Beth Ditto on Obama, Proposition 8 and Music For Men...
David Renshaw

14:57 1st July 2009

“I wanted to make a really gay record and having Hannah (Blilie, drums) on the cover looking so butch and handsome made for the idea of gender fluidity approachable in a pretentious way. I think it sums up the record really well, it’s the perfect title for it.”

Beth Ditto is talking about her band Gossip’s new album title ‘Music For Men. Emerging from the whirlwind of column inches and dance floors smashes that Gossip’s second album ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ brought Ditto is back to doing what she does best, not designing clothes or hanging off Kate Moss’s arm but making soul-punk records and playing kick ass shows.

How does it feel to be back in Britain and how does it feel to come over here to such a large audience when in America you’re still relatively unknown? “It feels great, I mean we didn’t meet in art school and we’ve been around for a while before everything blew up for us in Britain so we’re a really close band and we started because we wanted to make music together. Because we have that basis of friendship and music it keeps you together because you realise that it’s far more important than any attention you might be getting for whatever reason. So even though we come here and play to big crowds we never forget where we came from.”

‘Music For Men’ is an opportunity for Gossip to escape the ubiquitous and career defining single ‘Standing in the Way Of Control’, was there ever fear of being a one hit wonder? “Well in America Human League only ever had one hit single and how cool is that? All the really good bands that I listen to, any of them who had a mainstream crossover did it with a song that wasn’t even their best. If you listen to Devo, that song (‘Whip It’) is one of the worst songs they ever wrote so it’s like a real fluke that it became so big. I’m more worried about people liking our albums, you can’t think about making hits or it’s not genuine any more.”

The new album also gave Ditto and her band a chance to work with a musical icon, “Rick Rubin is the most musically amazing and interesting people I’ve ever met. It’s rare that you meet someone who is so versatile but if you think of his status in the music world and the way he holds it blows your mind. He’s super down to earth, all about spirituality and the earth and how you connect to each other and he really brings that to the music by knowing it’s all a process that applies to each band and I think that’s why he has worked with so many different bands.”

With tabloid notoriety and a bona-fide chart smash under her arm Beth Ditto became a larger than life figure in the public eye speaking from the eye of the storm did it ever feel like Gossip and music were being put behind labels like ‘lesbian’ and ‘overweight’? “I don’t think I’m a purist that way, we all have genuine interest in things away from the band and music. Some labels were a source of pride in the scene we came from, it was important to be known as a queer band or on a Riot Grrl label and I think the mainstream doesn’t understand that as much. So when people come up to us and are like 'It should be the music first man' we’re kind of like 'well OK' because there’s so much other stuff to think about, we’re not serious in that sense.”

As a band that live under the queer moniker how does something like Proposition 8 make you feel? “It’s obvious that we’re in the middle of a civil right battle for sure. The idea of this whole group of people being told they can’t do something, it’s like the 60’s- separate but equal. What it comes down to is it’s just not fucking fair. It’s a really intense time. If anything happened to me tomorrow my partner of eight years wouldn’t have any say in what happened to me even though they know me better than anyone else."

Beth continues: "My family are very understanding but if they weren’t, as is so often the case, if your family didn’t want you to be gay and anything happened to you they could just erase any history you had and the relationships you made just because they didn’t agree and there is no law to back up the gay person in that situation. Think about how deep that is. There needs to be a paper trail of who a person is and it’s something I think about a lot and it affects me a great deal. ”

Does America under Obama feel like a more optimistic place? “I think Obama is really rad and he’s doing his best. Rome wasn’t built in a day so it can’t be taken down in one either. It’s great that he is working on healthcare, it’s so important and I know people are wanting him to move on economic reform but healthcare is one of the reasons he was elected in the first place, I just worry that foreign policy is going to get in the way. Domestically at least things feel very positive. The very fact that we have an African-American President gives me hope for the society that we live in.”

Beth Ditto is intelligent, passionate and articulate. You can take the girl out of the underground but you can never take the underground out of the girl.