When Beth Ditto speaks of her former Gossip bandmate Nathan “Brace Paine” Howdeshell, the love outweighs her shock. The rock trio disbanded in 2016 in part because Howdeshell became a born-again Christian — but for Ditto, that wasn’t what she had the most trouble accepting.
“I think him moving back to Arkansas was the biggest sign to me,” she says. “I just thought, ‘How could he move home?’ It wasn’t a soul-searching mission. It was like he was going back to his roots. Fuck our roots. Fuck all of that. I love my family and I love Nathan, but fuck that place.”
Ditto’s frayed relationship with her Southern upbringing is at the forefront of her first post-Gossip solo album, Fake Sugar. Boasting a more polished sound than the raw, ragged, gospel-meets-punk aesthetic that defined her band, Ditto puts her vocal might to full use on this collection of soul-rock missives that find her trying to cope with the end of Gossip and the death of her father.
Another prominent theme is her early years in Judsonia, Ark. Ditto has plenty of sharp words for her childhood home, but she also notes that making Fake Sugar provided an opportunity for the kind of perspective that only comes with age.
“Ten years ago, I was still really having a hard time just being from there,” Ditto says. “I was a shitty little 20-something, and I was really resentful about the way I grew up. I was really resisting the Bible Belt — I was thinking about the poverty and the racism and the sexism. I realize that resisting those things made me who I am, but also there were all these really cool things that made me who I am, too. I could gut a fish if I had to. I know how to grow tomatoes.”
She also has no desire to downplay her own shortcomings. Ditto acknowledges that she was “a snot-nosed asshole” growing up. Just as she harbors no ill will toward Howdeshell over the dissolution of Gossip, she also sees that getting mad at her mother for not knowing bacon grease is in fact not vegetarian was probably a touch short-sighted.
Now she thinks back with fondness on the honky-tonks her father frequently took her to. She recently found his honky-tonk belt, her dad’s name prominently burned into the back. On “Oo La La,” she sings about her mother’s mother, a fiery redhead named Arby Ann with the personality to match.
“She was 4-foot-11, and very, very thin,” Ditto recalls. “She was a very beautiful lady. Her whole thing was she was a redhead — I come from a long line of redheads — but she used to say, ‘I’m a real redhead, honey. I’ve got a snatch to match.’ She was born on Halloween — she was a Scorpio — and she said her whole life that she would die on April Fools’ Day and she no shit did.”
Whether she’s discussing her grandmother or her recent audition for the upcoming Gus Van Sant film, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, it’s clear Ditto traffics in the currency of colorful stories. There is always another anecdote to relate and another piece of praise to proffer, be it her family, her former bandmate, or the time she spent on set for Don’t Worry alongside music icon Kim Gordon.
“Kim was the person I was the most nervous and excited about,” Ditto says. “She was the person that I was most intimidated by. I was like, ‘Joaquin Phoenix — great.’ It was fine, but Kim — she’s so cool. I just wanted her to be my friend.”
Despite her best efforts, it’s clear Ditto is a product of the South through and through. The difference is that rather than letting the South inform her personality, she’s made the region adjust to embrace her. Being Southern means many things, and among them is the full-figured, feminist, queer singer who has no choice but to keep her own volume at full throttle.
“I don’t have a choice to be loud,” she says. “I learned to embrace it. I’m just loud. That’s the only way I can do anything. I do not know how to be quiet. I walk loud. I went through such a long time of really hating it and it was really hard for me. Like in school, you were always the person that got called out. You were always the person that got in trouble, but at the same time, you were always the person making people laugh or you were always the person that people could remember in a crowd. I always got the solos in chorus. It’s the only way I know how to be. It’s my natural self.”
Beth Ditto, Sunday, Mar. 25, 8 p.m. at the Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave. $25; 415-673-5716 or theregencyballroom.com