Beth Ditto Takes Control
There must’ve been moments in their life when Gossip thought their musical career would simply continue apace – an indie album, a DIY touring schedule, another indie album, rinse and repeat. Instead, Gossip became stars.
'Standing In The Way Of Control', taken form the album of the same name, took Gossip to stratospheric heights. It catapulted what was ostensibly an underground band, inspired by the likes of Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre, to mainstream success. In the process, it saw vocalist Beth Ditto become a celebrity in her own right – her naked body adorned the covers of magazines and she made no attempts to hide her sexual persuasion, or her opinion.
“I used to be like, 'I want to do things the punk way', 'I want to do things the ethical way',” she opines, “and then I started to question what punk and ethics even meant to me. And then I was like, ‘you know what? Being punk to me means being able to take care of people who took care of me’,” Beth concludes.
Part of the change in the band’s fortunes was the decision to allow the UK TV hit 'Skins' to utilise 'Standing in the Way of Control' as a musical bed for their advertisements, a move that cemented the band’s stature here and in the UK.
“Sometimes you don’t know how your music is used in some countries,” she says, “and people will say ‘I heard your song on this’ and you’ll be like ‘WHAT?!’, and you’ll have no idea. People think the world’s a lot bigger than it really is and it’ll never get back to you, and we didn’t even give 'Skins' permission to use our songs; our label did. We found out about it in an interview. I thought that meant ‘skinhead’ because that’s what ‘skins’ means in the US, and I almost lost my mind,” she giggles. “What’s really funny about that is that I was RELIEVED to find out that it was about 14 year olds having sex and doing drugs.
“So a lot of things happen without your control. I know that we’re no Queen, or anything like that, but there’s something amazing about the idea of jocks being at a club and grinding their girlfriend to 'Standing in the Way of Control'. It’s the ultimate revenge – it’s like 'We Are the Champions' being the number one used song at any sports event ever. It makes me very happy.”
That sunny disposition has found its way onto the new album, 'Music For Men'. The overall theme is very much upbeat and 'pop' with many of the songs as dancefloor ready as 'Standing in the Way of Control'.
“I think that we’ve always been a band where that was a really major focus for us,” Beth argues. “The first record we made in 1999, 2000, whatever, it literally says ‘thanks to all the kids who dance and no thanks to the kids that don’t’. We’ve always wanted to inspire movement inside of people. It sounds really silly but we’ve always wanted to be one of those bands that you felt comfortable enough to have fun with. I really do think that there’s a ‘cool complex’ that happens between a band and an audience and I don’t ever want to feel that – I want people to feel welcome and have fun. So we carried that over into this record, for sure.”
Prior to its release, fans of the original album weren't sure what to expect. Part of the reason for that was the group's jump from indie label to major and drafting of Rick Rubin as producer.
“It sounds like a Gossip record, I think,” Beth shrugs. “It’s different to the last one and it kind of succeeds in what we wanted to do with it, which is to make a grown up record with a budget, with someone who has the patience to deal with us, which was definitely Rick Rubin. He was very patient with us.”
Rubin is rightly regarded as one of the best producers in the world, ever, and to work with him was – as you’d expect – an absolute thrill for the band. Legends don’t come knocking for just any band.
“He’s one of the few people who are famous for being good at what they actually do,” she says. “Rick Rubin is a genius at what he does and I saw it with my own eyes. It was one of the most amazing things that was ever said to me while making a record: I was nervous, it was the second day, I’d left my lyric notebook at home, we had to get it FedEx’d from Portland to L.A. the next day … and I was like ‘what’s our process? I need to know our process’, and he was like, ‘well, we’ll know when we’re finished'. And all the anxiety was gone.”