Rising out of the Hollywood punk scene, the Go-Go’s helped lay the foundation for early Eighties pop/rock. But what’s even more impressive than their hook-laden songs and tight musicianship was that these ladies did it all on their own without having to compromise their creativity by bringing in outside writers or session players.
Fueled by the hits “Our Lips Are Sealed and “We Got the Beat," the Go-Go's' debut album, Beauty and the Beat, rose to Number 1 on the Billboard album charts. Subsequent albums Vacation and Talk Show yielded similar hits and helped cement their reign as the most successful all-female rock band of all time.
After an impressive 38-year run, the Go-Go’s—which includes Belinda Carlisle (vocals), Jane Wiedlin (guitars), Charlotte Caffey (guitars) and Gina Schock (drums)—will embark on a farewell tour that will celebrate the band’s legacy as well as say goodbye to their legions of fans.
I recently spoke with Wiedlin about the Go-Go’s' final tour, her gear and some of her most memorable moments.
When you consider the fact that this is the final Go-Go’s tour, what comes to mind?
I’ve had a lot of different emotions going on as I go through my day. I’ll admit I was sad when we first started talking about retiring as a touring band, because there’s nothing like getting out on stage and having people cheering for you. But we’ve also been doing it for a long time, and it gets harder as you get older. So now that we’ve decided it’s time to let the touring go, my plan is to appreciate every second and everyone in the audience and just have the best time I’ve ever had in my life.
What can fans expect from this farewell tour?
We are pulling out all the stops. In addition to the hits, we’ll be playing songs that we haven’t played live for decades as well as some new cover songs. You’ll see that there will be a lot of emotion with these shows. It’s going to be bittersweet, but the plan is to have the time of our lives.
What was the biggest challenge during those early years of the Go Go’s?
The first few years weren’t challenging at all because we were in a community that had accepted and embraced us. But once we started trying to get a record deal, it became extremely challenging. We were one of the most popular bands in California but no record company would touch us. Eventually, we gave up on the idea of signing with a big label and ended up with I.R.S. Records. Miles Copeland took a chance on us and it paid off for everyone. It turned out that people were willing to accept an all-female band.
How did the song “Our Lips Are Sealed” come about?
I was having a thing with Terry Hall, the singer from the Specials and Fun Boy Three. He sent me the lyrics in the mail and I wrote the music and melody. Since I wasn’t a trained musician, I didn’t realize that the chord progression I chose was considered “impossible”—and anyone who knows a lot about music would tell you you can’t put those chords together [laughs]. But there’s something to be said for being naïve. It makes you do things differently.
How would you describe your musical relationship with fellow guitarist Charlotte Caffey?
We’ve always described it as a magical experience. Our ideas fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Even back in the day, she would bring in a progression and I would have lyrics that would just fit and the thing you knew we had a song. I still feel that way whenever we get together and write. We have a strong connection with each other.
What’s your writing process like?
I can write melodies and chord progressions but my real strength is in my lyrics. I always start with words because for me, music is about communication and connecting with people. Even as a fan, words have always been really important.
Did you always know music would be your calling?
Not at all. I was a huge music fan growing up and got a good musical education by listening to the great records my brothers and sisters had. For a long time, I thought I’d be a veterinarian but went to school for fashion design. I was working in the garment industry in Los Angeles when I got interested in the punk scene and that’s when I decided to start the Go-Go’s. From then on, I wanted to be a musician.
What’s your current setup like?
I strictly use Gibson SG’s and have been touring with the same two guitars for decades. They’re such great workhorses that stay in tune and just sound great. I also have a 50-watt Marshall combo that’s hooked up to a Vox AC-30. I have a simple sound that’s played in a straightforward style. I’m not trying to be like Eddie Van Halen. I want to be like Johnny Ramone!
Of all the highlights of your career are there any that stand out to you as most memorable?
There have been a lot of moments. One thing that was really exciting was when we got to open for the Police at Madison Square Garden and then a few nights later, we went back and headlined there. That was pretty crazy!
When the lights go out for the final time on this last tour, how would you like the Go-Go’s to be remembered?
It’s the one thing we’ve been saying over and over and never changes. To be credited as the first all-female band that wrote our own songs, played our own instruments and went to Number 1 in the popular charts. That was a big deal.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.