What’s Beth Ditto, front woman of The Gossip, listening to these days? With its fifth studio album A Joyful Noise heating up the charts, don’t be surprised to find out Ms. Ditto jams out to Lil Wayne when nobody’s around…
Life+TImes: Tell me, what’s behind the name A Joyful Noise?
Beth Ditto: I liked the contradiction of being in a feminist punk band with the piece of Bible scripture as the title. I thought it was a good time for Americans to see the presence of the Left without being abrasive. The election this year has my stomach in knots.
L+T: It’s been said that the album is a “liberation of your collective curiosities.” How would you define the sound and aesthetic?
BD: The sound is always hard to describe. It’s hard not to come across too serious about yourself sometimes. I always say we sound like people who only recently learned to play their instruments making dance music from scratch.
L+T: In some ways, it seems like a change of pace – taking inspiration from heavyweights like ABBA and Stevie Nicks. What did you take from these two – and any others – and how did you infuse them into your album?
BD: They’re heavy weights for sure. I also love the KLF rules of writing a pop song. I’m always envious of pop music’s ability to be shameless. Uninhibited. Rhymes and lyrics that when you read them aloud without melody would make you laugh! The idea of people screaming the craziest words into the air as loud as they can in large groups at clubs. Only music makes you do that. “Call Me Al” has recently been my favorite party jam! No kidding! It’s perfectly hokey…hokey as hell…but the story is also so deep. You have to YouTube “Call Me Al” live in South Africa. The crowd’s joy will blow your mind! I love when pop music makes a story and the story comes second to the hook. It’s so strange. And I love when it doesn’t as well. Paul Simon writes relatable songs that hit you pretty immediately. But we forget how poppy they are. “Me and Julio Down by the School Yard.” He didn’t even have a story. But everyone thought he did. As for ABBA, just listen to the story of ‘Super Trooper,” especially if you’re a traveling musician, and try not to relate. I just love songwriters and producers. I could go on and on. Being in one band since I was 18, a traveling band that has put out records in all kinds of ways from indie labels to Sony; from punk basements to royal Albert hall, I’m so excited to rediscover music I’ve been hearing my whole life. And to discover at 31, I’ve only just begun even if that means starting over with the same music.
L+T: You’ve said you became obsessed with the idea of creating ‘the perfect song’. What, in your opinion, is the perfect song?
BD: I don’t know. I have so many ideas of perfect. I love The Slits, but I love Lil Wayne. I can’t give just one!
L+T: What was your mission with this album? What were you trying to achieve with your sound?
BD: My mission? Hmmmm. To push myself. To go beyond my comfort zone.
L+T: So, we know Madonna’s a fan – and she cited that you influenced the sound of MDNA. How on earth did that make you feel?
BD: Amazing! I don’t personally hear it on MDNA. But I did an EP that sounded a lot like old Madonna. So..why would you want to sound like your old records? You know?
L+T: What’s your most personal song off this album?
BD: “Casualties of War.”
L+T: Besides your own stuff, what do you listen to? What’s on your iPod right now?
BD: Ha! We never listen to our own stuff! I probably should! I forget what’s on Gossip albums sometimes. Lil Wayne is always on repeat over here. The last PJ Harvey album, Usher. Any old’ era of Usher. I’ve been hitting the Judee Sill pretty hard and Elliott Smith lately as well.