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Beth Ditto On 'Fake Sugar' And Sweet Memories

Beth Ditto's first solo album, <em>Fake Sugar</em>, is out now.
Mary McCartney
Courtesy of the artist
Beth Ditto's first solo album, Fake Sugar, is out now.

For the past several years, Beth Ditto was known as the dynamic frontwoman of the dance-punk band Gossip. She established herself as a singer with a helluva voice who embraced being queer, feminist and fat.

"For me, taking 'fat' was like taking the word to describe myself," Ditto tells NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro. "I am big. I take up a lot of space, I'm very loud. If someone can say that they are thin, I feel like I can say that I'm fat. ... There's other words that people like to use, like curvy or thick — and I'm just like, I'm not a road. I'm not a steak. I'm just — I'm big. I'm big and I'm fat, and that's just what it is, and that's OK!"

Last year, Ditto confirmed that Gossip had disbanded and that she'd be focusing more on her fashion line and her own music. Now, she's released her first solo album, Fake Sugar. On it, the Arkansas-born singer struts back to her Southern roots, mining them for songs about love, identity — and especially family, a subject she's often sung about.

"When I look back at all the Gossip records, I feel like all of them were somewhat about family," she says. "It's just one of those things that you deal with your whole life, isn't it, growing up? And then you start to realize that there's so many different kinds of family ... The way that family changes throughout your life, the way your relationship to family [changes] and the different kinds of family you have ... it just hits you like a brick."

Ditto left her Arkansas hometown and moved to Washington state in 1999; she says she wanted to escape the racism and homophobia that she says was "in the air all the time." But she says Fake Sugar, which draws unapologetically from the sounds of the South, reflects the more positive light in which she's begun to view her upbringing since her father died in 2011.

"After he and my mom split, he used to take us to honky-tonks all the time," she says. "My dad would do sound and my cousin would play the piano and my brother'd be playing the drums. And there'd be, like, old men drinking Old Milwaukee and buying you Black Jack gum and Cherry Cokes and I would dance on their feet.

"It was just a really sweet, very Southern memory that I think is so specific to where I grew up," she continues. "I feel like it was time to be like, 'You know what, that's what made me who I am and those are the really beautiful parts.' "

Web editor Rachel Horn contributed to this story.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.