By Advocate Contributors
Originally published on Advocate.com December 17 2009 11:25 AM ET
Beth Ditto is sporting what is best described as the coolest bright-red bowl cut ever. Which is no surprise. The lead singer of Gossip, the funky-punk band from Portland, Ore., is known for her loud fashion, powerful voice, and plus size.
“I’ve been called a rockin’ roly-poly,” Ditto says, “I like that.”
The out singer, 28, in age and likely in size, makes for an unlikely fashionista: Ditto recently designed a plus-size clothing collection and serves as the muse for top designers like Alexander McQueen.
She’s appeared naked in NME, which also named her the coolest person in rock, and strips onstage. Ditto has been dubbed a role model for any gay girl who’s ever wanted to front a band or been told “but you have such a pretty face.”
“I consider myself an R-O-L-L model,” she laughs, in true fashion form wearing an H&M belted black dress at a SoCal show.
Gossip took the stage December 11 in San Diego as part of the W Hotels Wonderlust Live Concert Series, a partnership with Sony Music featuring performances by award-winning and emerging artists.
The punk trio — Ditto, Brace Paine, and Hannah Billie — played hits from their 2006 breakthrough album Standing in the Way of Control as well as covers like Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” no doubt a testament to the band’s versatility and Ditto’s effortless bravado.
Weather pushed the outdoor show into the hotel’s lobby, but Gossip took it in stride, with Ditto jumping off the stage and bouncing around with the crowd.
She even closed with a joke, “What did the egg say to the water? I just got laid by some chick, so it might take me a while to get hard.” And soon after they left the stage the band members were on their way for an appearance on Last Call With Carson Daly and tour dates in Japan.
Gossip has come a long way since it started making records a decade ago in Olympia, Wash. In June it released its major-label debut, Music for Men, on Sony with esteemed producer Rick Rubin at the helm.
As for the switch from indie labels, Ditto says, “It feels really comfortable, actually. There are a lot of resources that we never had before — it gives us a lot of freedom. And we don’t have to worry as much about where our rent is going to come from.
“Also, if we have some crazy idea, we can ask the label for it and maybe we won’t get it, but maybe we will,” she adds.
Ditto has also come a long way from growing up gay in small-town Arkansas. “It was really confusing because I thought from a young age that I really didn’t want to be gay.” she says. “I was talking to my friend who grew up in Kentucky about growing up Southern Baptists, and it was crazy how from such a young age it was instilled in us to be afraid of burning in hell forever.”
When asked if she’s had any consequences after coming out publicly, Ditto responds with a laugh, “You mean besides going to hell?
“When I was a kid it wasn’t very nice. Having short hair in high school was such a dangerous move — it was such a bold, crazy move. People would say, ‘You’ve got to be gay,’” she says with a surprisingly fast Southern drawl. “I was so beyond it by the time I was in the seventh grade. Being made fun of something I was good at; I was really good at taking it — that’s why I’m a good bottom to this day.”
Even though Ditto says her family’s “really cool,” her sexuality does prompt interesting stories.
“At Thanksgiving about three years ago, my aunt — I have a really huge family, and this aunt is one of 15 children, and I’m one of seven children — and with all these little kids (and a horse) running around my aunt says, ‘I always wanted to know, how do y’all do it?’
“I’m like, ‘Aunt Susie, not in front of the horse!’”
Another aunt, Ditto recalls, “came up and touched me on the shoulder and was very sincere and said, ‘I hope you have a good time on this earth.’”
Because she’s going to hell? “Yes,” says Ditto, without skipping a beat, “I thought that was really cool though because I don’t give a shit about God. I thought that was very kind. I’m glad someone’s looking out for my soul.”
It seems it’s more the God thing than the gay thing that worries some in her largely religious family. “They’re always obsessed with how I don’t believe in God,” she says. “I just don’t believe in God. You don’t believe in Santa. Whatever.”
Ditto does, however, believe in Christmas. “I’ll tell you what I’ve been listening to lately — Christmas music. I love Christmas!” she says. “I have major holiday plans,” which include a Christmas Eve sleepover and dinner. “There’re like 10 people staying at my house,” she says.
As for a New Year’s resolution? “I wanna lose 10 pounds,” she answers with a laugh.