Published in the Spring 2006 issue • Features
An Interview With the Gossip
Drummer Hannah Blilie and singer Beth Ditto share their feminist perspectives on the music industry, DIY projects and what keeps them going. A Shameless web exclusive.
Nadja Sayej caught up with Portland, Oregon punk trio the Gossip while they were on tour to promote their third album, Standing in the Way of Control (Kill Rock Stars). Drummer Hannah Blilie and singer Beth Ditto shared their feminist perspectives on the music industry, DIY projects and what keeps them going.
As female musicians, it can be hard starting out. What mistakes did you make that you’d warn budding female musicians against?
Beth Ditto: Something I’ve learned being in the music industry is that you can trust the girls more than the boys.
Hannah Blilie: We’re musicians who actually do have something to say.
BD: Don’t assume all of the indie rockers are punk, because they’re not. Indie boys don’t have the same independent ethics as punks do.
HB: Indie is depressingly unpunk. Indie is not a sound, it’s a hairdo. It’s not political or radical or informed in any way. It’s just the same ideas as the mainstream, but on a smaller scale.
Was it hard starting out?
BD: No, actually it wasn’t hard to get people to listen to us at all. When we were on tour with Sleater-Kinney, Carrie Brownstein said they were playing the same venues as they did five years ago. And that’s the way it is with women musicians: you will be praised up until a certain point and that’s when the music industry tells you “you’ve had enough” and you’re cut off. You won’t get as much attention as the boys do. It’s just like how many feminist idols in the music industry are not even feminists. What’s up with that? You are able to make your own rules, but there are also rules to go by if you want to make a living off of being a musician and off of your art.
Do you have to sell out to be successful?
BD: You don’t have to sell out but if you want to, you should. The thing is with what the music industry is lacking right now, there’s no new grunge and it seems to need that new kick, how we always need to pay attention to the underground — like Swan Island.... I always think about what bands are overlooked, and how more people should pay attention to them.
What advice do you have for new feminist punk bands?
BD: Well it’s basic punk ethics that bad equals good and ugly is the new beautiful. We know that. But if you really think you sound bad, listen to Bob Dylan and Patti Smith and how their unique voices made them who they were and how they were recognized for that. That should help you recognize your talent.
Before being able to live off of your art, what were your previous day jobs?
HB: I worked at a feminist sex-toy shop.
BD: Other than working food service, I used to work at a T-shirt shop called Tease Me, and there was this one guy who would call every morning right at the beginning of my shift and he would just call to hear me say “tease me” and then hang up. It was such a joke.