Kathy Valentine: “The Cool Chick From The Cool Band”

by Keith Valcourt

As part of the legendary all girl group The Go-Go’s Kathy Valentine helped make music history and break down barriers for women who followed. That group went on to sell 7 million albums worldwide and their faces were a staple of 1980s MTV. Their list of hits are now staples of any eighties flashback lunch. “We Got The Beat.” “Our Lips Are Sealed.” “Vacation” and “Head Over Heels.” The latter two songs were penned by Valentine at the height of the band’s fame. But life wasn’t all rented hotel towels and convertible drives around L.A. Kathy dealt with addiction, rape and almost being murdered in a home invasion. All of which are detailed alongside the rise and fall and rise again of The Go-Go’s in her first ever autobiography titled “All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir.” I caught up with Kathy in this time of social distancing via the phone, me at my home is Los Angeles. her somewhere deep in the heart of her home state Texas, to chat about the book, the band and how to stay creative in these isolated times.

Q: Where does this morning find you?

A: I’m in Texas.  I moved back here in in 2006.  It is where I was born and raised. Although I spent twenty-seven years living in L.A. I spent my twenties.  My thirties.  And half of my forties there.   I did a lot of living there.  (Laughs)  

Q: How are you doing in this quarantined world?

A: Well… I’m trying to be optimistic in the face of not very much good news or progress.  It’s hard.  I’m an optimist by nature but that side of me is taking a pounding.   I’m very concerned about the businesses that are suffering.  The jobs that are going to be lost.  Everything.  I keep looking for the good news and the hope.  Every time I hear a number, I try to look at the other side of the number too.   You hear about “this many deaths” or “this many cases.”  I look at that and think, “Well that means this many aren’t going to die.” I ty to look at it from both sides of the equation. It’s hard because none of us have gone through anything like this. Everybody is feeling it.

Q: Does the social distancing inspire or hinder your creativity?

A: I think it will inspire me. But right now, I have a lot of work to do because my book tour was cancelled. I have to find creative ways to promote the book. I was probably going to sell fifty books a city and this will affect my trajectory. I don’t feel sorry for myself. There are people that are going to be in far worse shape. I’m pretty busy trying to think of different ways to promote the book. On the internet. Once it is released and people have access to it, I would love to get creative again. I think I’m going to be doing different things. Do some chats and videos to keep people engaged and interested. Try to offset the loss of the tour. One of the things I want to do with my daughter is show her how to use Pro Tolls so she can start creating music of her own. We have things we are looking forward to doing together. I will be getting creative, but I’ve got some business to tend to first.

Q: The good thing about a book is you can order it online and it appears at your door.

A: Yeah except a lot of people might have to wait longer because Amazon is not shipping things like books now. That’s another thing I have to be careful about pushing people to go order something they are not going to get for a month or so. It’s all complicated. The audio book will also be coming out and there is a soundtrack to the book people can access on band camp. Just doing what I can.

Q: In the book you talk about the boredom that you experienced by doing back to back interviews where people asked the same questions. That in mind, what is the question you have been asked the most in interviews?

A: In the scope of my life, it was, and is probably still with the Go-Go’s and we were asked continually was “What is it like to be a girl in an all-girl band?” We got that one over and over again. So… I don’t get that question anymore. (Laughs)

Q: Why did you decide to write and release the book at this time in your life?

A: I had been taking college classes, working towards an English degree. I had done quite a bit of writing in those classes. I took some creative writing classes. I had been writing some short stories and getting really good feedback. I’ve always been a lover of words. I had written things about my life and considered writing a book but didn’t really get fired up to do it until I got the book deal. At first, I thought I would just write a collection of short stories. But as I read other rock memoirs I thought, “I’ve got a story to tell too.” I thought if I want to be thought of as a writer, first I should write the one book that no one else could write except me. If I wrote my memoir and my story it would show I had the ability to write. That I can have a voice on the page and that people would respond to it. Then people would be more receptive of my other writing. Because I had already show I could do it in a successful way.

Q: How quickly did you find your voice on the page?

A: Pretty much right away. I’m not a big Facebook person but over the years on certain dates, like the anniversary of my sobriety, I would post things. People would respond that what I wrote there really resonated with them. I was pretty confident in my writing ability. In the book my main concern was that I capture what these moments felt like. I didn’t want it to be, “This happened. Then this happened.” I wanted people to feel the feeling I did when I got onstage for the first time with Go-Go’s. Sold out. 8 show in a row with the crowd going nuts. I wanted to have the reader feel it. And being in New York City making an album at twenty-two years old. I wanted to get these feelings on the page. When I could read what I had written and feel those emotions again. Then I knew.

Q: The home invasion story was terrifying.  Had you not fought back and escaped do you think you would have been dead?  

A: I go back to what the police officer said at the time, I asked them. “I kept talking to the intruder. Did I do the right thing?”  The officer said, “Whatever you did was right. Because you are still alive.”  He went on to tell me many burglaries turn into homicides because the robbers get n too deep and fear they will be caught.  I absolutely think that wasn’t my time.  When I wrote the song to that chapter I cried so much.    I feel like I escaped that day with my life.  

Q:  There is also a soundtrack CD of music to the book. Was the music completed after the book was finished or as you went along?

A: I did it after I turned the book in.  I felt like I wasn’t done telling the story. I was also missing making music at that point.  Music and writing songs has always been my therapy.  I’ve never been someone to write songs for other artists.  My songs are too personal.  I have always just written for me.  Or for my band.  After the book was turned in I wanted to explore some of the stories and themes musically.  I spent eight months making the music.  It was funny I had just spent all this time writing about how much I loved and wanted to be in band.  Then I started creating the most exhilarating music I have ever created all by myself.  That had nothing to being in a band.  It was a chance to finally step out and be me.  When I’ve been in a band, I am very active behind the scenes.  At rehearsals and arranging songs in the studio.  Adding suggestions here and there.  Giving input on everybody’s parts.  In the public eye they never see that.  I’ve always been just the cool chick in the cool band.  The book pushed me forward.  I spent the 8 months after that making the music.  Some of the songs really took me deeper.  The whole thing has opened a new creative realm of words and music.  The idea of writing short stories next with songs to each is on my mind.  

Q: How did you decide on the cover photo and who is the Kathy Valentine in that image? 

A: That is a wonderful question.  I think it is a perfect photo.  I met photographer Katherine Sebastian soon after I moved to L.A. And she took some photos of me when I was twenty years old.  It was the first time in my life I looked at a photo myself and thought of myself as attractive. One of them was used on the invite to my twenty-first birthday party.  When I was assembling the book, I got in touch with her again and she sent a bunch of the photos from that session to me.   I turned all those photos over to UT press and they picked the one that ended up on the cover.  I’m so glad they picked that one.  It looks like I am looking back on my life.  It’s a really cool shot.  The person on the cover was a very hopeful and exciting Kathy with lots of dreams and with no fear at all.  She would say, “I’m here to find what I want and to do it.”  That’s who I was in those pictures.  

Q: You started as a guitar player who switched to bass and then back to guitar.  How easy was it to move between the two and which instrument suits you best? 

A: I’ve learned that they are both aspects of who I am as a musician.  The bass was not hard to switch over for The Go-Go’s.  As a guitar player learning bass it gives you a certain sound and a certain style rather than someone who just starts on bass.  That was an asset in The Go-Go’s. It contributed to our sound.  When you switch instruments, you have a different sensibility.  It was always my dream to be a really good guitar player.  It wasn’t until my thirties when I thought, “I want to get good on guitar.”  I got pretty proficient in the nineties.  Not Jeff Beck level. But good. I only slacked off that when I became a mom.  When I think about it, I am not a bass player or a guitar player.  I’m a musician.  

Q: You wrote “Vacation” and “Head Over Heels” both light and fun songs.  Interesting they come from such a punk rocker. 

A: I don’t know if I really fully identified as a punk rocker.  I loved that movement and scene.  It inspired me to start bands.  It gave me a doorway to do what I dreamt of doing because punk was more conducive to women.  You saw more women in punk bands than rock bands then.  But I always identified as a song person.  The Sex Pistols had great songs.  If they didn’t have great songs, I wouldn’t have cared less about them.  I liked them because they had great songs.  Not because they were a punk band. Same for The Ramones.  Elvis Costello.  Nick Lowe and Blondie. They are great songs.  “Vacation” or “Head Over Heels” are good songs.  

 

When I heard the Go-Go’s tape for the first time the songs and songwriting were what made me want to be in the band.  

Q: When you talk about how you ended up in the Go-Go’s it had such a feel of luck or “right place at the right time.”  Was it fate?

A: I do but I also think that I was very driven.  Like everyone else you always think, “What if I had done this or taken that road instead?”  You wonder where you might have ended up.  I feel like I was going to succeed one way of the other.  I was motivated and thought I could do anything.  I let like “I’m going to L.A. and I’m going to make it.”  In the book I touch on looking back and seeing how the dots connect.  It’s a privilege to be at an age where I can look back over the pattern of your life and see how things connect.

Q:  You address your battle with addiction and how you became sober in detail.  What do you say to musicians who think they can’t make music without the “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll” lifestyle?

A:  Well.  All you can do is share your own experience.  I wrote some pretty cringe worthy songs when I first got sober.  I’m really proud of what I did when I wasn’t sober. Songwriting wise.  Can’t stop The World” and “Vacation.”  All the Go-Go’s songs.  Nobody was sober when those were written.  The drugs and alcohol don’t inspire the songs.  The songs are almost written in spite of he drugs and alcohol.  I have a lot more unfinished songs from when I not sober than I do finished songs.  Sobriety makes it so you can finish things. 

Q:  Have any of your bandmates read the book and what were their thoughts? 

A: Yes, I’ve gotten feedback from everybody.  I was a little scared because you never know what somebody is going to feel like when they read about themselves.  And somebody else’s version of themselves. Everybody has given me their blessing. Gina (Schock Go-Go’s Drummer) called me up after she read it and said, “Kath I feel like I never really knew you.”  It’s funny how you can be in a band with somebody for decades and still learn so much.  We are like a family.  We drifted apart.  Drifted back.  We have had a lot of disfunction.  And unfortunate things between us. We are now at a place where everyone is very supporting and loving towards each other.  It’s a really nice thing.  

Q: Originally before all this madness hit The Go-Gos were set to do a summer tour and play DC on the 4th of July.  If that show happens what can the fans expect? 

A: Hopefully it happen.  If it doesn’t happen then hopefully the tour will be rescheduled to a tie when it is safe for people to gather again.  When the show does happen the people are going to see what they always see.  We’re going to have a good time.  The band is fun band. We love what we do.  We’ve been playing these songs a long time and they still hold up.  They are classic songs that don’t age.  Nothing sounds dated.  We don’t have big fancy sets or production with flames shooting out.  No fancy light shows.   Just five women, on the stage, playing some great songs. It’s amazing how that still works.  

“All I Ever Wanted” by Kathy Valentine  Is available from UTexaspress.com

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Keith Valcourt

Keith Valcourt is a Los Angeles based music and entertainment writer. He has interviewed thousands of celebrities in the worlds of music, film, TV and comedy for dozens of outlets including: L.A. Times, Washington Times, LFP Publishing, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, RetroRoadMap.com LaArtsOnline and more. Much More

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