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Gossip… enuff said!


If you are unaware just exactly who Gossip are, then it’s time to crawl out from underneath that proverbial rock and place your ear to the ground. Hear that? It’s the sound of change storming across the horizon in the form of Gossip’s new album Music For Men, an in-your-face record fused with soul, disco, gospel, rock and punk that blurs the lines between gender and sexuality. Oh, and it’s damn fine music too!

Gossip consist of larger than life singer and plus size fashion icon Beth Ditto, the musically enlightened guitarist Brace Paine and the tougher than tough grrrl drummer Hannah Billie. The latter is also the poster pin-up person for the new album’s cover art, her ‘boyish’ good looks messing with the notions of masculinity the record’s title suggests. After all, Gossip are a band who are openly queer, and incredibly proud of it.

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On the phone from London – after playing a mad set at Glasgow’s infamous Arches the night before – drummer Hannah Billie told OUTinPerth that this time around their fourth studio release is ‘a whole new deal’. After all, their 2006 album Standing In The Way of Control (the title track of which was a statement on the Bush administration’s approach to same sex civil rights) saw them explode into the global music scene. Europe in particular embraced the fresh new sound this band from Portland, Oregon, was touting.

‘When we released Standing In The Way of Control it was a really tiny record and we didn’t expect it to go anywhere,’ Billie confessed. ‘We were excited about it but there wasn’t all this crazy anticipation and buzz and press and label bullshit. [Music For Men] is a whole new experience, and I’m not sure what it is. It’s exciting, scary… I dunno. It’s a totally different context this time around.

‘The thing about us is that we live in Portland and everything is totally the same in Portland. We can have our normal life and walk down the street. We hang out at the same dive bars, like, have the same group of friends, and so that is our normal life. And then we come over here and it’s like paparazzi and crazy and, you know, just lots of people around. It’s a totally different lifestyle over here. It is a little wild over here in Europe.’

Billie takes a moment to slam the British papers and glossies – or ‘yellow press’ as she calls them – saying how the band as a whole refuses to read the tabloids. Even their management is under strict instructions not to mention anything they might happen to read about the band. Why? It appears that in England, while the band is much loved, their newfound stardom has made lead singer Ditto an easy target for trashy column inches. Whether it’s her weight, her party antics, what she wears, the fact that she’s a lesbian or even her trans partner, it appears the ‘yellow press’ love slagging her off.

‘Beth does a really good job of handling the insanity. It’s all just sensational. It’s all just talking about Beth’s weight and how drunk she looks one night. It’s all this bullshit that doesn’t have anything to do with real life, or our music or our message or anything. It’s toxic. You can’t read that shit because they don’t care about you.’

Music For Men is, essentially, a masterpiece. It crosses so many musical genres yet is brought together by the unifying vigour and verve of the band, plus Ditto’s iconic voice. She sounds like a soul singer from a bygone era. Many compare her voice to that of Janis Joplin, but the comparisons run deeper: there are splashes of The Andrew Sisters along with Billie Holiday, unlikely reference points for this queer three piece who so firmly embrace their punk origins.

‘I think we wanted to make a really queer kinda record, or one that – since we’re crossing over to the mainstream – was radical and thought provoking and subversive as possible,’ Billie explained of Gossip’s new opus. ‘Music for Men is a very thought provoking title with a lot of meanings to it. Having my face on the cover throws around that album title as well, talking about what is masculinity and what is femininity. It’s all about freaking the mainstream out, which is part of the goal as we’re crossing over into this world that we’re not really sure about we just wanted to firmly entrench our identity in that even more.

‘We don’t want to water it down. We want it to be talking about feminism, we want it to be talking about radical politics, we want to be talking about gender roles and queerness. A lot of the subject matter is about love which is very personal for Beth since she’s been with this transgender man for eight years and that’s something that has a political meaning to it because a lot of people are freaked out by that. So the album is personal but it has this political edge to it as well.’

Produced by multi-Grammy award winning producer Rick Rubin, Music For Men is sure to be a chart topper it contains so many potential hits. There’s even a new gay anthem contained within, Men In Love, which Billie described as ‘a really positive celebration of gay culture and gay love and being very blunt and how it’s men in love… with each other.’ But more than anything, Gossip are a band who firmly take the notion of sexual identity and embrace it, standing tall and proud as role models for a whole new generation.

‘The most important thing in this world is to be yourself and love yourself and embrace your identity and be who you want to be,’ Billie concluded. ‘And I think I’m taking a bold step in putting my face on the cover of our first major record label cover. I’m kind of scared of that but I hope it’ll be inspiring to people who have a different identity than the mainstream and who want to embrace their queerness and embrace maybe their feminine / masculine. I hope this shows that there are other people in the world who have found power in that.’

Music For Men is released on June 16.

Scott-Patrick Mitchell

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