"Did I turn this into a big gay interview?"
Given I've been folding my boyfriend's briefs throughout our conversation, I don't think Gossip's Beth Ditto has anything to worry about on that front. After trading laundry tips (she prefers a hypo-allergenic lavender sachet to dryer sheets) and exchanging a few domestic philosophies ("If you are the one who is good at the laundry, you should be the one doing the laundry"), we move from the seriously gay to the serious and gay. It's not an unusual trajectory for Ditto, who practically came up on coming out.
"I've never been a person who could just make music for no reason," she says over the phone from LA. "There's got to be some substance." Those already familiar with Ditto's voice — a soulful, scowling, rapturous howl — might contend she could sing a freecreditreport.com jingle and still sound as if she were spouting gospel, but there's always been meat on her band's bones.
When they formed, in 1999, watching the Gossip (back then, it was "the") was like witnessing a volatile reaction to everything in reach. Their feminist riot-blues were at unfashionable odds with the wave of Strokes-y don't-care-core that was just starting to overwhelm everything. Their dykey leanings ("Where the Girls Are") were like an unapologetic PDA in front of a culture still blushing over Jill Sobule and Will Truman. And even within the band itself, Ditto's fabulous amplitude (in every sense) raged amid their Spartan scratch. Nine years ago, there was no reason to think about this band in any terms upstairs from the basement.
"It's a different world out there," Ditto says. In the course of one decade, four albums (not counting 2007's RMXD), as many EPs, and world tours galore, Gossip's sound has transitioned from the soul-stirring lo-fi tirades of 2001's That's Not What I Heard to the mixtape-plundering, post-punk anthems of their 2006 breakthrough, Standing in the Way of Control (both on Kill Rock Stars), to the crisp minimal revival disco of this year's Rick Rubin—produced Music for Men (Columbia).
Along the way, Ditto's role within the band — and the intensity with which she inhabits it show after show — has remained much the same. What's changed is who she's become outside the band. An unusual blessing (or burden) of the successful, out-and-proud homo on the world stage is role-modelhood. Whereas some (I love you George Michael, but you understand) might not be cut out for such extra-curricular responsibilities, it's a role Ditto seems born to play.
"I feel like some people can handle it and hang with it, and some can't. But I also don't feel like you should have to handle it — it doesn't make you a bad person to not want to be identified as some 'Queer Artist.' I completely understand that. But with me, I just can't turn it off."
Ditto and company haven't been on tour in the US in more than two years, and she's kind of freaking out. She doesn't read reviews, probably won't read this article, and has "no idea how to gauge this one." Whereas Music for Men has gone gold in Europe ("I tell my mom we're bigger than Hasselhoff over there"), it remains to be seen whether her stateside faithful will fussily hear its major-label remix-ready gloss as a betrayal of the band's roots or whether they'll instead wrench their heads from their asses and try to do more dancing to awesome music and less grousing about selling out.