Gossip consists of vocalist Beth Ditto, guitarist Nathan "Brace Paine" Howdeshell and drummer Hannah Blilie. The band’s 2016 breakout studio album, Standing In The Way Of Control, reached #1 on UK Indie chart (certified Gold) and solidified the band as a dynamic force in the music scene. “Standing In The Way Of Control,” the album’s battle-cry title track, is a queer anthem written in response to U.S. government’s proposition to define marriage and exclude homosexuals. The band achieved multiplatinum success with their follow up Music For Men, certified 2x platinum in Germany and France, 1x platinum in Australia and Switzerland with sales in excess of 1.5m copies. Gossip is renowned for their high energy live performances and have delivered incredible sets at some of the worlds biggest festivals including Glastonbury, Coachella and Pukkelpop Festival to name a few.
Real Power, pioneering Northwest trio Gossip’s first album since 2012, finds Beth Ditto, Nathan Howdeshell and Hannah Blilie back together and reunited with super producer Rick Rubin, who helmed their 2009 opus Music For Men. The result is a comeback of magnum force that celebrates the galvanizing might of music, the joy of creative expression, and the power of chosen family in the aftermath of collective and personal trauma.
It was Rubin who coaxed the band back together again. What started out as a follow-up to Ditto’s 2017 solo debut Fake Sugar quickly turned into a Gossip reunion when Ditto and Howdeshell began collaborating again, under the tutelage of Rubin, at his home studio in Kauai just as the pandemic was hitting in 2019. The pair traveled back and forth throughout the pandemic, recording in marathon spurts of creativity. Hannah Blilie subsequently laid down the drums ratcheting up the immediacy of the eleven tracks.
Not only is there a mix of sonic textures and genres from propulsive rock to jubilant disco, as to be expected from a Gossip album, there’s also a mix of heady emotions on this inspired tour de force, encompassing the full range of the human experience.
“We all experienced a lot of deep loss, and we each turned 40 since we last recorded together,” says Ditto, “Those are such big moments in your lives.” Ditto and Blilie each got divorced, there were losses of close friends and family, and the world went through a pandemic since the band were last together, touring for the ten-year anniversary of Music For Men. It all only brought the band closer. “I’ve come to realize a lot of powerful things: that friendship is beautiful, that music is powerful, that we should never take life for granted,” says Howdeshell. “I can see the beauty of small things now.”
That attitude informed the creation of this album. “It’s been a real joy. We had a really creative explosion—we were on fire, recording day and night,” recalls Howdeshell. “It was like getting back on a bicycle, the jams were flowing. We were able to chase sonically whatever we wanted; we weren’t thinking about genres, we were just throwing everything against the wall.”
“Rick has this amazing studio and it’s all windows; I would just be playing guitar watching the ocean. It did have an effect on the music—it’s not as dark as it could have been,” says Howdeshell. (The vibe even extends in a literal manner to the dreamy track “Turn the Card Slowly”: “You can hear the Hawaiian influence on the guitar lead, from the Hawaiian slide guitar music we were hearing on the radio.”)
“It was isolated and beautiful working in that space,” recalls Ditto. “Everything we needed, we had to fly in, like if there was an amp or microphone we needed. And there wasn’t a real vocal booth—we had to build it out. It was recorded in the weirdest, discombobulated way—which makes sense for Gossip, because we are all so scatterbrained,” she says with a laugh.
Working with Rubin again gave the band space and support to reconnect with each other and create. Says Howdeshell, “Rick is pure about his creativity. He’s not interested in fads or a label’s opinions. He’s a cheerleader—he tries to pull the best out of us. He has this ability to make an artist be their best when he’s working with them, because he works with people he believes in.
“There’s a very supportive vibe,” concurs Ditto. “It feels like there’s another band member, but not in an invasive way—he’s quiet, he sits and listens. There’s a lot of talking through things with him, talking about emotions and asking questions. That’s the thing about producers, so much of it is about processing what’s going on in the moment, so you can be your best and your freest. Rick’s really good at getting you to your most genuine self.”
The results speak for themselves. The title track “Real Power” is a dance-y clarion call to own your power, a celebration of personal agency in the face of overwhelmingly volatile times. Musically, Howdeshell likens it to a “KISS disco song—we come from a background of post-punk and dance music, that’s always been our jam. We were diving into that on that song.” Blilie sees it as a coda to “Standing in the Way of Control,” which was written in response to the Federal Marriage Amendment that would have outlawed gay marriage in the States. “It’s a protest song and it has the energy and purpose of ‘Standing in the Way of Control’ 20 years later,” she says. “It’s a song people can get viscerally excited about, lyrically, and it’s a bop! The title is an homage to Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power, so it’s harnessing that punk shit too.”
Ditto wrote the song in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in her hometown of Portland and around the world. The way the protests were being reported, particularly in outlets like Fox News, she recalls, “you would have thought it was like Mad Max, with the city on fire and anarchy.” On the contrary, “that song is about how awesome our city is and how it really showed up. The system was being rearranged and we were forcing people to reckon with it in a time when it could literally make you ill, in a pandemic. That’s real power—people coming together, making those decisions to be in the streets.”
It's a fitting theme for this comeback album, and the ethos of Gossip as a band itself, says Ditto. “I think the real power is the power of family, chosen family and friendship. Trying to make music without Nathan was impossible! We always end up coming back together. I had my issues but being able to talk about them openly and honestly between two maniacs, because we’re both insane, is so powerful—and to come together as adults! We started the band when I was 18, fresh out of Arkansas. So be a 42-year-old and have the chance to create together as adults is really incredible. when you lose people, in whatever capacity, it really makes you know who your ride-or-die people are. And that’s definitely us. For me and Nathan, and Hannah too, it’s a very powerful relationship. It doesn’t feel like a reunion—it just feels like we’re making a record again.”
The album opens with a kinetic bang with “Act of God,” a tune that harkens back to early Gossip in its unbridled energy. “It was so great to go back to writing with Nathan with him on guitar, like it used to be when we were kids, and for me to use a really big part of my voice was awesome,” says Ditto. “The funny thing is I don’t believe in God at all. It’s a metaphor: it’s a miracle that we’re still here and doing what we do, that we get to make music together. Sheer gratitude at having survived. It’s about the music, and the emotion of being back together again.”
“That opening line gives me chills,” says Blilie. “Every beat of my heart is a merciful act of God,’ meaning I’m lucky to be here, to be alive. I just think that is the most beautiful sentiment.” Sonically, the song’s a throwback to Gossip’s punk roots but with a “psychedelic Motown” twist, says Howdeshell. “It’s like a psychedelic Supremes song.”
The thrill of falling in love again is also a cornerstone of the album, with infectious tunes like “Give It Up For Love” (a “Talking Heads-ish funky jam” as Howdeshell describes it) and the first single, “Crazy Again.” The latter is a departure for the band musically. “Beth sings on that one in a register or a way she’s never really sung before on a Gossip record,” says Howdeshell. “It started off as a Young Marble Giants-ish sound; it started small, and then turned into a Go-Go’s song by the end.”
“It’s just a sweet song. I’m really in love now and it’s been so nice,” shares Ditto. “He’s 48, and he makes art. We’re always busy making something. That song is about actually being in love and feeling so safe. I do feel crazy about him!”
There are a few slow burning tracks on the album as well. “Peace and Quiet,” for example, finds Ditto in an especially contemplative mood. “That song is so deep to me,” says Ditto. “It’s about letting go. Divorce is crazy. All of these ebbs and flows—the older you get, the bigger they get. We’re at this age where parents are dying, even your friends are dying. This song really encompasses all of those feelings.”
The music landscape has also changed dramatically since the band were last together, especially when it comes to the visibility of out and proud queer musicians, notes Blilie. “There are a whole lot of visible queers in mainstream music now, and that was not a thing ten years ago when we quit: Kim Petras, a trans woman pop star, Lil Nas X, Sam Smith, Christine and the Queens, Janelle Monae… America and the world is having this beautiful queer pop awakening. I’m inspired by this new generation; they don’t want to hide the freaky shit—they want to embrace it,” says Blilie. “There’s a lot of scary stuff going on politically for trans people and queers, and a lot of stuff we can’t control, but we can control making art that we’re proud of and having a sense of responsibility for making people feel accepted.”
The timing is ripe for a Gossip reunion, and Real Power heralds a new maturity and renewed sense of purpose for the trio. “What a way to come back after years of being gone: to come back strong and with purpose and so much joy and gratitude, but also getting out a lot of that fuck-the-world kind of energy,” says Blille.
“When we began, so much about Gossip was about running away—that was always in the music,” says Ditto. “We survived. We came from nothing, and we got the fuck out of there. And to be here 20 years later and still making music together is just incredible.”
Released: March 2024