Southern Grrrls

After moving from Arkansas to the Pacific Northwest, the Gossip has earned its musical stripes.

The Gossip, with the Cassettes Grog Shop, 1765 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights 9 p.m., Wednesday, February 28



The Gossip keeps its songs short and sharp.
The Gossip keeps its songs short and sharp.
For a band that calls itself the Gossip, there isn't a whole lot of extraneous chatter when you're talking to its members. Maybe that's the irony of the name. Maybe it's simply the band's first exposure to the rigors of wide-scale publicity. Whatever it is, the members of the Gossip mow through an interview in much the same fashion as they approach writing, recording, and playing live -- with precision, speed, and economy. The Gossip's debut album, That's Not What I Heard, is all about punk brevity.

The trio uses the standard punk ethic of first names only, but its format of vocals, guitar, and drums is unique, considering that music at this volume and intensity often requires a fairly beefy bass guitar to hold everything down. Guitarist Nathan admirably fills the space of two guitars, but it's still an admittedly odd concept.

As in most instances with the Gossip, the answer to the question of why there's not a bass player is as basic as the band's no-frills method of translating its music.

"We don't know anybody who plays bass," explains Kathy, the Gossip's drummer. "And Nathan does a fine job."

"Plus Kathy is great, because she really keeps the bass pedal going," notes Beth. "All drummers do, but Kathy really does. She didn't even know it. We needed that bass there, and Kathy put it there without even thinking about it. Now we don't need one."

The band has found a home in Olympia, Washington now, a long way from its roots in Searcy, Arkansas.

"The scene in Searcy consisted of about 10 kids," says Beth. "But there was a scene."

"There's a big scene in Little Rock," interjects Kathy. "And that's not far at all -- 45 minutes away."

When Kathy and guitarist Nathan moved from Searcy to Olympia to attend Evergreen College, Beth followed suit. Once they were established in the Olympia area, the three formed the band in 1999, inspired by the most notorious of all post-teenage maladies.

"Boredom," says Beth. "There were four of us that made the trip from Arkansas, and we all lived in the same house together."

"Me and Nathan were playing downstairs, and we asked Beth to sing one night," says Kathy. "It became an everyday kind of thing, and we started playing shows, and that was that."

After putting out a four-song EP on K in 1999, the Gossip was tapped by Sleater-Kinney to open for it last year after singer-guitarist Corin Tucker saw the band play at a house party. The gig turned out to be a good one, as Sleater-Kinney -- enjoying the universal acclaim accorded to All Hands on the Bad One -- was poised on the brink of its biggest year ever. The exposure for the Gossip, which had never played outside Olympia, was invaluable.

"It was amazing; it was one of the best experiences ever," says Beth of the tour. "We were all small-town kids, and we went to all these amazing cities and played all these huge clubs. We went from doing like house shows, and little bitsy places, to like 4000-capacity places. It was unbelievable."

The rush that the band experienced on the road translated easily into the recording of the Gossip's first full-length album. Because of a tactical error by K Records, the band chose to make its official debut on Kill Rock Stars.

"We recorded the seven-inch with K, and then they talked to Nathan, and not me or Kathy, about doing the full length," says Beth. "We had no idea. So Kill Rock Stars asked us, and we said 'Yeah.' So when we got back from tour with Sleater Kinney, K wanted to record the full-length. We were like 'No, sorry, we already told Kill Rock Stars. Too bad you didn't talk to the girls -- you talked to the boy; it's your fault.' That's happened to us a lot, but never with Kill Rock Stars."

Influences and inspirations play a big role in most punk bands, but the Gossip comes to the party with few actual connections to what makes it sound the way it does. Kathy and Beth confess to listening to a lot of Beatles, but are especially fond of fellow punk minimalists the Detroit-based White Stripes. Beth namechecks Gladys Knight, Reba McIntyre, Patsy Cline, and Janis Joplin -- Joplin being the only really tangible influence on the Gossip's bluesy punk style.

"Yes, there is," says Beth, confirming the presence of a deep blues impact on the Gossip's output to date. "I love it. I think that comes from living in the South, and I think you live a lot of it and see it, living among the poorest people in the country. I really think the South is the poorest part of the country. Growing up, Kathy and I were some poor kids. We did a lot of entertaining ourselves and taking a lot of shit from rich kids in school. So we certainly lived a part of the blues."

"I don't have any drumming influences, really," says Kathy honestly, about her lack of direct musical models. "I admire Ringo Starr, because he didn't seem like he was technically talented but he had a lot of creative talent. And Janet from Sleater-Kinney. I watched her play drums every night for a month, and it never got old."

The next phase for the Gossip will include lots of additional touring (on its own, and opening for the White Stripes) and writing more songs. Especially writing more songs.

"Those are all the songs we have in the world," says Kathy. "The record's like 24 minutes long, and we gave it all we had. We're playing some brand-new songs that we just made up, even though they're not completely finished."

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