Jane Wiedlin on Her Punk Roots and Going Psych with Her New Duo, Elettrodomestico
When it comes to legendary women in rock ‘n’ roll, it’d be foolish to overlook the trailblazing importance of The Go-Go’s. Yet, that’s rarely the narrative told. Instead, the band is seemingly almost always lumped into one of two tropes: a bubbly LA “girl group,” or the “sex, drugs, and pop music” bad girls of the 80s, as immortalized by a particularly salacious episode of VH1’s Behind the Music.
“Back in the day when we were really big, there were a lot of articles like, ‘You think they’re America’s sweethearts, but they’re really wild!’ The thing that I picked up on is that 99 percent of any wildness we may have had was nothing compared to what any other bands in the world were doing—it’s just that we were women,” says founding member and rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin.
“We were the first all-female band that wrote their own songs and played their own instruments that became successful. You can never take that away from us… It’s funny that people don’t seem to know that about us. We should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already, but luckily I don’t care about stuff like that.”
Wiedlin was there at the center of The Go-Go’s whirlwind success, helping to pen iconic hits like “Our Lips are Sealed” that secured the band as one of the most defining sounds of an entire decade. Her disinterest in accolades and disdain for anyone throwing around claims that The Go-Go’s were merely posers on the scene is perhaps the most telling remnant of Wiedlin’s days in LA’s early punk scene.
“If you ever say that on the Internet, you’ll get a hundred trolls going, ‘The Go-Go’s aren’t punk!’ and they’re kids that shop at Hot Topic and have mohawks. Yeah, we were punk. Hate to tell you! Punk started in the ‘70s and we were there,” laughs Wiedlin.
Nearly 40 years after the formation of The Go-Go’s, Wiedlin gracefully carries a force of wisdom born of the kind of experience that most musicians can only dream about. These days, she’s busy laying down roots in San Francisco and infectious guitar riffs in nearby Oakland. Her latest work comes in the form Elettrodomestico, the psych duo she formed with her friend Pietro Straccia.
“I hadn’t written in a long time, but I started writing lyrics last year. I decided to send them to Pietro to see what he thought, and he just started writing music for them. Over the course of 2016, we ended up writing a whole album and not knowing what we wanted to do with it. So, in December, we thought ‘We have a whole record! Let’s make a band.’ That’s how Elettrodomestico started. It was very accidental,” says Wiedlin.
Wiedlin and Straccia met in the Bay Area music scene, which she came into a few years ago when she relocated to Northern California following a stint in Hawaii.“I’ve wanted to live in San Francisco ever since my punk rock days when I’d come up from Hollywood a lot to see bands or to play shows. I’ve always been in love with the Bay Area, but it always seemed too expensive—it is too expensive. Eight years ago, I thought ‘let’s just go for it.’ So I moved up here and I never looked back,” says Wiedlin.
“It’s very different from Los Angeles. The thing I like the most is that everybody is different from each other. It’s not all clone-y. People are different ages and different colors and different backgrounds and I love that.”
Perhaps it’s that love of vibrancy that attracted Wiedlin to her other major love: David Bowie. After the prolific musician passed away last year, she honored his life by listening solely to music from his catalog for an entire year. “Bowie has been a huge part of my life since I was 12. I’m a massive fan and I was devastated when he died. I’ve had a lot of deaths of friends and family—loved ones, people I knew, but to have someone I didn’t even know throw me into this insane depression was really weird. I wasn’t expecting it and I went into this whole mourning thing,” she said.
The loss of her idol was also the very thing that inspired her to get back to writing music. “The only thing I could do was write. I didn’t have any destination for what I was writing, just the need to pour my heart out. I don’t think we’d have this band or this record without this event having happened. Not that it makes it any better,” says Wiedlin.
The resulting album, If You’re a Boy or a Girl (which comes out on 10/20 and can be ordered via the duo’s Bandcamp page), is a candid look at Wiedlin and Straccia’s respective personal demons and delights that’s as danceable as it is sincere. Though Wiedlin prides herself on her ability to write great songs, she says that her work has only flourished through her working relationship with Straccia.
“The way you learn how to write is that you write tons and tons of songs. I’m still learning and when you collaborate with people, you learn a lot. My collaboration with Pietro has been incredible. I just think he’s the best songwriter and the best musician that I know. One thing he’s really good at, is with lyrics, he’ll take things and swap them around in a much more interesting way… I always write with an acoustic guitar, so the music was super simple, but he’ll track what he’s writing. By the end of the day with songwriting, he’ll have all these different tracks of guitars playing and stuff and it creates this whole world of sounds that I think is more difficult to create later. If you do it when you’re inspired it comes out really great, and I’ve never worked that way before.”
For the corresponding videos, the duo hunkered down on the DIY spirit of the album and tapped local artist friends to play with experimental visuals. “Aloha” uses colorful Hawaiian imagery in a hypnotic stop motion to offset Wiedlin’s grim account of her island life, while “Rabbit Stew”, a song prompted by Bowie’s death, does some psychedelic gender bending that the late singer surely would have appreciated. Despite the personal messages behind all of it, Wiedlin says that she hopes listeners will take what they need from her songs.
“I went back and read some reviews for [Bowie’s final studio album] Blackstar from before Bowie died and they are trying to analyze what he’s saying, but they didn’t know he was dying, so it’s all lost. When you put a song out in the world, it’s super subjective. I’ve always wanted people to only have my take on my music, but I think that’s kind of dumb. People need to have their own experience and take what they will. Bowie totally wanted that! I learned from that experience.”
Wiedlin’s other big hope? Not to see the Go-Go’s go down as the first and last of their kind. With a Go-Go’s jukebox musical hitting Broadway in the not too distant future and her own new fledgling band on the rise, Wiedlin is still a huge champion of diversity amongst musicians and songwriters. She counts herself as a fan from everyone from Metric to Taylor Swift because, to put it plainly, she loves seeing women kick ass at doing what they love.
“Elettrodomestico just played on the east coast with this band called Petty Morals and they were so good. Oh my god! I was so happy! I just loved them and wanted to adopt them. When I see young female musicians, I know this sounds terrible, but it makes me feel really maternal like they’re my kids… I still just don’t see enough female musicians. I want more, more, more, more!”