It’s not easy being a pioneer, especially if you’re a woman. Growing up idolizing The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Led Zepellin, when Kathy Valentine joined The Go-Gos as bassist in 1980, the band embodied something they hadn’t seen at the time: an all-female band who played their own instruments. Today, a band made up entirely of women is more of an anomaly than reality, yet the role women have within the music industry has expanded immensely since the earlier days of The Go-Gos.
Now more than 40 years since the band released their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, and follow up Vacation in 1982, The Go-Gos reemerged in 2020 for the first time since 2001 album God Bless the Go-Gos, around the Alison Ellwood-directed documentary on the band. The band also released a new song “Club Zero” and were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a year later.
Valentine, who wrote the band’s hits “Vacation” and “Head Over Heels,” with guitarist Charlotte Caffey, has made her own mark as a songwriter and producer, releasing her 2005 solo debut Light Years (All For One) and her later imprints with The BlueBonnets and The Delphines in the ’90s.
“For me a lot of times, songwriting is a form of therapy,” says Valentine. “It’s like a friend to me. I have many songs that will probably never get heard because they served the purpose of helping me process difficult experiences.”
To accompany her 2021 memoir All I Ever Wanted: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir, Valentine wrote a collection of songs centered around her stories of sex and drugs and rock, growing up in Austin, Texas and becoming enamored with being a rock star.
Today, Valentine is still moving and set to kick off the first all-female Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp, featuring Nancy Wilson, Melissa Etheridge, and Orianthi in May 2022, and in the midst of playing a string of shows with The Go-Go’s.
Valentine spoke to American Songwriter about the women who influenced her, where she’s found her muse writing now, and how things have changed (and stayed the same) for women in music.
American Songwriter: For women, the music industry was another beast when The Go-Gos were starting in the ’70s and blowing up in the 1980s. Times have changed, but what still hasn’t shifted for women in music?
Kathy Valentine: I don’t see as many bands that are comprised all of women. I see a lot more musicians and women working in the music industry, but there doesn’t seem to be as many bands. If you think of bands, anyone from Green Day to U2, they’re all guys. I don’t see as many women and that doesn’t seem to have changed that much. It doesn’t seem to be that many women are wanting to start bands with other women, and I’m not sure why that is.
AS: It’s interesting because on the surface it seems like more women have been coming together, but when it comes to music, you can’t find many bands. Do you think this has something to do with the fact there isn’t a stronger community of women within music?
KV: In terms of female solidarity, there’s the MeToo movement and everything happening around reproductive rights… It’s a reflection of where we are as a society in general and that we’re all very divided and polarized. I don’t think women are finding that any easier to overcome. It’s systemic, from music to politics to community.
AS: Women are definitely in a more powerful place in music now than they were 30 or 40 years ago.
KV: Change is very slow. You’re seeing more women in the studio who know their way around recording and mastering and producing. Obviously, we’ve always been songwriters. It’s just a slow thing. It’s always a numbers game. If you have 100 males and 100 females, there’s the percentage of males that are likely to go into a career that’s more non-traditional. For women, there’s going to be fewer in that realm, and that’s why I’m always very interested in visibility and making sure that the women who do choose a less-traveled road are seen in the media and held up. In the ’50s and ’60s, I think women started seeing that they didn’t have to be homemakers and mothers and that they could have all kinds of careers, but they had to see that happen before it entered their minds. My mom was in England and young teenage girls were never expected to go to college. When she married and moved here, and she was in the United States she saw women her age going to college.
AS: Things have transformed tremendously from the time The Go-Gos were making their way. You mentioned #MeToo, and it’s hard not to think of how prevalent sexual harassment was within the music industry, particularly when The Go-Gos were starting. Did you have any personal experiences with this?
KV: I was lucky, I didn’t experience that sort of thing. There was the culture of the A&R guy back in the ’80s. It was hard partying, almost like a stereotypical agent, like Ari [Gold] in Entourage. That’s kind of like how the A&R guys were like. I can’t even imagine what it was like for the women. We saw very few women. We would travel and tour and meet the local rep in every city and it was never a woman. We were lucky. We had some women at IRS records that were awesome, but in general, there wasn’t a lot. Alice De Buhr of Fanny was at A&M [Records], and it was always a pleasure for us when there was a woman in the business. Even the program directors at the radio stations—all men.