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Talk of the Town - An Interview with the Gossip

*Thanks to Mike Carey for his help in writing this interview.

The Gossip

Two years ago the world was bracing itself for the new millenium, and the 30th anniversary of Woodstock was literally a natural disaster. Amidst the chaos and the tragedy, three friends from the sleepy little town of Olympia, WA, were forming the sassy, hard-rocking force that would become the Gossip. The Gossip are a bluesy punk rock trio with influences ranging from gospel and country to classic rock and no-wave music.

"We all knew each other from back home in Searcy, Arkansas. When we moved to Olympia we were all living together in the same house. We had all played in bands before so it was just natural to start playing together," explains lead singer and frontwoman Beth Ditto in her slow Southern drawl.

While the Southern stereotype of a slow, laid-back lifestyle may be true of many, the Gossip are anything but. Withe the soulful clip of their punk music, the Gossip are fast enough to make a speed freak happy. Guitarist Nathan Howdeshell, a self-proclaimed sixth grade drop-out, sands and preaches like a rock and roll televangelist possessed by Satan while Ditto exudes a twisted sexiness straight into the microphone. The usually quiet drummer Kathi Mendonca is fierce and fiery behind her kit.

The Gossip playwd to a sparse but enthusiastic crowd at Milwaukee's Globe East this past July. The low turnout was an alarming indication of Milwaukee's lack of support of good independent music, though such matters failed to dishearten the Olympia trio. "The party is here!" declared Ditto.

Despite their minimal setup (just one guitar and drums), The Gossip are able to maintain a surprisingly full sound. Crunching, snarling '50's guitar riffs and swaggering drumbeats back up Ditto's blues bravado. The music is classic indie-garage withe a deep-fried Southern twist. 19 year old Ditto sings with more passion than most older singers.

"We had a bassist, but it just didn't work out, " said Ditto. "Calvin Johnston tried to sing for us once, but we called him up and told him he had the worst voice we'd ever heard!" Although kicked out of the band, Johnston was forgiving enough to put out a seven-inch by the band on his label K Records.

The band recorded their first full-length album, That's Not What I Head, just over a year ago. With fourteen tracks the album is twenty-two minutes of sheer pop that goes back to is rock roots. "We recorded the record in my basement back in July of 2000. Our friend Paul Shuster helped us. Beth did the vocals in his bathroom," said Mendonca.

"At first we were going to put the album out ourselves," Howdeshell said, "but we were playing some game with Slim Moon, the owner of Kill Rock Stars. I think it was Connect Four. Anyways, Slim told us that if we won we'd have to put the record out ourselves, but if we lost he'd help release it. So we lost miserably!"

Since joining Kill Rock Stars, the band has done extensive touring with such label mates as Sleater-Kinney and most recently Har Mar Superstar. "We love touring," said Howdeshell. "So much crazy stuff happens when you're tour. On this tour we've had lots happen, like pirate attacks, meeting Cyndi Lauper's producer, or this guy who roadied for James Brown. At this one restaurant we got a salad that came in a wearable, edible hat. It was kind of a derby like Charlie Chaplin would wear. It was great!"

"Touring is really great when you play these shows and everyone is dancing and having a good time," said Mendonca. The Gossip make a point to remind people that music is meant to be fun. In the liner notes of That's Not What I Heard it reads: "No thanks to the squares that don't dance! You're boring!"

The band also tries to bring about awareness through their music. "We have a lot of things we try to deal with," says Ditto. "Body issues, fat issues, girl issues, queer, sex. There's a million things. That's what the band is about for me."

When asked what type of they consider themselves, the Gossip shrugs. "We just mainly tell people we play punk rock. It's a hard question to answer. We live in that underground scene of music. The underground seems really stagnant right now. I think there are some good bands, and there is the potential of it to improve, but most 'rock' bands out there today suck! I don't know, " Howdeshell said.

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