The Go-Go's guitarist is putting down roots with Travis Kasperbauer (left).
The quiet Madison suburb of Maple Bluff is known for stately homes, old money and the Wisconsin Governor's Mansion. When I drove through Maple Bluff recently, fall leaves accented the perfectly manicured village lawns. McCain/Palin yard signs bobbed and glowed in the windy afternoon sunshine.
Maple Bluff is not the kind of neighborhood where you'd expect to find a famous pop star who'd come of age with punk rock and spent most of her adult life in Hollywood. But that afternoon, my Maple Bluff destination was the home of Jane Wiedlin, the rhythm guitarist for the seminal 1980s pop-punk band the Go-Go's.
Wiedlin is the Go-Go who propelled the band to pop fame by penning the music to "Our Lips Are Sealed." That single was the first Go-Go's song to climb the Billboard charts in 1981.
Now love has charted Wiedlin's course to Maple Bluff. She came to Door County in 2007 to attend the Steel Bridge Songfest, a songwriter's confab. There, she fell "head over heels" - to invoke a Go-Go's hit - in love with Travis Kasperbauer, a Madison recording engineer who teaches at Madison Media Institute and plays guitar for two local bands - the Skintones and Whore du Jour.
Wiedlin left behind her L.A. life last year to move in with Kasperbauer and make Madison her new home. Last November, they bought a house together in Maple Bluff. There, Kasperbauer is setting up a sound studio in the basement.
With her formidable pop music credentials, Wiedlin is making her mark on the Madison music scene. Her arrangements are transforming the sound of Whore du Jour. Last month at the Willy Street Fair, she introduced her new Madison-based band, Lady Robotika.
When I sat down with Wiedlin and Kasperbauer (and their two dogs), Jane talked about her Midwest roots, her songwriting style, her affection for Madison and her instant attraction to Travis.
Isthmus: I understand you were born in Oconomowoc. Were you raised there?
Jane Wiedlin: No. We lived in West Allis, and then when I was 6, my dad was an oral surgeon and he got a job at the VA Hospital in Los Angeles, and he packed the whole family and we moved to L.A.
Do you remember a lot about your early years in Wisconsin?
I remember the cold. I remember my brothers and sisters asking me if I wanted to be the princess, and I said, "yes, I want to be the princess!" So they took me outside and they built a chair out of snow and then they put snow on my head, and they said, "You're the snow princess!" And I think I started crying.
That sounds like a good Wisconsin story.
Yeah - sibling abuse.
Did you grow up in a big family?
I have three brothers and one sister. My mom was born in Oconomowoc, and my dad was born in Chicago, and they met at Marquette University.
But most of your memories are of growing up in California?
Yep. Swimming. I had hair down to my butt and then when we arrived in California, my mom hacked it off into a pixie cut.
Were you musical early on?
I was always a huge fan of music, and being one of the younger kids I was very influenced by the music my brothers and sister exposed me to. I would say especially the Beatles. I remember they listened incessantly to the Beatles. We had one of those old stereos that was like a piece of wood furniture, a console, and I used to crawl behind it and listen to it from in back. I'd practice all the harmonies. I think that's why harmonies are so easy for me.
You went to school to go into fashion design, right?
Yes, I went to a trade college to study fashion, and my first year of college the punk rock movement was exploding. It was like 1976. I got involved with the local Hollywood punk scene, and then in 1978, formed the Go-Go's.
Which one of the Go-Go's did you meet first?
Well, it was pretty much Belinda [Carlisle] and Margo [Olaverra] and I. We knew each other from going to punk shows, and pretty much everyone in the scene was in a band, because there were only about 50 kids.
Were you playing an instrument by that time?
No, but when we formed the Go-Go's, Belinda wanted to sing, so I said I would play guitar. And Margo wanted to play bass. Billy Zoom from X showed me how to play bar chords and how to plug in an amplifier and all that stuff. It really isn't that hard. I mean, it's hard to be good, but it's pretty easy to be mediocre.
Now what about this name you were using at that time - "Jane Drano." How did that come about?
Oh, that was just, I don't know. That was just a fake name I had for two years there.
Did you make it up yourself?
Yes, at an IHOP coffee shop. I went with my friend Johnny. He was my only friend from high school that wanted to be in a punk band, too. We were hanging out in the middle of the night, and we had dreams of forming a band. He was going to be Johnny No-Doz and I was going to be Jane Drano.
You share songwriting credits for "Our Lips Are Sealed" with Terry Hall of the Specials. He wrote the lyrics and you wrote the music, right?
Yes, he sent me lyrics in a letter. An actual paper letter. This was before the Internet. And I finished the lyrics and wrote the music.
When you listen to that song, even now, are there elements to it that you see as a trademark of your songwriting style?
Oh, yeah. The structure is very me. The way the bridge gets slightly dreamy and has a different feel, that's very me. And particularly at the end, where the bridge gets sung over the chorus, that's very me. I like to take two melodies from the same song and blend them over each other. Boy, I'm giving away all my tricks.
Let's fast-forward to 2007. What was your connection that brought you to the Steel Bridge Songfest?
Well in the 1990s there were several years when I would fly to a castle in France that was owned by Miles Copeland, the manager of the Police and the president of the Go-Go's record company. And he had a songwriting retreat. And most people only got to go once, but a few of us got to a few times. I was really lucky. I was one of those people. And it was just the most fun a songwriter could ever have. You hang out with 24 writers and you write songs with people you don't even really know. It's just this magical experience. One of the people I became good friends with as a result of that was [Timbuk3's] Pat MacDonald, who also was invited to attend every time this retreat happened. So we became really good friends. Eventually Miles stopped doing the retreat, but Pat decided to try doing the same thing in Door County, Wis. So he asked me if I would come and do that.
I read on your blog that when you went to the Steel Bridge Songfest, you had "the best time." What made it so much fun?
Well, first of all I was writing, and that's my favorite thing to do. I couldn't believe how much I connected with the Wisconsin people. And of course I met Travis, and that was the biggest thing of all.
Do you guys remember the moment you first met?
Travis Kasperbauer: Yes. I was up there to be the recording engineer for all the songwriters. I met Pat from the '90s when I worked at Smart Studios. I was an engineer there. And so he asked me up to be the engineer for the whole thing. I knew Jane was coming. I had never met her before. But I remember the second she walked in late to our first dinner -
Jane: I had just gotten off the plane.
Travis: Yeah, you were all frazzled, and you came in and I bought you a drink.
Jane: But then the next day when I walked in the studio, I was much more calm and in my element, and that's when I felt like I first met Travis. And I connected with him immediately.
So it was instant attraction?
Travis: Oh yeah.
Jane: Definitely. And then, we actually became friends first because I was still in a relationship with someone else at that point, but we spent the next several months texting and talking on the phone about a thousand times a day.
Travis: We've talked every day since that first day we met.
Jane: The songfest was just huge for me - to do work that you're really proud of, meet someone that you fall madly in love with, totally reconnect with your roots and feel like you've found your lost tribe, which is how it felt when I got to know all these Wisconsin people.
How long after Steel Bridge 2007 did it take for you to move here?
Have you gotten to know other people in the local music scene?
Well, yeah, because Travis knows everyone. I mean I've basically adopted his circle of friends.
Do you guys go to local clubs much?
I go once in a while. Travis goes more than me. I get tired at night. I'm an early bird, and he's a night owl. The High Noon is great. I miss the King Club, though. That was a great little club.
The Go-Go's toured fairly recently, right?
Yeah, we tour a little, but Belinda isn't very interested in working with the band, so that makes it hard to work. So I have lots of spare time. I mean, I'm lucky. Sometimes I think, "I wish I was working more," but then I think, "Well, then I'd be working." I audition a little bit for work, but, as you can imagine, it's a lot harder to get work when you're not on one of the coasts. And I kind of consider myself retired.
Do you think you'll be playing any shows here in town?
The Skintones and Whore du Jour do, but not me. I think I'm kind of spoiled. It's a lot of work doing a show. I'm used to roadies and paychecks. In Madison, it's like, "Do it yourself." It kind of takes a lot to get me to play. I'm spoiled.
I played the Willy Street Fair with my new band, Lady Robotika. After Travis finishes the Whore du Jour record, then we're going to start recording Lady Robotika.
Who is in that band?
Actually, it's the members of the Whores. It's kind of me and Travis' project, though, basically.
What are your impressions of Madison?
To me, it's the best of both worlds. It has the Midwest charm and hominess but it also has very sophisticated, worldly views, and there's an amazing, diverse collection of restaurants here, which is important to me, because I don't know how to cook.
Did you two collaborate on the upcoming Whore du Jour album?
Travis: Jane produced it with me, and she really made it good. We had it recorded before she came to town, and she just took over and made it into a completely different album. And it's really, really good.
Jane: I'm really good at vocals and arrangements, and Travis is really good at sound, and so that kind of covers production. And so it's really easy for us to work together because we have different strengths. And we almost always agree with each other. Do we ever disagree?
You're planning a studio for the basement of this house?
Yes, we're going to call it Robot Recording, and it's going to have a 1960s space age décor. It's going to have a wet bar down there, too, so we can put on some shows for the kids!
Do you see yourself moving back to L.A., at least part time?
My whole life and my whole career I've always felt a little bit different than the people around me, and I never could understand what it was. And now I think it's because I'm from the Midwest, and I think that makes you different. People here have certain innate values and ways of being that are different from people in other places. I really want to be here now.