3 years ago Gossip burst seemingly out of nowhere to land on the planet’s dancefloors with one propulsive anthem, ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’, and a whole other sack of sass.
Fronting gossip is Beth Ditto – the firebrand with a muscular voice and attitude to match – with drummer Hannah Blilie and guitarist Brace Paine fleshing out the rest of it. Together, the trio manages a sound that fuse the band dance music with their own understated punk roots – the results of which have been teaching punks, indie kids and your mama how to dance again.
Gossip’s beginnings go way back to the Arkansas underground (alumni: Bikini Kill, Nirvana, Beat Underground) in 1999. Scoring an education from the scene’s punk, riotgrrl and DIY ethic, Beth, Brace and then-drummer Kathy knocked up their own brand of garage, punk and blues. Indie label K Records was suitably captivated to release the band’s debut EP, with Kill Rock Stars dropping its subsequent albums. Of those came Standing In The Way Of Control, which refined Gossip’s garage blues stomp and distinctively, incorporated a dance edge. You already know what happened next.
But as Gossip drew in bigger crowds and larger plaudits, these punks never once forgot where they came from or who they are. Not least Beth, who, as a feminist and homosexual, has been constantly outspoken on issues from same-sex marriage to her own weight. Even her penchant for playing gigs half-naked makes a point about healthy body image, in its own way.
Now, with their music leading the dance-punk trail and their frontwoman a veritable icon, Gossip have stepped up with a major label record deal and an album recorded alongside Rick Rubin (of Def Jam fame). Music For Men is set to be the band’s mega tour de force, an album with its grooves locked into disco, its limbs oiled with dance, and its heart and soul in the right place. Still on top of the game then, the dance floor radicals took time off their hit making to tell us what’s hot in Gossip.
Text Min Chen
Image & Interview Courtesy of Sony Music
Tell us a bit about Gossip’s lesser-known beginnings.
Beth Ditto: Well, Nathan [Brace’s real name] and I had moved to Olympia from Arkansas, because one time, Nathan’s bus driver ran off a cliff, ‘cos a child was showing the bus driver his switchblade. And those were the kinda things made you want to move out of Arkansas, as you fear for your life constantly.
Brace Paine: We only started the band in Olympia. We lived with Jerry and Kathy, our friends from Arkansas. And then, we started playing in the basement, me, Kathy and Beth.
Beth: That basement was haunted. And from that came the Gossip. We had about 4 songs. And Nathan – this still has not changed – would come home and say, “Oh. We’re playing a show. Tonight.” But we don’t have any songs or equipment. “Well that doesn’t matter!” So we’ll show up without any equipment and have no songs. We’d just make up songs and use them on other people, or we’d make up other people’s songs and use their equipment too.
So that’s how you started on the live circuit.
Brace: Yeah, the first Gossip show was actually at the Five Tinkle-lumbia…
Beth: Oh! Can I tell that story?! One of my favorite punk bands to this day is called The Need from Olympia. Punk did not make sense to me until I heard The Need. And Rachel Carns, their amazing drummer, was at our show. She kissed my hand and helped me off the stage, ‘cos I looked so clumsy on stage. And that was the moment I thought we had actually started a band.
Brace: We played a lot of house parties for a year.
Beth: Yeah, we played shows around Olympia just like everybody did. And then we did more shows elsewhere and we just thought, “It doesn’t get better than this”. We were all so happy. It was very exciting.
Then came ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’. What did that do for the band?
Beth: It was awesome ‘cos it was a big grown-up moment when we realised we could take ourselves seriously and that people would actually take us seriously. I think we had a really hard time taking ourselves seriously as a band. Our manager loves that about us. She’s like, “You guys can get a million dollars if you just do this”, and we’re like, “Um, nope … I’ve got to go and make a ball of yarn right now.”
Brace: After ‘SITWOC’ came out, we met this guy, Gill, who does Backyard and we really felt a connection with him ‘cos, you know…
Hannah Blilie: …he was the only person who cared!
Brace: Yeah, Gill was into remixes and the club culture that we were really excited about. So we signed with Backyard, and we got Soulwax to do a remix for ‘SITWOC’ 2 years after they said no.
And it seemed to really help when that song became theme song to Skins (UK teen drama).
Beth: Skins was the scariest moments of my life. Skins in the US means skinheads. So when we found out our song was gonna be used for a show called Skins, we almost lost our minds. I was really upset. Then we found out that it’s a show where 14-year-olds were having sex and doing drugs, and we were like, “Oh… phew”.
Hannah: But having the record on that show was what made it really popular. And it was a huge surprise. After that, we just started playing bigger and bigger shows, and even got invited to play proper music festivals. And we met Russell Crowe! He made me smell his armpit. He chain-smoked and he held his armpit into my face and made me smell it!
And now you’re working with Rick Rubin! Amazing!
Hannah: Yeah, Rick came to our show at the Troubadour and he was really into the party vibe of the show, and I’ve heard him say that he thought it was more like a celebration than a concert. He just really liked the energy of the band.
Beth: It was a great union.
Hannah: Yeah! He immediately makes you feel comfortable and validated in what you’re doing.
Beth: Not to mention, he’s fearless of human beings. And that, in the music industry, freaks me out because you just never know what you’re gonna get. It’s like a grab bag of egos or something: sometimes they’re great and sometimes they’re totally frightening. For the most part, I’m so surprised how great they’ve been. And Rick is just so down with your sh*t.
How do you feel, now that the band has made it?
Beth: “Made it” is a really weird phrase. It almost makes me feel crazy. The moment things got changing, it got weird all of a sudden, but it was just awesome.
Hannah: Yeah, especially moments like Glastonbury or the NME Cool List.
Brace: That’s something interesting about the UK magazines ‘cos American magazines would never do that. In America, the coolest #1s would be like Kings of Leon or U2.
Hannah: The UK embraced us and it was very shocking that they were so into a weird group of people on a mainstream level.
Speaking of NME, they infamously had Beth pose naked for one of their covers. How did that come about?
Beth: They had asked to do Gossip and we were like, “Sure”, and then they were like, “Oh actually, we would like to do Beth naked”, and we were like, “Oh”. And I had to really re-evaluate and think about what it was gonna be good for and what it was gonna mean for my feminist self or my punk existence. But it ended up being one of the best things for me: it was empowering. I’m really glad that I did it. I think it was funny – all the different, weird, crazy emotions people were feeling about it.
Brace: That unlocked a lot of things for a lot of people.
Beth: Yeah! And for me too! It was new. So yeah, that’s how it came about and then I quit the band to pursue a solo career, which didn’t go well and here I am! Back again! (Laughs)
Music For Men is now available on Sony Music at all good record stores. Go get it. Find out more at www.thegossipmusic.com.