Musician Beth Ditto explains how losing the two big loves in her life has strengthened her trust in herself and in her ability to keep going. Ditto comes to KeyArena on Sept. 8, opening for Sam Smith.
Musician Beth Ditto comes to KeyArena on Saturday, Sept. 8, on the heels of what she calls her “divorce moment.” Her longtime band Gossip, which began in Olympia in 1999, broke up in 2016. Simultaneously, her relationship with her wife of four years, Kristin Ogata, deteriorated. She was writing her first solo album, “Fake Sugar,” amid it all.
“I’m a Pisces,” Ditto says, “Our sign is all about going in two different directions, so that’s what my head is like all the time. We get things done in our own way — in the hardest way, usually, because of these different directions.”
In chaos, Ditto finds her own transcendent way. And “Fake Sugar,” which dropped in June 2017, is chock full of crisp, triumphant and grown-up pop. It’s driven much less by guitar than Gossip; “Fake Sugar” revels in spacious, dance-y tracks over which Ditto’s voice soars. Some songs, like “Fire” and “Fake Sugar,” even lean into the alt-country world, the twang of her native Arkansan accent out front.
“You know, the thing that felt really lonely and vulnerable [writing “Fake Sugar”] is that you learn about having to trust yourself in the way that you learn to trust your taste,” she said. “Because the people you usually bounce your ideas off of, the people you trusted the most, they were gone … So it comes from a completely different place.”
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Ditto is still close with her former Gossip bandmates. “I miss the laughs. Nathan is the funniest person I’ve ever met. That’s the thing — when you’re on a tour with a group of people, the laughs and inside jokes are outrageous,” she said.
But at the same time, she recognizes why the Gossip era of her life has come and gone. Now 37, Ditto explains how losing the two big loves in her life has strengthened her trust in herself and in her ability to keep herself going.
“I mean, OK, I’m getting a divorce and [I’m writing about how] … it’s OK to date again, it’s OK to get out there and play the field and see what you can do and what you’re capable of on your own,” she said.
“Fake Sugar” captures that. Songs like “Love in Real Life” are steeped in the bittersweetness of new beginnings, of growth, of differentiating real life from the fairy tale. This sort of groundedness comes easier now that she passed through it all, she says.
“Sometimes things were so unstable and unpredictable [with Gossip] and you did whatever and went wherever the world took you. Like, it wasn’t glamorous, it wasn’t easy, but it was fun. We owed nothing, we felt free,” Ditto said. “I love being in the new group, I love what we do together, we have a lot of fun together, but we did get together as adults when things were a little more stable.”
As for bringing “Fake Sugar” to the Pacific Northwest, she says it’s like playing a gig at home. Along with her short stint living in Olympia, Ditto has lived in Portland since 2003.
“I lived in the Pacific Northwest longer than I lived in Arkansas; this is my first year [I can say that]. It really just feels like this is where I belong,” Ditto said. “I had some people ask me recently, ‘how can you still live in Portland’? I’m like, ‘Because I’m in my house looking at the beautiful trees and thinking it’s pretty awesome.’ “
This show is also notable because she comes with Sam Smith, the 26-year-old British, openly gay, soul-inflected crooner and “Stay with Me” superstar whom Ditto met over Instagram. The two had many friends in common in London’s queer scene. By combining their powerful voices for this tour, they symbolize a lot of pride for the queer and choir-nerd communities.
“It’s really sweet. My favorite thing is looking out and seeing all the choir kids. There are so many, all of the people who really geek out over choir. It’s one of my favorite questions to ask — ‘where are the choir kids?’ and they’re like ‘yeah!’ ”
So, after a few chaotic years, Ditto’s trusting her direction again. “Fake Sugar” got her through and now her eyes can point to the horizon.
“I’ll always make music, no matter if people hear it or not,” Ditto says. ” I’d like to be a mom, I think. And I’d like to go to Iceland.”
Sam Smith and Beth Ditto, 8 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 8; KeyArena, 305 Harrison St., Seattle; $35-$121; ticketmaster.com