Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on May 8th 2008 5:00PM by Jessica Robertson
It's the first taste of spring in New York City and Ditto, along with her Gossip bandmates -- Nathan Howdeswell (aka Brace Paine) and Hannah Blilie -- are in a meeting on the 25th floor of their new label home, Columbia Records. The band have just released a live CD/DVD, titled 'Gossip: Live in Liverpool,' and, at the moment, is in the throes of promotion for the effort. It's been a successful weeklong stay in the city -- if not frenzied -- for the band, who capped the previous day with an appearance on 'David Letterman.' "I want to rent a van and drive across country with you guys," the gap-toothed host said to Ditto, following the band's performance of the anthemic 'Standing in the Way of Control.' This, too, isn't a surprise.
"After we played 'David Letterman,' my whole family ... the text messages and the phone calls just rolled in," Ditto, dressed in a knee-length, multicolored sheer frock, tells Spinner in her girlish Southern drawl. "I don't think they really knew what was going on until ['Letterman']. I don't think things were clear for them."
By "things," Ditto -- an uncensored, openly gay rabble-rouser who takes her cues from the riot grrrls before her -- is, of course, referring to her band's ascent from the dirt-poor Bible Belt to, well, magazine covers, sold-out tours, major-label record deals and coveted late-night TV appearances. But those successes, while laudable, are mere sidebars to Ditto's mission: social consciousness by any means necessary. Whether she's combating sexism, size-ism, homophobia or any other number of social injustices, including Paris Hilton's inexplicable fame, one thing is certain: Beth Ditto does give a f---.
The live album is your first for a major label, and one headed by Rick Rubin, no less. How did you find that experience?
I've had the idea of doing a live album since we've been a band because everyone always says great things here and there, like, "I can't stand the Gossip on record but I would love to go see them." We weren't ready to put out another record. So, writing -- it wasn't time. Rick Rubin really caught on to the [live album] idea and held onto it. Before we knew it, we were in Liverpool and there were trucks. But we never saw [Rick] during the process. We met him and he was really sweet and very nice. He's an amazing person. He talked about obscure piano players and gave me some prayer beads. He told us about not being vegan anymore because in order to be healthy, you need to eat fish. [Laughs] As far as the record, went we didn't work closely with him at all. But we trusted him.
One of the songs, 'Standing in the Way of Control' is in response to the U.S. government's opposition to gay marriage. What about gay marriage is so threatening?
That's a really good question. I think there are a lot of religions that are really threatened by it. The powers that be ... if you start to recognize it as a real thing, you legitimize it and validate it. It kind of debunks Christianity. But that's such a good question. It's gonna take a long time for it to unfold in my brain.
Should it be legalized, would you ever get married?
I don't think so. Wearing the dress sounds really nice, but I don't think so. I've been with the same person for a really long time. [Marriage] is just a lot to live up to. And leaving something open -- not an open relationship but not having a label for it -- sounds really nice.
You recently posed nude on the cover of NME. Describe what you were feeling during that shoot.
I was on my period. I always have my period when we do naked things. [Laughs] Always. When I came out, I got really nervous because all of a sudden I felt really vulnerable. But after that, it just went away. I didn't care anymore. It's not the first time I've been naked in a magazine.
How did your family react to the cover?
They don't know what NME is! [Laughs] Hastings is the only place you can buy magazines and I'm sure they didn't see it because Hastings took Gossip records off the shelves ... and we're from that town.
Have you always felt comfortable with your size?
I used to say that no, I didn't. Sometimes, you feel uncomfortable but then you look around and realize it's not you -- it's what other people project onto you. It's not really how you feel about yourself; it's the way the world makes you feel. It's not even a real emotion, but it definitely affects you. When I was a little kid it was really hard for me. One day you're a cute, chubby kid, but then you get boobs and your mom realizes it's not baby fat. You start to feel a lot of weird pressure. There were times in junior high when I'd say, "When I get older I'll be thin." I thought it would go away.
But then high school came and I got into riot grrrl. My best friend, Jay, was also this fat gay boy. I would watch 'Jerry Springer' and there would be fat girls in bathing suits, and I would be like, "Gross!" And [Jay] would be like, "Who cares?" It was the first time I was ever like, "Oh, yeah. I don't really think it's gross. I've just been told that it's gross. I have that body. Why would I think it was gross?" It was just very deep. Some days you wake up and you're like, "Oh, God, it would be a lot easier to be in a different body." But I think everybody feels that way, no matter what body they have.
So much focus is placed on your body, which inevitably leads to discussions of what is and/or isn't sexy. What do you find attractive?
Number one for me is sense of humor -- whether someone can make you laugh. Food is pretty amazing. So is sex and friendship. Style is important ... if you can dress. And not necessarily trendy, but have your own jam. But they're not as important as laughing.
How does it feel for you to be changing the indie rock canon away from the traditionally skinny, straight and white male-fronted model?
We never identified with the indie scene. We always identified ourselves with punk music more ... dance music, soul music. Indie means "independent," and all of a sudden it became a genre. You can be an indie band on a major label -- it's such an oxymoron. Sonically, I don't feel attached to the word "indie." But I don't feel insulted by it, either.
But how often do you find that a man's body is discussed, rather than their music?
I know! If that could change, the world would be a better place and music could actually be good. TV single-handedly ruined good music. Bessie Smith could never be a star now. Aretha Franklin could never be what she was, now. It's the image -- everybody looks really cool, everybody looks amazing. It's the image that people needed to sell to keep TV alive. That's why indie scenes -- punks scenes -- exist, because it's a rebellion against that idea. I feel like bringing up the body is using sexism to my advantage. It's good to get that conversation started. Even amongst feminists, people would be like, "Don't you think [posing nude] is a new kind of sexism?" And I'm like, "Well, at least it's new." I guess it could be the old sexism and we could be the old feminists. But new means change, and change leaves room for dialogue.
Many who are, in fact, feminists, choose not to label themselves as such due to the word's connotations. You, however, proudly wear that label.
With our age group, it's like a dirty word. But it always was a dirty word. You have to think about the women who have gotten beat up and who were excluded from entire waves of art because they were feminists. We should realize that the struggle is very much the same as it always was. Sexism is still alive.
Recently, [guitarist] Nathan called me and was like, "Don't pick up the newspaper. There's a review it's so bad. I think it really is personally attacking you." It was supposed to be a record review but it was a total diss. One of the things that Nathan said was written about was how there are only girls at the shows, which is a negative thing? You can hate my guts, you can hate the Gossip, you can do whatever you want. But it looks bad on your skill as a record reviewer. You're not reviewing the record, you're reviewing something else. At the end of the day, it doesn't say anything about me -- it says everything about you. You know that they don't know you. You know that that's not the way it is. Nothing has changed. It's just a shame that the same s--- is repeating itself. It reminds me of that Bikini Kill song that was nothing but a review of their show. I come from a place where I get to be in the wake of [riot grrrl] in an amazing way, but you have to remember what those girls went through. We're talking about physical violence. Feminism is something you can actually be with. It's a great way to deflect social bulls--- that was put on you because you were born a girl. It's way older than me, it's way older than us, and it's going to continue.
Pictures of you and Kate Moss hanging out surfaced, prompting accusations of "selling out." How does that sit with you?
"Sellout" is a really stupid and outdated word. It's so interesting because I can hang out with the punk scene and get the exact same feeling that I get from supermodels. It's whether or not you use the game sometimes. If I had sold out, I would have taken that picture for the Gap that I was offered. At a certain point, people use their bodies to make a living. Some people get plastic surgery. Some people starve themselves. I feel like Kate Moss is extremely supportive of me. She's a badass woman who does not give a s--- what anyone thinks of her. Imagine how many times that woman has been called a bitch. I've met bitches, and she's not one. She's assertive and gets what she wants, and she makes a lot of money, but she's not a bitch. She reminds me of my sister. That's something I always really admired of my big sister -- she didn't take "no" for an answer. She didn't give a s---. She'd tell you, "I don't f---ing care." I like that. But, at the same time, I do see why people would say ["sellout"]. I just don't give a f---.