Ex-Gossip vocalist Beth Ditto returns with her debut solo album Fake Sugar. She spoke with STACK‘s Zoë Radas.
As the front woman of The Gossip, Beth Ditto projected something – ‘be yourself, and only yourself 24/7.’ She was undeniable, on stage, on record, in person. In the five years since the group ended, Ditto has been seen on runways modelling for Marc Jacobs, and started her own self-titled clothing line. Her debut solo album Fake Sugar started as a Gossip record, sans long-time collaborator Nathan Howdeshell. Recording, it became apparent the project would be Beth Ditto solo; the idea of The Gossip dissipating into history with the guitarist’s departure. “It just felt… damp, heavy – not the good kind of ‘heavy’.” she tells STACK. “But like we were in the rain wearing cover-all suits made of sponges. The light-hearted approach was always our happiness. When that was gone, the light was out.”
After a few years figuring out post-Gossip life – including marrying partner Kristen Ogata – Ditto again felt the pull of music, of unfinished business. She also felt she needed a sounding board, electing to work with established L.A. songwriter/producer Jennifer Decilveo – although this too was not without its sparks and hiccups. “It takes a certain skillset to argue without a fight. And she and I did it almost everyday!” says Ditto. “I need that kind of honesty! Someone who will go to the mat for their opinions. Because I would. Yes, people are difficult for me to figure out.”
Inevitably, life’s events – both in her own, and in the wider sense – impacted on the music. Go Baby Go is dedicated to late Suicide vocalist Alan Vega (a reference to his Dream Baby Dream), while In and Out delves into the vagaries of relationship dynamics when the stakes are high. But Ditto says it’s general, rather than being about one specific person. “In the way when you’re devoted to someone for life, you made a commitment to good days, bad days, good weeks bad weeks, good years, bad years.” she reflects. “As with anything there’s an ebb and flow, and that’s normal. I wrote it off the top of my head, but in retrospect it’s certainly about marriage or LTR, or anything you’ve signed onto for the long haul. We go ‘in and out’.”
With Ditto, what you see and hear really is what you get. There’s little artifice or construction, and she just can’t be anybody but herself. Emotion is very much on the sleeve: Lover is a case in point. “Make me believe/ because I want to believe more than anything.” she sings. Is it an exercise in pulling the wool over her own eyes?! “I have a tendency of pulling off the wool too much!” she counters ” I can be very suspicious of everyone! Travelling, being left to your own devices alone on a bus at 3 am… your mind makes you feel crazy. It’s funny how you can be surrounded by so many people, and still feel so lonely!”
Indeed, Ditto – at the height of The Gossip a globally famous figure, and still a highly recognised individual – is all too aware of the power and price of high visibility. She recently said that Standing in the Way of Control was more relevant in 2017 than when she wrote it 2006. “I think the internet is more powerful now than it was then,” she muses. “So that’s one way to use your voice, that wasn’t as much ‘a thing’. ‘Social media’, if you will. I’m still very overwhelmed by this administration and its effects on the entire world and sometimes when I’m asked I feel swamped with words, negative feelings and emotions. Mostly angry, outrage, disappointment and fear.”
But Ditto’s world isn’t world weary angst and dismay at the swiftly unravelling world. Oh La La invokes the children of Sesame Street skipping double dutch, chanting, ‘Let’s get the rhythm of the hot dog’, while Love in Real Life opens with a thumb piano. If anything, Fake Sugar has playfulness in spades. And Ditto’s own visage remains spectacular: she was recently photographed wearing a white silk suit with red flames, flowers and embroidered eyeball on the sleeve, created by London designer Dilara Findikoglou. “Google her, she’s a force of nature,” Ditto exclaims. Ironic really, given that’s what Ditto herself is proving to be, once again.