As lead singer of the Gossip, the inimitable Arkansas singer redefined what a frontwoman could be – but her debut solo album is a more personal return to her Southern roots
Today though, just over a year after confirming the band’s split, she seems at best ambivalent about the quality of the band’s music.
What about her forthcoming debut solo album, Fake Sugar? Does she enjoy listening to that? “I haven’t really listened to it,” she laughs. I have though, so I know that for all her facetiousness, it’s a record Ditto poured her heart and soul into. The lead single, “Fire”, flexes her solo muscles with a low rumbling bass riff, and husky whispered vocals, before a moment’s silence gives way to crashing drums and yells of “fiiiiire.”
Though it’s a little more Southern-sounding than what she’s done before, it’s not a million miles away from being a Gossip record – perhaps because she wrote most of it when she still hoped they’d continue. But the more she wrote, the more she became frustrated with the inertia of her band.
“I don’t think any of us thought Gossip was an incredible band… I think I just like a different kind of music than I’m capable of making” – Beth Ditto
Ditto seems to have a relationship metaphor for most situations in her life – her songwriting process, the split of her band (“an amicable yet painful divorce”) – but it was a turbulent time in her actual relationship, with Kristin Ogata, her wife of four years, that proved a turning point for the album.
“I really think music should be effortless. I mean, it’s always gonna be work, but it shouldn’t feel like you’re trying too hard” – Beth Ditto
Fake Sugar’s title track, with its two-note guitar riff and gentle “ooh na na ays”, wears its Graceland influence on its sleeve. “I get so sick and tired / Of feeling sick and tired,” Ditto sings wearily, “When the lonely gets so old.” Fake Sugar has its fair share of sweeping romantic statements – the U2-channelling “Run”, for example, where she sings, “We could play it safe but that’s no fun / We could run” – but it tackles the sticky, uncomfortable side of relationships too, the problems you don’t see coming. Like having to “re-learn how to talk to each other as wives.”
Photo Courtesy of Mary McCartney
Courtesy of Dazed Digital