Beth Ditto and co in conversation...
Gossip Clash Feature

The full transcript of our interview with issue 39 cover stars the Gossip - Beth Ditto, Hannah Blilie and Nathan Howdeshell…

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You’re vocal about the influence of punk on the band, but your music fills dancefloors up and down the country. How do you balance what kind of music you’re into and what kind of music you make?
Hannah: I think we just make music that we like at the time, and it’s not supposed to go into any certain genre or whatever. Yeah, we listen to a lot of punk, but we also listen to a lot of dance stuff and hip-hop and everything.
Nathan: And Beth listens to lots of R&B and pop and that kind of thing. When you’re playing in a band you play for each other, and you play what complements certain things, so it’s always a different dynamic. If I wanted to write a song that I felt carried Beth’s voice well then that’s what we’ll do. So it’s a little different every time. [On] the new record there’s lots of different songs that are representative of ways that we thought would flatter Beth and each other, but they’re not necessarily always punk or electro or rock, it’s just however it happens.

Are you concerned that, if people regard you as a dance band, that people might not be listening to the lyrics you’ve written?
Beth: No. I don’t care. I’d rather them not listen to them actually! (Laughs) I always feel like I’m not really a songwriter. It’s kind of a fluke. I don’t take it that seriously...
Hannah: That’s the key. You can never think about, ‘Oh, are people gonna like this?’ or ‘Is this gonna be a hit?’ or whatever. It just has to be a good song.

You must face questioning from people who read into the lyrics. Do you learn things from what people perceive them to mean?
Beth: Oh, that’s absolutely true. People will be like: ‘Oh, this line, this line and this line, I thought this about it’, and you’re like: ‘That’s really amazing’. And sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh, that is what it’s about’ or ‘That’s really true’, and sometimes I’m like: ‘No, that’s not really what I was feeling’. But for the most part, everything is in retrospect and it’s really amazing to hear what people think of them. Especially in interviews, 'cos I’m not really there in the moment; it’s never like: ‘Oh, I’m gonna write this about this’. That’s why every song kinda sounds the same (laughs) on my part, you know? There’s a lot of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ in there - a lot of space filler.

The lyrics to ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ was your reaction to the US Government’s stance on same-sex marriages, but people might not have realised that because they were too busy just dancing to it!
Beth: That’s great, that’s fine, that’s nice. I don’t get mad with them, like, ‘Oh, but that’s not what the song was about...’ It’s also nice to know that people are mindlessly dancing to a song like that... especially straight jocks. I love that idea. I think that’s the beauty of music - it’s different for everybody. It might just be a song that was on Skins, but then it might be a song that somebody’s like: ‘Oh yeah, this is a really sweet song’. I think that’s really nice.

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Gossip - 'Standing In The Way Of Control'

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How are things going with the Gossip in the States?
Beth: Well, it’s not really changed that much in the US for us.
Hannah: We haven’t toured in the States in a couple of years now either...
Beth: Don’t want to.
Hannah: I dunno, we don’t really have much perspective on it right now, I don’t think, because it’s just been so long. I think with the new record it’ll change a little bit maybe, just ‘cos of Rick Rubin’s involvement, but at the same time, a band like us has a harder time getting popular there than they would here.

Have the American public taken to you?
Hannah: Not like on a mainstream level whatsoever.

But there must be places that you do well in?
Hannah: In big cities we can go and have big shows...
Nathan: Yeah, like New York, LA, San Francisco, Montreal, Toronto, Austin...
Hannah: But it’s always been more of an underground thing. It’s way more underground than it is here. And it’s fun to do those small tours in America, but there’s so much travelling and we did it for so long that we just want to take a break. We toured America for like five years straight.
Beth: I wouldn’t trade any of that part for anything.
Hannah: I think having that history makes us appreciate where we’re at now so much more, instead of being like a band that is instantly popular and you instantly have a million people working for you. Having that time... Because I was doing that for years too, ten years of just touring these tiny clubs and doing everything yourself and sleeping on strangers’ floors and stuff.
Beth: It’s also nice because we know that not everything lasts forever. We’ve been doing this since we were eighteen, all of us, and if you think about kids who got instantly famous when they’re eighteen, how they’re gonna feel when they’re twenty-four and it’s over. At least we got to be twenty-five and we’ll be thirty when it’s over! (Laughs)
Hannah: There’s like an entitlement that goes along with that, where they expect that to be happening forever.
Nathan: Yeah, I feel like those situations could be like life ruining. It could really dement your view of the world. I mean, if you’re eighteen and your band has a smash single and everybody’s working for you and the label’s kissing your ass and you don’t have to carry your equipment, and then you’re twenty-one-years-old and the next single doesn’t do well, your fucking life must be insane.

And then you spend the next eighty years in despair!
Hannah: (Laughs) ‘God! I coulda been something!’
Beth: I always keep in mind what I’m gonna do after it too. I’m always like, ‘Oh, hairdressing’. Go right back to the old days. I think it’s smart to keep something in mind.
Hannah: Dildo slinging.
Beth: Yeah, she’s gonna work in a dildo store, like she did before. He’s gonna go right back to McDonald’s. My mom can get you a job.
Nathan: Yeah, please do.
Beth: ‘I used to play guitar for a living, but now I don’t.’
Nathan: ‘Now I make Egg McMuffins.’
Beth: You liked that job though.
Nathan: I did like working at McDonald’s actually, because it went by so fast, because it was constantly busy. You didn’t have time to think; you’re like ‘burgers, burgers, burgers’, then five hours later you’re worn out and you have like a thousand zits all over your body from the grease. That job ruined my skin.

Are Americans obsessed by the gay tag of the band? Are you seen as ‘a gay band’?
Beth: America’s obsessed with putting things into a box - they love that shit. I don’t think they know what else to do.
Hannah: Yeah. ‘Look at those freaky gays.’
Nathan: Yeah, in America they love to put everything into a scene. Like if a band’s from Portland, they’re like, ‘It’s a Portland band!’
Beth: It’s capitalism - that’s exactly what it is, because it has to be marketed in that way. It’s all marketing.
Nathan: There’s a good band from Montreal and another good band from Montreal and then it’s like, ‘The Montreal scene!’, and those bands don’t even know each other - they don’t even play together. American press loves to do that. It’s like, ‘Remember how successful the Seattle scene was? Let’s try and do that again.’ (Laughs)

Presumably you guys have no interest in conforming or changing for anyone?
Beth: Well, I am on a diet. It’s very strict: all hot dogs. Just sausages, constantly. It’s working out - I’ve gained fifteen pounds! I did start working out though, and I literally gained fifteen pounds! (Laughs)
Hannah: I remember that! All muscle, like a football player.
Beth: I know! My friend was like, ‘Beth, you really gotta stop because you look weird’.
Nathan: You went from a square to a rectangle.
Beth: Yeah I know, I was like Spongebob Squarepants! (All laugh) Yeah, but that wasn’t because of the music - I was like, ‘I don’t want diabetes’. ‘I can eat Twinkies and work out and not get diabetes, right?’ (Laughs)
Nathan: I love how long you have to work out to work off a Twinkie. I was reading some thing that was like eating a slice of pizza takes a hundred and eighty sit-ups to get it out of your system.
Hannah: No, you have to do cardio - you’ve got to do the elliptical machine.
Beth: I’m a treadmill girl myself. I’ve got to where I can run on it.

Some of the songs on the new album sound quite angry, or accusatory. Are you an angry person?
Beth: I’m not angry. No, I always think that people think that women in music are always angry. I’m not angry. Rock ‘n’ roll music made by men is so much more over-the-top aggressive than when a women says “you” and they’re screaming it, it’s like, ‘Oh my God!’ I’m like, ‘Have you heard rock music made by men?’ I always think that’s really interesting. I think if you ever met me you’d be like, ‘That person is not angry’. When we made this record I was talking to Rick Rubin and I was like, ‘Do you think it’s wrong to talk to a person in a song? There’s always a ‘you’ or an ‘I’ in every song’, and he was like, ‘Bob Dylan is an ‘I’ person and Neil Young is a ‘you’ person. They’re always talking to someone or about themselves, and it may or not be them, it may be someone else.’ And I don’t even like Bob Dylan or Neil Young, but I was like, ‘Oh, totally’. Like, it was really validating because I was like, ‘It’s okay’. But in retrospect, it’s like what you were saying, when you talk about it, you start to think about it; ‘What is it about?’ I don’t feel angry at a person. There’s a lot of warnings - I think it’s like I’m warning myself a lot. I think I’m talking to myself a lot. I talk to myself a lot! (Laughs)

Why did you call the album ‘Music For Men’?
Beth: Well, for one it’s really funny – we think it’s funny.
Hannah: To make a feminist record called ‘Music For Men’.
Beth: I think people who are really down are really gonna think it’s funny or they’re really gonna get it. It’s really ironic, but it’s really true; I think the idea of making a feminist record for men is really cool. Because we already know that we’re oppressed - men need to know that we’re oppressed.
Hannah: And it’s our first major label record working for men. (Laughs) I mean, we work with a lot of women too but it’s sort of like working for The Man.
Beth: Also, I wanted it to be a hit in Ibiza. I wanted it to be gay like that. It means a lot of things, but it’s also just kind of funny. Originally the cover of the record was going to be Nathan with a top hat on and a monocle, but he wouldn’t do it. I really wanted him to do it. I was like, ‘It would be so great’.

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Gossip - 'Listen Up'

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Beth, you said that you went through what you called ‘post-natal depression’ after delivering this album. Was it like a massive release of energy?
Beth: Yeah. It was crazy to hold on to something that long and let it go.

You have a history of depression. Is that something that’s always with you?
Beth: I think when you think about what the odds are for human beings, I think it honestly gets a bit depressing. I was just in another interview and he was telling me about this American radio guy called Michael [Savage] who’s like super right-wing and people are obsessed with him. I was like, you know, I don’t get as sad that that guy has a radio show as I do that there are people listening to it that are totally into it. I think that those things really make me sad - they honestly affect my daily life.
Hannah: And the end of the world is always weighing down!
Beth: (Laughs) Yeah, the end of the world! I don’t try to think of the end of the world the way other people do because I spent so much of my childhood thinking about the end of the world and I don’t want to do that anymore. But a lot of people do and that gets me down. I also think that just existing is really sad; I don’t know if that’s chemical or what but yeah, I’ve had a couple of nervous breakdowns in my life. Totally fine. Not a biggie. But it’s all changed. I’m always like, ‘When’s the next one gonna be?’ (Laughs) But it’s been really strange because making music has really helped it.

Is it true you’re writing a book, Beth?
Beth: Yeah. It’s just about my life, which I think is hysterical because it’s only twenty-eight-years long. It’s all about Nathan actually; it’s just portraits I did of Nathan. But yeah, it’s just about growing up in Arkansas, really funny little stories like meeting Bill Clinton when I was six, or all the things that we used to do for fun that are really depressing and really hilarious at the same time...

That must have been very cathartic.
Beth: It was really hard, and it sounds really silly, but it gave me awful nightmares. It was really hard for me to sleep sometimes. I didn’t write it out, but I did hours and hours of interviews with my friend Michelle Tea who’s an author - she’s also this punk dyke from San Francisco. We picked her because we thought she would understand the language of the scene, we wouldn’t have to explain what the punk scene was like to her, what it was like to come out of the closet; somebody who was more in tune. So I would do these interviews for hours, like literally fifteen-hour interviews, and she would write it all down verbatim, and then she would edit it. Anyway, after telling all those stories for hours I would just go home and not be able to sleep because I was so like, ‘Ugh’.

Because you were digging stuff up?
Beth: It was, it was like therapy, hours of therapy.

Are there any other extra-curricular projects going on with the band?
Nathan: We’re just so busy right now with the record. We’re always doing little extra-curricular things. I’m curating some art shows this summer; that’s exciting.
Hannah: I’m walking the dog a lot, and gardening. I do really homebody stuff when I’m home, just because it’s so wild on the road.
Nathan: Yeah, she just got a new house.
Beth: I did too, but I haven’t lived in mine long enough to actually do anything to it. I can’t wait though. I can’t wait to garden.

You’re all so grown-up!
Beth: I know! But in my house - like, her house is really grown-up - but when people come over to my house it’s just like Nintendo and cartwheels. You open the refrigerator and Dr. Pepper pours out. It’s like the movie Big.
Nathan: It’s like a middle-class Arkansas house.
Beth: It is! Have you seen it? (Laughs)
Nathan: No, I haven’t been there, but I can imagine!
Beth: It is so middle-class Arkansas! Nathan: ‘We’ve got ice cubes.’
Beth: We do have ice cubes! I have an icemaker in my refrigerator.
Nathan: It’s like middle-class fantasy.
Beth: It is seriously middle-class fantasy. It’s like everything I ever wanted to be. It’s so Arkansas rich.
Nathan: That’s what I want my house to be like: Dr. Pepper, ice cubes...
Beth: My backyard is kinda awesome.
Nathan: You should get a trampoline.
Beth: I really wanna buy the house next door and put a pool in.

That’s verging into Chris Martin territory - he bought the house next door to his.
Beth: Did he put a pool in? He better have! That’s a waste of two good yards! Pfft.
Nathan: They do that for privacy. Super-rich people buy the house next door and leave it empty - that’s ridiculous!
Beth: Leave it empty? My friends would live in that like a bitch!

Beth, you’ve designed your own clothing range. What was your aim for the clothes?
Beth: I don’t know. I wanted to make clothes that were awesome. One of the most amazing things I ever heard was this quote from Katharine Hamnett: ‘DIY is cool, but sometimes you get sick of doing it yourself’, which is totally true. Every single article of clothing I wear I have to sew somehow, literally. It’s very rare that I don’t have to take it in or make it shorter or make it bigger, or just make it from scratch. So now, my whole thing was having things that fit, like revolutionary fits, the idea of how it’s going to work. It’s kind of more about strategy that it is about...because it’s a very comfort line... It’s all sweat pants! (Laughs)

When’s it coming out?
Beth: July, and I’m so excited!

Who’ll be stocking it?
Beth: Evans is doing it; your fat ladies’ store here in the UK. Coming to you in an Evans very soon.

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Gossip - 'Heavy Cross'

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So, it’s festival season!
Beth: Yeah! [Sings] ‘Take me straight to UK festivals’. The only thing I don’t like about your UK festivals is that you don’t have corn dogs. That’s what’s missing.

Maybe you could start a Gossip festival catering stall?
Beth: (Laughs) I would do that! That’s what we can do when Gossip totally plummets into the ground. After this record fails we’ll just do corn dog stands at the festivals, so we’ll still be like, you know, around. Everybody’s like, ‘What’s a corn dog?’
Nathan: You guys don’t have corn dogs here?

Beth: They’re delicious. Have you ever had one?

No. It’s a sausage on a stick, right?
Beth: Yeah, with cornmeal batter. It is so good. It’s my favourite food. And olives. And pickles.

You’re headlining the second stage at Reading on the Saturday night, which will just be the perfect end to the day.
Beth: We are? Headlining it? That’s not a big deal. Can’t wait to ruin that show! (Laughs) Hannah: We’re playing Latitude as well.

Do you like touring the festivals? Does it feel like you’re wheeled in and out or do you get a chance to enjoy the experience?
Hannah: I like playing festivals.
Beth: I wish we could enjoy them more. Last year we had fun at Glastonbury.
Nathan: I always miss the bands I want to see, that’s what I hate. That’s what sucks about festivals: playing the opposite day of all the good bands.
Beth: Like at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Swindon, we missed Franz Ferdinand, we missed Ladyhawke, Akon, Neyo; we missed everybody. We should stop doing press at festivals and just fuckin’ go have a good time. We earned it! Glastonbury last year was really fun; the karaoke tent?
Hannah: Oh, that was fun! Beth: Nathan and I hosted karaoke. We should do that again.
Hannah: We’re not playing Glastonbury this year.

Do you have any tips for this summer’s festival goers?
Nathan: I’d say smuggle your own drinks and food in, because everything is so expensive.
Hannah: Wear flip-flops.
Beth: Smuggle your own drugs.
Nathan: Whenever I walk around festivals it blows me away how expensive things are, because it’s like they’re just stickin’ it to you.
Beth: Yeah, BYOS: Bring Your Own Sandwiches. Nathan: BYOE: Bring Your Own Everything.

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‘Music For Men’ is released on June 22 on Columbia Records; the single 'Heavy Cross' is available now. The Gossip are performing at Latitude, Reading/Leeds and a number of European festivals. Find the band online HERE.


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