When we think of the women rockers of the 80’s there are a lot of cool ones to call your favorite. For my money, Gina Schock of The Go-Go’s was always right up there.
Though known best as the beat keeper for likely the biggest all-girl band in history, Schock’s story as a musician is all that and more; starting as a teenage drummer in Baltimore playing with, among others, John Waters’ protege Edith Massey and finishing, as a seasoned musician, penning tween-pop hits for the likes of Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. Oh yeah, and did we mention being the drummer for The Go-Go’s? A band whose debut album was a triple platinum success and who 30 years later spent their summer on a monster summer tour and got their own star on Hollywood Boulevard? Just wanted to make sure we didn’t forget about that.
Taking a break from unpacking from the tour, Gina was gracious enough to make time to chat with Rocker about all this and more.
* Gina uses some “adult” language in this interview – we assume, because she’s an adult. Oh, and we assume if you’re reading this you are too.
Gina Schock: I’m trying to organize all my stuff since we just got back off the tour, and oh man, when you’re away for three months,… Jesus Christ.
Rocker: How did the tour go?
Gina Schock: The tour was really fantastic. We did like a month on, then we had a month off, and then we did another month, so it was basically like two months of touring with a month off in the middle, which was kind of great. We were really on fire. We were playing great. And the audience response couldn’t have been better. And the shows were sold out or either very close to it, so it was really great all the way around. We just had the best time. I wrote an email to everybody when I got back, and I said, “For whatever reason, this time around, these two months felt like a rock star again.” It was weird, I felt like I did in the Eighties for some weird reason, there was so much going on and the fans’ response was all so overwhelming, I couldn’t get over it. It was really shocking to me, because I have a regular life like everybody else, and I go home and I’m cleaning up dog poop and taking care of the garden and taking the trash out, then I go out and do this a couple months of the year, and it’s like, “I forgot what I do.” It’s pretty wild, it’s like, “Wow, what a great job I have!” And how lucky to have had the same thing for over 30 years. It’s kind of nuts! It was really, really good, and we got a star on Hollywood Boulevard, and that whole ceremony was pretty cool.
Rocker: How did you find out you were going to get a star?
Gina Schock: I think the fans put that together, somebody nominates you or something. It goes through a committee or some shit, and you have to pay to get a star on Hollywood Boulevard, the fans all collect the money over a number of years, and then they have to figure out a date when it will work out, who’s up for it that year to have their star put down, when’s a good date…there’s a lot of red tape. That was definitely a lot of hard work, so it was very humbling. It was really weird, because before that whole ceremony, I kept thinking, “I guess I should feel pretty excited, I should feel something,” but it wasn’t until the actual moment that we pulled up in a tour bus and they let us off on the Boulevard. It was pretty crazy. There were a lot of people there and lots of photographers,… probably 100 photographers and TV cameras, it was really outrageous. It was overwhelming, and more than anything, it was very surreal. The whole thing was great. Those couple of months filled me up for a while, they were great.
Rocker: The star is in front of where (legendary LA punk club) The Masque used to be?
Gina Schock: Exactly, and you know the significance of the spot. It’s the front of the Masque, where we used to gig, roll the amps and lug the drums in front of that place, down the steps from the old place we rehearsed in.
Rocker: Was that before you were signed?
Gina Schock: Yeah, it’s where we used to rehearse, and we had punk shows there, and it was in the downstairs of a porno theater, the Pussycat, and that was our hangout, where we’d rehearse and do little shows. It was quite the scene in the late Seventies.
Rocker: I’m sure you didn’t think that there would be a star out front one day?
Gina Schock: No, that’s why the whole thing was so surreal, it was really nutty but really wonderful, and very humbling. It was just nice to have your friends and family there that you’ve known for years. It was goofy, but also sort of a dream come true. Then again, our whole story is. The true American success story, that’s what the whole thing really is.
Rocker: When did you start playing drums?
Gina Schock: I started when I was 13, and my first concert that I ever went to was when I was 11. My brother is older than I am and he’d get stuck babysitting me, so the first concert I went to, he took me to, and it was Led Zeppelin opening for The Who. I have to say that at 11 years old, I really did have an epiphany and I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I didn’t care if I was going to sing or what instrument, I just knew I wanted to perform and wanted to pursue music and I wanted to be on stage in front of people. I took some lessons for different instruments, and I saved up my allowance and I bought a drum kit piece by piece, and I would just rehearse when I came home from school every day. The drums were the absolute easiest thing for me to play, I knew I’d never have to take lessons.
Rocker: Was the first band you were in (John Waters star Edith Massey’s short lived punk band) Edie and the Eggs?
Gina Schock: I played in several different bands, being 13 and playing drums and being a girl drummer was certainly a novelty at that particular time, there weren’t many girls doing that, so it was very easy for me to get into bands, and of course, it would always be with all guys, and they loved having a 13, 14, 15, 16-year-old drummer girl. When I started with Edie was a bit older, she had her little thrift store, it was called Edith’s Shopping Bag, it was on Broadway at Charles Point in Baltimore, where I grew up. I would go and visit her all the time, and one day I went in and she said, “Hey, I want to be in a punk band, do you want to be in my punk band?” and I was like, “Sure, Edie, I’d love to,” and I think I was 20.
Rocker: Did you think she was making it up at the time or legit?
Gina Schock: She was doing shows, putting together little bands for one-offs in Philly, Baltimore and New York, and so when she put this punk band together I was like, “OK, I’ll be in your punk band, Edie,” so myself and two other girls put this band together and got to play in Philly, and in New York, we played at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s. Then we went to L.A. and did three shows, and then did a show in San Francisco at the Warfield, so that was like, “Whoa,” that was the big time for me.
Rocker: Do you play on her single?
Gina Schock: No, this was a live band thing that I did with her. She was just this sweet older lady that was kind of wacky but just lovely, she was great, she was really great, and we had a lot of fun and she enjoyed that. She hated that strapping on that leather outfit every night though, she hated that, but…she just wanted to have fun. She was old. It was a lot of work.
Rocker: What got you to move from Baltimore to the West Coast?
Gina Schock: I was 21 and I came back from doing that, and I thought, “OK, I’ve got to make a move here, I’m either going to move to New York, L.A. or San Francisco,” because the music scenes in all three of those places were thriving and exciting and really happening. So I saved up money and went to New York for three weeks or whatever, then I flew to L.A. and stayed there for a month with a couple of friends that I’d made and stayed in San Francisco for three weeks and came home and decided that I was going to leave and I was going to move to L.A., because that was the easiest place for me to settle in at that time. The cost of living was easiest for me to manage in L.A. New York was closer, which I loved, but it would have been harder to do it there. Everything was harder, New York is just a tough place. San Francisco was quite expensive, L.A. was just an easier place for me to settle in.
Rocker: How long was it after you got there that you ended up drumming with the Go-Go’s?
Gina Schock: When I got there, I immediately put my name up in all the music stores. I was in two or three bands, it was all guys, of course, and we’d do originals and some covers. Then, the guy was living with, his brother had a party, and my friend was like, “You’ve got to see this band, The Go-Go’s, you should join this band.” They’d been together about six months at that point, and he said “You need to kick that drummer out, you’re going to make them successful, you’re going to make them happen,” so that’s kind of what happened.
Rocker: You kicked her out?
Gina Schock: I saw them play, and they were really kind of crappy, but fun and they had something…I don’t know, something special about them that really made me take notice. Then I met a couple of the girls at this guy Doug’s party, and they were like, “We’re looking for a drummer, do you want to join our band?” and I was like, “Yeah, sure.” So they came over to Steve’s house, where I had my drums set up, and a PA in the living room – god bless Steve, he really put up with a lot of shit – and they came over the next day and we rehearsed and they were like, “OK, we’re firing our drummer,” and I immediately called up the other two bands and bowed out of them as gracefully as possible and The Go-Go’s started to happen, come together more.
Rocker: So at that point, you’d never played in a all girl band?
Gina Schock: Well, Edie and the Eggs was all-girl, but this was serious. I traveled cross-country to do this. I had nothing to fall back on. I wasn’t in my comfort zone. I was in a whole other different city, and I knew three fucking people in the whole town, so it was a big commitment. It was something that every fiber of me was committed to doing, and to make it as successful as I thought I could possibly make it, which, little did I know how it was going to turn out.
Rocker: Did the other girls in the band have the same feeling, that same urgency?
Gina Schock: When I joined the band, they were more just having fun and were doing what everybody else was doing in L.A., all their buddies had started bands, they had just picked up their instruments. Charlotte was the only one who actually knew how to play guitar. She’s a bass player, but she picked up guitar. Belinda had never sang, and our original bass player, Margot, she hadn’t played bass, Jane hadn’t played guitar, so they just decided they wanted to do it. When I came into the picture, I had experience, I’d played in clubs and different bands, and I came at it with a completely different work ethic. I was an east coast hard worker, they were like, “We rehearse once every couple of weeks,” and I was like, “No, you guys, we have to rehearse five nights a week. You work during the day, and then at night, you rehearse.”
Rocker: So you were putting the hammer down on them!
Gina Schock: I just changed around their way of thinking about things, I guess. There was something there, I always felt from this moment that I saw them, practice makes perfect, that’s the way I’ve always looked at it. If you have a gift, you have to work on it, and you’re going to get better at it, that’s what your gift is. So I thought it was a matter of time, and a lot of rehearsing and hard work.
Rocker: It was two years into when you were in the band when Beauty and the Beat came out. You couldn’t have known that record would do as well as it did. Do you remember the lead-up to that record coming out?
Gina Schock: When you’re 21 or 22, you’re so stupid about shit. Let me just say, of course, when that record came out, we all thought, “Of course this is going to be a huge success. We’re going to be huge!” We were in a 12-seater van or something touring the country playing the clubs when that record was out for like six months, and it was kind of just stalled, it wasn’t going anywhere. Then the head of our record company got us to open for the Police, and we did Saturday Night Live, and then that changed everything. After we did Saturday Night Live, that next week we sold a million records. Being on tour with the Police,… they were playing 18,000 to 20,000-seaters, so it was an incredible bill, and musically, we were perfectly suited. So that was a hot show to come to, and then Saturday Night Live pushed us over the top. We were saying, “Oh my god, I guess it is going to happen.”
Rocker: So basically you started the tour as the kind of band that is sleeping on people’s sofas…
Gina Schock: That’s what we were doing, we were definitely doing that.
Rocker: And then suddenly you were staying in a hotel and getting room service.
Gina Schock: Right, it’s the typical story. A rags to riches thing, from making nothing and sleeping on poor people’s couches in every city, to staying at the Ritz. It was pretty hilarious. Pretty typical. Some stuff never changes.
Rocker: It really hadn’t been that long from your beginnings.
Gina Schock: Yeah. It was just in the matter of a couple of years that the lineup that really ultimately became The Go-Go’s, it just took a couple of years for it to happen.
But Jesus, I have to say, I’d hate to be in a band nowadays. It’s so different, it’s so outrageously hard nowadays. Back then, even just the music scene, there were so many different genres of music that were actually popular and selling records and happening. It’s certainly not that way now. It’s just changed, and, unfortunately, not for the better. In some ways, the internet has changed everything, some for the good, some for the bad, I don’t fucking know,… I have mixed emotions about it. It changes on a daily basis, one day I think it’s the best thing that ever happened for young artists, and the next day I think they ruined the whole business, so I don’t know, I have no answer to that, I really don’t. My opinion doesn’t mean shit. I’d say I have really mixed emotions about it. If you have anything to do with music, you know the pros and cons of what the internet has created, this wonderful monster that’s been created.
Rocker: I know I read that Beauty and the Beat was either double or triple platinum, but does anything go platinum now?
Gina Schock: It’s so fucking difficult…
Something that blew my mind, in the last couple of years I’ve gotten lucky and had some songs covered by Disney artists, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. And Selena’s record that came out two years ago, Kiss and Tell, I had four songs on that record, and co-wrote the name of the record, and the first single. I remember my management saying that that record – which I think was like in the top 10-selling records of that year – I think it just sold over half a million units. I think it was 600,000 units or something like that. I was so taken aback. I hadn’t thought about it in ages, but I was like, “Jesus Christ, millions of records was no big deal a couple of years ago, now if you sell a million records, it’s a big deal.”
Rocker: How did you end up writing for these Disney artists, do you have personal relationships with them?
Gina Schock: Honestly, it’s a long story about how all that came about, but to make it really short, Disney heard some songs I had written and they liked them, and they played some of these songs for Miley, and she heard the song “Breakout” and loved it, and asked if it could be on her record, and that wound up being the name of her record. So the people at Disney took notice and asked if I could write some more stuff for this other artist, Selena. I never met Miley, I met her dad, Billy, who was quite a sweetheart and nice guy to me, and Selena, yeah, I met her several times, she came in and sang with the demos and all that stuff, and she is a very sweet girl. I remember having a conversation with her mom when we were recording the demos, and she was like, “Do you realize that two years ago…” She’s from Houston, I think, and she’s a single mom, and was raising Selena on her own, and she’s like, “We were living paycheck to paycheck,” and so there you go. So that makes me feel good.
Rocker: Now, The Go-Go’s haven’t released any new music in a while, right?
Gina Schock: No, and that’s a fucking drag. The last thing we released, was in 2001, God Bless the Go-Go’s. My favorite two Go-Go’s records are the first record, because of the great songs, the production sucks, but the songs are great, and I love God Bless the Go-Go’s, because the songs are great and the production is great, and that record sounds the way we sound live. It’s a much better record in that it shows how we actually do sound.
Rocker: That seems to be hard for a lot of bands to do.
Gina Schock: Right, it’s a watered-down version, what the record company research says is going to happen. It changes, it’s different for everybody, every band has its own story that makes sense for them
If anybody’s successful, I tip my hat to them, because it’s really not fucking easy. It’s a difficult job, and it never ends, and if you are as lucky as I am to be over 30 years old, still alive and have half a brain left, that’s an accomplishment. We really did have a great time on this tour, so I think we’re going to keep doing that, and we’ve been talking about writing new stuff and I’m hoping that when we get back together. Everyone’s just busy doing things that are important to them, whatever they may be, but this last time around seemed really different.
Rocker: You weren’t the only one who thought it?
Gina Schock: No, I think everybody noticed it. Everybody was sort of overwhelmed by the attention, and also about how the shows were really fucking good every night. It was pretty incredible. I am going to try to get even just get a couple of songs and throw them on the internet. Put them out there for people, I think we need to do that. That’s what everybody’s asking for, the same thing.
Rocker: So in some ways its the fans that made an impact too?
Gina Schock: Yeah. Their excitement gets us excited, it really does. I am open for it at this point – I had not been in a long time, and I think that feeling is a little contagious in the band, we’ll see!
* Rocker sends special thanks to Rocker Matt Morin for helping us arrange this interview