Our Dear Girl Gina from Baltimore: Gina Schock of the Go-Gos
By Melody Berger
Badass drummer Gina Schock has delightfully retained her Baltimore accent, despite living in California for over 30 years. With her feisty attitude and forthright charm, it’s easy to see how she was a galvanizing force behind the success of girl super group The Go-Gos. To date they are the only all women rock band to play their own instruments, write their own songs and have their debut album skyrocket to number one on the Billboard charts. Due to hard living and rock n roll drama, the band called it quits just a few years after making the big time. (only to reunite several years later) During the hiatus, Schock concentrated on songwriting because she found the idea of being a session drummer less than appealing. She had a solo record, House of Schock, on Capitol Records and has been an in demand song-writer for loads of people ever since, notably, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. We had quite the rollicking conversation- Gina is super hilarious and full of rock star wisdom.
Tom Tom Magazine: How did you start playing drums?
Gina Schock: When I was 11 my brother had to babysit me so he took me to a concert. So, the first concert I ever went to in my life was in ‘69 and it was Led Zeppelin opening for the Who. I had this epiphany. I hadn’t decided on what instrument I would play, but I knew I wanted to be up on that stage. Music moved me in a way that nothing else did, spoke to me in a language that I understood and made perfect sense to me. I think I got a bass first and took some lessons. And it was just too slow, because at that age you want to be way ahead of yourself anyway. Then I got a guitar and took lessons for several months, and that was just too slow. So I thought, well, I’ll save up my money and try drums. And I bought a set of these Japanese drums called Lido Supremes that were blue sparkle, I’ll never forget them.
I would come home from school every day and play with my favorite records, which is sort of how I would start with guitar or bass, I’d play by ear and then take lessons. With the drums I put the headphones on and I knew I would never have to take a single lesson because it felt very natural and comfortable. It wasn’t like I had to think about anything, it was just an easy flow. I knew that was what I was supposed to be playing. The drumsticks felt right in my hands and moving all four limbs at once just seemed simple and easy.
Since you were originally inspired by a Led Zeppelin concert I assume John Bonham is an influence?
Oh, yeah, John Bonham and Charlie Watts, for obvious reasons. They’re completely different, and that’s what I love about them. They’re the guys I looked up to when I was learning how to play drums. I’m also knocked out by Dave Grohl, he knocks my brain right out of my head. And I just watched Black Sabbath at the Hollywood Bowl. That dude Tommy (Clufetos) is so badass, my jaw was on the ground. Usually when a drummer takes a solo is when I go to the bathroom or get a drink or something, but this guy is incredible.
That’s funny, being a drummer I would expect you to be like, ‘more drum solos!!’
Nah. I’m the kind of drummer, I just play whatever the song requires. I’ve never thought about drums in that way. Drums are just part of the overall sound of a song to me.
How did you move to LA and join the Go-Gos?
I played in a band with this actress Edith Massey who was in John Waters’ films- our dear boy John from Baltimore. She asked me to be in her little punk band and I did that. I was 21 I think. So I got to go to New York and play at CBGB’s and all that and we went to LA and San Francisco and Philly. And when I came back I thought, this is it, I need to get out of here. Nothing else matters to me except playing in a band. So, I left Baltimore in my dad’s pickup truck with a friend of mine from school, $2,000, and 2 grams of cocaine.
When I got to LA I put my name up in Guitar Center saying I was a girl drummer, and my influences and all that, and I got into two bands right away. I was living with this guy, Steve Martin (not the Steve Martin) and he told me, ‘Gina, there’s this band called the Go-Gos. You need to kick their drummer out and join that band. You’re going to make them great.’
I went to see them play. They had just been together 6 months, so they came out and played two songs, and then they came out and played one of the songs again. They were having so much fun, and there was something about them, man, that just struck a chord in me. So, I had a couple of them over the house. I had my drums set up in the living room and a couple of guitar amps and a PA system. They were really knocked out at the whole setup which is so funny. I played a couple of songs with them, and the next day they fired their drummer and I quit the two bands I was in and joined the Go-Gos.
You were pretty much driven from the age of 11, and when you joined the Go-Gos you started driving things for them both rhythmically and goal wise. What was that like?
Jane (Wiedlan) had just picked her instrument up. Belinda (Carlisle) played drums in the band the Germs, but she decided to be the lead singer, so that was new to her. Charlotte (Caffey) had been in a couple of bands so she actually did know how to play guitar pretty decently. Margo (Olavarria), the original bass player, had just picked up her bass. I, on the other hand, had come from Baltimore playing in clubs where I was playing 4 sets a night.
My work ethic was completely different than these guys- I had come to LA to make my mark. They were just kind of doing it for fun. I think I injected this more professional attitude towards making music, and they liked that. Instead of rehearsing two times a month I said we have to rehearse five times a week. They got on board with that, thank god. Because they were all really talented but it’s all about practice.
Before we knew it we started to get a real following. Because we worked! Everybody got serious about doing it. And we started to get better and better, the songs were getting better and better, the harmonies. There was this tremendous upward swing, and that’s contagious. It was really an incredible time.
You know what was so cool about it was, it was very organic. We just came together and just pushed and pushed and pushed, and that’s how it happened for us. We believed we were going to be huge, which is great about being that age. When you actually believe that your dreams come true, if you work hard enough. I love it, being that age is so fantastic because anything is possible. I still feel that way! I’ve been so lucky, my whole life coming from a working class family in Baltimore and leaving and driving to LA. When I left town I said ‘next time you see me I’ll be a big rock star.’ How fucking cracked is that? When you’re that age you say it and you believe it! You don’t think for a minute that it can’t really happen, that the odds are so stacked against you that you have to be cracked to really think that.
Man, swagger to the hilt!
Mmhmm, it goes a long way!
The roots for the Go-Gos were punk and y’all were these crazy party animals with wholesome girl next door personas. I’d like to talk about that a bit.
When we went to make our first record our producer Richard Gottehrer was like, ‘well, the first thing you’ve gotta do is slow everything down so I can really hear the melodies and understand what Belinda is saying.’ We would play an hour set in half an hour, that’s how fucking fast I would play. I was so pumped up and crazed. The record company came up with the PR for the band: ‘America’s Sweethearts.’ Meanwhile we were just these kids from the punk scene in LA, and we played that way! Oddly enough, if you come and see us play now, you’re going to get that. On the records we were a little sugarcoated. When we play live it’s really not like that at all, it’s raw and driven. You’re going to see that right away. That was a façade, a thing they wanted us to do for the general public because it’s easier to consume little pop princesses instead of these punk rebel girls. Especially in the early 80s.They were just trying any angle they could to sell records, and I totally get that. Because they didn’t want to sign us anyway! No one knew what to with a girl act that was hugely successful that wrote our own songs and played our own instruments.
Even after your breakout hit of ‘We Got the Beat’ record companies still openly would not sign you because you were women!
There was no Wizard of Oz scenario there, no one behind the curtain.
Going back to the disconnect with your media personas, I guess it was also a different time where you could do that?
Absolutely, completely different! No cell phones, man! I feel sorry for kids coming up in the business these days, I mean, Jesus Christ. They can’t do a goddamn thing without being followed or tortured by the paparazzi, or just someone walking down the street taking a picture of them. We talk about this in the band all the time. If that technology had been available back in our heyday we would have been in jail many many times. We were just like the guy bands, we did everything they did and then some. If you got in a room with us, guys would be so intimidated because we were like this five headed monster. It was like the girls club. Us five against the world. We were putting our gloves on every day ready to go.
Y’all are really role models and have paved the way for other women groups.
But where are the next Go-Gos? That’s what I want to know. We talk about this in the band all the time, it’s really fucking weird that all these years later there’s no all-female band that has done what we’ve done. Who really knows why. But the biggest and the best compliment ever is to know that someone picked up an instrument or learned to write songs because of one of the girls in the Go-Gos.
We cover so many amazing all girl bands, but you’re right, none have been number one on the charts for six straight weeks with their breakout album.
I want to find that next band and produce them!
I thought it was so funny when I watched the behind the scenes Central Park videos where y’all were joking about how, ‘it’s amazing that we’re not dead.’ And then I watched the VH1 behind the music special and I thought, ‘Holy shit! It really is amazing that they’re not dead!’
It’s true, we’ve all done our share of drugs and we’ve done some very stupid things while on drugs. Like all of us taking hits of acid and driving from San Francisco to LA on Route 1 in a huge horrible rainstorm. I mean, you can barely drive that straight! And we made it to LA, I mean, we should be dead! That’s just one example over a 30 year period where we should have been dead so many times. I’m sure any band you talk to is going to give you some war stories like that. That’s just the way it goes when you’re starting out. You do whatever you have to do. And you do it on a shoestring budget.
You had to take some time off to have surgery for a congenital heart defect. Can you tell me about that?
Yeah, that was a really weird thing. It was ‘83 or something and we had just finished the Talk Show record in England and were getting ready to go on tour for like a year. Before we went on a big tour like that we all had to get physicals to make it cool with the insurance companies. I got a physical and the initial findings were that I had a heart murmur, and then they did some more tests, and I had to wear this monitor. One day we’re rehearsing and I get a call from my doctor saying I need you to come in, I want to talk to you about the results. I immediately just withered and fell to the ground. So we stopped what we were doing and we all drove over. He pulled out a plastic model of a heart and I got out of control. A woman came in and gave me a shot of liquid valium because I was so hysterical. Then he brought the girls into the room and he told them I had a hole in my heart and that I was going to have to have it operated on, and they all got hysterical. I decided to have the heart surgery in the next couple of weeks. And then what did we do? We rented a Cadillac, an Eldorado Convertible and I think a Convertible Jag and we go to Palm Springs for a week or two and take a bunch of drugs. The only drugs I’m allowed to do are valium and pot because I can’t do coke because I have a hole in my heart. That was the mentality you’re dealing with, just fucking nuts! So we go out there and have our last big hurrah, and then I came back and had the heart surgery. It was a congenital defect, it had nothing to do with my partying. They went in, they sewed the hole up and that was it! I went out on tour a couple of months later.
Once the Go-Gos got famous you lost some of your ‘Us vs Them’ solidarity. Do you have any advice for young bands on how to stay strong?
I do! My advice for young bands, I’ll say it, not that anyone’s going to do it: keep yourself in check with the drugs. I can count on one hand the amount of people I know who have not been in rehab in this business. We all have scars. But I wouldn’t trade any of it in, because everything I’ve done adds up to the person I am right now and it’s all good.
Also, if you’re a band, remember that it is you guys against everyone else. Record companies are not your friends. They’re there to take advantage of you and make a lot of money off of you. And they don’t give a fuck where you end up in five years or ten years. It’s all about money. You need to know that going into this, and if you don’t you need to wise up really quickly. What you do is your art, but it’s just another commodity for other people out in the world. I would also tell any group that is a band: always, always, always split everything equally. Because if you do your band will stay together a whole lot longer.
There were several internal lawsuits over the course of the Go-Gos history, and one of them was brought up by you and you’re still in the band! That boggled my mind.
You’ve gotta do what’s right and what’s fair. If someone in my band is screwing me, then I’m going to deal with it, that’s just how it goes. There are some Management companies I know that will not work with a band, a band, not an artist, unless they split things equally.
No matter who’s writing.
It doesn’t matter! Because it is that band, that sound, and each individual part that makes it so successful. Bono would never be who he is if he didn’t have those three guys in back of him. It’s just the way it is, man. I’d rather see the Police than Sting, and I love Sting! I think he’s great, a really nice guy and incredibly talented man, but I’d rather see the Police than Sting because they’re fucking great!
How perfect that you brought up the Police. After P Diddy forgot to get permission to sample the guitar riff from ‘Every Breath You Take’ Sting sued him and now gets 100% of the royalties for that song. But he didn’t play that riff! He makes something like $2,000 a day off of a part he didn’t play.
Probably because he wrote the song. He wrote the melody that Andy then riffed on. Honestly, if you want to do the right thing just split it all equally. Don’t be foolish. Because it will come back to bite you in the ass eventually.
With the Go-Gos stuff and the songwriting, I was really bitter for several years and then I got over it! I was like, ok, whatever, I’m just grateful to be in this band.
Being in a band is an incredibly complicated relationship. It’s kind of like being in a marriage with four people.
Tell me about it!
When you’re looking at a span of over thirty years I can see how there would be some rocky spots, and then you’re back to the golden age again.
It certainly has been like a marriage. This relationship with the Go-Gos has lasted longer than any personal relationship I’ve ever had in my life. And everyone else in the band would have to say that. This is the longest relationship any one of us has ever had. That being said, respect it and do the right thing.
What’s coming up for you?
We tour for about 8 weeks every summer so we’re getting ready for that. And on June 21st we’re being inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame with the LA Philharmonic backing us up on like four songs!
And next year’s going to be really big because we’re going to have a musical on Broadway! It will start off at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is apparently a really prestigious place to get your play or musical started. And we’ve got some super badass people attached. Jeff Whitty, who won a Tony for Avenue Q, is writing the script, and Ed Sylvanus Iskandar is directing it. Gwyneth Paltrow is producing it along with Donovan Leitch and Rick Ferrari.
How cool! Will it be like Mama Mia where they just use your songs and have a completely different plot?
The Go-Gos story is so rich, so initially we thought that’s what they’d want to do. But, no, it’s something completely different. What’s going to be the star of this musical is not any individual who’s playing in it, but actually the music. So, I’m pretty excited about all this stuff!
I’m excited too!
Oh! And I met with Linda Perry (of 4 Non Blondes) a couple of months ago. The four of us are going to sit down with her to talk about writing and producing three or four new Go-Gos songs. That’s a really exciting prospect because she’s such a badass. She said exactly what I wanted to hear: ‘Gina, I’m not interested in coming in and making a change to the sound of this band. What I want to do is make a classic Go-Gos record.’ And I was like, fuck yeah!
It’s always a drag when a big name producer comes in and takes a band that’s been around for a while like ours and tries to give it some new hip sound, whatever the flavor of the month is. It always sounds stupid and not right. She’s obviously a smart girl and knows what she’s doing. A recording is way overdue and it couldn’t be with a better person at the helm. So, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the chemistry is right, because you can’t predict that shit. But it sounds like the perfect match. There’s just so many wonderful things going on, I’m kind of blown away!