The Go-Go's: "If you think we're sweet girls who wrote candy-flavored pop songs, our history is going to be a surprise"

The Go Go's
(Image credit: Paul Natkin)

The Go-Go’s Documentary, directed by Alison Ellwood, whose other work includes the Emmy-winning History of the Eagles, chronicles the band’s meteoric rise from the LA punk scene to the world of superstardom. 

With rare photos, live footage and shocking revelations, fans will discover the grit and determination behind the band’s early years in the clubs as well as their tumultuous UK tour with The Specials and Madness before returning to the States and becoming the first, and only, all-female band to play their own instruments, write their own songs and have a number 1 album.

The new documentary, which also features candid interviews with both current and former members as well as management, also includes the new song, Club Zero, the first new Go-Go’s recording in nearly 20 years.

Guitar World recently spoke with The Go-Go’s Belinda Carlisle, Charlotte Caffey, Kathy Valentine and Gina Schock about the new documentary in this new interview.

How did this documentary come to fruition?

Charlotte Caffey: "We were approached by Alison Ellwood about the idea of doing a documentary. At first, we were a bit nervous because we didn’t want it come across as a salacious 'behind the music' kind of thing. Alison did such a great job. It really puts perspective on things. "

The band coming out of the L.A. punk rock scene is something that not everyone is aware of

Kathy Valentine

Kathy Valentine: "The documentary gave us a chance to get something out that was a more complete narrative than what was already in the public eye. The band coming out of the L.A. punk rock scene is something that not everyone is aware of. 

"Alison and her team compiled all of this fabulous filmed footage. It was challenging but it’s a testament to her skills as a director in putting together an interesting and exciting story."

Belinda Carlisle: "A documentary is a heavy thing to commit to because your story is cemented forever. It took a while for us to put our trust into Alison but we’re so glad that we did.

"For a person who thinks The Go-Go’s are these sweet girls who wrote candy flavored pop songs, our history is going to be a surprise."

The Go Go's

(Image credit: Cassy Cohen)

The band wasn’t well received on the first trip to the U.K. opening for Madness and The Specials. Was there ever a time during those early years where you started second guessing yourselves as a band? 

Carlisle: "I remember we’d always say let’s give it another six months and if we didn’t get a deal then we’d break up. Then six months would go by and, even though we didn’t have a deal, another opportunity would come up. We always believed that we would get there and that carried us through those early years. The U.K was the beginning of it all turning around."

Caffey: "I never looked back because once we started rehearsing and playing local shows we also started writing songs. England also gave us a chance to get outside of LA and play in another country. There was something about the chemistry of the band and we would feed off each other. It was a gang of girls unleashed."

Coinciding with MTV and our appearance on Saturday Night live, [our tour with The Police] helped propel us to a level of success no one was really prepared for

Kathy Valentine

Gina Schock: "At the beginning of that tour we’d go backstage after a show and just burst into tears. It was the school of hard knocks but we got tough about it. That audience didn’t give a shit about these five girls from California, but we rose to the occasion. By the time we finished that tour and got back to the States we were ready to go."

When the band returned to the States you started touring with The Police. What was that experience like?

Valentine: "It gave us a lot of exposure. Coinciding with MTV and our appearance on Saturday Night live, it helped propel us to a level of success no-one was really prepared for."

What can you tell me about the band’s new single, Club Zero?

Caffey: "We wanted to write something anthemic and the song feels so right for where we are right now." 

Carlisle: "When I first heard that song I loved the music and thought it was typical Go-Go’s. For me the song was like getting back on a bicycle. It’s a big part of me."

What’s your guitar setup like these days?

Caffey: "It’s a very simple setup. I have a Jazzmaster re-issue along with a Vox AC30 and a [Fender] Deluxe Reverb with one boost for the leads. I’ve gone through a gambit of guitars - Les Pauls and Teles. I’m also married to Jeff McDonald from Redd Kross, so there are hundreds of guitars in the studio [laughs]." 

Valentine: "When I play guitar I stick to a basic setup of an old Fender Vibroverb and Stratocaster along with a Tube Screamer, wah-wah pedal and a tuner."

Of all the highlights of your career with The Go-Go’s what stands out as most memorable?

It’s a wonderful feeling to have thousands of people who know your songs and are excited to see you. It doesn’t ever get old or jades you

Kathy Valentine

Caffey: "I’d have to say it was when we were on tour with The Police and our first album went to #1 for six weeks. The odds were against us being an all-female garage band from California. As a songwriter that has to be my highest moment."

Valentine: "I detail a lot of in my memoir, All I Ever Wanted. The highlight that stands out very clear for me is headlining iconic places like Madison Square Garden and The Hollywood Bowl. It’s a wonderful feeling to have thousands of people who know your songs and are excited to see you. It doesn’t ever get old or jades you.

Schock: "For me there are two. One was selling out Madison Square Garden and having my mother and father standing on the side of the stage watching us. The other playing the Merriweather Post Pavilion where I saw my first concert - Led Zeppelin opening for The Who."

Carlisle: "I remember when we received a star on Hollywood Boulevard. We had it positioned in front of the old Pussycat Theater. Underneath that theater, when it existed back in the '70s, was The Masque where The Go-Go’s got started and rehearsed. That was an emotional moment for me and the culmination of the band’s hard work being recognized."

What would you like viewers to take away from watching The Go-Go’s documentary?

Caffey: "That we’re a great band that played an important part in rock history. No one has done what we’ve done. We’re the first female band to have a #1 record. There was no Svengali who put us together. It was organic from day one. 

"We always say that the reason we’re still together is that there’s unfinished business, but the truth is we have the best time when we play together on stage."

Schock: "All these years later there’s still something magical when we play. Who would’ve thought when we started out that 40 years later we’d still be together and people would still be interested. I’m grateful to be a part of this." 

Carlisle: "We were authentic and did things our way. I want us to be remembered as the trailblazers we are."

The Go-Go’s Documentary premieres on Showtime on Friday, July 31.

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James Wood

James is a guitarist and freelance writer who's interviewed some of the biggest names in music. He is the author of four books and his writing credits include work for Guitar World, AXS and Yahoo! as well as for his hometown newspaper where he writes on a variety of topics with both passion and humor. As a guitarist, he's performed everywhere from local bars and nightclubs to some of the biggest stages in front of thousands of music fans.