‘So what do you do besides yoga and looking fabulous?’ Nathan from the Gossip asked Princess Julia on the unique, fruitful and some might say frankly pissed meeting of this hardcore and mild-mannered Portland punk rock trio and the mighty doyenne of the London night-world. To paraphrase latter-period Aretha: who’s zoomin’ who, here?
The meeting of Julia and The Gossip seemed long overdue. Both had outlived the micro-scenes that threw them into the margins of the public realm and shared a certain taste for arresting, head-spinning imagery that spiked the relationship between stage-wear and day realness. Despite having a flitting, nodding relationship with mainstream pop culture, both had remained resolutely ‘left’. They already had many friends, colleagues and personal alumnus in common. Why not, then, throw them into a room and see what the result would be. Even if the result might end up a conversation about which configuration of potatoes are the tastiest.
The Gossip are tail-spinning into the publicity spotlight once more, onto the promotional merry-go-round for their fifth record. If you had given up hope on the reality of another record from the band, well, here it is. Lead singer and constant cultural fascination Beth Ditto may have sidelined into solo material, on last year’s orgasmic solo work I Wrote the Book, but it is back to business as usual as we head toward summer. There is something implicitly social about Beth, meaning a band always made more sense. Despite slaying the audience at last year’s Lovebox festival with her genre-bending, cape-wearing, ecstatic rendition of Madonna’s Vogue, she seems inordinately happy to be part of her old tribe again.
Here’s the music news: The Gossip have teamed up on this occasion with British crack production house and venerable Pet Shops Boys, Cher and Sugababes collaborators Xenomania. Chief whip Brian Higgins was introduced to Beth by the editor of this very organ, Richard Mortimer, and a gestation period of one year began in which The Gossip and The Xeno’s fashioned what will righteously come to be known as the record of their career. Recognisably, it is them, with Beth powerhousing and acrobaticing all over the shop. But somehow more redolently pop aware. More vital. More Gossipy.
So heads down, lights out and tape recorder on. This is what happened when Princess Julia settled down for a little light Gossip.
Julia: So, come on, new album. You’ve been working with, what’s his name, Brian?
Hannah: Brian Higgins!
Nathan: Sir Brian Higgins.
Beth: Yeah, it was amazing.
Hannah: We had a blast working with him. He’d never heard the Zombies song Time Of The Season, which really blew our minds. He’d never heard that song.
Nathan: But he likes the Sex Pistols
Hannah: He was a dream to work with, it was a match made in heaven. I think it was an unlikely match but it really worked.
Beth: Well Richard (Mortimer) really did it, didn’t he?
Hannah: Yeah, Richard hooked it up.
Beth: It was just a really special connection. Oh, dear Princess, I want to interview you. That would be a much better interview.
Nathan: Tell us about Visage.
Julia: No, you have to tell us all about the album, because it’s so exciting.
Nathan: There are songs on it.
Beth: We’re more interested in you. You’re way more interesting than the album.
Julia: No I’m not!
Beth: Okay, okay we’ll tell you about it.
Nathan: Yes there are songs on it.
Beth: There are songs on it. We recorded it because Richard introduced me to Brian and Brian and I worked together, and then we decided to do the Gossip record with Brian too and it was really awesome. He has a really pop background, which is incredible. I see Brian as someone who’s never… his idea of punk is so different from ours. His idea of punk was the Sex Pistols.
Nathan: The Sex Pistols and The Jam.
Beth: He was like, ‘Oh yeah punk, you mean like the Sex Pistols and the Jam’ and we were like, no, we mean Kleenex. It was such a different world.
Hannah: Brian pumped us up with confidence I think. For me it was one of the most chilled recording sessions. I just felt really good. He was like a cheerleader in the studio.
Beth: He wore a dress, a skirt actually.
Julia: Did he?
Hannah: No, but he really understood what we were trying to do and helped us take it there, do you know what I mean? He was very inspiring.
Julia: You’ve had a bit of a sabbatical haven’t you, with the Gossip? You’ve been doing solo stuff.
Beth: What’s a sabbatical mean?
Julia: Like a little break.
Nathan: Why is it called a sabbatical?
Hannah: It’s like a religious term, right?
Beth: I didn’t know you were religious.
Julia: No, I’m not. But I like that word.
Beth: So how were you raised?
I can honestly say I started shaving my eyebrows because I loved drag queens.
Julia: What do you mean, how was I raised?
Beth: See, this is turning into the Princess Julia interview! Please can we interview you, please?
Nathan: Tell us some interesting stories. Stories about the old days.
Julia: Oh you’ve always got a story Beth.
Beth: That is very rude Princess Julia, that is very rude!
Julia: No it’s not.
Hannah: ‘You’ve always got a story’.
Beth: I do mostly have a story.
Julia: You have a great story.
Beth: I want a picture of you and me, like me eating you. You on a plate and me like…
Hannah: Come on, I do want to get out of here soon!
Julia: Let’s come back to you having a sabbatical. You’ve been doing solo stuff.
Beth: Hannah’s in a George Michael cover band.
Hannah: I am, I’m in an all girl George Michael band called Georgina Michelle.
Julia: Fabulous. Has George Michael seen it?
Beth: I think he should!
Hannah: I did send a video for Tara to send to his management.
Julia: He’d love it.
Hannah: He would, yeah. We all dressed like George Michael. We all had stubble and aviator glasses and leather jackets.
Nathan: Yeah it was great.
Beth: Nathan has been in a country band.
Julia: Oh I see. You never stop.
Beth: I actually toured a bit. I was over here a lot, and we all spent the summer here. I was working doing the solo stuff but it wasn’t any more serious or different than what they were doing. They were both playing music too. I actually just toured with it because I was like, ‘why don’t I?’. So that was what we did.
Hannah: We were working on this record for a really long time basically. For a year, like literally for a year.
Beth: I remember making fun of bands, like I could not believe they were taking three months to record a record but look at us now, we’ve changed.
Hannah: It took us a year but once we got in with Brian it was really quick. We spent two weeks in Portland doing drums and music, two weeks here and then that was it. It was a really natural process once it finally came to Brian.
Julia: Are you based in London?
Hannah: Portland. Beth has a room here.
Beth: But we can’t say that! You know what I’ve realised while I’ve been here, I’ve been saying that a lot in interviews but if they find out I have a residence here I could get in a lot of trouble.
Hannah: We do spend a lot of time in London though.
Beth: We live with Lyndell and Andrew.
Hannah: London is our second home.
Julia: So you stay with your hairdresser?
Beth: Yep. And Andrew.
Julia: That’s handy!
Hannah: I know, tell me about it. Extensions for days, baby.
Beth: You know what’s happening tomorrow? I’m getting my hair done!
Nathan: You wake her up every morning and you’re like, ‘Lyndell, wake up, I want my colour doing’.
Beth: Lyndell, I got roots.
Julia: So what do you think about London life?
Hannah: London is fucking amazing.
Beth: London blows my mind.
Nathan: London is wild.
Hannah: London is constantly inspiring.
Beth: This old girl Hannah is London these days. I’ve never seen anything like it. She’s like, ‘I am on the club scene, and this is me’.
Hannah: I’m single and owning it.
Julia: Yeah you should just have fun.
Beth: I am not single and I have fun at home alone.
Hannah: I love the style here. Street style is constantly inspiring in London.
Beth: I like Primark.
Hannah: You walk down the street and you see twenty amazing people and you’re like, ‘what the fuck are you wearing, it’s amazing’. Do you know what I mean?
Beth: Even the businessmen, who are drunk by 2pm look amazing. Wasted! Wearing retro skinny ties with no idea it had been done before because they’re twenty. When we lived in central London we had this apartment, I would pull my shades open and be staring into the eyes of a drunk businessman.
Julia: What was their reaction?
Beth: They would throw up. Puke into their Starbucks pre-bought cup!
Hannah: There’s just nowhere like London, it fucking kicks New York’s ass.
Julia: I’m enjoying this sushi.
Nathan: What is your favourite food?
Beth: Me too! What kind?
Julia: Any potatoes.
Beth: If you had to pick one potato…
Julia: I really do like a mash.
Nathan: Garlic mashed potatoes. Garlic and mashed potatoes is an amazing combination.
Julia: I’ve done mashed potato research.
Beth: Mashed potato research. We’ve found the name of the article! MPR.
Hannah: You should leave the skins on them.
Julia: Really? Why? Is there a bit of a crunch? What’s your favourite potato Beth?
Beth: I like meat and potatoes. I’m a meat and potato girl. Wait! This is amazing – one night me and Richard, wasted, at like 6am we had…
Richard: Sausage rolls, baked beans, cheese on top, in the microwave, amazing.
Julia: That does sound good.
Richard: It was like stoner food.
Beth: You know who would never eat that? Princess Julia. She’s too busy doing her goddamn yoga. If she eats beans then she’ll poop in the middle of the class.
Nathan: So what do you do besides yoga and looking fabulous?
Beth: This is what it should be like. A conversation. How is that octopus going down?
Julia: It’s lovely. I thought it was mackerel.
Beth: It’s all the same to me. If it’s from the sea – gross. I don’t eat fish. I don’t eat mackerel. Oh, but I do actually.
Hannah: I love anything Asian. I love Asian food.
Nathan: Asian men, Asian women.
Julia: When you were making this album did you feel that there were challenges?
Beth: Well yeah. For one I’m not twenty anymore. Now I have to make a living out of what I do. You know what I mean?
Julia: I’m useless at that.
Beth: This is fun. I wish I could have just interviewed you. The first time I met you, the first thing I noticed was that you shave your eyebrows. I love it.
Julia: They just don’t grow back anymore.
Beth: I can honestly say I started shaving my eyebrows because I loved drag queens.
Julia: To get more Divine.
Beth: I loved the idea that you could have them from here to here. When I met you I was like, ‘goddamn’!
Julia: I did used to have quite a luscious brow.
Beth: Are you naturally dark haired?
Hannah: Do you wax them?
Julia: No, they just don’t grow back anymore.
Beth: So you have pale skin with naturally dark hair?
Julia: I’d like to have paler skin like yours to be fair. It’s beautiful.
Nathan: Oh she’s like a porcelain doll.
Beth: You’re naturally dark headed. I’m blonde.
Julia: Are you? We’ve never seen the blonde.
Beth: That’s because I shave my eyebrows off and hope for the best! You can see that I’m light headed by my armpit hair. So there was a time in your life that you shaved your eyebrows?
Beth: I saw you look at my armpit!
Julia: I know I wanted to see.
Beth: Number one, I think that’s very rude!
Julia: Is it? Talking to the armpit.
Hannah: Talk to the armpit, because the face don’t understand.
Beth: Number one, you should host your own children’s show.
Nathan: Do you like children?
Julia: Yeah, I do yes. I’m very happy with the baby boom at the moment.
Beth: Because all your friends are having babies.
Julia: Yes loads of them! Are yours? Do you think you might have a baby?
Beth: Yeah totally, you?
Julia: I’m too… No, no.
Beth: I’m too awesome!
Julia: No, I think I’m past my sell-by-date now I’m afraid.
Beth: Let me give you some advice.
Julia: I have to live vacuously through my friends. Vicariously! Through their offspring.
Beth: Let me give you some advice that my dad used to give me when the milk went bad, past expiry date, he used to say, ‘It don’t know what day it is’. And nor does your uterus. Are you still on birth control?
Beth: Wow, you’re going to get knocked up. You know what she is? A cumdumpster.
Nathan: A cumdumpster!
Beth: Oh no, did I just say that to the Princess?
Julia: That’s alright, you can say it.
Beth: I wouldn’t have said that to anybody but the Princess.
Julia: Some people might be offended by that.
Nathan: Cumdumpster, oh my god.
Beth: She is not. There hasn’t been any cum in that dumpster in a long time! Anyway…
I wish, and it’s not about body or anything, if I could trade life I would be Dolly Parton.
Julia: What were you going to say? You wish…
Beth: I wish, and it’s not about body or anything, if I could trade life I would be Dolly Parton.
Hannah: Dolly has had an amazing life.
Beth: She has written over a thousand songs.
Hannah: She is so accomplished.
Julia: Amazing. You’ve seen her perform obviously.
Julia: I’ve seen her a few times.
Hannah: I saw her two years ago in Portland it was incredible. She plays every instrument. She was playing bass, she was playing fucking washboard with her fingernails.
Beth: Imagine playing guitar with your fingernails like that.
Hannah: She was incredible. She’s sixty-five years old.
Beth: Does anyone want to talk about Princess Julia’s physique?
Julia: Yeah exactly. What about Dolly Parton’s physique?
Beth: But that’s a different world. Come on Princess, will you please give us a show around those hips? Come on, please!
Nathan: Just give us a twirl.
Beth: Please Princess Julia.
Hannah: One twirl.
Beth: Nathan get it on video. I want head to feet. And twirl!
Nathan: Beautiful. Oh yeah, beautiful curves.
Julia: Anthony Price taught me how to stand.
Beth: Who’s that?
Julia: He’s a fashion designer. He did all Jerry Hall’s frocks and things like that. He did Roxy Music.
Nathan: Roxy Music?
Beth: I’ve never heard of them
Julia: Roxy Music. Bryan Ferry.
Nathan: Roxy Music are amazing. You’ve heard Roxy Music.
Beth: Of course I have!
Julia: I modelled for him once, years ago when I was much younger. He said, ‘you’ve got to stand like Dovima’. She was a model in the fifties. It’s sort of like this [shows the pose]. You have to stand like that.
Nathan: Yeah I can see that.
Julia: He positioned my feet all the time.
Nathan: It’s very classic.
Julia: You know that really famous picture with the elephants, that’s Dovima. I can’t remember the photographer though.
Beth: Can we get a picture of the Princess being actually human?
Julia: What’s your favourite track off the album?
[They all laugh]
Nathan: So anyway, Roxy Music are amazing. I love that.
Julia: With Brian Eno.
Nathan: Brian Eno!
Beth: No, I’ll tell you my favourite track off the album just because I know that Princess has a job to do. It’s Melody Emergency. The drums and the guitar are so amazing
Julia: I can’t wait to hear it.
Beth: It’s going to be amazing. I think it’s going to be really credible.
Julia: I can’t wait to see you playing it. I can’t wait to see you perform, do a gig.
Julia: It’s been a while hasn’t it?
Beth: Yeah a long time. When I notice you’re in the crowd…
Julia: I came to see you a while ago, one of your first gigs in London.
Beth: What, you were there? I don’t remember. Do you go to many things?
Julia: I try. I love things. All sorts of things. Art galleries, music, anything. Anywhere, I’ll go anywhere.
Beth: I find it hard to go anywhere. You have to really convince me. I want you to tell me it’s going to be awesome before I go. You’re not like that. You’re like, I’ll see if it’s awesome for myself.
Julia: Well yeah, you can’t tell can you? It’s funny when people say,‘what’s it going to be like’, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I haven’t been to it yet, let’s go and find out’! Then they say, ‘who’s going to be there?’ and I just say everyone.
Beth: And then nobody’s there, just the two of you.
Julia: What was the most incredible party or situation you’ve ever found yourself in?
Nathan: Halloween, Kinsett
Beth: Halloween, Georgetown. Not Kinsett. I think one of the best parties I’ve ever been to was at Coachella, all of my friends were there.
Hannah: Frank Sinatra’s house.
Beth: Yeah, Frank Sinatra’s old house. Watching famous people do stupid things to other famous people – amazing. Hands down amazing. You really realise that they think they can do anything.
Julia: Where was that?
Beth: Just in LA. It’s one of my least favourite towns ever. I have a really hard time with LA. I don’t like being hot. It’s uncomfortable. People are always on drugs, but not the right drugs! That’s the thing. They don’t put them on drugs that make them interesting or hilarious, they’re just on drugs that make them do things faster.
Hannah: And make them really skinny. It’s all about being skinny.
Beth: Note: Princess Julia doesn’t do speed to make her skinny, she was just born that way.
Julia: I have done speed before.
Beth: You’ve never done speed!
Julia: I have, and I liked it.
Hannah: It does keep you up for days.
Julia: I do like downers better.
Beth: How fast do you do yoga when you’re on speed?
Julia: Oh, I’ve not done it for years. No, no. You’re curious aren’t you?
Nathan: She is.
Beth: About you doing yoga. Will you please show us?
Hannah: Do a pose, do a pose.
Julia: Oh no I can’t.
Beth:. Do a downward dog for us. Just before we go. Please Princess Julia, do downward facing dog. Oh, she’s doing it.
Beth, Hannah and Nathan: Downward dog! Downward dog! Downward dog! Yeah!
Beth: Who’s idea was it for Princess Julia to interview us?
Beth: Richard, bad idea…