Calling any band the best of any time period is subjective, but there's no denying that the 1980s belonged to the Go-Go's.
Belinda Carlisle led the all-female band — alongside Jane Wiedlin, Margot Olavarria, and Elissa Bello — that came up during L.A.'s famed punk era and became known and respected for playing their own instruments and writing their own music.
But turmoil within the group caused various lineup changes over the years, and with them, a lot of hurt, which culminated at the Sundance Film Festival premiere of their new documentary, The Go-Go's (dropping Friday on Showtime). The latest lineup of the Go-Go's — Carlisle, Wiedlin, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine, and Charlotte Caffey — watched the Allison Ellwood-directed project for the first time together at the January gathering, and it was very emotional.
But before any of that could happen, the ladies had to agree to do the project. According to Carlisle, they were initially hesitant.
"When we were approached to do this documentary, we hemmed and hawed about it," Carlisle tells EW. "We weighed out the pros and cons, but we still couldn't commit because we were scared, and understandably so. So when we finally decided to do it, we spoke to Allison and told her we'd do it but we wanted 100 percent creative control, and she explained that that's not how this works. [Laughs] We are very thankful we took the chance because it wouldn't be the documentary it is today without her. She totally got us."
HEY!! We've got something to say!! Our new single CLUB ZERO is out today!! 💋 Turn up the volume and dance like nobody's watching 💃🕺Let us know what you think!! 🙌 #ClubZero #GoGosDay https://t.co/yWuBdTLmd7 pic.twitter.com/V7UInyFojI— The Go-Go's (@officialgogos) July 31, 2020
Reuniting with Schock, Valentine, Wiedlin, and Caffey at Sundance to premiere the documentary was quite the experience, Carlisle says. In fact, it was a turning point in their relationship.
"Seeing them again and seeing it on the big screen, where everything was so loud, made us really very emotional," she recalls. "It was such a well-crafted story, and we were so happy with the results. We feel that it's a great way to bookend a career, and a lot of healing was done through that documentary. I won't go into great detail about it because a lot of it was personal, but some of us have very complicated dynamics. There were a lot of realizations that I know I made even when I was being interviewed. I thought, 'Wow! I didn't clearly understand my part in the toxicity until I was actually spewing it.'
"I realized I was really lacking in kindness and empathy — and I think we all were," Carlisle continues. "We all went on this extraordinary roller-coaster experience together at a very young age. And from the moment that we made Beauty and the Beat up to the end, I don't remember a whole lot because it all went by so incredibly fast. Then when you throw in money, drugs, and egos, it's just so much. I wasn't my best self back then, for sure. I was able to be the lead singer of the Go-Go's and sing these really great songs, but I didn't participate in the creativity as much as I could have if I hadn't been strung out on drugs. Now we can really watch this documentary and reflect on how much we've been through together and be proud of what we accomplished."
Carlisle laments that there wasn't any reconciliation between her and Olavarria, who appears in the documentary. In 1980, Olavarria became sick from hepatitis A and took time off from the band to recover, only to discover shortly after that she was being replaced permanently.
"No," Carlisle responds when asked if there was any healing between her and Olavarria. "But you know something, I've always had a big soft spot for Margot and I haven't seen Margot since then. There was a lot of things that went on that we couldn't really go into in the documentary, but I always felt that Margot was really authentic and she was definitely a Go-Go in spirit. I think that there came a point in the band where there was a real creative schism where four people wanted to go one way and she wanted to go the other way, and that does happen."
She adds, "I would love to see her again one day, although I don't know if she'd love to see me. But I have really fond memories of her. We had a lot of great times together and I wish we had done things differently. It was kind of a chickens— way out by making [former manager] Ginger [Canzoneri] do the dirty work, but we were scared. Now as adults, I think we probably would have handled something like that differently, but we did the best we could back then. Margot really was great. She was very funny too, she was a larger-than-life character."
In a 2016 interview with Billboard, Olavarria said she and Bello were the ones who founded the band. Carlisle disagrees.
"No, no, no, that's not true," she says. "It was Margot, Jane, and myself at a party sitting on a curb. Margot said, 'I'll play bass.' Then Jane said, 'I'll play guitar.' That left me with a choice between playing the drums or singing. I had had another stint with another punk band called the Germs where the drummer never played, so I didn't want to do that, so I picked singing. Then Margot said she has a friend who is a drummer, so I said, 'Okay, great! How are we going to start?' Well, we should invite Charlotte because she will know how to plug guitars into amplifiers. So that's how the original incarnation of the band happened."
From their various locations around the globe, the Go-Gos recently recorded their first single in 19 years, "Club Zero." Does this mean the band is back together, with plans for a full album in the future?
"I learned to never say never, but something like that takes a lot of time and a lot of work," Carlisle says. "And we all have our own things going on — but who knows? Never say never, but we're not planning on anything like that right now."