Continuing in our series of Go-Go’s interviews, in conjunction with the band’s performance at Woodland Park Zoo on Aug 14 (more details here), meet Jane Wiedlin. The effervescent guitarist started the Go-Go’s with lead singer Belinda Carlisle, back when the two were young punks running around LA. When she’s not go-go’ing, Wiedlin has plenty of her own projects going on, as you can see from her website. The band’s classic album Beauty and the Beat also celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and has been reissued, complete with bonus tracks.
I read you and Belinda saw what was then the last Sex Pistols show in San Francisco in 1978 [the band reformed in the 1990s]
I did. That is completely true. The whole LA punk contingent, I don’t know how many of us there were, 50 or 75 or something. Anyways, we all kind of convoyed our way up to San Francisco to see that show. And I stayed at a house on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, which is really funny, because of course that neighborhood was traditionally known where the hippie movement started, but over time the punks took over. And now what really kills me, being a San Francisco, dweller is that the hippie and the punk movements have kind of merged; now it’s become kind of one thing. Like you look at the kids there now and they’re like half hippie half punk. Anyway, I totally got off subject there. Yeah, we came up for the Sex Pistols concert, and I was totally disappointed.
I just remember being disappointed. And then I forget what Johnny Rotten said, it’s like a famous quote, but I remember him saying “You’ve been suckered….”
He said “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
And then we were kind of like, “Yeah, actually. This sucks!” Cause as punk rockers we were really spoiled, we got to see a bunch of shows in really really tiny venues, and you’d practically be able to reach out and touch the musicians. And this was more like a real traditional concert in a big venue. And another thing I did, this is such a stupid thing to admit of course, but I drove Sid Vicious around San Francisco when he was looking for drugs. I was one of the few punks with a car. I can’t really claim that I was some close friend of Sid Vicious, but I did drive him around while he tried to score heroin.
Did he talk much?
I don’t remember having a conversation with him, and to be honest it was a carful of other punks that probably knew him better than me. I don’t remember him saying one word to me to be honest.
Did the show inspire you at all?
Well, the whole punk scene is of course responsible for the Go-Go’s ever getting created. Because before punk rock happened you couldn’t start a band if you didn’t know how to play an instrument. But when punk happened it was like, oh it doesn’t matter if you can play or not. Go ahead, make a band. And that’s exactly what the Go-Go’s did. People think we’ve come so far but in my heart, we learned how to play our instruments, and we became songwriters and better technically, but I still feel that like same person I was in 1978.
How did the band make the transition from punk to pop?
It was over three years. And a lot of things changed. Band members changed over that three years; we gained Charlotte Caffey, who was a great pop songwriter. We gained Gina Schock, who was an amazing musician. And then we gained Kathy Valentine, who was a great musician and a great songwriter. So it’s just naturally things are going to change as the band kind of morphed. Right from the beginning, our aspiration was to be a great pop punk band like the Buzzcocks. We wanted to play fast furious music with great hooks. And in that sense it didn’t really change. A lot of it is perception too, like you know after some years, what happened in the punk scene is there started to be sort of this thing where some of the bands were poppier and they were called new wave, and then other bands just stayed political. Charlotte and I writing together I think changed things a lot, because the songs started becoming more personal, which is more pop and less punk. I mean, I can tell you dozens of reasons, but the one reason that is not true and the one that often people think, is that someone came in and changed us. And that’s not true.
And of course, that’s the only way it could be if you’re all women.
Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. Thank you.
Is that the kind of obstacle you faced being an all female band?
Yeah. Not so much from within the punk movement; we got fairly good support really early on because it was such an inclusive movement. But the outside world for sure were like “This is ridiculous.” Like I remember going early on to local radio stations, and the DJs would just be like “What a joke. Girls?” It was crazy sexist. I mean, the things people used to say to us, a lawsuit would be started over today. Another funny thing about being women, there was the boring and obvious rumors that we had somehow slept with someone to get somewhere, which is just so cliché and stupid.
Funny how if you were doing that it still took so long for the band to get signed.
Yeah, exactly. Three years of sleeping with someone and you end up with some no name tiny label no one ever heard of? No. We did not sleep with anybody because we thought it would help our careers.
What kept you going during that time? Charlotte told me she’d urge everyone to hang for one more month, one more month.
In my memory I seem to remember that that role was passed between everybody. We would get discouraged and some one would be like, “Let’s just do this one more show, Let’s just do that, Let’s just take it another month.” I do strongly remember my parents sitting me down, right around the three year mark and saying, “Look Jane, it was a great dream, it was a crazy dream, but now it’s time to let it go and get a real job.” I remember that. And I’m glad that I didn’t listen to them. And my dad to this day still apologizes and says, “I’m sorry I gave you that lecture, I was so wrong.” Yeah, I totally understand why they did it. They were just trying to be the best parents they knew how to be.
How soon did you start writing with Charlotte?
We started writing right away. The first song we wrote was “How Much More.” It took us like 10 seconds. That’s an exaggeration of course. But really, the chemistry between us was so clear. And I’ve always gravitated towards songwriting that happens easily and spontaneously, because those have always been my best songs. And Charlotte and I definitely had a really good connection when it came to writing. I grew up listening to pop; I grew up listening to ‘60s pop music, the Beatles, the Monkees, Herman’s Hermits and all that stuff. So I had a very strong background of listening to great pop music. But it took Charlotte joining the band to actually start writing catchy pop tunes.
What did you think when Charlotte brought in “We Got The Beat”?
Well, it was very exciting. It’s a great song and definitely showcased our strongest weapon in our arsenal, which was Gina Schock’s drumming. That intro with Gina’s drums, it’s thrilling. She’s such a powerful hitter, and her timing is so perfect. Yeah, you can use a drum machine and obviously it will have perfect mechanical time. But a real human doing that, there’s something about it that just feels good. It’s just something in our DNA, if you think about cavemen dancing around a fire hitting things. It’s just something that’s part of being a human.
When Kathy joined the band was it your “Ringo moment”; did the band feel complete?
Well definitely Kathy was the last piece of the puzzle. And she brought musicianship and strong songwriting to a band that was mostly there, but needed just another piece. And there it was with Kathy.
Charlotte Caffey Q&A
Kathy Valentine Q&A