Beth Ditto has never not been in a band. The self-described "fat, feminist lesbian from Arkansas" grew up with six siblings and 100 or so Bee-Gees-worshipping cousins. That's a big band. Then, of course, there was The Gossip, who were together for 17 years before they split in 2016.
Ditto's first solo album, Fake Sugar, debuted in June after some very tantalizing video previews. On the record's first single, "Fire," Ditto reminds us that she's a rock 'n' roll Dolly Parton at her core. (She also plays her bubble gum like an instrument.) "We Could Run" is a Springsteen-quality, us-against-the-world heart-strangler.
The songs on Fake Sugar sound free. Most Gossip songs did; they were for "the G-A-Ys," as Ditto once screamed from a stage, a soundtrack for survival. But Fake Sugar is all Beth. Ditto may have shed a band, but she's gained some well-deserved space to stretch out.
BUST talked to Ditto via email about Pride, independence, and Pink Floyd. She began her nationwide tour for Fake Sugar on July 12, in Washington, D.C., and wraps up on July 26 in San Francisco.
I'm psyched about your album because it means you'll be touring! How has performing solo felt after so many years in a band?
Hey! Thank you!!!!! It's all pretty nuts that it's out already! It's different because The Gossip already knew each other inside and out. So touring with new people can feel a little bit like the first day of school. But that's all over now, and the new band and I all are carving out our own groove. It's different because of The Gossip's deep history, but also a real adventure to play with new people and being on my own.
The song styles on your new record are really varied, but it's got an overall anthemic vibe. What music did you love growing up? What's influenced you lately?
Oh! Thank you! Again! I loved my siblings and all my crazy cousins. Learning to share and be creative for fun. We are such resourceful adults I'd say all of us in my family. Smart and capable and staunchly independent. It's the kind of personality only a childhood like ours can really create, I think. Our childhood was super Creedence-heavy, and of course there was Pink Floyd. My dad loved The Bee Gees and my mom loved the 80's. She was 24 when I was born in 1981. So she was a hip mom in pop music terms! Lately? I've just mostly been listening to old music. I don't know if it's my age, or if nothing has really touched me deeply in a while. Probably both.
Your voice on "We Could Run" sounds so strong. And low and sultry on "Fire." It's great to hear the nuances of your voice on this album. How has your vocal style changed over the years?
Thank you! I think I'm not afraid of sounding like me. I am still uncomfortable with my voice. But when I was really young, when The Gossip first started out — I was 18,19 — all I wanted was to sound like Kathleen Hanna. But that wasn't happening! I also had throat surgery to remove polyps from my vocal chords. That made my voice smoother, LIKE A LAAAYDAY.
When did you write the songs on this album?
Some were a good 2 years old when the album came out. Some were being written up until the actual time to record. A little cluster here and a little cluster there over 2 years.
What unexpected things have you discovered about yourself as a solo artist?
More than anything, that I have to trust myself. That it's my opinion of me that sets the precedent [in terms of] my confidence as a songwriter, singer, and performer.
D.C. just got done with Pride. You've always repped for the gays, especially for the femmes out there. Any Pride thoughts?
HAPPPPPY PRIDE!!! Just that it's so important to keep Pride alive. It's so important now to stay visible and alert, unapologetic, to send the message we aren't going the fuck ANYWHERE!
Fake Sugar can be purchased here.
Photo: still from "Fire" music video
More from BUSTShauna Miller is a writer and editor in Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, NYMag, and the Washington Post. Find her writing at Shaunajmiller.com. She's a co-founder of Girls Rock D.C., a weeklong rock camp for girls and gender nonconforming kids a.k.a. The Happiest Place on Earth.