For Jane Wiedlin, some parts of the rock lifestyle are impossible to leave behind. As a founding member of the punk band the Go-Go's, she palled around with the Germs, toured with Madness, played with X, lived in LA's famous punk-rock dormitory the Canterbury, and crafted some of the catchiest pop-punk songs ever made ("Our Lips Are Sealed" and "Vacation" among them). But after nearly 40 years, the band called it quits after a fall-2016 farewell tour. Fast-forward a few months, and Wiedlin is about to hit the road in support of an entirely new project: Elettrodomestico (Italian for "appliance" — "It's kind of random," admits Wiedlin), a collaboration with Italian musician Pietro Straccia that finds itself at the intersection of psych-pop, electronic music, and rock-'n'-roll rebellion.
The album, If You're a Boy or a Girl, which comes out on October 20, is full of upbeat songs built around unexpectedly darker lyrics. And that's just how Wiedlin likes it: "I've always gravitated toward that mix because otherwise it's boring," she says. "If everything is all yeah yeah yeah and the lyrics are yeah yeah yeah, it's just not really for me." It is a combination that should sound familiar to fans of the Go-Go's, whose sugary tunes always have an added kick.
As she prepared to hit the road again, she called me up from her home in the Bay Area to talk about her new band, her punk past, and why she doesn't write love songs anymore.
Melissa Locker: What inspired this album, especially so soon after the Go-Go's retired?
Jane Wiedlin: When David Bowie died, I was super-depressed, so I started writing a lot. All of a sudden, I had tons of lyrics. I contacted Pietro, who I met when he made a solo album in my recording studio, to see if he would be interested in making songs out of them. We started in January 2016. I didn't really have a goal in mind or thoughts about where we would place them, but by the end of the year, we had an album's worth of songs and nowhere to put them, so we decided to start a band.
ML: The music you and Pietro make sounds pretty different from what people might expect from you.
JW: I think that's great. It's so nice to be doing something different. I have to credit Pietro, because he's a way better musician than me and he has a kind of mixture of American and Italian sensibilities. I think that's why it sounds so different. I also try to delve deeper lyrically because I'm older and more introspective. I was always very explanatory in my lyric-writing, and I tried really hard not to do that this time. I wanted to be more poetic and more mysterious.
ML: How do you think your songwriting has changed over the years?
JW: Less love songs for sure. After you've been repeatedly crushed in love, you lose the taste for writing about it. I think that's true of anybody if they're older and haven't been in one relationship their whole life. I'm kind of a serial monogamist. I've been married twice and have been with a few guys long-term, but I've been single for a while, and I'm over it.
ML: What are the songs on your album about?
JW: I would say mostly alienation and despair [laughs]. It's so cheerful! I'm hoping it will be uplifting to people, and that if they happen to notice what the songs are about, they will just take them as they are.
ML: What have you been listening to lately?
JW: I have a lot of '90s bands that I really love because it takes me like twenty years to catch up with the world. I really like female-led bands like Veruca Salt and Metric and the Darling Buds. I also really love the Dandy Warhols — I'm so glad they're still together.[All those] girls rock so hard.
ML: The Go-Go's had so many pop hits, but at the same time you really had a punk ethos.
JW: Yeah, totally, we never lost that. It's funny now because — I try not to read comments online, but when I accidentally see them, the one thing I see is people saying the Go-Go's aren't punk. I feel like going, "Fuck you. You're twenty years old, you're not fucking punk either, and you don't know where we were in the '70s."
We did end up segueing into a pop-y sound, but we definitely still had punk elements. There are other bands that have done that too. The best example would be Green Day; their melodies are so pop, but they're totally punk.
ML: Do you feel that the Go-Go's ever really got their place in the punk canon?
JW: I feel like we never got our place in a lot of things. You always see these stupid articles about women and rock — it really pisses me off, the whole gender thing. People really need to get beyond gender. The punk deniers were saying that we were never punk, and even though we were the very first successful female band, we're never mentioned in those articles. You can talk about any other band all you want, but we were the first ones that wrote our own music and played ourown instruments that were successful. I said this a long time ago, and I still stand by it: the Go-Go's are like Twinkies — everybody loves them, but no one wants to admit it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Melissa Locker is a punk in her spare time. Follow her on Twitter @woolyknickers.