Kathy Valentine’s whole world turned upside down, in the best of possible ways, in 2002.
In the span of 12 months, the Go-Go’s bassist-songwriter met the love of her life, got pregnant in her 40s and got married. Now her daughter is 3 years old; a few weeks out of the year, Valentine’s still a Go-Go, and she has just released her first solo album.
“Worlds colliding,” Valentine said recently. “That’s been the thing happening the most since I’ve been a mom, worlds colliding all the time. When I was doing the record, it’d be like ‘Here’s me doing the lead guitar with the wah-wah pedal,’ then ‘Uh-oh, time to go breastfeed.’
“I just love being a mom. Love, love, love it. Luckily, my job is largely home-based. The Go-Go’s are just a few weeks a couple of times a year. I’ve never had to be away more than five or six days, and I can either fly home on a day off, pick her up and bring her. So far, it’s worked out. Once she starts school, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself. I’m just glad we don’t do extensive touring; I would probably quit the band if that happened.”
Because the Go-Go’s haven’t done an album since 2001’s “God Bless The Go-Go’s” (on the now-defunct Beyond label), Valentine decided she needed a creative outlet – one that didn’t involve playing “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat” for the 10,000th time.
Her self-produced debut album, “Light Years” (released Sept. 6 on her own Redeye-distributed All For One Music label; Hear here), took several years to finish … mostly because of those unexpected, but pleasant surprises three years ago.
“I had a scheduled delivery because she had turned breech in the 37th week, so I was desperately trying to get as much done with this album as I could,” Valentine said. “It was getting harder to sing because of that giant growth, and the night before I went in for the delivery, I was in the studio doing vocal overdubs, because I knew it would be a while before I got back in.
“I had no idea once I had her how long it would take to finish the record. It turned out to be a pretty slow process. Then after about three or four months, I found an engineer who could come to my house and work with me here.”
Valentine, who played guitar and wrote 11 of the album’s 12 tracks and did a cover of Gary Myrick’s “Guitar, Talk, Love and Drums,” got a little help from some of her friends – drummers Clem Burke (Blondie) and Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello & The Attractions) and guitarists Ace Frehley (KISS), Gilby Clarke (Guns N’ Roses) and Craig Rose, who has played with Lenny Kravitz.
“It was kind of a pleasant surprise,” Valentine said. “I never dreamt of being a solo artist. I just had been so busy being a Go-Go for all those years.
“I like recording, and it was kind of my own musical outlet. I mean, the Go-Go’s are always fun and something I enjoy doing and I like the camaraderie, but creatively, it’s not much of an outlet for me. I don’t play guitar in that band, and we haven’t made a new record in four or five years. It’s about going out and keeping our little legacy alive, playing for the fans that still adore us. But creatively, I still need to do something. For years and years, I’ve always had a band in L.A. when the Go-Go’s weren’t working.”
Shades of the Go-Go’s pop up in “Light Years,” but for the most part, the album displays Valentine’s varied musical influences, which she says she gleaned from growing up in Austin, Texas.
“It’s surprising how some of my pop elements came out,” she said. “I wasn’t sure how it would come out musically. I have a really broad range of influences and styles of music I enjoy listening to, and with the Go-Go’s, I obviously always put on my pop hat. But my bands outside the Go-Go’s have been more bluesy and roots rock. I’m from Texas, and as a guitar player, I’ve always gone that way.
“I just tried to write songs that I could sing with a little conviction. And since I don’t have a really belting-it-out rock voice, I think I just leaned more toward stuff that suited me.”
Getting to work with Burke and Frehley made it all that more special, she says.
“One of my favorite drummers of all-time happens to be like a brother to me,” she said of Burke. “To have your favorite drummer at your disposal, I was really lucky. I actually would plan my recording around Clem’s schedule. All the other people were chosen because they’re friends and I liked what they could contribute. We didn’t have the luxury of going in and rehearsing a song live. I would write a few songs, gather my people up and teach them the song in the studio and we would play it right there. I had to have people whose tastes and styles I liked. There really wasn’t any time to do anything else. I just had to trust that they would play something cool in that time period.
“With Ace, I love that he’s playing on a song (‘Bad Choice’) that has a style that he’s not associated with. It gives a chance for fans of Ace and KISS to hear him play guitar in a different context. It’s really like a Blondie song, a thrashy pop song.”
Valentine went the DIY route and has never looked back.
“I created a label, didn’t even want to play it for anyone else or try to get a record deal,” she said. “I called it All for One, and it was going to be called All for One Record because it was going to be all for one record. I’ve now changed it to All for One Music, because I’m getting ideas for a concept for another record and I think I would do a better one next time. I think I would sing a lot better, and I’m getting really good reactions from people and selling some.”
In the meantime, she can bask in the glory of being a Go-Go and being the writer of “Vacation,” one of the group’s most identifiable songs.
“Vacation” is as popular today, or even more so, than when it cracked the Top 10 in 1982. It has been used in several movies and TV commercials in the past year.
“The idea of sitting home one day and picking up the guitar, strumming around and writing a song and being lucky enough to have a vehicle such as the Go-Go’s to get it heard, then to have that song continue to be not only played and listened to but a source of income … it’s crazy,” Valentine said. “It’s like owning a piece of real estate. It just appreciates.
“You know how you would think that if someone used a song for a commercial that someone else wouldn’t want to use it, like ‘Oh, that was used in another commercial’? It’s not true. If your song gets used for a commercial, it makes it more valuable. Like the Romantics’ ‘What I Like About You.’ That song has been used in tons of products.
“There were some really lean years when I used to pray that someone would use ‘Vacation’ in a commercial. It never happened. I would go, ‘One day my ship will come in.’ I would call my publishing and go, ‘Pitch it to American Express. The Princess Cruise lines. Get the song out there.’ And it would never get used. Finally last year, it was used by Capital One and Kmart. Once it’s used, it gets used more and more.”
The royalties keep coming in, and she’s loving it.
“Remember when there was a time when it was not cool to want your stuff to be used commercially? Now, it’s like no big deal,” Valentine said. “And to think I wrote it on the airplane after meeting a young guy on a vacation. It was literally a true-experience song where I got sad that this little summer fling had ended, and I got on the airplane to go home and wrote the lyrics to ‘Vacation.’ “
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “I’m pretty sure it was either ‘Dizzy’ or the Archies’ ‘Sugar, Sugar.’ Pop music was the first thing that sucked me in. Once I heard Cream’s ‘Sunshine of Your Love,’ I shifted from bubblegum to rock.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “The first concert was ZZ Top in a muddy field outside of Austin called Kings Village. It was ZZ Top and Sugarloaf and a band that had a very young Stevie Ray Vaughan called Phoenix. It cost only $3. I was covered in mud and vomit. I got blasted. The first time I went to a club, I went with my mom and some friends to a place in Austin, and we saw John Lee Hooker. It was great growing up in Austin; I don’t know if I’d be in music if grew up anywhere else.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “I always had good jobs, actually. At the time, I was always happy to have a job. When all my friends were working at Taco Bell, I went and took the civil service test and, as a young girl, I would work for the IRS and the Census Bureau getting paid like $12 an hour. I guess maybe the hardest job I had was working at this Elaine Powers Figure Salon. It was harsh. I was playing in bands till 2 in the morning, then I would have to be at Elaine Powers Figure Salon bright and early at 8 for an exercise hour called ‘Teen Time,’ measure ladies and then sell memberships. I would be holding the tape measure in one hand and like throw it around the backside of the lady and try to catch it on the other side, without trying to make them feel bad.”
ON THE WEB: kathyvalentine.com.
BWF (before we forget): Upcoming tour dates – Nov. 11, Seattle, Rockrgrl Music Conference, Triple Door.
More updates: The Rolling Stones, Jacques Greene, Van Halen, Gene Clark, Ned LeDoux, etc