Kathy Valentine made a worldwide name for herself during her time as bassist and songwriter in The Go-Go’s back in the early 80s and over the years during various reunion tours and album projects. The band shared stages with The Police and The Rolling Stones, were on the cover of Rolling Stone at least twice and were considered to be the most successful all female rock band of all time. Kathy is not touring with the band anymore but she is still very busy as a musician playing guitar and working with her band The Bluebonnets as well as recently finding time to work with many of her friends from bands like L7, Hole, and The Muffs for the Seattle Experience Music Women Who Rock Project. I was able to track down Kathy to talk a bit about her past, present and future, read on…
LRI: Hi Kathy….We are honored to be interviewing a future rock and roll hall of famer and artist like yourself. How is your 2013 going so far and how is life in general treating you?
Kathy Valentine: 2013 has been a year of change and upheaval. It’s been difficult but has ultimately resulted in me being more centered and grounded. Not to sound doom and gloom, but I pretty much compare any tough circumstances to terminal illness or loss of a loved one and that whips my perspective around pretty damn fast.
LRI: I would be insane if I did not begin by asking you about something that “Behind The Music” totally glossed over and that is your beginnings in England and brief time in the legendary metal/punk outfit “GIRLSCHOOL”. How did that come about and how did the U.K. shape you prior to hitting California smack dab in the face?
Kathy: My mom is English and took me quite often to stay with family in London when I was growing up. I was 17 when we went one summer and took my guitar with me, my same ’62 Strat that I still play! I was looking through the ads in Melody Maker and saw one about an all girl band wanting a guitar player. I spoke to Kim McAuliffe over the phone and we agreed to meet. I’d brought my guitar in a really heavy flight case and didn’t have a gig bag – I remember telling her I’d be at Waterloo station with a guitar in a Hefty bag.
We were all so into music! They turned me on to Thin Lizzy, and Tom Petty even, who was big in the UK before making it here. I taught them Tush by ZZ Top!
Kathy, second from left in The Go-Go’s
LRI: Susanna Hoffs told us some pretty cool stories about how the underground punk scene in L.A. felt to her back in the day and everyone is aware of how The Go-Go’s originated from that scene. What bands from that era were particular favorites of yours and what clubs did you really identify most with?
Kathy: So many bands! I loved X and the Alleycats for the rock sensibilities they brought to punk. I loved the Weirdos just because they were lovable. I was friends with the Plugz, they were the only people I knew when I moved to LA. I liked rock cause I always did, I liked the new wave bands for the pop structure and melodies, I loved rockabilly because the boys were cute and the guitar playing was cool. It was a great scene to have all that, and I never really identified as a punk, but I felt comfortable going to punk clubs and shows – no one really seemed to care if you weren’t all 100% punked out, it wasn’t elitist like that.
LRI: Prior to you and Gina congealing the rhythm section the girls were pretty rough around the edges in terms of performance, style and song structure. Obviously there had to be some sort of gradual development into the type of band a major label could market. Looking back, after you joined the band did it FEEL gradual or did it feel like those pressures were thrust upon you overnight?
Kathy: No, it never occurred to me that we needed seasoning in order to get signed. We had songs. There was no pressure at all to improve our performances. Miles Copeland saw that the band was working like it was, people were responding to us, there was no need to hire studio musicians or be something we were not.
Kathy in her first post- Go-Gos publicity shot around the time of World’s Cutest Killers
LRI: Sometimes the general public doesn’t really consider the various behind the scenes people who make a band go and all the red lights that have to go green in order for a band to break to the level that The Go-Go’s did. In the blur of making those first three albums do you think people like management, promotional folks and others did as good of a job as could be expected and do you think the band treated them as well as could be expected?
Kathy: I hope we treated them well, I have always tried, if nothing else, to treat everyone well, and to extend the same courtesies I would to anyone, regardless of what they could “do” for me. However we were young and self involved like most young adults, and we had certain degrees of suspicion at times, that we weren’t being looked after properly. We played spies once, and surreptitiously, probably illegally, recorded a series of meetings between label, manager and lawyer, in an effort to see if their “stories” matched up. But I think it was more about amusing ourselves than really thinking we were going to uncover some conspiracy to screw us over!
LRI: You have been a part of other bands since the original breakup and are currently involved in other projects now including The Bluebonnets. Do you think the process of playing and creating music without the shadow of an iconic name like The Go-Go’s is liberating, challenging or a little of both?
Kathy: It’s definitely a little of both. Mainly it is completely awesome because The Go-Go’s have such a unique hold on a place in history and because of the timing, our music and the way people identified with us had an impact on a lot of lives. That is without question the best part of having been in that band; the many times I have been told by people that the songs and music helped them through difficult times. Professionally, having been a Go-Go has opened far more doors than it has closed – although there were a handful of times in the 90’s that I was not allowed to try out for bands hiring guitarists because either I wasn’t known as a guitarist or they did not want someone “known.” I am also very sensitive to the fact that occasionally, in some of the smaller, local bands I am in, I am the one who has a higher profile, and I try to even that out and shine a light on my talented bandmates as much as I can!
Kathy’s current band, The Bluebonnets, pride of Austin, Texas
LRI: You’re not currently out with The Go-Go’s this summer. Anytime one of the faces of a group isn’t involved in a band’s ‘reunion tours’ there is a bit of disappointment on the part of us fans. Do you think fans have been super supportive of you for the most part in your other projects?
Kathy: We have always had our original line up on tours unless someone was out due to injury or pregnancy. Until now, that is.
A small percentage of Go-Go’s fans have been supportive of my bands and solo work, but the ones who are not, it’s mainly a musical taste thing. My other bands are more rock with lots of blues licks and roots thrown in, and we have to work to create our own fan base. No free rides for an ex Go-Go! when I do my bands we struggle like any other baby band!
LRI: You were a major part of the songwriting of not only smash hits like “Head Over Heels” and “Vacation” but also countless awesome album tracks. Did you always generally agree with I.R.S. records in terms of focus tracks, video choices or album sequencing or do you think a lot of material fell through the cracks over the years?
Kathy: No I didn’t always agree. That’s the advantage to being, say, Prince, instead of 1/5 of a band! I wish we’d pushed ourselves, or the producer or label had pushed us to write more and create stronger records. Green Day’s “American Idiot” is a great example – apparently an entire record was recorded and scrapped prior to Billie Joe’s writing that masterpiece!
Kathy, second from left on the cover of the Rolling Stone
LRI: You have traveled the world and lived all over the place. How much do you think your environment or other non-musical factors have influenced you and continue to influence you today as a writer?
Kathy: Well I’ve traveled perhaps more than some, less than others, but I’ve always pretty much lived in Austin or LA. Stimulation and thinking keeps creativity flowing, so wherever that comes from, and it comes from a lot of places, as long as one stays in “receptive” mode. As a writer, both for songs and my new efforts at being an author, I always have an antenna out bobbing around trying to pick up on ideas and sparks.
LRI: Thanks again for talking with us Kathy…I look forward to seeing your band tour the Midwest and hearing some new music. Last question…..you can sing….you obviously have experience on the bass and you are an accomplished guitarist having played on and produced your last solo album. Which musical vehicle do you most love or identify with….your voice, your guitar or the rumble of your bass??
Kathy: Singing is least – I can carry a tune but I’m quite sure I don’t feel as good singing a song as say, Pink does, who seems to belt it out effortlessly. My first love is guitar. I’m not the best, certainly not the fastest or most neck-knowledgeable, but I have a good connection and feel with guitar.
Bass was really fun in the Go-Go’s because it was a main instrument in many ways – the bass lines were supplying hooks and the rhythm section was a huge strength.
I much preferred being the bassist in the Go-Go’s than to have been the guitarist, I wouldn’t have been able to play my strengths on guitar. On bass my strengths were timing, melody, hooks, pocket. My best asset on all my musical abilities is that I have good taste, judgement, and instincts. Loads of people have way more talent, but I know where I’m strong and I know my limitations – crucial to success in any field doing anything.
The Bluebonnets live shows in July
Tue Jul 02 13 08:00 PM | Austin, TX US
Venue: The Continental Club Austin
Address: 1315 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX, 78704, US
Details: Weekly residency for July 2013. More details to come!Sat Jul 13 13 08:00 PM | Houston, TX US
Venue: The Continental Club
Address: 3700 Main St, Houston, TX, 77002, US
Details: Bluebonnets go on at 9:30 PM!Sat Jul 27 13 01:00 PM | Marfa, TEXAS US
Venue: Viva Big Bend Music Festival
Address: 209 West El Paso, Marfa, TEXAS, US
Details: Bluebonnets play 2 shows, SAT July 27th & SUN July 28th….venue info & set times coming soon!