Gossip Girl

Gossip Girl

Gossip Girl

With Their Upbeat New Album, Beth Ditto & Co. Will Have Everyone Dancing In the Streets, Which Is Just How the Famed Frontwoman Likes It

With Their Upbeat New Album, Beth Ditto & Co. Will Have Everyone Dancing In the Streets, Which Is Just How the Famed Frontwoman Likes It

Photography: Pierre Debusschere

Styling: Elgar Johnson

Text: T. Cole Rachel

As the leader of the punk/pop/funk dance machine known as Gossip, Beth Ditto is a combustible ball of energy—a singing, sweating, shaking firebrand with one of the most soulful voices this side of Tina Turner. Since the band emerged in 2000, Ditto has effortlessly taken on many roles—post-punk queen of the underground, feminist rebel-rouser, queer icon, and million-record-selling rock star. As an unlikely fashion maven, she has walked the runway for Gaultier, infamously posed nude for magazine covers, and will soon launch her own line of makeup with M.A.C cosmetics. This spring Ditto and her band will release their fifth studio album, the aptly named and dancefloor-friendly A Joyful Noise. It should make Ditto the international pop star she was always meant to be, even if she’d rather be thought of as a punk.

People might not realize how long Gossip has been around. I remember first seeing you guys play in really crappy punk clubs 13 years ago. You are, first and foremost, a punk-rock band.

BETH DITTO Oh yeah! We lived that life for years and it was very, very important for us. We lived and breathed it. It really informs everything we do.

The world of indie rock and hardcore music in the ’90s was a great place to be if you were a social misfit, but even then it wasn’t always such a friendly place for queer-identified folks. Did you come up against that a lot when Gossip was first starting out?

BD We were such an island unto ourselves most of the time. Personally I never really had the traditional punk-rock awakening—I never listened to Operation Ivy or Minor Threat. It wasn’t until I heard things like the Need and Bikini Kill…those were the bands that did it for me. The punk scene could be so overly masculine, but I was into bands like the Make-Up. It pains me that I never got to see Bikini Kill play live. You know, I was inspired by bands like Team Dresch. We came of age at a time before the Internet, so we were just creating in our own minds what we thought punk rock should look like….which, as you can imagine, looked just totally crazy. It was about having a big bouffant and wearing some raver pants. That was our version. Still, I know how hard it was for a lot of the bands that we really worshiped…not just to be queer, but even to be outspokenly feminist.

A Joyful Noise is the danciest album that Gossip has ever put out. I was listening to “Get Lost”—which sounds inspired by classic house music—while looking at Chantal Regnault’s book Voguing on the subway. I kept imagining all of these beautiful queens getting down to that track.

BD Oh my god, that’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me! And such a compliment! I’m not kidding!

It’s a pretty ballsy move to go from making guitar-based rock music to straight-up dance music. How did that happen?

BD I think people forget how long we’ve been a band. I’m 31 now, and I’ve been doing this since I was 18. This is the only band I’ve ever been in. The progression of our sound over the years is parallel to us learning how to play music. It wasn’t intentional that we started out with this garage-rock vibe—it was because we didn’t know how to do anything else. Fast-forward 13 years and we are applying all the things that we’ve learned. For example, we were a band for four years before I knew what an on-stage monitor was for. I was like, I’m supposed to actually be able to hear myself sing? I had no idea!

You’ve had all kinds of wild dalliances with the fashion world over the years. Now you have your own line of makeup coming out with M.A.C. 

BD It was a dream to be asked to do it. I learned so much about the weird business side of makeup, things you would never think of. I wanted to name one of the colors “Yoko O-Yes” but I couldn’t do it. I wanted to create the maddest, wildest shade of pink that was humanly possible to put on your lips, only to find that there is a certain amount of pigment that you can use. I wanted to make things that people of any ethnicity could wear, and make it really versatile. I wanted to make eyeliner pencils that would have two different colors on each end, so instead of two pencils it would be like having four pencils, and the color would work both as a shadow and as a liner. It took me back to my punk days, when having any kind of M.A.C cosmetic was really special. It was a luxury brand and you didn’t get to have that most of the time. If I had a M.A.C eyeliner, that shit was going in my purse and I wasn’t going to lose it. I still have my first M.A.C lip-gloss that I ever bought. I got it in Canada. It’s eight years old! Even now I have scarcity issues.

There’s a track on your new record called “Love in a Foreign Place” that has the great line “All I ever wanted was so much more than life in a small town.” You came from a small town in Arkansas and obviously you have managed to achieve so much. Do you still find yourself shocked by your own success? 

BD I am not kidding you—honestly, I’m not blowing smoke up your ass when I say this—I am shocked by it every single day. There is always some point in the day when I look around and just can’t believe it. I wake up in the house that I bought for myself. I never thought that would happen. I’m so grateful to have my own home, and so grateful to do what I do for a living. You must have those moments, right? When you are like, WOW!

I’m having one right now, Beth.

BD Ha! Well, wake up! This isn’t a dream!

A Joyful Noise is available May 22nd from Columbia Records

Credits: Makeup Andrew Gallimore using M.A.C Cosmetics (CLM) Hair Lyndell Mansfield using Bumble and bumble (CLM) Manicure Rebecca Jade Wilson (Jed Root) Photo assistant Ismael Moumin (254FOREST) Digital technician Luke Bennett (Spring Capture) Stylist assistant Ger Tierney Makeup assistant Rhea le Riche Hair assistant Angelina Bianchi Location Spring Studios Retouching Ismael Moumin (254FOREST)


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