The Go-Go's Jane Wiedlin talks about the band's farewell tour, music industry sexism and more
The 2016 Billboard Music Awards featured a murderer’s row of A-list ladies: Madonna and Celine Dion, Rihanna and Ariana Grande, Pink and Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears and Meghan Trainor. Gigantic stars, all.
And yet something about that night still felt off to another Billboard performer: Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s.
“I think my biggest disappointment about being the first successful all-female band that wrote their own material and played their own instruments is that there isn’t anyone out here who’s taken over the crown,” the guitarist, 58, said in a recent phone interview.
“From watching the Billboard Music Awards, I think things have backslid. Women are so hypersexualized. You don’t really see a lot of them writing their material, and you definitely don’t see them playing instruments, and you definitely don’t see an all-female band. It’s weird. You would think things would’ve changed, but I don’t think they’ve changed at all.”
It’s been nearly 40 years since the Go-Go’s formed in Los Angeles, battling industry sexism to score a record deal and create sugary, spiky, proto-pop-punk hits like Vacation, We Got the Beat, Our Lips are Sealed and Head Over Heels. Now they’re ready to hang it up. Wiedlin, singer Belinda Carlisle, guitarist Charlotte Caffey and drummer Gina Schock are embarking on a farewell tour that kicks off at Clearwater’s Capitol Theatre on Aug. 2. (Bassist Kathy Valentine is sitting out this final run of shows.)
"I don’t think we’re going to be one of those bands that starts calling every tour a farewell tour,” Wiedlin said. “This will be probably the first and only farewell tour that we actually do.”
Before the show, Wiedlin talked about saying goodbye to the Go-Go’s and the sexism (and ageism) that still runs rampant in the music industry.
It’s the obvious question, but I guess we should start with it: Why say farewell now?
Well, we’ve been together for 38 years, and it’s been really great, but we’re getting a little bit older, and touring’s a little bit harder. Over the years, we’ve all become our own person, and we all have our own lives, and there’s just other stuff to do. So this seems like as good a time as any to wrap up the touring. The band isn’t actually breaking up. There’s going to be other fun projects that come up. But touring is hard on the body, and most of the band have kids and husbands and all that crap. I have neither, by the way. I’m looking.
You have dogs.
I have dogs. I have dog children.
Wasn’t the 2010 tour supposed to be a farewell tour? I know you had a knee injury that derailed everything.
2010 was going to be the farewell tour. I fell off a cliff and exploded my knee, and I have to have surgeries, and I was kind of a physical wreck for a couple of years after that. But it worked out well, because after I got hurt, everyone was like, Well, maybe we shouldn’t quit just yet. We put in a nother six years, and now we are here at this point.
Over the years, have you lost any of the passion for these 30-plus-year-old songs? Do you just feel like a different person?
I feel like a different person for sure, but I still love playing the music. There’s something about muscle memory that’s fun. It makes it fun to go out on stage when you can just get out there and your hands and feet and mouth just know what to do, and you can just enjoy the experience and watch the audience. I love that feeling.
You say that you all are getting older, but really, you’re not that old. You could definitely keep doing this for a few years, right? Was there a lot of debate about whether to make this the end or not?
It was just a band decision. What are you going to do?
Are you doing anything different with your setlist than you would on another tour?
Yeah, we’re going to try and throw in some surprises and do some songs we haven’t done either for a long time or maybe never at all. Every tour, we always try to figure out a new cover song. We’re going to shake it up. It’s going to be fun.
You guys have songs you’ve never played before?
It’s a funny thing. The Go-Go’s don’t have a huge catalog. We only really made four albums, besides all the greatest hits packages; they don’t count. And everyone has an opinion, right? So you have all these people, and one person’s like, No, I hate that one, I don’t want to do it, and that happens over and over. All of a sudden you’re whittled down to like 20 songs that everyone can agree on. So it’s slightly restricting. (laughs)
Will you be playing any solo songs? Belinda’s or yours or anyone else’s?
We usually do a Belinda solo song, which works really well in our set. I always thought it would be fun to do Rush Hour, which is my one and only top 10 hit, but it is so difficult. I’ve never been able to figure out how to do it live. It’s super complicated, and there’s layers and layers of keyboards, and it’s like, Oh my god, how do we make this work? So I would say, yeah, we’re gonna do rush hour, but we’re not gonna do rush hour. (laughs)
At the end of these 38 years, because it’s such an outlier on the timeline of your existence, how do you look back now at 2001’s God Bless the Go-Go’s?
Yeah ... that one ... oh my god, that one. I love a lot of the songs on that record. I’m really proud of it. I think it sounds better than our other records. And of course it was nowhere near as popular as any of the other ones. And we were with a terrible management company who also ran a terrible label, and the whole thing was just — pardon my French, it was just a massive cluster---. We never got paid, they went bankrupt and somehow they managed to sell off the records they had, so we got stuck — I don’t even know who owns that record now. But even though we never got paid, they still had the rights to keep our music until (it was acquired by) someone else who now owns it, and then we still have whatever the debt is. It’s just, financially and in a business sense, a total freakin’ mess. It’s hard to even talk about that record without getting upset. (laughs)
You still play some songs from it in concert, right?
Oh, yeah. Honestly, I think it’s a really good record; it has some really good songs. But yeah, everything surrounding it was just so bad.
That’s gotta be a hard thing, because so much of people’s fondness for you guys is rooted in those early ’80s albums.
I think every band that’s still together decades after their heyday experience the exact same thing, which is: Audiences really are not super interested in hearing new stuff. They want to hear the old hits that make them happy. And I understand that, because as a fan, I feel exactly the same way. But for bands that want to keep making tons of records and want to feel like they’re current and still relevant, that it can be pretty frustrating.
Early on, labels wouldn’t sign you because you were an all-girl group. And I know sexism is still a thing in the music industry. But over time, after you got signed and had these hit singles, how did you encounter and deal with that?
The good news was that it was five women. So we had each other, and we really were very united, and mostly we just laughed it off. We would mess with men all the time. I remember very specifically, especially in the earliest days, it would be questions on the radio or from interviewers: “Oh, so who did you have to sleep with to get your deal?” They were serious. It wasn’t supposed to be funny. And stuff like that happened all the time. We never did anything like that to get anywhere. I’m very proud of that. I guess that kind of stuff happens. But that isn’t who we were or are.
Does it change when you become older? Do you encounter a different type of sexism? Do you encounter ageism?
Oh, hell yeah. Totally. Listen, we’ve been dealing with ageism since ’96. So 20 years ago, I remember I had a solo deal with Geffen, and they were like, Oh, she’s too old. Twenty years ago, I was too old!
The entertainment industry is hard, and you gotta be strong. It can crush you. I’ve been crushed many times, but I just come back because I’m like, whatever. Luckily, praise the gods, I have had enough of a career in the past that I’m okay financially. I’m not rich, but I can afford to just keep on making music and not care if it does anything. Because you’re dealing with huge agents and issues. Sexism is still insanely huge. And it’s already really hard. Even young, talented, cute guys have to try really hard to get anywhere.
It’s just a crazy hard business, and I think it’s gotten harder, because everything’s changed, and the rules aren’t really apparent anymore. Everything is super confusing, and it’s really easy for everyone to get your music without ever paying for it. That’s probably the hardest thing of all.
-- Jay Cridlin