At heart, Beth Ditto’s an ‘80s gal. With her full-time gig as the lead singer of Gossip, she’s channeled her inner-riot grrrl to become one of the more bolder musicians of the last 10 years. But she digs herself some Madonna and Boy George, too. Ditto recently teamed with British club-duo Simian Mobile Disco for a self-titled EP that recasts her into a new, dance context. And she still thrives.
Hive caught up with her for a few minutes while she was relaxing at her home in Portland, Oregon, to find out what she thinks of taking a break from her “co-dependent relationship” with her Gossip band mates, working with Rick Rubin and the latest women’s rights debacles from around the U.S.
You’re a fairly global musician and dance music certainly holds worldwide appeal. Have you found or anticipated a different reaction internationally to this EP than what you’re used to with Gossip?
I feel like it’s the moment of the remix. It has been the past 10 years. So I feel like most things get turned into dance grooves eventually. Every single band that I can think of gets somehow remixed into a dance song. Those are the songs that always did really well for Gossip.
How does it change the way that you approach making music when you’re working with people that you haven’t known since you were a teenager?
It’s a co-dependent relationship after a while, when it’s your main thing. Gossip is the longest standing relationship I’ve ever had. It’s the longest creative partnership I’ve ever had. All of those things. So when you step outside of that comfort zone, especially if you’re a singer and you can’t play anything … I cannot play. I can play G and E-minor on a guitar, and then I’m not even sure if my fingers are in the right place. So, when you’ve grown up together, literally grown up together, in the same band, and then it’s like, all of a sudden you’re adopted by a different band that speak a completely different language. You have to learn a completely different way to communicate musically with people. I can’t tell you what an octave is, I can’t tell you what a key is, I can’t tell you what a note is. So to go from that to people who have really good musical language – it can be really challenging.
You said you guys don’t know how to read music and stuff like that, and this record opened you up to some more possibilities there. But you worked with Rick Rubin on the last Gossip album. How was that different for you?
It’s completely different. Everybody has their own style. Everybody has their own approach to making a record. Some people have a vision beforehand, some people don’t have a vision at all, and some people just have a vision once they’ve seen your material or whatever. And Gossip really goes into it visionless and just kind of sees what happens, and Rick works that way too, which is really nice. And one of the best things – I was really nervous going into the studio with Rick, like, “What’s our approach here?” And Rick was like, “Well, we’ll know when we’re finished what the approach was.” And that’s was the most perfect answer for me because that’s the way that we always approach things in Gossip. But with the EP, I wanted to use a part of my voice that I’ve never been able to really use with Gossip, to get out of that comfort zone.
I think so, yeah. I mean, it definitely could fit into that. I really love the cool freedom that there was in the ‘80′s. I really loved that, and the coolest parts of the ‘90′s were really just free and really open. Nothing will ever be as radical as ‘80s pop culture was in the mainstream. I mean of course in the underground, there always will be something even more radical and exciting but that was such an exciting time for pop culture. There’s something about turning on the television and seeing someone like Boy George. That just really can’t exist again, but that spirit is really exciting.
Right now, you’ve got Planned Parenthood threatened with being defunded. There are laws being contemplated by states like Georgia that would investigate women for murder if they have a miscarriage. 60% of abortion clinics were closed in Virginia practically overnight recently. Is this the worst time to be a woman ever?
No! No, I think it’s what comes with being a feminist and with being a woman – you’re always going to be faced with battles, and ups and downs, especially with our rights. I think the idea of female empowerment – you’re always going to be faced with challenges because it’s a fairly new idea in the grand scheme of time. Even though it feels like the struggle should be over, we are still in a serious battle that will continue for a long time, until it is normal that people accept that these are basic needs for us, for women – not just for feminists but for women. And not just for women but for society. I think that’s the only way that someone like me can look at it because if you don’t, you’ll get discouraged. You can’t see it as a failure – you have to see it as part of the struggle.