New interview with Kathy and the Austin Chronicle’s Raoul Hernandez
Beauty and the Beat’s “Lust to Love” haunts me. With it, Go-Go’s guitarists Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin experienced what Kathy Valentine calls in this week’s Music feature their Lennon & McCartney moment. Outtakes from our Q&A:
Austin Chronicle: “Lust to Love” has a nice thick bass line. In Margaret Moser’s cover story in 2007 you said you’d had a four-day crash course on bass in auditioning for the Go-Go’s.
Kathy Valentine: It wasn’t an audition, it was a show. And I couldn’t hear the bass parts. I was learning off of a cassette – a rehearsal tape – so I couldn’t hear any bass parts. I had to figure out what to play. Charlotte [Caffey] came over one day and on two songs, one was “We Got the Beat,” she had a bass part and showed it to me, which is probably the most famous bass part I do come to think of it. I play bass in the Go-Go’s how a guitar player playing bass would play. It’s funny, because some of my favorite bass players were guitar players that ended up playing bass – Paul McCartney, Noel Redding.
When we got into studio to do Beauty and the Beat, [producer] Richard [Gotteher] said, “Look at the kick drum and every time she hits the bass drum you play a note.” So when I hear the record….
Let’s just say my bass parts have changed quite a bit. They’re a lot more fluid, because back then I was like, “If that’s what he wants to me to, that’s what I’m gonna do.” To me, the bass parts sounds just a little too on-the-nose on the record.
And I will still use that as my guide though. I will watch Gina [Schock’s] kick drum and hit where she’s hitting, but I do it a lot more fluidly now.
I would love to remake that record.
AC: As a guitarist, is there anything you get out of bass playing that you don’t get from guitar?
KV: On guitar I express more emotionally. And it took me a long time; in this band I’ve gone through a lot of journeys as far as being a musician and where I finally came. And it took a very long time, but what I like as a bass player – what I’m comfortable now – is a supporting role. Being very aware of what other people are doing and using my role to try to enhance. That’s what I like about it. Because the joy of playing music for me is that it’s all very much in the moment. It’s the only time I don’t think about being a parent for example. Mind is void, and it’s very much in the moment, and embracing the role of being supportive and aware of what everyone else is doing makes it even more intensely in the moment. Because it makes it different every time. There’s very little leeway. It’s not like we’re a jam band. The arrangements are the same. But it’s amazing how much I can still grow in those limitations.
AC: When you first joined the band was that a source of frustration in that the Go-Go’s primary songwriters were its guitarists?
KV: Not at first. At first, I wasn’t doing anything, so I was just happy to be in a band. My dream of being the girl Jimi Hendrix I’d shelved. I got wrapped up in the punk movement and all that. I was really happy to be in a band where the songs were so good. God, I’d never been in a band where there were so many good songs. I was thrilled with that.
When we started discussing whether I was going to stay in the band, I was right up front: “It’s really important to me that I’m a writer.” And they said, “Yeah, we want that too.” They welcomed another writer. So that wasn’t ever a source of frustration.
I didn’t feel frustrated until after the band broke up and I returned to my dream of becoming a guitar player. I started playing guitar in bands and getting good, and getting better, and actually getting pretty kick-ass. And then when the band reformed, I had a period of time then that I had an attitude, “Oh, I’m better!” I kind of thought that bass was a lesser instrument. So I had a bad attitude a little bit.
You know who opened me up? Wendy, from Wendy & Lisa – Wendy Melvoin. I saw her doing a show. I think she was actually playing with Doyle Bramhall Jr., and it was at the Viper Room in L.A. She would play guitar on one song, and then she would put it down and go to the bass and play the bass. And I thought, “It’s just about being a musician. A musician.”
Those perception changes are everything, because if your perception changes, your attitude changes. After that I just tried to be helpful. If I saw one of the guitar players doing something that they were struggling with I could take my new found [knowledge] and go, “Hey, you can do this like this. It’s easier.” And now, I’m in a really good place with both of the girls. Charlotte will often say to me, “What can I do here? Can you help me figure something out?” It wasn’t always that way. We’re in a really good place and so am I. I like my role in the band.
And I think it’s ironic that I’m the best known for probably what I’m the worst at. I have a studio, I write songs, I record, and I’m [really not that good] on the bass. But in the Go-Go’s I’m great! I’m great. But if someone hired me to be their bass player, they’d be like, “Jeez.”
AC: Is it harder for women to be rock stars than it is for men?
KV: Well, I don’t know. What I do think is that it’s a rare breed. There’s no reason there shouldn’t be more women in all-girl bands, and more so than ever. Every city has got numerous girls rock camps. You go in a toy store and all the Barbies and all the Bratz dolls come with little guitars and little drum kits. Every star on TV that kids watch, the girl plays the guitar or sings, way before even Hannah Montana. Our girls are bombarded with the message that girls can be musicians, yet there’s not a parallel rise.
KV: I think it’s just a rare breed. Go back to when I started playing and there was no rock camp and Barbie didn’t have a guitar, and there was no girls on TV being rock stars. But I knew I wanted to do it, and despite the fact that nobody was showing me that it could be done, I wanted to do it. I knew the minute I wanted to do it that that’s what I wanted to do. Girls that want to be musicians and be in bands are outliers. Whereas guys, they’re kind of outliers too. You take a high school class, there’s only going to be a certain percentage [of guys] that don’t want to be firemen, doctors, lawyers, public service. Only a small percentage is going to want to be off in a band. I don’t know what the ratio is, but it’s a rare breed.
AC: What I’ve heard here at the paper is that the girls rock camps really help young women deal with societal projections of what woumen should be as portrayed through Hollywood and Madison Avenue.
KV: If the rock camps don’t make any rock stars yet gives girls a way to reject some of that society and cultural stuff, then they’re serving a wonderful purpose. It remains to be seen whether all these rock camps are going to churn out more girl bands. I’ve been curious and interested in the phenomenon for a long time. I’ve noticed that a lot of the girls that really devout themselves to being musicians are gay. I think that’s fascinating. What is it in being gay that’s more of a masculine thing?
I have not figured it out, but I find that an interesting observational thing. That there’s more gay girls that want to pursue it. And when I say pursue it I mean at all costs, you know, whether they get famous or not. They just keep doing it because that’s their dream, to be in a band. A lot of girls do it ‘til something else happens, but it’s the rare breed that just sticks with it and keeps going, and keeps going, and keeps going, and keeps going.
A rare breed.