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Cover interview: What's the gossip?

Their new album sees them in a more thoughtful mood, but pop’s most outspoken dykes, Beth Ditto and Hannah Blilie are still fighting their corner.

Words Charlotte Richardson Andrews, Photo Matthew Miles & Konrad Wyrebek

Wed, 09 May 2012 15:49:23 GMT | Updated 4 years today

This year sees queer pop band Gossip mark their 13th anniversary - not bad for a an underground DIY punk trio who started out in Olympia, Washington at the tail end of the 90s making a wild, gritty post-riot grrrl racket.


With five studio albums behind them, Gossip have risen to become a commercially successful mainstream pop act, releasing top charting albums and a breakthrough protest anthem, Standing In The Way Of Control; inimitable front-woman Beth Ditto owning her power as an adored icon for fashion, uninhibited self-expression and fat femme visibility.

While their past songs have posed a confrontational challenge to homophobia and regressive US legislation, their latest album, A Joyful Noise, concerns itself with self-empowerment of the emotional kind, an inwards looking personal-is-political stance very much reflected by the album cover, which sees Ditto subverting beauty and gender norms to positively disturbing effect.

DIVA talked to Beth about feminism, fat activism and why this album sees her embracing both her Arkansas accent and her inner monster, while dashing Gossip drummer Hannah Blilie shared her thoughts on evolving musicianship, owning her butch identity and the passion projects that keep her busy when not on the road with Gossip.

We also found out why the band often feel like the outsiders of the pop world, and why their growing fame and success makes them even more determined to maintain positive queer messages in their music.


DIVA: In the interim between 2009's Music For Men and new album A Joyful Noise, you recorded a solo EP with Simian Mobile Disco. What did it feel like regrouping creatively with Gossip after the break?

Beth: The EP was like having a permitted love affair, like I'm in a polyamorous relationship with my band mates. Playing shows for the EP was really lonely. I missed my music, and Nathan and Hannah and Chris [Gossip's touring bass player], so we started playing the EP songs in Gossip shows and that was the best of both worlds.

You said you and Mark Ronson, who helped with production on the album, bonded over a love of big church voices. Were you channeling anyone in particular? 

I was embracing the big churches voices but also the sweet, soft country voices. When I worked with Simian, they were like: "What if you do it softer, and draw back a little?" I'd never been asked that before - everybody normally wants my voice bigger and more powerful - and that was really fun, so I took what I learned from that and used it. 

Apparently ABBA were a big inspiration during the writing process. Did any other influences sneak into your orbit?

I listened to a lot of Loretta Lynn. She has an accent like mine, and I like the way that you can use your accent to manipulate words. In singing, you're usually discouraged from that, but I liked the idea of embracing it.

Despite its cheerful-sounding title, you've described this album as "grown up and sad". Can you elaborate on that paradox? 

The name comes from a Bible verse: "Make a joyful noise unto the lord". It feels really subversive using a Bible verse, but also funny.


To read the interview in full get hold of a copy of our June issue here

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