s really simple, just like it always was,” says Ditto of the reunion. “That’s the way things always work with Gossip. There was no plan or sitting around a table with a diary. It was really relaxed.” Rehearsals have so far comprised a lot of 20-minute catch-ups with a few songs thrown in. “It’s like herding cats or whatever the saying is. Me and Nathan being goofballs, the two of us lost in space.”
“I always thought Gossip felt like a band that you would go and see more than a band you would listen to,” Ditto considers of the upcoming shows. “It’s a nice thing to happen again. To be together.”
For Hannah, the reassembling of the band was a welcome surprise. “I missed the magic of being a queer band with a message of love and acceptance, and sharing that with a mainstream audience,” she muses. “To be quite honest, I didn’t think we’d ever play together again.”
This next act has been “a joy” agrees Nathan, encouraged he says by the “blessing that people still seem to care.”
Beth wears dress by Dilara Findikoglu, shoes from the National Theatre
Gossip is not the first band to regroup ahead of a big anniversary - not even of that particular moment in the late-’00s - but the idea of revisiting old lyrics from such a distance remains curious. “If you read your diary from 10 years ago - the difference between 27 and 37 - it’s wild, to see how much you’ve grown. And the way you roll your eyes at yourself, the way you maybe would at your little sister, it’s kind of like that,” Beth offers.
Speaking to Clash at the time of the record’s release, in 2009 she explained: “The idea of making a feminist record for men is really cool, because we already know that we’re oppressed - men need to know.” Post-HeForShe and the ensuing discourse, how does she interpret this redistributing of the feminist mantle now? “It’s always going to be women’s work,” she asserts, “because you can’t expect people to do the work for you, that’s the way movements work. Look at the election; the minute you think things are going in a good direction and you let the slack go, that’s when movements fall apart, they stagnate. I think within any movement for marginalised people, the people that keep that fuel are the people that the movement is for - their allies can only do so much.”
Partly, she says, this is because only those affected can grasp exactly what it feels like. In the case of feminism, she points to the greater shift of the last decade. “Gender identity as a whole, in the public eye, is starting to change: what masculine and feminine mean, and male and female. Male feminism, it’s not the same as it was, the connotation is different now because we have a completely different idea of gender,” she says. “It’s definitely more of an open topic but, I don’t feel discouraged, I feel like that’s just the way it is.”
Politically vocal since the band’s inception (Riot Grrrl essentially raised them), Ditto’s platform swelled considerably when the trio’s music was picked up by Skins and indie discos across the UK. Performing at Fashion Rocks in 2007, Beth can be seen (still, on YouTube) lifting her Christopher Kane frock to reveal a message of ‘No blood 4 oil’. More recently however, financial contributions have been her preferred activism.
“We’re not talking like the Rockafellas or the Vanderbilts,” she clarifies, “I’m just trying to donate to people that’ll actually make big differences and need the money for resources, like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Of course we should be showing up and going to protests, but you know, those dollars add up.”
Elsewhere, she emphasises social media as a vehicle for awareness: “Whereas you used to talk to your family about whatever initiative is gonna be pushed through, now people are talking and 100 people can see it. 100 people, that’s nothing right, but if you think compared to the four people at the dinner table, that’s literally 25 times that. I feel like that’s what keeps things polarised; at the same time there is a lot of propaganda. It really is a scary time. I mean look at the fucking gun violence. It’s so hard to watch there be so much actual information and people just have a rebuttal,” she sighs, alluding to the recent advent of fake news. “Sorry, I go off on tangents. This is what band practice is like.”
Beth wears lace cape from the National Theatre
Beyond politics, the period between the release and the revival of ‘Music For Men’ has provided Ditto space to further supplement her creative oeuvre: in 2016, an eponymous fashion line followed modelling stints for Marc Jacobs and Jean Paul Gaultier, while last year she featured opposite Kim Gordon and Jonah Hill in Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot, stealing the scenes she appeared in with a true-to-life story borrowed from her Aunt Jannie involving a so-called titty rock.
In 2017, her debut solo album arrived in ‘Fake Sugar’, a soulful affair that simultaneously leaned into disco as well as her southern roots; lead single ‘Fire’ subsequently made appearances in the Netflix hit Sex Education and the trailer for Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Fleabag.
“People were like, ‘Did you feel free to do whatever you wanted?’ and I’m like, ‘Sure, but I felt free to do whatever I wanted in Gossip too.’ It wasn’t a situation where I was being smothered creatively, it was more like I was a mum who needed a divorce,” she laughs of the transition. “Like I got married at 18, we had all these kids together - the records - we raised them, put them through school, and now they’re all grown I need to go and experience life on my own.”
Beth wears vintage petticoat from the National Theatre
“The songwriting part was hard,” she continues, “because I don’t know how to play anything. I had to rely on the band; it was like this co-dependency artistically. I had to get on their page and have them get on my page about music, which is hard, because music is a language of its own. But you know, it’s like having sex with somebody else for the first time, it was like that.”
Presently there are no plans for further Gossip projects beyond the tour, but as anyone privy to her Instagram account can vouch, right now Ditto’s pretty invested in babysitting her friends’ kids. “They’re so awesome, they’re hilarrrrrious,” she gushes affectionately. More acting though, isn’t inconceivable. “It’s so nice to have something new that you’re not used to. You’re at the mercy of other people and your job is just to make it as good as you possibly can, and that is really fun,” she says of the industry. “Also being stationary, being in one place for a long time instead of moving around because, you know, I’m 38, which isn’t old, but I mean literally Gossip started when I was 18.”
Beginning on 4th July, the European tour will take in Berlin and Paris as well as Glasgow and Manchester, while in London the group headline Somerset House, supported by Big Joanie, the “Black Feminist Sistah Punk” band that opened Bikini Kill’s Brixton shows. Coincidence?
“Friends of friends,” says Beth. “It’s so funny how small the music scene is especially when you’re like, a woman playing music. We’re really excited. I can’t believe it. Oh God, I can’t believe we’re going on tour. It’s so crazy.”
Words: Zoe Whitfield
Photography: Steph Wilson
Fashion: Grace Joel
Hair: Lyndell Mansfield at CLM
Make-Up: Andrew Gallimore
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers
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