Beth Ditto And Debbie Harry On Partying, Punk And Politics

Debbie Harry interviewing Beth Ditto for her ELLE cover is the only conversation we want to be part of ...

From her mighty vocal to her unapologetic attitude, there's no one quite like Beth Ditto. For her ELLE cover story, the 36-year-old musician speaks to friend and fellow punk rebel, Debbie Harry.

Over a decade ago, the world met Beth Ditto. She had jet black hair, a roaring laugh and an insatiable zeal for leopard print. She was like nobody else. Boisterous and unapologetic, Beth would appear naked on the cover of magazines. At shows she'd strip off on stage, climb into crowds and belt out choruses with a voice so strong it always managed to upstage even her most daring of antics. A fierce defender of LGTBQ rights, her band, Gossip's (nee The Gossip) first hit, Standing in the Way of Control, was written in support of same-sex marriage, a topic she's still passionate about today.

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Her interviewer is Blondie's front woman Debbie Harry. One of Beth's friends and a collaborator (the pair sing together on the Blondie song, A Rose by Any Name), she couldn't be more excited to interview her. On the phone they chat like age old friends, armed with questions and praise for each another. Like Beth, Debbie is a staunch advocate for social justice. At this year's ELLE Style Award's, she wore a, 'Politicians are Criminals' badge, and in between screaming at each other's jokes and swapping sartorial tips, it's clear that on stage and off, two of pop's most pervasive figures have a lot in common.

Debbie Harry: Hi Beth! Where are you?

Beth Ditto: Debbie! I'm literally in the middle of a corn field. I'm at a festival in Bavaria.

DH: That sounds nice. I've seen you do festivals, people love you. You're an entertainer as well as a musician, which is a genuine gift. I've often thought you could be a great stand-up comic.

BD: Thanks Debbie, that means everything to me. You always say the nicest things.

DH: Well, have you ever considered it?

BD: No! I'm too scared. That's what's fun about singing, you don't have to rely on the laughs. Debbie, what's your sign?

DH: Cancer. What's yours?

BD: Pisces. Do you believe in all that?

DH: Yeah, well we're both water signs, aren't we? We're compatible. So, what are you doing, what do you do before a show?

BD: Right now, I'm sitting in my underwear brushing out my wigs. I find it hard not to drink before a show.

DH: I think that's pretty normal, actually. I guess the key is knowing your limits.

BD: That's something I'm not good at! I think it's because where I grew up in Arkansas, drinking was never around or talked about. Even at weddings, I never saw drinking, it was scandalous! So when I got out and started drinking myself, I went ape shit. How many drinks do you have? Do other people do that? I feel like people don't really talk about it.

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DH: I had to say to my guys, no drinking before a show. Because for a while everyone was coming out on stage with beers and putting them on their amps. It was like a party on stage, everyone was getting very sloppy so I put an end to it. Now they all have a shot of scotch, and we go out and play. My capacity for alcohol is shit. I can smell liquor and turn into a goofball. I'm a cheap date. It's not a good reputation to have. I can't handle it, but you can. It's to your advantage you know.

BD: I love a little party on stage!

DH: Do you have to do one of those 'meet and greets'?

Beth Ditto on the cover of ELLE's Wonder Women issue, photographed by Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello

BD: Yes! I get nervous, I'd like them more if I thought people were going to be there. I get this horrible anxiety where I feel like there's this big build up to something, and I always worry nobody will come. You don't have to worry about that.

DH: Well sometimes only one or two people show up and what can you do other than think, here goes nothing. I think having come through the punk scene, it's given me a kind of strength. I find wonderful to be rejected!

BD: I have that feeling about critics, even at shows I like to be antagonised. I agree with you about punk, it's given me a really good perspective and made me feel empowered. [The music industry] can feel like a contest and maybe its punk to say, being part of this contest feels gross, it's not who I really am.

DH: Well how do you feel about all those talent contests that have been going on for the last ten years or so? Have you ever done one?

BD: I just guest judged on The Voice, Germany yesterday. It was pretty silly, it's strange watching it all unfold. I told all the contestants, 'listen, I really don't have any criticism, because who am I to say? If you're listening to people like [German punk singer] Nina Hoggins and [Berlin-based experimental band] Malaria! - they wouldn't have won The Voice!' I couldn't tell them on television, but afterwards I said, 'just go start a band, there's more than one way to make music, you don't have to be famous, fame is not the goal, just have fun.'

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DH: That's what I was saying about you, you have a naturally ability to entertain and to make people happy, you certainly have that. It's not a goody goody thing, you have razors and innuendo and people like that, they like being shook up a bit.

BD: Thank you. You know, I remember one time, we were on a photoshoot, you gave me the best advice about getting ready, I've quoted you a million times. You told me, 'always do your own make up, it looks better' I think about that every single time I put my make up on before a show.

DH: You know where I got it from? I got it from Elizabeth Taylor.

BD: Really? That's incredible.

DH: There's a fucking incredible female icon for you.

BD: No shit Sherlock.

DH: What about fashion? You really are a no-holds-barred kind of girl, you go for it right? You love colour, you love flair, I know you like to be outrageous.

BD: Yeah! I got into punk in the nineties, and I think that's where it comes from. That idea of not being afraid. I'm open to anything, except I hate uncomfortable shoes. I can't stand high heels. That's one of my biggest struggles. People always ask me about my size and the fashion industry: fuck that. More than anything people try to pressure me into wearing heels.

DH: I can only wear them for a very short time. I like the way that they make certain clothes look, but I don't work in them, that's for sure. I'm trying to imagine your wardrobe. I bet you've got a lot of moods in there?

BD: I've got a lot of Walmart clothes in there, I'll tell you that much. Maybe it's from growing up poor as a kid, but I have really bad scarcity issues. If I find a nice shirt I'll buy every one of them. Because for my size it's not easy to find. I used to make all my own clothes. But now there's no time. I love to sew.

DH: Oh, sewing is great. I concur completely. Before a tour I do this ritualistic thing for about a week where I hypnotically sew for hours a day, trying to put together a look. It's very therapeutic. Now Beth, let's get onto your passion for LGBTQ rights and this Trump business. We should talk politics, don't you think?

BD: Yes, I agree. I have so much to say.

DH: We need to hand out some grit here.

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BD: I feel so overwhelmed by the amount of wrong that's happening, where do you start? The Environmental Protection Agency? Corporate corruption? Transgender people in the military? Russia? It feels like we're watching a reality show.

DH: Exactly. But I do think it pushes everybody who would perhaps be inactive, into being proactive, like you are. I love that you're taking a stand with the LGBTQ communities and being an advocate. I'm committed to the idea of modernising and revamping our government. I think we have to look at that very seriously.

BD: Modernising is a great word to use, because it's so archaic. It really is built on an ancient foundation.

DH: I'm a firm believer in the pendulum, things swing back and forth. Having lived through the hippy era, the love generation and all of that, I really do think anything is possible. We've certainly made a lot of mistakes through the years. Do you think the human race gets better?

BD: I worry that people with bad intentions are always the people who rise to power, because they're the ones who will do anything to get it. People with a conscience aren't going to trample over others to get their way. But that idea of a pendulum gives me comfort. I think sometimes the left expect too much of each other and it can feel divided, we need to use our strengths and passions and interests for a greater good. Debbie Harry's on environment guys, Beth is on LGBTQ rights, let's all meet in the same place!

DH: We need that when we have such a loser in office who isn't pro anything except his own bank balance.

BD: I'm going to think a lot about this pendulum effect. I think people will feel a lot less stuck if they embrace the idea that things will eventually swing the other way.

DH: As long as we're doing something, and focusing, we can make a difference. Taking action is an affirmation that you're assuming power, and it can build.

BD: I'm coming out of this conversation thinking, 'yeah, we can do this!'

DH: I think that's a positive note to end on, don't you? I love you Beth Ditto.

BD: I love you Deborah Harry. I'll see you on the flip side.

Beth Ditto's album Fake Sugar is out now

Blondie's UK tour starts November 7

ELLE's November issue is on newsstands now

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