Interview With Hannah Blilie

 
 

The Gossip may have been described in the New York Times Magazine last month as a "new band," but they’ve been playing their DIY soul-punk since 1999. The Portland trio, comprised of Beth Ditto, Hannah Blilie (both out lesbians) and Nathan "Brace Pain" Howdeshell have been an underground hit for years in the United States with riot grrrl-inspired releases on Kill Rock Stars and K Records, including their most recent album, Standing in the Way of Control (2005).

But in the last couple of years, the band has become an international household name, with front woman Beth Ditto posing nude on the cover of Britain’s NME and the band’s signing to gay record label Music With a Twist.

Though Ditto often seems to be the band’s unofficial spokeswoman, guitarist Nathan Howdeshell and drummer Hannah Blilie are also integral parts of the band, helping to make its disco-infused punk rock accessible to both American indie music fans and mainstream radio in the United Kingdom.

When Blilie joined the band in 2004, replacing original drummer Kathy Mendonca, the band’s sound was forever changed. The Gossip’s subsequent album, Standing in the Way of Control, became a huge hit. It was not only remixed by Le Tigre, but also had the dubious honor of being butchered by an Australian Idol contestant.

Blilie spoke to AfterEllen.com about The Gossip’s unwanted newfound celebrity, canceling their fall tour, their new live album (which will be released in the U.S. in January 2008), and why they need some rest and relaxation after being on the road for almost three years.

AfterEllen.com: I noticed you guys canceled your fall tour — what are you going to be doing this fall instead?
Hannah Blilie:
Resting [laughs]. We have a live record coming out, and the live record kind of got pushed back, so it didn’t really make sense to tour the States again on this record. We’re just kind of ready to wind it down. We have some other stuff going on and just wanted to take a rest and start writing again.

AE: When do you anticipate that the new record will be coming out?
HB: I have no idea. We’re still totally in the beginning stages of writing. We’re hoping to record … when we have six months off. We’re hoping to just write and record in that time, and hopefully it’ll be out in 2008.

AE: So will you be scheduling your tour in the winter?
HB:
We’re not touring in the winter. We’re taking six months off after December. We’re just going to take a break; we’re not really touring off the live album. We might do a couple of shows, but we’ve just been touring constantly off this record. We just want to unload for a little bit and get going on the next one.

AE: How did you originally get hooked up with The Gossip as [original drummer] Kathy [Mendonca] was leaving? How did you meet the other band members?
HB:
We’d known each other for many years; I met Beth when I was 17. I knew Beth and Nathan from years of playing shows together in Olympia, and all my previous bands would tour with The Gossip or we’d play shows here or there, so we had a previous musical relationship.

What happened was they got offered a tour with Le Tigre in October 2004 and Kathy wasn’t able to do it, so they racked their brains of who they could throw in, and they came up with me. They asked me to do it, and we just really clicked from the moment we started practicing together for the tour, and things went well and they asked me to stay.

It was emotional for them for Kathy to leave, but it was the right time because she wasn’t that into it anymore. We just took it to the next level. [Laughs.]

AE: It seems like you guys are big here, but in the U.K. you have blown up. Are the shows there any different? Do the fans have more energy?
HB:
I wouldn’t say they have more energy, but the size of the shows are a lot different. It’s way bigger than we would play in the States. That’s definitely an exciting thing over there. It just seems to be really sensationalized, almost. Beth is in all the tabloids, and it’s just kind of … it’s easy for a band like us to get big over there because it’s small and word spreads quick, and I think they’re just kind of more accepting of a queer radical band than they would be in the mainstream in the U.S.

AE: Why do you think that is?
HB:
I think it has to do with an open-mindedness that hasn’t quite hit the U.S. the same. Of course we have underground success and a lot of gay fans, but [we] haven’t broken that mainstream barrier here.

I think a lot of it has to do with radio, actually, because our songs get really played on mainstream radio in the U.K., where they just would never [get played] here. Because who they play on the radio [in the U.S.] are the biggest bands — it’s like a pay-to-play kind of thing going on. A band like us wouldn’t get that kind of exposure.

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