“It literally means ‘appliance’ in Italian,” giggles Jane Wiedlin perched at her kitchen table with musical partner Pietro Straccia.
“Jane loved the word itself – and at the end of the day,” Straccia admits, ‘We thought it would be funny to be in a band called The Appliances.”
Jane is a quirky Midwestern girl who grew up just outside Milwaukee and is best known as one of the founding members of the monumental 80s girl’s band, The Go-Go’s. Although I know her best as a powerhouse guitarist and vocalist, in person, she’s quite petite. It’s hard to imagine her even holding a guitar. She’s delicate and kind, and her Midwestern hospitality is apparent as we invade her home to set up for an impromptu guerilla photoshoot. She’s game for anything.
“Oh my gosh, you guys! What’s all this stuff?” she asks when we arrive dragging lighting equipment up the stairs. We inform her that we’ve decided to set up and do a ‘space agey’ photoshoot in her living room. “Oh, cool! Sounds fun, just tell me what you need me to do.”
She is a woman who doesn’t need a spotlight; Jane Wiedlin is lit from within. Her thirst for art of all kinds and her love of animals is heart melting. Her advocacy for the LGBT community and her commitment to giving back to the world is inspiring.
We caught up with Jane and her new musical partner, Pietro Straccia, in her cute, freshly-painted pink house just up the hill, overlooking the Castro. Pietro, an Italian transplant by way of Detroit, has joined forces with Jane and they are preparing to release their inaugural work, Elettrodomestico – ten new songs along with ten videos (with a video created by our very own Left photographer, Gooch!)
So you guys are working on a new record? <Jane> We’ve finished it. It’s done.
Wow, how long have you been working on it? <Jane>We’ve been working on it since December.
<Pietro> It’s ten tracks and we’ve already made ten videos.
You plan to release it all at once? <Pietro> Yeah, we’re just going to put it all out into the world and see what happens.
Now is it one continuous story or are these all different, independent tracks? <Jane> They’re all different. All separate.
How would you describe the sound? <Jane> It’s got this psychedelic ‘summer of love’ sort of vibe. We’re both guitarists so there it’s driven heavily by guitars and harmonies – but there are many layers of sounds.
How are you able to do this live with just two people? <both laughing> <Pietro> We make it work! In general, we like to have a drummer and keyboard if we can get it – but otherwise, the two of us are able to harmonize with the supporting track and play guitar. <Jane> We have this cute tiny keyboard that we can play with as well. In fact, our goal is to have the tiniest equipment in the world on stage. <Laughs>
Where did the material come from? <Pietro> Jane had been writing a lot about many of the personal things going on in her life. I was able to take some of that and help translate it musically. Together, we were able to melt it into a singular message. Jane had helped me a bit on my last record, and we were able to collaborate really well. It all felt very natural.
This is your first project together? How did you guys meet? <Pietro> I was recording in Jane’s basement actually with her former recording partner, Travis. She had a recording studio down there that we were using. Every now and then Jane would come down in her pajamas to do laundry, since the washer and dryer are down there. <Laughs> And she would sort of peep in and give us some feedback on what we were doing. She eventually honored me by singing on a few of my songs.
<Jane> Then I moved to Hawaii for a bit so things were really long distance at first. At first we were just writing for fun, but eventually we had an entire album done so we thought, ‘let’s just get a band and record it; fuck it, let’s see what happens.’ <Laughs>
Are you releasing it yourself or with a label? <Jane> I think we’re just going to release it ourselves, I mean I certainly don’t think we need a major label. I am not signing my soul over to the devil again, fuck that. <Laughs>
<Pietro> An indie label would be a nice fit for this project, but also, with technology, it’s not hard to put it out on iTunes.
<Jane> The best part is that Pietro and I both love playing live, so that’s what we intend to do… play a lot of live shows. It’s nice having live drums, I think. Visually, it’s great just having the two of us on stage – but sonically, it’s much better to have drums and keys if we can. But that’s not always possible.
<Pietro> We’re still perfecting our duality on stage. It tough to do it live in a seamless way, so we’re still figuring all that out. It can be clumsy switching instruments in the middle of a song if you’re not rehearsed. We just really want to express the musical and lyrical content in an authentic way – we can translate it with two guitars since that’s how they were written, but it is nice to have more of the elements.
Jane, it’s been a minute since you had a song out. Where have you been? <Jane> Yeah. It’s been a while. I think I sort of gave up on the recording business actually.
Why? <Jane> Everything has changed so much. Everyone wants things for free – it’s very greed driven and that’s just not who I am. My band [The Go-Go’s] also wasn’t really interested in recording new music, but instead they just wanted to tour every now and then. I wasn’t motivated.
Maybe you needed a break? Maybe. I needed to get some perspective I guess. Because doing this with Pietro has been really easy, and also a lot of fun. I’ve started to find myself again. I feel creative again. Life can be torture, but making music shouldn’t be. It should be fun and it shouldn’t be a painful process.
<Pietro> I think when you remove the financial motivation and you just make art for the sake of art, you a more free to make the choices you want and no the choices that are safe. You’re able to do your best work without editing it for some sort of marketing department or thinking about your choices through some focus group.
<J> You can’t spend all your time worried about making things that other people will like. You have to make things that you like. If you spend your time chasing what other’s want, you’ll always be a few steps behind the trends.
True. And you can’t be a trendsetter if you’re chasing the latest trend. <Jane> Exactly.
<P> We don’t put brakes on each other when we’re working.
<J> No judgement.
<P> We just try it. Why not. Maybe it’s nothing or maybe it amazing, we won’t ever know unless we try it. The process has just led us exactly where we need to be.
And how did you get the resources to make ten videos?! <P> We’re fortunate to be surrounded by some creative people. We reached out to them to see if they would be interested in making something. The response was overwhelming.
To put out ten tracks and ten videos is very Beyonce/Lemonade of you. <Laughs> <J> It is, except she has millions of dollars and we are on a shoestring budget! <Laughs>
But creativity is free. You don’t need money to be creative. <J> That’s true! And when you have wonderful, creative, inspired friends all around you, it’s just as good as having millions of dollars. Beautiful people like Gareth, who was a still photographer, who we convinced to shoot a video.
Gareth made his first video! <J> He did! We love it. He just stepped over into the world of music videos quite seamlessly.
Pietro, I sense that you are more of the technical/producer on the record. You know the software and the actual mechanics of the music when you’re recording. Yes, but I am still working it out in many ways – the ideas are there, but they’re not concrete.
I think performing it live for a while will help you cultivate the sound a bit more. <P> I agree. We don’t mind having slightly different variations of a song that we perform. I like bands that switch it up and sound a bit different form the recording. Otherwise, it’s a bit boring. As long as what you see and hear is exciting and the message is conveyed, that’s what matters to us.
You’re both guitarists, so I think that helps. <J> We love singing together too! Sometimes Pietro would send me a background vocal, and I would think that I had done it. <Laughs> <P> I think our ranges are distinct, but Jane has a wonderful quality in her voice that is easy for me to harmonize with.
But Jane has built a career collaborating, right? <J> Oh, Yeah. I’m used to it. And it’s actually much easier with one person than with a group of people. We can make decisions quickly and move quickly.
<P> As long as all ideas are considered and everything is on the table, that’s when the good stuff is discovered I think. Working with Jane has been refreshing for me.
<J> We’re not trying to sound like anything. We’re just letting it all come out without constraints or expectations.
<J> People don’t seem to buy music anymore. You must make your living in other ways. Touring and merchandise, or placement in TV or movies – which is hard to do, but it can be done.
Back in the 80s and 90s, I think bands toured to promote their album. Now, they put out an album to promote their tour. Everything has flipped. You’re right! That’s exactly it.
Speaking of tour, you guys are off for two months to Italy and then back here to hit the road? Yes, we are going to Italy and when we return, we should be ready for a big release of the record and hopefully kick off a show on the road. The main thing we’re thinking of now is how small and light can we travel. We have guitars, amplifiers, effects pedals, monitor systems, clothes, shoes – I have one pair of platforms that take up an entire suitcase. <Laughs>
This record has a very ‘Summer-of-Love’ San Francisco sort of vibe. Is that intentional? <P> It wasn’t a conscious thing, but this is what came out. We’re as surprised as anyone else. <Laughs>
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