Thirty-five years ago, the Go-Go’s reached the top of the Billboard 200 with their debut, Beauty and the Beat. It was a milestone: To that point, no all-female band that wrote and performed its own music had ever notched a No. 1. The accomplishment was well deserved: From the infectious opening stomp of “Our Lips Are Sealed” to the candid lyrics on “Lust to Love,” the Go-Go’s had crafted a set of hooks that sank deep into the hearts of their listeners. Their success would inspire thousands of girls to pick up instruments and follow their lead.
One of these young women was Bethany Cosentino, who first heard the Go-Go’s when she was twelve, on VH1. Her fascination with the band went beyond the music. “To see all women playing their instruments and rocking out, wearing whatever the fuck they wanted, and just being themselves — that was amazing,” she says. “They broke the glass ceiling in the industry.” Cosentino is now the songwriter, singer, and lead guitarist of the L.A. duo Best Coast, whose 2010 debut, Crazy for You, became an essential for lovers of moody lo-fi and fuzzed-out beach pop. The Go-Go’s influence on the record was immediately clear, too, in Cosentino’s rising riffs and heartfelt melodies. “Without them, there wouldn’t be bands like my own, doing what I do as a frontwoman, speaking up the way that I do. It’s almost impossible to not be influenced by them,” says Cosentino.
Fittingly, Best Coast are opening for the Go-Go’s on the East Coast leg of their current summer tour, which also will be their last. The Farewell Tour, as it’s called, stops at SummerStage on August 13. So, on behalf of the Voice, Cosentino called up Go-Go’s guitarist Charlotte Caffey to talk about the band’s early days, how they beat the odds to become No. 1, and what’s next for the group as this particular chapter comes to a close.
Bethany Cosentino: As a woman making music, I encounter tons of sexism, and I have dedicated the last year to writing and speaking out about it. With Twitter and the internet, I am really able to make my voice heard. You didn’t have the internet when you were dealing with this. How did you experience or encounter sexism, and how did you fight back or cope with it?
Charlotte Caffey: Yeah, been there, done that! No record label would sign us [and] they all happened to have men running them. They would say, “You are all girls — we can’t sign you,” even though we were selling out every show. Because it hadn’t been done before, they couldn’t see past that. Miles Copeland, a maniac in the best sense of the word, loved us and signed us to his fledgling label, I.R.S. Records. When Beauty and the Beat went to No. 1, we wrote notes to all the assholes who didn’t sign us.
Where were you the first time you heard yourself on the radio?
I was driving down Laurel Canyon and “Our Lips Are Sealed” came on the radio. I pulled over to the side of the road and started crying tears of joy. It propelled us forward, validating everything that we felt about the songs we had written and how cool we were as a band.
Best Coast’s first record had a huge hit [“Boyfriend”], and I’ll never forget feeling like I’d never be able to write another one. But I went on to write plenty more songs my audience identified with, so I’m curious: Having so many huge hits, did you ever feel anxious about not being able to top them?
We absolutely felt pressure after having our first hits, and I thought that a million times since! But I learned, time after time, that I am an organic writer and if I try to write a hit, it usually backfires.
You’ve been a band for many, many years. How does it feel to be playing a farewell tour? Are there any plans ahead for the Go-Go’s or is this the end of the road?
I have mixed feelings about not touring with “the girls,” as I call them, again. I think it will probably be more emotional playing onstage together knowing we are ending our time touring. But we are working on a musical using our music, which has been in the works for the last six years. We’re working with the brilliant Michael Mayer [Hedwig, Spring Awakening, American Idiot] and Tom Kitt [Next to Normal, American Idiot]. We just finished a New York workshop about a month ago. The show is funny and twisted — just like us.
I’m so looking forward to touring with you guys. I’m starting packing today because we have to leave in the morning. What is something you absolutely have to take on tour with you? I always bring Seinfeld DVDs because it’s my favorite show. I watch it every night before bed,
so when I have it with me out on the road, I feel at home.
[Laughs] I love Seinfeld, it’s the best! I bring my pillow — cannot leave home without it. I bring my yoga mat and chant music. I also have books to read, documentaries to watch, and, of course, trashy reality shows saved. They help me unwind after every show.
People always ask me what advice I would give to women trying to pursue music and I always just say, do whatever you want and don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something. What’s your advice to women wanting to get into music?
You took the words right out of my mouth…and I say find your voice, express yourself, don’t edit yourself!