Beth Ditto on personalities, producers and rocking for the right reasons
Creating the follow-up to a hot-selling major-label debut can be downright stressful, but Gossip was looking to do so with as little drama as possible. After 2009’s Music for Men proved a success, the Portland trio’s members readied a new batch of songs—but found themselves unsettled on the album’s direction. “Being just a three-piece, it would be easy to make the same record over and over again,” observes singer and keyboardist Beth Ditto. “You want every record to be different, so you’re always looking for advice. We really wanted a producer that could filter it in a different way.”
Enter Brian Higgins, known for his work with worldwide pop acts like Kylie Minogue, Pet Shop Boys, Girls Aloud and Sugababes. Ditto and Higgins connected via a mutual friend the previous summer, with Higgins inviting Ditto into the studio. Their easy working relationship encouraged Gossip to ask Higgins to helm the new A Joyful Noise. The producer brought polish to the group’s songs while remaining true to its longstanding indie-disco aesthetic. “You want it to be a good combination of personalities and styles,” Ditto explains. “As a producer you have to remember that you’re in there for hours a day, and be realistic and somewhat accepting that maybe we’re not the most skilled musicians. We know how to play our way.”
Ditto formed Gossip with guitarist Nathan “Brace Paine” Howdeshell in 1999; drummer Hannah Blilie joined in 2004, replacing original member Kathy Mendonca. Even the lineup change was a typically amicable affair. “We’re just people who hang out all the time anyway,” says Ditto. “That’s the beauty of being in a band for so long, and being in a band just because—not necessarily because you were setting out to be famous. You’re making music because it’s fun. I think you’ll realize that you don’t have to be in a band with people you don’t like. Actually, you can be in a band with people you really care about.”
That casual attitude turned serious when it was time to write songs for the new album. “This is the most involved I ever was with writing lyrics,” she says. “I actually took it seriously. ‘Oh, wait a minute! I guess I am a songwriter!’ I’d never really let myself have that feeling.” Ditto credits a confidence born of experience for allowing her to do so. “Gossip’s been together for 13 years, and this is our fifth album,” she notes. “I turned 30, and I think I finally found the voice that I felt comfortable with.