Beth Ditto is crouched on a dilapidated toilet in a leopard print dress, holding back tears in her full face of makeup. Black lacy undies around her thighs, she lights a slim cigarette, as her voice coos: “Situations occur when romance is a blur, it happens all the time / Send me a saviour.” Then, her eyes steel; she plucks the cig from her mouth, dashes it in the bowl of piss and flushes the toilet, ready to start fresh.
This is how Gossip officially announced their return to music – it’s been a while, hasn’t it? Eleven years have flown by since the band last released their record ‘A Joyful Noise’ in 2012. In the aftermath, the trio of Beth Ditto (vocals), Nathan Howdeshell (various instruments) and Hannah Blilie (drums) parted ways amongst tumultuous circumstances.
Howdeshell moved back to Arkansas, the hometown he and Ditto spent their teenage years desperately trying to escape. During that time, he became a born-again Christian, something the atheist Ditto found difficult to deal with. At the same time, Ditto divorced her childhood friend and wife of 5 years; her father passed away, and then the pandemic hit.
Eventually, the band began to find their way back to each other. In 2019, the band reunited for a 10th anniversary tour of their Rick Rubin-produced record ‘Music For Men’; Ditto and Rubin tentatively began to make a new record at his home studio in Kauai. Intended to be a solo Beth Ditto record, she asked Howdeshell to play on the album. Slowly but surely, the album felt less like a solo project and more like a Gossip record, until Ditto couldn’t fight the inevitable: Gossip had returned.
Ahead of their forthcoming album ‘Real Power’ (March 22), Ditto sat down with NME to talk about Gossip’s reunion, recording with Rick Rubin, and how they came to accidentally soundtrack seminal TV show Skins.
NME: Take us back to when you first decided you wanted to make this album.
Beth Ditto: “Well, I was doing a record with Rick Rubin in Hawaii. It sounds fancy, but it felt like being on a homestead. It was really cute and charming. The electricity would go out a lot and we’d have to run off a generator. And then there wasn’t really a vocal booth, we had to build one that was kind of like a makeshift one. It’s not what you would think. It wasn’t like this grand studio, so it was really cool that way.
“I really wanted Nathan to play on that record because I was going to do a solo record. There was one day Nathan was playing something. I looked at Rick and I was like: “I can’t decide if this should be a Beth record or a Gossip record”. He was just like, it should be a Gossip record. If Nathan wasn’t on it, it would have been different.
“That’s the beauty of working with people you’ve known for so long. There’s no glamorous story, you just go: okay. It was just like when we broke up, there was no falling out. Nathan and I have a really deep history, because we grew up together. There’s not a very big… What do you call it?”
There’s no drama. There’s no gossip.
“Yeah (laughs). That’s the thing – everybody’s got their own dumb personalities, but there’s not a lot of drama. And if there is, I try not to feed it.”
What were the reasons that you and Gossip broke up in the first place?
“It got really hard to get people to care about it, people are going through their own things. It’s hard to change and become a person on your own. When you’re in a creative relationship like a band, bands do feel like marriages.
“Gossip is the longest relationship I’ve ever had and the longest job I’ve ever had. And it’s the reason why I’ve ever travelled, it was the only band I was ever in and everything. So it’s hard to let yourself grow and be independent and you really become co-dependent on people because everything that you do is based on other people. We needed space to deal with our shit.”
Around the time of making this record, you had two very similar situations. You had the break up with Nathan, and we went through your own divorce. So did you kind of find parallels between those two situations and did they come together to create this music that you’re talking about now?
“Yeah, of course, you can’t separate them. When you go through a divorce, and especially because she and I were friends for so long, we were best friends, and all of a sudden, that person is gone? That’s the saddest part of it. That whole history is gone – if you’re on the terms that we are, we don’t speak. That sucks.
“You go through these cycles in life every few years where you start to really look at who your friends are and what trust really means to you and what you need out of a community or relationship. It made me realise how special Nathan and I were, even if other people don’t see it. We speak a language all our own, and it’s beautiful because we will not talk for months and we’ll just text each other stupid shit.
“Nathan’s love language is jokes. You know he’s thinking about you when he just sends you the dumbest shit. It’s great! People don’t always understand that about him, I think he’s a very, very weird person. A naturally weird person. I could talk to people, Nathan? I’ve seen him do the most hilarious shit.
“One time, I think it was some German TV show, Lenny Kravitz had come backstage and we were talking. This is one of my favourite Nathan stories of all time. Nathan barged through the door, saw Lenny Kravitz and said: “Ohhhh, I thought you said Lemmy!” and walked out. That really happened.”
How did Lenny react?
“I don’t even think he realised what happened. He just does shit like that, he’s just that kind of person. He’s gotten better about it – well, I mean, honestly who cares. But it was so fucking funny. That kind of energy I missed, too, because we really thrive well in chaos. And I missed that.
You’ve had such a storied relationship with the UK over your career, especially because ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’ soundtracked one of our most beloved TV shows, Skins.
“I’ve never seen that TV show.”
I also heard that Gossip didn’t actually give permission to use the song for Skins?
“The person who owned the label got it onto the TV show. When I heard what the name of the show was, I lost my shit because ‘skins’ meant skinhead. I was like, What the fuck? What?! But then I learned what it meant here. It got lost in translation.
So you thought it was going to be used for a right-wing fascist show?
“The first thing I thought was like, “Who the fuck thought of this? Like, whose idea is that?” It freaked me out. I was so mad, I was livid. It’s a teenage drama… about what?
In the past you said: “A good producer is like a good therapist and Rick is an amazing therapist.” Did that still hold true when you made this album?
“People say he’s a guru, and I’m like – yes. To some people, he would be, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. He has a very good understanding of people. And to me, he sees what their potential is. He has good intuition – he’s a Pisces, so am I. For better or worse, he has a strong opinion and a strong vision.
“I went to this psychiatrist, and she was so expensive – like, ridiculously expensive. She didn’t take insurance, it was quarantine, I was really, really not doing okay. She put me on so much medicine, and I was in Hawaii with Rick. He was like, “what is going on with you? You are not yourself, something is different.” I was like, “Actually… I’ve gotten all this medicine.”
“He was like, “I don’t think that this is what is really going on with you. If I make you an appointment with a different doctor, will you talk to them and get a second opinion?” I was like, “I don’t know where to go, I don’t know where to start.” He was like, “Do you need help, and if you want help, will you take it?” I was like – absolutely.
“That doctor got me off everything. I was on so much of this one kind of antidepressant that you weren’t supposed to be on that high of a dose. It was crazy. But Rick did that, you know? There’s like a loving care about him, that’s what it is. People say guru, but for me, there is more love. I feel a lot of love from him and I love him very much.”
New single – album title track ‘Real Power’ is out on the 19th Jan
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