The Gossip’s adopted home-town of Olympia, Washington is a far cry from the band’s old digs in Searcy, Arkansas. The group—out singer Beth Ditto, drummer Kathy Mendonca, and guitarist Nathan Howdeshell—is fresh off a tour in support of its latest CD, Arkansas Heat, which is dedicated “to all the kids and grownups alike stuck in a shitty small town.”
“There’s more pride that we made it out of that town than ‘that’s where we’re from, and it was this great place,’” Ditto says in her Southern drawl. “The word ‘faggot’ was around me constantly, and me going ‘Shut up!’—well I might as well have burned the flag. But the strongest, most amazing, smartest women I’ve ever met are from the South.” She adds, “When you’re raised feeling like you don’t belong, once you get where you’re going, it’s important not to forget where you come from.”
Since being handpicked to open up for indie success story Sleater-Kinney’s 2000 tour and releasing its own debut, That’s Not What I Heard, in 2001, the Gossip has been all the buzz. The band’s raucous garage punk is drawing comparisons to the White Stripes, but the Gossip has a more bluesy edge in the form of Ditto, who wails like a pissed-off Etta James with the spirit of Patti Smith.
Ditto notes that before she is queer or Southern, she’s fat. “Being fat—don’t be afraid to use the word ‘fat’—is my whole life, before I’m anything else,” she says. “A lot of valuable years I could have spent loving myself I spent trying to lose weight.” Ditto now flaunts her curvy figure in revealing stage ensembles and urges other plus-size women to follow suit to change the perception that fat can’t be sexy. The title of Arkansas Heat’s most spirited track, “(Take Back) the Revolution,” perhaps best sums up Ditto’s sentiment.
Washington has been great for Ditto. “Olympia is the best little place in the world,” enthuses the 21-year-old. “It truly is a mecca for cute punk-rock girls. Now all the ones who are coming in are younger than me. They’re, like, 18, and you’re like, ‘Oh, no!’ But when I was 18 it was heaven.”