From her mighty vo­cals to her un­apolo­getic at­ti­tude, there’s no one quite like Beth Ditto. For her ELLE cover story, the mu­si­cian speaks to friend and fel­low punk rebel Deb­bie Harry

ELLE (UK) - - Wonder Women -

Over a decade ago, the world met Beth Ditto. She had jet-black hair, a roar­ing laugh and an in­sa­tiable zeal for leop­ard print. She was like no­body else. Bois­ter­ous and un­apolo­getic, Beth would ap­pear naked on the cover of mag­a­zines. At shows, she’d strip off on stage, climb into crowds and belt out cho­ruses with a voice so strong it man­aged to up­stage even her most dar­ing an­tics. A fierce de­fender of LGBTQ rights, her band Gos­sip’s (née The Gos­sip) first hit, Stand­ing in the Way of Con­trol, was writ­ten in sup­port of same-sex mar­riage, a topic she’s still pas­sion­ate about to­day.

To­day, her in­ter­viewer is Blondie’s front woman Deb­bie Harry. One of Beth’s friends and a col­lab­o­ra­tor (the pair sing to­gether on the Blondie song, A Rose by Any Name), she couldn’t be more ex­cited to in­ter­view her. On the phone, they have an easy rap­port, armed with ques­tions and praise for each another. Like Beth, Deb­bie is a staunch ad­vo­cate for so­cial jus­tice: at this year’s ELLE Style Awards, she wore a ‘Politi­cians are Crim­i­nals’ badge, and in be­tween scream­ing at each other’s jokes and swap­ping sar­to­rial tips, it’s clear that, on stage and off, two of pop’s most per­va­sive fig­ures have a lot in com­mon.

DEB­BIE HARRY: Hi, Beth! Where are you?

BETH DITTO: Deb­bie! I’m in the mid­dle of a corn field. I’m at a fes­ti­val in Bavaria. DH: That sounds nice. I’ve seen you do fes­ti­vals, peo­ple love you. You’re an en­ter­tainer as well as a mu­si­cian, which is a gen­uine gift. I’ve of­ten thought you could be a great stand-up comic.

BD: Thanks, Deb­bie, that means ev­ery­thing to me. You al­ways say the nicest things. DH: Well, have you ever con­sid­ered it?

BD: No! I’m too scared. That’s what’s fun about singing, you don’t have to rely on the laughs. Deb­bie, what’s your sign?

DH: Can­cer. What’s yours?

BD: Pisces. Do you be­lieve in all that?

DH: Yeah, well we’re both water signs, aren’t we? We’re com­pat­i­ble. So, what are you do­ing, what do you do be­fore a show?

BD: Right now, I’m sit­ting in my un­der­wear brush­ing out my wigs. I find it hard not to drink be­fore a show.

DH: I think that’s pretty nor­mal, ac­tu­ally. I guess the key is know­ing your lim­its.

BD: That’s some­thing I’m not good at! I think it’s be­cause, where I grew up in Arkansas, drink­ing was never around or talked about. Even at wed­dings, I never saw drink­ing, it was scan­dalous! So when I got out and started drink­ing my­self, I went ape shit. How many drinks do you have? Do other peo­ple do that? I feel like peo­ple don’t re­ally talk about it.

DH: I had to say to my guys, no drink­ing be­fore a show. For a while, ev­ery­one was com­ing out on stage with beers and putting them on their amps. It was like a party on stage, ev­ery­one was get­ting sloppy, so I put an end to it. Now they all have a shot of scotch, and we go out and play. My ca­pac­ity for al­co­hol is shit. I smell liquor and turn into a goof­ball. I’m a cheap date. It’s not a good rep­u­ta­tion to have. I can’t han­dle it, but you can. It’s to your ad­van­tage, you know.

BD: I love a lit­tle party on stage! DH: Do you have to do those fan ‘meet and greets’?

BD: Yes! I get ner­vous. I’d like them more if I thought peo­ple were go­ing to be there. I get this hor­ri­ble anx­i­ety where I feel like there’s this big build-up to some­thing, and I al­ways worry no­body will come. You don’t have to worry about that. DH: Well, some­times only one or two peo­ple show up, and what can you do other than think, ‘Here goes noth­ing’? Hav­ing come through the punk scene, it’s given me a kind of strength. I find it won­der­ful to be re­jected!

BD: I have that feel­ing about crit­ics, even at shows I like to be an­tag­o­nised. I agree with you about punk: it’s given me a re­ally good per­spec­tive and made me feel em­pow­ered. [The mu­sic in­dus­try] can feel like a con­test and maybe it’s punk to say, be­ing part of this con­test feels gross, it’s not who I re­ally am.

DH: Well, how do you feel about all those tal­ent con­tests that have been go­ing on for the past 10 years or so? Have you ever done one?

BD: I just guest judged on The Voice, Ger­many yes­ter­day. It was pretty silly; it’s strange watch­ing it all un­fold. I told all the con­tes­tants, ‘Lis­ten, I re­ally don’t have any crit­i­cism, be­cause who am I to say? If you’re lis­ten­ing to peo­ple like [Ger­man punk singer] Nina Ha­gen and [Ber­lin-based ex­per­i­men­tal band] Malaria! – they wouldn’t have won The Voice.’ I couldn’t tell them on TV, but af­ter­wards I said, ‘Go start a band, there’s more than one way to make mu­sic. You don’t have to be fa­mous, fame is not the goal. Just have fun.’

You don’t have to be

fa­mous. Fame is not the goal


DH: That’s what I was say­ing about you – you have a nat­u­ral abil­ity to en­ter­tain and to make peo­ple happy. You cer­tainly have that. It’s not a goody-goody thing; you have ra­zor-sharp wit and in­nu­endo, and peo­ple like that. They like be­ing shook up a bit.

BD: Thank you. You know, I re­mem­ber one time, we were on a pho­to­shoot to­gether, you gave me the best ad­vice about get­ting ready; I’ve quoted you a mil­lion times. You said: ‘Al­ways do your own make-up, it looks bet­ter.’ I think about that ev­ery time I put my make-up on be­fore a show.

DH: You know where I got it from? I got it from Eliz­a­beth Tay­lor.

BD: Re­ally? That’s in­cred­i­ble.

DH: There’s a fuck­ing in­cred­i­ble fe­male icon for you. BD: No shit, Sher­lock.

DH: What about fash­ion? You re­ally are a no-holds-barred kind of girl. You go for it, right? You love colour, you love flair, I know you like to be out­ra­geous.

BD: Yeah! I got into punk in the Nineties, and I think that’s where it comes from. That idea of not be­ing afraid. I’m open to any­thing, ex­cept I hate un­com­fort­able shoes. I can’t stand high heels. That’s one of my big­gest strug­gles. Peo­ple al­ways ask me about my size and the fash­ion in­dus­try. Fuck that. More than any­thing, peo­ple try to pres­sure me into wear­ing heels.

DH: I can only wear them for a short time. I like the way they make cer­tain clothes look, but I don’t work in them, that’s for sure. I’m try­ing to imag­ine your wardrobe. I bet you’ve got a lot of moods in there?

BD: I’ve got a lot of Wal­mart clothes in there, I’ll tell you that much. Maybe it’s from grow­ing up poor as a kid, but I have bad scarcity is­sues. If I find a nice shirt, I’ll buy ev­ery one of them, be­cause for my size it’s not easy to find. I used to make all my own clothes, but now there’s no time. I love to sew.

DH: Oh, sewing is great. I con­cur com­pletely. Be­fore a tour, I do this rit­u­al­is­tic thing for about a week where I hyp­not­i­cally sew for hours a day, try­ing to put to­gether a look. It’s very therapeutic. Now Beth, let’s get on to your pas­sion for LGBTQ rights and this Trump busi­ness. We should talk pol­i­tics, don’t you think? BD: Yes, I agree. I have so much to say.

DH: We need to hand out some grit here.

BD: I feel so over­whelmed by the amount of wrong that’s hap­pen­ing, where do we start? The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency? Cor­po­rate cor­rup­tion? Trans­gen­der peo­ple in the mil­i­tary? Rus­sia? It feels like we’re watch­ing a re­al­ity show.

DH: Ex­actly. But I do think it pushes ev­ery­body who would per­haps be in­ac­tive into be­ing proac­tive, like you are. I love that you’re tak­ing a stand with the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties and be­ing an ad­vo­cate. I’m com­mit­ted to the idea of mod­ernising and re­vamp­ing our gov­ern­ment. I think we have to look at that very se­ri­ously.

BD: Mod­ernising is a great word to use, be­cause it’s so ar­chaic. It re­ally is built on an an­cient foun­da­tion.

DH: I’m a firm be­liever in the pen­du­lum, things swing back and forth. Hav­ing lived through the hippy era, the love gen­er­a­tion and all that, I re­ally do think any­thing is pos­si­ble. We’ve cer­tainly made a lot of mis­takes through the years. Do you think the hu­man race gets bet­ter?

BD: I worry that peo­ple with bad in­ten­tions are al­ways the peo­ple who rise to power, be­cause they’re the ones who will do any­thing to get it. Peo­ple with a con­science aren’t go­ing to tram­ple over others to get their way. But that idea of a pen­du­lum gives me com­fort. I think some­times we ex­pect too much of each other and it can feel di­vided. We need to use our strengths and pas­sions and in­ter­ests for a greater good. Deb­bie Harry’s on en­vi­ron­ment, guys; Beth is on LGBTQ rights; let’s all meet in the same place!

DH: We need that when we have such a loser in of­fice who isn’t pro any­thing ex­cept his own bank bal­ance.

BD: I’m go­ing to think a lot about this pen­du­lum ef­fect. I think peo­ple will feel a lot less stuck if they em­brace the idea that things will even­tu­ally swing the other way.

DH: As long as we’re do­ing some­thing, and fo­cus­ing, we can make a dif­fer­ence. Tak­ing ac­tion is an af­fir­ma­tion that you’re as­sum­ing power, and it can build.

BD: I’m com­ing out of this con­ver­sa­tion think­ing, ‘Yeah, we can do this!’

DH: I think that’s a pos­i­tive note to end on, don’t you? I love you, Beth Ditto.

BD: I love you, Deb­o­rah Harry. I’ll see you on the flip side.

Beth Ditto’s al­bum, Fake Sugar, is out now. Blondie’s UK tour runs from 7-17 Novem­ber and the band’s new al­bum, Pol­li­na­tor, is out now

Pink or­ganza dress, CHRISTO­PHER KANE. White-gold and di­a­mond ear­rings, all CARTIER. White-gold ring, Beth’s own

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