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Gossip is back after 12 years with new album "Real Power"


Gossip is back.


GOSSIP: (Singing) Every beat of my heart is a merciful act of God.

SHAPIRO: It's been 25 years since three rockers from Arkansas formed the band Gossip. Beth Ditto's vocals became the soundtrack to sweaty late-night dance parties in the early 2000s. And the singer herself became a cultural figure - a fashion icon who is enthusiastically queer, fat and southern. She wrote a memoir and made a solo record. The band broke up and got back together. She now lives in my hometown of Portland, Ore., and we reached her in Berlin to talk about the first Gossip album in 12 years. It's called "Real Power." Beth Ditto, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

BETH DITTO: Well, thank you so much. Really well put.

SHAPIRO: Well, I tied to sum up a whole lot in a short intro.

DITTO: You really did it. I'm proud of you. I would never have been able to do that.

SHAPIRO: Something tells me you could have. How does it feel to be back making music again with these people you've known since you were all teenagers?

DITTO: Wow. I mean, the thing that - I just always wish that I had a more interesting story for you, but I do not.


GOSSIP: (Singing) Give me real power. Give me real...

DITTO: It is exactly the same.

SHAPIRO: But that's wild.

DITTO: It just feels like it did when we were kids.


GOSSIP: (Singing) Somewhere in the night, a fire's burning. Energy is high. It's getting real.

DITTO: There are things that are different. Like, we're in our 40s. You know, like, people are like, oh, it's been 12 years. And I was like, what? Like, what does that even mean? Like, time just doesn't mean the same thing anymore. You know, I was in a group with people since I was 18 years old. I only can compare it to, like, you got married right out of high school, and then, like, you're like, OK, wait, I'm 26. What? I've only slept with one person. What's happening? It's like you do start to wonder, like, what it's like out there. You know what I mean?

SHAPIRO: Yeah. This album doesn't feel retro. It does feel like a Gossip album. So how do you strike that balance between writing new music that feels consistent with who you are as a band, but also doesn't feel stuck in the past?

DITTO: The only way I can explain it - just, like, bear with me if you will.


DITTO: When I was a little kid, I used to have this thing when I'd vacuum the floor. And the hum of the vacuum cleaner, I used to try to get my voice to match it just right so that you couldn't feel the vibration anymore and I couldn't tell what was the vacuum cleaner and what was me anymore.

SHAPIRO: And that's like your relationship with your bandmates?

DITTO: My relationship is just like vacuuming the floor against my will as a child, yes.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).


GOSSIP: (Singing) And I might go crazy, crazy loving you. And I might go crazy, crazy over you again.

DITTO: I don't know if that...


DITTO: ...Makes sense, but, like, it's like...

SHAPIRO: You're syncing up.

DITTO: Yeah, we're syncing up.

SHAPIRO: You're making your vibration align with their vibration.

DITTO: Yeah, and - where you can't even tell the difference anymore. And I think when you're so in it, it doesn't matter if it's bad or good. Like, you don't think about that in the moment. But also, like, Nathan and I don't...

SHAPIRO: Nathan Howdeshell, your bandmate.

DITTO: Yeah.


DITTO: Like, we don't have any kind of technical skill. We have to communicate through these, like, feelings and, like, you just know when it's right.


GOSSIP: (Singing) And I might go crazy, crazy over you. And I might go crazy, crazy over you.

SHAPIRO: Your music has always been political. Like, one of Gossip's biggest hits, "Standing In The Way Of Control," was about legislation to ban same-sex marriage in 2006.


GOSSIP: (Singing) Standing in the way of control, you - yeah - live your life surviving only (ph) way that you know, know.

SHAPIRO: Do you see the tracks on this record as a response to the political moment that we're in right now?

DITTO: You know, had we started writing this record in like 2022, 2023 - but we didn't. We started writing it in 2019. I think had - you know, Roe v. Wade been overturned, you know? Like, I think we would have made a different record. And for the most part, I think the record is - it's a queer love songs (ph), you know, and also queer joy.

SHAPIRO: There's queer love and joy on this album, but there's also what sounds to me like breakup songs, like "Turn The Card."

DITTO: Yeah. Yeah, queer breakup songs, exactly. Like, you know, it's a queer divorce. We don't talk about that enough.


GOSSIP: (Singing) See this as a sign of maybe it was true love. Guess we'll never know. I can make my mind up looking at the future. I won't play the loser anymore. Turn the cards slowly.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about this track.

DITTO: You know, it's just like, let me down gently, kind of. It's like, I know what the answer is, but can we just make it slow?


GOSSIP: (Singing) Turn the cards slowly.

DITTO: It's a divorce song.


GOSSIP: (Singing) Turn the cards slowly.

SHAPIRO: In your memoir, "Coal To Diamonds," you say that you once told a teacher, I can't be a singer because I'm not pretty enough and I'm fat. And she replied...

DITTO: Tell it to Nell Carter, babe. Yeah. Yeah, that's Miss Birge (ph).

SHAPIRO: What would that Arkansas kid think if she met the Beth Ditto of 2024?

DITTO: I don't know.


GOSSIP: (Singing) Now that we've arrived, I believe in fate.

DITTO: Maybe - gosh - I feel like she would just be like, thank God. Like, I think she'd be so relieved. When I was 18, you know, I had an option. Like, my best friend Kathy, the first drummer of Gossip, she was the first one that moved away to Olympia to go to Evergreen College. And I remember, you know, she was like, look, like, I can put your ticket on my credit card, which we had no business having. But she's like, you can come up. We can buy a one-way ticket. That's what we can afford. You can get a job, and you can move back home. You know, we can buy your ticket back home.

I remember my mom saying to me, she's like, you know, Beth, you're going to get up there, and you're going to love it, and you're never coming back. And I was like, Jesus Christ, mom, dramatic much? Just, like, chill out. But she's like, I'm serious. Like, you're going to get up there, you're going to love it and you're not going to come back.


GOSSIP: (Singing) You need a change, so make a change.

DITTO: And she was completely right. She knew the whole time.

SHAPIRO: And you were how old?

DITTO: I was 18. Yeah. I had graduated in May, and I moved away in June.

SHAPIRO: And that small-town girl in Arkansas is now talking to us from Berlin, where she is performing around the world with this band that is renowned and has been for decades. Like, that's what...

DITTO: Oh, that's so sweet of you. It's very sweet of you.

SHAPIRO: Do you give yourself that, like, I did it moment? Do you allow yourself to take that victory lap and, like, I don't know, feel proud of that?

DITTO: No, I don't. Do you?

SHAPIRO: I think I do. Not every minute of every day, but, yeah.

DITTO: Maybe I should. There are some things that, like, I could definitely stand to maybe be - feel good about.


GOSSIP: (Vocalizing).

DITTO: But, you know, I think for me, honestly, being able to take care of my mom is the most important thing.

SHAPIRO: Financially, you mean.

DITTO: Yeah. You know, she worked so hard for all of us. And, you know, when I say financially, she's not driving a Mercedes. I mean, hell, I'm not driving a Mercedes, but, like, she's, you know, all right. And she's like - doesn't have to work, and she doesn't have to put her body through it anymore. And if I can keep giving that to her, that's the moment that I'm like, OK, Beth, you did it.

SHAPIRO: Beth Ditto, it has been such a pleasure talking to you. Thank you.

DITTO: It really has been lovely. I really appreciate it so much. And I hope that when you come home, you'll come over and say hi.

SHAPIRO: We'll have a date in Portland. I'll hold you to it.

DITTO: We will. I'm not leaving the house, though. You're going to have to come over to mine.

SHAPIRO: I'd be delighted. She's the lead singer of Gossip, and the band's new album is called "Real Power."


GOSSIP: (Singing) I just want to be with you. (Vocalizing). I just want to be with you. (Vocalizing). I just want to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Karen Zamora
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.