In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Beth Ditto, fresh from reuniting Gossip for a series of live shows to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the band's album ‘Music For Men’.
1: You famously posed naked for an iconic 2007 NME cover…
Beth Ditto: (Interrupting) “I’m always naked!”
…But which indie frontman recreated the shot a few months later?
“Oh god, I don’t know who he was but it was amazing! He was from a British band. How do I put this without being insensitive? His hairline was not enormous – he did not have a lot of hair. I can see it in my mind. Who was it?”
WRONG. It was Eddie Argos from Art Brut.
“(Laughs) Oh yeah! So cool! I loved it so much. Beautiful man.”
For a bonus half-point, you topped the NME Cool List in 2006…
“Is that 13 years ago now? I could have a 13 year old child!”
…Can you name any artists who were in the Top 10?
“In my defence, I never looked at it because I was in America and it was a much less connected world back then. I want to say Lovefoxxx because I remember thinking: that’s a damn shame – she’s so much cooler than me!”
CORRECT. CSS frontwoman Lovefoxxx placed at number 10. You could have also had The Horrors’ Faris Badwan (Number 2), Lily Allen (3), Jarvis Cocker (4), Karen O (5), Kieren Webster of The View (6), Kate Jackson from The Long Blondes (7), My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way (8) or Thom Yorke (9).
2: Who did Gossip support at their first ever gig?
“Our first ever show was probably Zombie Beat”.
CORRECT. Which was Boy Pussy USA’s Halloween incarnation.
“(Laughs) Which was just Nathan [Howdeshell, Gossip multi-instrumentalist]’s band. Zombie Beat was such comedy. He was this mad scientist wearing a lab coat and my best friend Jeri was a zombie playing drums. The audience weren’t supposed to clap because it would upset the monster. My job was to be the plant in the audience and clap really loudly, like, ‘I can’t help it! I love this so much!’, and be attacked by the monster. We couldn’t find ketchup packets for blood – all we could get were Taco Bell hot sauce sachets and none of us thought about it. So he bit into the packet and it burst onto my face and it was like being pepper sprayed! (Laughs)”
And now the Gossip are reuniting for the first time live since 2012 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of your album ‘Music For Men’…
“I’m back, baby! The whole reunion thing feels silly because Gossip have always taken a long time between records. ’Standing In The Way of Control’ was a life-changing song in the UK, but it didn’t go anywhere else, whereas in Europe, ‘Music For Men’ went crazy-big. It’s more nostalgia than anything. We’re reuniting our old crew as well – it’s going to be hysterical – full of farts and old people (Laughs). I keep joking we should call the next album ‘Music For Moms’.”
“The Gossip reunion tour is going to be hysterical – full of farts and old people”
3: Complete the following lyrics: ‘Black and red look so good on you/And your walk makes me believe you…’
“Hold on, is that Jet? No? IT’S NOT ONE OF MINE! Oh, it’s a song I’m on? ‘Temptation’? I don’t know!”
WRONG. It was ‘A Rose By Any Name’, your 2013 collaboration with Blondie. The rest of the lyrics are: ‘Lipstick, rings are on my fingers/Want the night to always linger’…
“Nooooooo! (Laughs) What’s funny is sadly I never got to play it live with them so I sung it once and it was done. The other thing is I never listen to music I’m on. Debbie Harry told me this really cool thing once – and when she says it you listen. I was talking about make-up and she said in a serious, thick New York accent: “Always do your own make-up!”. I was like: ‘Oh my God, that’s genius!’. Then thought: Well… I have to!”.
Didn’t you meet her and George Michael together at Lovebox?
“That story is so emo! I bawled my eyes out when I met him. ‘Cos he’s such a big deal and doesn’t get the credit he deserves for what he went through as a queer artist. Him coming out was such a slow leak, and it wasn’t an easy time to be a gay man in pop culture – even though pop culture in the ‘80s was so fucking gay! Then of course being busted for cruising which is absolutely queer male culture. He was an icon that never really gets credit.”
4: In 2012, which comedian did you dance with while performing ‘Perfect World’ on French television?
CORRECT. Close enough – it was Sacha Baron Cohen in his General Aladeen guise.
“That was so funny! We looked each other in eyes and we were both trying not to laugh. He was in his Castro-like character from The Dictator the entire time. That was a wild time. And at Cannes! I remember George Clooney was there and thinking, ‘If I see him, God help us all!’.
5: ‘Standing In The Way of Control’ became ubiquitous in the UK when a Soulwax remix of the song was used to promote E4’s Skins. Can you name any of the first generation of Skins characters?
“I never watched it. I was American and this was pre-Netflix. When I grew up, Skins meant skinheads so I was initially mortified, like ‘How dare they put my song on a show about skinheads?!’.
WRONG. You could have had: Tony, Sid, Michelle, Cassie, Chris, Maxxie, Jal or Anwar. The lyrics of the song were a howl of righteous anger against Republican politicians who opposed same-sex marriage….
“Honestly, it’s worse now. It’s worse because we’ve had this recognition of who we are and we’re on record for being who we are, and it may sound paranoid but fascism starts somewhere and we’re in a really frightening place. I feel it, it’s in the air, this growing hostility and violence. And in the UK, trans people are having a really hard time from TERFS [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] – a TERF is a cis-female, mostly lesbians, who are anti-trans men, and so that’s happening too. They’re getting it from all sides and it’s like shut up! I have no respect for TERFs.”
6: What happened to you the first time you went to Gossip bandmate Nathan’s house?
“Was I shot at by his dad while he was wasted and driving a golf cart?”
“Did we throw bottle rockets in the barn full of hay during the summer? Yes we did!”
He found God and moved back to Arkansas…
“That’s one of the reasons we broke up. I just felt like I had nothing left to give him. I felt betrayed – not because of the God thing, more the part about moving back. Like ever since Gossip’s been together, he’s always moved somewhere then came back which is fine. But this time I felt his ability to move back to Arkansas and be a thriving living person was such an insult to me because that’s something – as a queer person and a woman – that I can’t do.”
7: You dueted with Duran Duran on ‘Notorious’…
“Oh my God, I did not know the words!”
…Name the other guests at their ‘David Lynch Unstaged’ show.
“Hmmn, David Lynch? Mark Ronson – because he asked me to do it. That was a whirlwind trip because I kept saying no, then it got to the outrageous point where they flew me on private jet to just go and sing for those few minutes. I took my neighbour who’s eight years older than me and a prime Duran Duran fan and she lost her mind! We left that night and it was so crazy I missed a lot of that show.”
“Kelis was there?! How did I miss that? (Sings) ‘I hate you so much right now!’! Listen, I am so mad I missed her that night.”
8: Can you name either the window cleaning, cat groomer or building firms in the ‘Get A Job’ video?
“(Laughs) No, I cannot. I just hung out with Prince James – who directed the video – yesterday.”
WRONG. It’s Pane In The Glass, Paws For Thought, Frank’s Erections or Hammer Time. You worked with Girls Aloud hitmakers Xenomania on that record. What was that period like?
“It was a bleak time. One, we fell out with Mark Ronson and that was really hard. Everything’s fine now, but I had a dispute with him. I pulled the record out from under him. And I wasn’t very nice, honestly. But I wasn’t in a very good headspace – my dad had died and I was not living my best life. I’d moved to London to make the record, was alone and wasn’t taking very good care of myself. A big part of it was I couldn’t finish lyrics very quickly – it’s not my strong suite – so I was feeling very frustrated and I felt like he wanted them to come quicker. That made me feel bad about myself and I took it out on him. Listen, I can own my junk! Working with Xenomania was pretty crazy because they’re a music factory with 20 people working on one song – so I liked being there, even if I mainly remember being sad.”
9: Who once refused to sign your dollar bill?
“Oh, Bill Clinton!”
CORRECT. He claimed it was illegal to autograph currency.
“I was six years old. I had a burn on my cheek because my dad threw a cigarette out of the window and it hit me in the face when I was riding in the back of the truck. It was a dad weekend – so my dad didn’t give a shit what I was wearing (Laughs). My mom turned up to the event and was like: ‘What the hell is going on around here?! The governor’s coming!’, looking at my hair just blowing around in the wind. It probably looked like I didn’t have parents and lived under a bridge!”
10: Which three tracks does ‘Music For Men’ reference/sample?
“I don’t know! (Laughs) Tell me! I’m excited!”
WRONG. ‘Love Long Distance’ references ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’ by The Slits…
“(Singing) ‘Heard it through the bassline/Not much longer would you be my baby’. It was our shout-out!”
“Oh yeah! I forgot about that!”
“Oh my God, good job! I never listen to myself. And apart from ‘I Heard It Through The Bassline’, we don’t do that stuff live. I don’t think we’ve even played the ‘Push It’ one once.”
Will there be any new music from the Gossip reunion?
“I don’t know! Once I’d made a solo record and it was so fun, free and awesome, so I don’t know if any will happen Also, I haven’t seen Nathan in about five or six years. I have a strong feeling once we get together, it’ll be exactly the same and like nothing ever happened.”
The verdict: 4.5/10
“I’m shocked! I bet the people who get 10/10 are so cocky! They think they’re sooo smart! I’m proud of myself because I bet not everyone is doing it over a 13 year span of time!”
Gossip play SWG3 Galvanisers Yard, Glasgow on July 19; Manchester Academy on July 20 and London Somerset House on July 21.