Fame, Fortune, and a Fat Queer Icon

An Interview with the Gossip

by Saxon Baird

5 October 2009

When the Gossip's musical mastermind Nathan Paine began constructing his own unique strain of dance-punk in Portland, few people knew what to make of it. Now, in 2009, no one dare snicker, as his band has produced the most unlikliest of fashion icons and droves of fans.
cover art


Music for Men

US: 6 Oct 2009
UK: 22 Jun 2009
Digital release date: 23 Jun 2009

Review [26.Jul.2009]

On paper, the story of the Gossip is a familiar one: hardworking garage-rockers transfer to a big label and find sudden stardom. However, the Gossip aren’t your typical band.  Lead singer Beth Ditto—a plus-size, outspoken gay feminist—defies almost all aspects of what comes with your typical lead-singer. In addition, prior to becoming UK superstars, the Portland, Oregon-based trio established themselves as iconoclastic representatives for passionate feminists and idealistic indie-kids alike. This was due in-part to a series of low-fi, soulful dance-punk releases off independent label Kill Rock Stars as well as their energetic live shows and Beth Ditto’s openness about her weight and sexuality.

However, with the release of their 2005 studio album Standing in the Way of Control, everything changed for the Gossip. The title track took off as a single in the UK and as a result, lead singer Beth Ditto transformed into an unlikely, fashion icon who began gracing the covers of British music magazines and tabloids when not hobnobbing around with the likes of Kate Moss and Karl Lagerfeld. At the risk of further alienating their fan-base, the Gossip signed with major label Sony, hooked up with Rick Rubin and continued to explore the electronic aspects introduced on Standing in the Way of Control on 2009’s Music for Men—their most eclectic, danceable album yet.

With all the fame and popularity, has the Gossip become out of touch with their humble beginnings? Hardly. Talking to multi-instrumentalists and musical mastermind behind the Gossip, Nathan Paine, little has changed. The band finds the fame rather amusing actually and despite moving to a major label, Nathan assures us that the trio still has creative control over everything they do. Having just arrived in New York City before heading off to London to kick off a new tour, we spent some time stuck in Manhattan traffic to talk with Nathan about their sudden rise to fame, Music for Men, and the future of the trio.


So, for us not in England, exactly how popular are you there? For example, when you walk down the street in London, do you get mobbed or does that just happen to Beth?
It definitely is something that happens way more the Beth than us. We get the paparazzi following us around which is something we never really get us to. Beth definitely gets the harsh end of that stick way more though. I just try not to think about it. I mean its kind of abstract. We just try to keep doing what we are doing. We think of that kind of fame as just funny, you know?

Do you and Hannah ever feel like your kind of living in the shadow of Beth’s sudden fame?  
Beth is on a whole different trip than us. She is sort of like a fat-queer icon for weird girls and that definitely isn’t my situation. We are just here to play music and I am actually glad that I don’t have to deal with what Beth goes through.

Does any of this “stuff” that she has to deal with ever affect the band?
Beth always puts the band first. She could’ve done a solo record two years ago. She has had as many offers as you can imagine. However, we all agree that what has to happen is that we have to make a record that is going to be good and that is the most important thing. Beth has other side projects though and she is doing a fashion line and that is really cool. I support her as if it was a friend doing it. Beth and I have known each other for years, so there is definitely no weird-ness there.

How much of this material was affected or influenced by the massive growth in popularity that you have experienced as a band since Standing in the Way of Control?
I don’t think we were influenced or affected by it all. When we were recording with Rick [Rubin], we didn’t allow anyone from the label there or even allow people to take photos when we were there. We just wanted to be in our own zone and just record while we were there. I mean we really approached it just as we have approached recording with our other records. It was definitely different in many ways because, for instance, I played way more instruments on this record than I had previously but as far as how we approached the recording process; it was pretty much the same as we always have.

Did you feel like the pressure and expectations for this record were higher than any previous record?
Not really. I think it’s really important to not feel pressured. If you are writing music, you can’t try and manipulate what you’ve done before. You can never really replicate what you’ve done in the past. So I think its best if you just let all that go and just try to write a record that is good and one you will be happy with. I think that is all you can really strive for.

Do you think this is your best record yet?
Personally, I really like the record.  I think it’s really diverse. I really like the old stuff too, though. Movement is definitely one of my favorite records that we have done.  I’m really please with Music for Men though. I think we are all extremely happy with the outcome.


What was your main motivation for moving to a major label?
We had worked with Kill Rock Stars for a long time and I think we all felt that maybe it was time to try something different. In the end, it’s a super long story that involves this weird manager situation where we were looking to be on XL, Rough Trade, or even Domino. Due to a number of different reasons, things didn’t end up as we had planned but then we started working with Rick [Rubin] and Columbia. After that we began to feel a lot more comfortable with the idea of moving to a major label.

We’ve worked with indie labels for years and we know how major labels can be. You have a bunch of people working for minimum wage that don’t really care what they are working on or creating. So you really have to know what you want as a band on a major label. I think working with a label like Sony can work out if you know exactly what you want to do as a band and have the privilege of the label letting them do what the want to do… which is cool for us because in our situation, we have complete and constant creative control over everything we do down to the cover artwork, flyers for a show or a tour to what is on our play list when we play live. So the fact that we have a say in everything we do makes the relationship with a major label pretty comfortable for us.

It seems that way.  Judging from the record and the artwork, a third party isn’t dictating your direction or aesthetic.
Definitely. I can see how working with a major label could be really stressful for a new band that doesn’t really know what they are doing while having a bunch of people, who don’t really understand them, trying to tell them to do a bunch of shit that they don’t necessarily want to do. That would be really frustrating. However, for us, we’ve been doing what we want the whole time.

What is the major difference between working with Sony in comparison to Kill Rock Stars?
Well, Kill Rock Stars was like a family. I use to work in the mailroom department. Beth and I use to live next door to them and we would go over there and just hang out. It was like being with a family. People at Sony are super nice but it’s definitely a super, heady corporate environment that we aren’t the hugest fans of.  I mean, right now I am in New York and I am about to go over to the building and it’s in this big, huge, corporate building. Coming from a punk background, I also have this tendency to believe that major labels are evil and not to be trusted, which, in many ways, I still feel that way.  I mean most of them are probably that way. You have to realize though that in a way, you are working on a project with these people.  And if they are giving you the space you want to work then that is a really cool situation.

How did you come about working with Rick Rubin?
He asked us, actually. He just saw us play and wanted to do a record with us. Of course, we were totally stoked on it.

How did Rick Rubin’s presence affect your recording process this time around?
He is really metaphysical in the way he works. In a way, he is super new-age-y too, which I love, because he is all about the creativity and improv and recording absolutely everything. Rick is really all about the music all the time. It’s super interesting because he isn’t pushy at all like Phil Spector or some shit. Rick is the absolutely opposite of that. Plus, Rick only works with bands he likes so whatever the band is looking to do, he already likes anyways. He is also really good with repetition and contributed some ideas to a couple pieces here and there. He is amazing to work with. It’s almost mystical what he does.

So how long did it take you to record? I know that Standing in the Way of Control took only ten days, which up to that point was the longest time you guys had ever taken to finish a record.
Yeah, Standing in the Way of Control took ten days including mixing and this record took almost two and half months!  It was wild.

How was it recording in Los Angeles?
Well, we were actually working Malibu by the beach. So it was cool. I mean if we were recording within L.A., we would probably be going out a lot and be distracted. Being in Malibu, by the beach while staying in hotel was really great though and allowed us to just jam and focus on the record. We really didn’t do anything else. For the most part, the entire environment was actually super inspiring.

When the Gossip first started as a band, I read that you main intention with your music was to make people dance. Is that still your intention? When you sit down to write a song, do you keep that in mind?
Definitely. We are really a live band and we always try and think about how it’s going to sound live. We are all about energy. If we are writing a song and we think it wouldn’t go over well live then we won’t record it or we’ll try to change it and make it more exciting. It’s actually hard for us to write slow songs because of that.

It’s been well covered that you three are adored in gay and lesbian communities. In addition, the actual song “Standing in the Way of Control”, I understand is a response to the Federal Marriage Amendment that would have outlawed same-sex marriages in the U.S. Do you feel that there is a message in The Gossip’s music that you try to convey?  Or are you mainly just trying to make people dance?
We are pretty aware that there are lots of young kids listening. We also know that when your young and your listening to some band that you like that you weigh on everything they say. When I was teenager and listening to Sonic Youth and Nirvana and hear Kurt Cobain talk about the Raincoats or something, those were the moments that really effected me and probably other kids elsewhere. I think our message is definitely about freedom and giving back to kids whether that is in our record or at a live show. When you are in a situation like us where you have this platform to say what you want, I think it should be all positive and inspiring things for kids.  I mean you get some of these huge bands that have this massive platform to the world and they just have nothing really to say. I think its kind of a cliché rock n roll style to be a big band and not having anything to say that we try to avoid as much as possible.

What haven’t you done that you would still like to accomplish?
We have these ideas for live shows that would be really dark and intense. Nothing cheesy like an “evening with The Gossip” but maybe something with like a marching band to make it a really aggressive and dramatic show.  Basically, playing with the live settings and seeing how we can manipulate that is something that we are definitely excited about possibly taking on.

What do you foresee for the Gossip in the future, over the next two years or so?
Right now, we are really on a creative roll working with Rick. We definitely want to do some different stuff. I don’t know what our next record will be like but I really feel that Beth and I will be recording for a long time to come. I can’t really see us not recording together, ever. I think that our music will become more and more interesting. I don’t see us ever settling into one genre.


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