"The first night of my tour is tonight," said the singer, model, designer, and Marc Jacobs favorite Beth Ditto from a coat room in Washington, D.C., where she was taking refuge before heading onstage for the first of a long line of shows that stretches through to October. Ordinarily, that statement would mean next to nothing for Ditto, who's spent the last 15 years or so touring with her band Gossip, to the point where her life consists, she says, of "just going to a venue." But this time around things are a bit different. It's Ditto's first tour as a solo artist since Gossip disbanded, a career move she announced earlier this year with her new album Fake Sugar, which favors Ditto's Southern roots as much as it does rock.
Still, Ditto's not totally done with the past: "We'll be playing a couple of Gossip songs, because I always feel like you should give people what they want," she said. "I don’t like to go to self indulgent shows—what’s the point of playing songs no one’s ever f---ing heard? So that you feel smart? Get out of here," she added with a laugh. Here, Ditto talks stepping out solo for Gucci alongside Elton John, her "work uniform" of Vivienne Westwood A-line dresses, and what else she's been up to with her culture diet.
You wrote around 80 songs once you decided to go off on your own. Is that a typical output for you?
You know, no. With Gossip, we’d do the strongest ones, then we’d write around them, like, okay, we need four more songs to make an album. [Laughs.] We were lazy. That’s the way Gossip worked: We were just really in the moment, and if it did not come easily and naturally, we just were just not interested. Then, when I decided to do a record by myself, I was just like, Whoa. Well, I shouldn’t say by myself—I had so much help. I should say I decided to make a record and put only my name on it, really, because I can’t play an instrument, Jesus. When I look back, though, we decided to do it as a solo record, and then we started writing with just that in mind, which made it a lot more free, because before I was writing Gossip songs. But basically, you write 80 songs, and since they could be really bad songs, you pick out the good ones. It’s like anything.
What was it like to perform at the Gucci resort show?
So fun. Hilarious. I just missed Elton John by a second—when I went to go say hi to him, he’d already left. So that was sad, but Alessandro [Michele] was really nice, and it was really fun. I just love s--- like that, because it’s such a different world. It was in someone’s house in Italy. It was palatial, and it was like, this is a f---ing house? When you have places like that, you’re like, Shut up. It probably was a hospital in the 1800s, it was that big. In Europe, they’ll live in anything haunted—they don’t care.
Are you approaching your onstage style at all differently now that you're playing solo?
No, I wish. I think it’s different for me because I’m big, which makes looking for clothes so different. It’s like this for everybody at times, but when you’re a fat person, when you find something, you really do not leave it, because it’s going to be hard to find it again. When I try to change styles a little bit, it never works out. I was just going through all the stuff I have [for tour] and for me, I noticed it's mostly Vivienne Westwood Anglomania. I always have this one go-to—it’s like a work uniform of A-line dresses. And I still don't wear high heels.
What’s the first thing you read in the morning?
What books are on your bedside table right now?
Right now, I have David Sedaris’s new book, the one that's his diary entries [Theft by Finding]. It's a paperback, which I appreciate. You look a lot more sophisticated when you don't read the paperback, but on tour, get out of here with hardback books. That cover thing comes off, and it's heavy in your bag.
What TV shows have been keeping you up at night?
Okay, I’m a true crime fanatic. That's not a joke. I've been watching Cold Case Files, which used to be my favorite mystery, before mysteries really took off. They were narrated by Bill Kurtis, who's the best narrator in the whole wide world. Right now, I'm also watching Bloodline and the Handmaid’s Tale. That book was such a thing—it was like, 'Did you read Memoirs of a Geisha? After that, you need to read this.' And the TV version is so good. It's so frightening. I was watching it my wife, actually, and we were about two episodes in when she was like, wait a minute, they didn’t have cars back then. I was like, Never mind.
What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?
I don’t go as much as I want to do, but I saw Get Out, which was amazing. Fear, social commentary, comedy—perfect.
What’s the last piece of art you bought, or ogled?
I don’t know a lot of art. It's one of those things I'm always like, Oh yeah, art!
Are there any museum exhibitions you've seen recently that you loved?
I live in Portland, so it’s not like we have a lot of options when it comes to art museums. That's probably a part of it. My wife and I were in London recently for our anniversary and we were going to go to the "Queer British Art" exhibition at the Tate, but then the bombing on the bridge happened the night before. It was like, "Fuck that," so we stayed home. But I feel like the way most people feel about art and art museums is the way I feel about history. People are like, "I'm going to go to the Pompidou or the d'Orsay," and I'm like, "I'm going to the Louvre again, because it's badass." They have shit there that's 10,000 years old!
Is there a release coming up that you're eagerly anticipating?
I can't wait till Christine and the Queens's new album comes out. I don't think it's finished, but I'm really looking forward to that. But you know, I'm more into yarn. I get really excited about yarn—really excited about yarn. I crochet really well, and I knit okay. People will be like, Oh, art, and I'm like, Crafts! I love history and crafting, and I love to make things for babies. I'm working on a baby sweater for Christmas right now, and a shawl for a little five-year-old girl who specifically asked for a shawl that looks like Lady Sybil's on Downton Abbey.
Do you crochet while you're on tour?
Oh yeah, constantly. Like, the last thing I read last night was how to attach a raglan sleeve, and that's the kind of s--- that keeps me up all night. I was up till midnight last night when I should have been in bed because I wanted to learn a new thing. It's really boring, but really true. I'm very content doing a whole lot of nothing.
What’s the last song you had on repeat?
Definitely a Judee Sill song. It was probably "Down Where the Valleys Are Low," the BBC live recording.
Have you been to any concerts lately?
God, no, I haven't had time. It sounds like I'm crazy about them, but not since I saw Christine and the Queens. The thing is, my life is just going to a venue, so sometimes I'm like, do I have to go? I can listen to you right here. What about a live stream? I mean, I'm closer to 40 now than I am to 30, so that sums it up for me.
How do you get your news?
My phone, of course: Jezebel, Buzzfeed—which isn't really news news, is it?—and Politico and CNN. I listen to Rachel Maddow's podcast, which is really funny, because it's just the same stuff over and over again, but it just makes me feel better to know there are people on my side. And the BBC podcast is really, really good, but it's so thorough sometimes that I'm like, I don't know if I need to know all these bad things going on in the world every single day. I guess I do like the news, though it can be horrible. I just watched this thing on the history of China last night on PBS that was really, really good; history always makes me feel better, because I'm like, Oh, there's nothing that humans haven't done they haven't done before. Which is also awful, but it's nice to know that, you know?
What are your favorite social media accounts to follow?
Oh my god, Kirby Kardashian is amazing. He's like this fictional brother of the Kardashians that Photoshops himself into their photos, and it's one of my favorite things I've ever seen.
Last thing: What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?
Crochet and watch The Office—my wife and I watch The Office every night before we go to bed.
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