Kathy Valentine is a talented songwriter, bass player and most recently, author. She is most known for playing the bass for the legendary all-female rock band The Go-Go’s. She has inspired millions of people through her writing and performances for decades. I am lucky enough to have known her as a family friend for most of my life, and today, I am excited to share our conversation with you.
KCPR: The Go-Go’s are known for being the very first all-female rock band to reach mainstream fame. What was it like to break that barrier?
KV: It was one of the biggest interviewers of the time, like one of the biggest journalists on TV, he said “Would you say you play women’s music?” and I said “I don’t think there really is a women’s music.” And then he said “Most female musicians are just trying to act like men. How do you feel about that?” And everybody was just looking at him like “What are you even talking about?” There were times where there was definitely sexism and whatnot, but we just didn’t let it bother us. We were just gonna do what we were gonna do no matter what.
KCPR: What does it feel like to have impacted women’s roles in the music industry?
KV: I’m always really happy to see younger girls and I always make sure that I give them a guitar pick and stuff. A lot, a lot of women have told me that that made them feel like maybe they could be in a band; and I know a lot of people started bands and then people started bands because of them. And now I know women that are in their twenties who started playing because they saw Avril Lavigne, so it just kind of gets passed on, you know? There were other female bands, but they just weren’t famous. Now you can go on YouTube and find that there was actually an all-female rock band in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But back then, you really didn’t know them. So, we had more of an influence because people saw us on TV. They saw us on MTV, they saw us on Saturday Night Live, so even if you weren’t a young girl and weren’t going to nightclubs, you might turn on your TV and see us.
Speaking about the impact that female musicians have on young girls reminded me of one of my favorite memories: When Audrey (a close friend of mine and Kathy’s daughter) and I got to dance on stage with The Go-Go’s to “We Got The Beat” when we were both nine years old. There happens to be a video of the performance on YouTube. The blonde little girl is me, the brunette is Audrey.
KV: Our concerts were really about having fun. And having a couple of nine-year-olds up there being into it helped foster that atmosphere of fun. People come to our shows to have a good time.
KCPR: Are there any bands today that remind you of The Go-Go’s?
KV: Well, there’s a band from Toronto I really like called The Beaches. They really remind me of what we were like. They’re in their 20s and they’re doing really well — I think they’ve had a couple of #1s in Canada. I think that they could do really really well. They’re just kind of out there, just having a really good time.
KCPR: What role did radio, particularly college radio, play in your career?
KV: I have to say that college radio really helped us a lot at the beginning. If you could get one big main station, you would get like 20 of the affiliate stations. We were always trying to go and shake hands, and meet, and do station IDs, and do interviews, and show up first thing in the morning. A lot of times they wouldn’t add us, which was really frustrating. It’s like they wanted us to show up, they wanted to interview us, they wanted us to do station IDs and all that, but then they wouldn’t add us to the playlist.
Our very first single was “Our Lips are Sealed,” and it took nine months of doing that to break into the Top 30. It was a lot of work. And meanwhile, what was driving us was college radio stations. Certain cities had DJs that were kind of popular enough that they could do whatever they wanted. But, a lot of them were under the thumb of the playlisting, so they have to play what they’re directed to. So a lot of what helped us break out was college radio DJs and MTV.
KCPR: Last year, The Go-Go’s were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What was that like?
KV: It was good timing because The Go-Go’s are kind of like a dysfunctional family. We’ve had a lot of toxic times between us and sometimes someone’s on the outs or people aren’t getting along. When it did happen, it was at a really good time in our career. Everybody was getting along really well. It was probably one of the best nights of my career. It was a really, really special time. I’m really glad Audrey got to be there for it. I’ll always remember it.
KCPR: How does it feel that your music is still widely celebrated today and a staple in music history?
KV: It feels really good. I would never have guessed. The two songs that I wrote, I wrote when I was nineteen — the first one being “Vacation.” I never would have imagined that 40-something years later it is still being used in TV shows and movies and stuff. I’m super grateful and it feels amazing, and I feel really, really lucky. Mainly, because if it wasn’t for The Go-Go’s, I wouldn’t have most of what I have. It was just doing something that I love to do and I was just still really lucky that I found the band that I got to be in.
It’s pretty mind-blowing that we did what we did and that it is still relevant to a lot of people. I think a lot of it is because music kind of transcends generations. I still get people sending me videos of 3-year-olds singing our songs. It’s just a very different sort of band and it’s just a small collection of songs, but it’s enough to keep us kind of relevant.
KV: I really wanted to write a book to show that I was a good writer so that I could open the door to writing more books. I’m really proud of it, I think I did a really good job. I’ve heard from hundreds and hundreds of people that felt like my story really resonated with them. I think it was nice to tell part of the story of The Go-Go’s, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s just about my life, from 11 to 30 … It’s very healing. It was like therapy.
KCPR: How does it feel to be back on stage in a way that is more unknown?
KV: It’s just a different kind of rush. There’s nothing like running out on stage and [there are] thousands of people who know your songs and everything. That’s one wonderful thing that I’ve gotten to experience, but it’s fun in The Bluebonnets to have nobody know who I am or that I was in a big band, and to be able to just win them over with nine songs.
KCPR: Since the ‘80s, the way music is released and consumed has changed astronomically. What has your experience been with this change?
KV: People are going to concerts and clubs as much as ever, so that’s nice. But, definitely, the music business and how bands get known have changed a lot. It used to be that you make your band, you rehearse, you play around, you save up your money, you get a van, you just keep at it and keep at it and hope that you’re going to build something.
Now there’s just a lot more. I think you also have to be really pounding every avenue open, whether it’s TikTok, or SoundCloud or whatever you can do to get ears because we’ve really built a consumer culture where people just kind of consume and discard and are ready for the next. I think that translates to music. Somebody doesn’t put out a record for a few years and they’re kind of almost forgotten. And then it almost seems like they have to put out a really good record to make people remember them, you know?
It seems like you just have to kind of be consumed with it. In the past, it was more that you would be consumed with what you were making. And now it seems like you would have to spend as much time thinking up how to make a video.
KCPR: What would you say to your pre-fame self?
KV: It took me a really long time before I really believed and knew that I was as good as I wanted to be. I really was as good as I wanted to be, but I didn’t know it. I think I was in my 30s when I made my own record. Really, nobody’s heard it, but I’m so proud of it. It made me realize that I’m a really good songwriter, a good singer, a good producer, and that I am really musical. I wish I had known that about myself all along. Because, when you’re in a band, it’s almost like you’re with a group of friends and you don’t really know your place. You kind of judge yourself by the way other people see you and stuff when you’re younger. I never wanted to be a solo person. I never wanted to be the star. I just wanted to be in a band. But I do wish I knew my value.
KCPR: What is your advice for anyone interested in pursuing music?
KV: Get to that place. I just talked about making a solo record that probably only a few thousand people have heard. But it makes me really, really proud. And I think getting to that place where you can be proud of yourself, you don’t need a bunch of people, it feels really good to just be able to do that.