A conversation about music, career and timeouts with singer Beth Ditto.
Beth Ditto was the lead singer of indie rock band Gossip for 17 years. Then came the split-up. But that was no reason for the strong and energetic power woman to be quiet. Her debut album “Fake Sugar” proves that being a solo artist didn’t have any impact on her aura. At me Convention we talked to the 5’2’’ tall singer-songwriter about music production in general and why it is so important for female artists to stand their ground in the industry. Furthermore, Beth Ditto told us her secret on how to calm down after a long day in the studio or when being on tour.
Miss Ditto, “Fake Sugar” is your first solo album. In what way was recording this album different from being in the studio with a band?
I write lyrics and melodies, and help with production, but I don’t really write music-guitar, parts etc. So without Nathan from Gossip to write with, I had to find new writing partners. It was a looooong process, meeting new co-writers. I would get set up on these ‘dates’ with potential writers and usually I would know in the first 10 minutes whether or not it was going to work. I met some fabulous people, but the writing connection wasn’t always there. I absolutely loved working with Jackknife Lee and Chris Braide, and some of those tracks ended up on the record. But when I met Jenn DeCilveo, everything really clicked and we just cranked through dozens of songs together. Nonstop laughing and arguing in the studio, we both had strong opinions, but we were also able to listen to reason. The connection just felt effortless. It’s hard to find the right person with the right chemistry, but when you do it’s amazing!
I think pretty much every industry is afraid of strong and independent women.
Since your lyrics are known to transport strong and relevant ideas, does “Fake Sugar” contain a special message you want to share with your fans?
The songs are all about different things, a lot about my past, Arkansas, growing up and moving on. The challenges of marriage, the reality versus the ideal. You think about compromise as being about space, or material things, not things that are in your heart. There are really deep things that you’re gonna have to compromise inside of you to be in a relationship, and people can’t prepare you for that.
“Bold”, “outspoken”, “energetic”, “rebellious”, “punkily positive” – these are just a few of the attributes popping up when it comes to describing Beth Ditto. In any case, you are seen as a real power lady. Do you see yourself that way? What comes to mind, when you hear people describing you like this?
I think it’s mainly that I’m loud? I know a lot of powerful but quiet women. We all have our own ways of being powerful. Really, I have no other choice! I’ve never been very good at doing what other people want me to do.
The music industry still seems to be largely dominated by men. Do you think the industry is afraid of strong and independent women? If yes, how does it show? What are some personal experiences you have in this regard?
I think pretty much every industry is afraid of strong and independent women. It’s the classic curse: if you’re assertive you’re a bossy and petulant, and if you aren’t, you don’t get anywhere. It’s just a reality that throughout my career, being a fat lesbian has made some doors harder to open than they would be if I had been a straight white skinny indie rock man. I am lucky to have so many amazing women working on my project – female A&R, management, producer, publicists, and marketing directors. But for all the female PRs and product managers at record labels, it’s striking how few women there are in EXECUTIVE roles in the industry. I can think of only a handful really. And when you have only men in the decision-making roles, deciding who gets signed and what money is spent on which artists, then you have an industry that reflects male values, male desires, male biases.
Does it bother you that people, especially the press, still thematize your body? It’s 2017 – don’t you think we should finally discard the idea of a body norm?
Yeah, it still comes up, but it’s less and less of an issue than it was 10 years ago, or 15 years ago. At the time I was one of the only visible fat women in music, and now there are so many curvy musicians, actresses, models, and designers working. It just stopped being as unique. I’m glad to have been able to take one for the team in the beginning, and I am so excited about all the ‘badass’ girls blazing trails now.
Do you google yourself or read what the internet has to say about you, or do you feel like it’s better to not pay attention to these things?
I absolutely never read any press, positive or negative. It’s critical to maintaining sanity to not pay attention to those things.
In your job, you travel the whole world, and being in the studio for extensive periods of time does not sound like a regular nine-to-five job. Do you have any rituals that help you get back into 'home mode’? How do you keep your work-life balance?
It all comes in cycles, there’s lots of down time for awhile and then boom, you’re back in the whirlwind. I do a LOT of crocheting and knitting, on the road and at home. That’s where you’ll find me on tour – in my bunk crocheting hats and sweaters for all my friends’ babies! I also am lucky enough to be able to take my wife with me on tour sometimes. So I try as much as possible to keep the feeling of home with me on the road.
In 2014, you and your wife Kristin (Ogata) tied the knot for the second time. At that point, gay marriage had just barely been legalized in Oregon, where you got married. As a person actively fighting for LGBT rights, how important was it for you personally to set a sign with this second wedding?
It really wasn’t just symbolic, we had to do it in order for our marriage to be considered legal in the state where we live! How absurd is that?! We had a huge wedding in Hawaii with all of our friends and family, a big loving celebration, but it was on a legal level meaningless in Oregon. When they changed the law, we had a second tiny ceremony in our home with just our best friends as witnesses, to make it legal.
So I try as much as possible to keep the feeling of home with me on the road.
You performed at the me Convention. One of the main topics of this event was the question how advanced digitalization influences our daily life. What are your feelings on this subject?
I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I love Instagram but can barely understand twitter. I have an ancient Yahoo email address. I’m mainly interested in delivery apps and streaming The Office. I do love how the internet creates new communities of protest, I think that’s going to be critical in these politically tense times.