She’s Got the Beat
An Interview With Go-Go’s Drummer Gina Schock
Gina Schock has the flu, and understandably, she feels “really shitty.” I can relate, because I’m in the middle of a ten-day ordeal with the flu myself. “I’m eating a tangerine as I talk to you,” she offers, on the phone from her home in Los Angeles. “I just wanted to let you know, in case you think I’m having a seizure or something,” she laughs, determined to complete the interview despite her obvious discomfort. It’s this type of professionalism and upbeat spirit that have kept Gina at the top of her game of over twenty years. Back in the late-’70s, when rock and roll was still pretty much a boys’ club, The Go-Go’s — an all female punk rock band from Los Angeles — emerged from the Hollywood underground to achieve platinum-selling, major label success worldwide. The ’80s airwaves were continuously filled with The Go-Go’s upbeat pop hits like “We Got the Beat” and “Vacation,” to the point where the band has now become ingrained in pop culture consciousness. And to say these five women — singer Belinda Carlisle, bassist Kathy Valentine, guitarists Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey, and most importantly, Gina’s amazing, powerhouse drumming — kicked down the door for many future women in rock would be an epic understatement. While The Go-Go’s disbanded in 1985, all five original members reunited as a touring band in 1994. In 2001, the band recorded God Bless the Go Go’s; their first album of new material since 1984’s Talk Show. They plan to tour nationally this summer. Gina, who has a quick wit and an amazing enthusiasm for life, spoke at length with Ink 19 about her personal professional philosophies and her amazing career in The Go-Go’s.
How did you start playing drums?
When I was 13, I knew I wanted to do something with music. I wasn’t sure what it was, whether I wanted to sing or play an instrument. Just like every other kid, I’d save up my allowance. I wanted to get an instrument that I wouldn’t need to take lessons for, and that’s how drums came into the picture. I saved up my money, bought a set of drums and realized that I didn’t need to take lessons to play this instrument. What I would do is put headphones on and play along with a record, you know, which is what most kids did. I started playing along with records and I knew I wouldn’t have to take lessons to play this instrument. It felt really natural, it just felt easy. It was a no-brainer. That’s how I started to play drums. It just was the easiest instrument to play, and I’ve never taken lessons.
Who were some of your early influences?
I was pretty much into heavier stuff. My biggest influence was Led Zeppelin. I was just completely entranced by them. The other part of the story is that I have an older brother — it’s just my brother and myself — and of course he had the babysitting to deal with, which he hated and would have to drag me with him wherever he went. Anyway, on one of his baby sitting nights he had to drag me, when I was eleven, to a concert that he went to — which was the first concert I ever went to — Led Zeppelin opening for The Who.
Baptism by fire, right? When I saw that, believe it or not, an eleven year old girl said to herself at that point, “This is what I want to do.” I knew what I wanted to do the rest of my life, as insane as it sounds. That was it, it changed everything for me, everything. Like I said, I just hadn’t decided what instrument I wanted to play or if I wanted to sing, but I knew I had to do something in music, because I was just swept away. Probably, for any kid at eleven years old, going to see Led Zeppelin opening for The Who would have fucking knocked them out too, right? How lucky was I? And we went to see them at Meriweather Post Pavilion (a large arena in Columbia, Maryland), and among one of the most memorable, biggest thrills of my life — I have several — but one of them is that, eleven or twelve years later, I actually got to play on that stage.
That was a fucking huge moment for me, to think that so many years earlier, I was a kid sitting in that audience watching [laughs] Zeppelin opening for The Who. That was a huge, huge thrill.
And what a great first concert.
You can’t beat that, right? Led Zeppelin are my heroes. They’re the biggest thing in my life, ever. I got to see them twice, as my first concert and then again a few years later.
What projects did you pursue while The Go-Go’s were broken up?
Well, everybody’s been busy doing things, but I did a solo record, this “House Of Schock” record, on Capitol. That was pretty fucking cool; check this out. I’m the drummer in the band, right? I’m thinking, “if the band breaks up, what am I going to do?” I figured I’d try to get into another band or try to get session work or I could make my own record. I was a fledgling [song] writer at the time and was really intrigued by the whole process and thought, “Oh man, I love this.” It was something new, and with something new you get real excited. I mean, drumming, I’d been doing that forever. So I decided I was going to do that [solo record] and it all worked out incredibly. I hooked up with Miles Copeland, who was the head of our record company, IRS Records. I presented my idea to Miles and he was like, “Yeah, let’s go for it.” He managed me and I put together a band and we rehearsed. We did one show and got a record deal, and that’s pretty great, right? We did one show at the Roxy, invited a bunch of record labels and Capitol Records signed me. So, I did that record on Capitol and then I worked on another record for Miles Copeland a couple years later, and had a publishing deal with MCA for several years. I also have a songwriting partner and we did some commercial work for a year or so. I kept busy. I’m always doing something.
Would the band have reunited if you couldn’t have gotten all the original members back together?
No, I don’t think we’d do that. Not unless, like, somebody — God forbid — was killed. You know, we’re such individuals, we’re such characters. In our band, at least for us, it’s never felt like, “Oh, this is the one in the band who’s the leader.” It’s always been like all five of us had such tremendous input in everything that’s done. It’s always been a democracy, with the five of us making decisions about stuff. If anything, it would always be the five of us, we’d never replace anybody. I don’t feel like the chemistry could ever be repeated.
Are you watching The Osbournes?
Oh Jesus Christ, I was just at the bank and on the way back I saw my neighbor. This guy, John, he’s a photographer and he does mostly heavy metal stuff and he’s acquaintances with Ozzy. I said to him, “John, you know what my favorite thing is?” He said “What?” and I said “The Osbournes. It is the best fucking show on TV.” I saw the third episode last night, but I’ll watch the same one over and over because I keep finding different things. You know, if I watch it a couple of times I’ll pick stuff out that I missed. It is just fucking awesome! Isn’t it the best?
Well, the thing I love about it is that they seem like such a loving family.
I want to live with them!! They’re like a great family. They are so funny. It is my favorite show on TV. I get so excited to watch it. I like Prime Time Glick, too, but The Osbournes take the cake.
One of my editors would like me to ask what’s the biggest car you ever drove?
A Cadillac Coupe deVille, that’s the big one. The old Coupe deVilles were huge tanks. Of course, my favorite model is the El Dorado, but the Coupe deVilles were huge [laughs]. My parents always had Cadillacs when I was growing up. Oh, I love them. Of course I always wanted the El Dorado and my Dad always wanted that but we sometimes had to get the four door numbers. You know, with a family.
What’s your dynamic like with Go-Gos bassist Kathy Valentine?
You know, Kathy plays bass like she plays guitar. I mean, she is a guitar player, you know? I met Kathy when she played guitar in The Textones, before The Go-Go’s. That’s what she’s always done is play guitar, she just plays bass in this band. I guess, hence, part of the sound of The Go-Go’s is the fact that Kathy isn’t really a bass player. I think that all the different backgrounds that we all come from and our influences and everything has a lot to do with the sound that The Go-Go’s have. When we get together, that’s our sound. And I think part of our unique sound is the fact that, as I said, Kathy wasn’t even a bass player, so her approach is different. Years ago, Kathy and I, when we would rehearse, she and I would come in an hour before everyone else and just sit and play and play. So, we’re real comfortable playing together. We don’t even have to think; I already know what her next move is going to be and she knows what mine is going to be.
How do you feel about using click tracks and/or loops in the studio? How about live?
Well, I better be able to play with a click track, you know? I don’t have a problem with clicks at all. You should be able to play with a click. Like I said, you’re the timekeeper. What does the song ask for? I always play with a click when we’re recording, but live, I don’t really need to use a click because one thing I’m blessed with is that I have really good timing. For recording, I use the click more for everybody else than for me [laughs], to be honest. It’s not something that I’m going to focus on when I’m recording. I’m going to use it more as a guide, because I’m focusing on the groove.
Do you have any cool stories from your days on IRS Records?
Christ, we could write a book. How much time do you have [laughs]? I don’t know where to begin with that. Oddly enough, the funniest thing that pops into my mind is when we were going to sue them. [Laughing] We’d been out on the road for about a year and a half and hadn’t gotten one fucking royalty check. We’d sold over a million records and we were still out in this six-seater van, driving around the country, wondering why we’re not getting any paychecks here. What’s the deal? Finally we had to hire a lawyer and threaten to sue our record company because they hadn’t paid us any royalties, and it had been well over a year.
We were doing a show — I forget where it was, maybe Costa Mesa, somewhere out here in California — and Jay Beauberg, who’s now the head of MCA, shows up after we walk off stage and hands us a big check that says “One Million Dollars payable to The Go-Go’s.” Of course, they owed us a lot more than that. That’s my IRS story.
How did having open heart surgery change your life?
That was in ’83 or ’84… at the time that it happened, we were getting ready to go out on a big tour, so we had to postpone everything. It was horrible. We had just finished doing the third record, the Talk Show record. We did that in England and I kept getting sick, like dumb little things, nothing major. I was saying that “when I get back to the States I’m going to get a proper physical, the works.” So, I got one and my doctor said, “Oh Gina, this is nothing big, but you have a heart murmur. A lot of people have it and you shouldn’t worry about it but we’re going to put this little thing that will monitor your heartbeat.” You wear it for a day and then bring it back, it’s like this little tape recorder that you have to wear and they have it fixed to different spots on your chest. I took that back and the next day we were at rehearsal and the doctor called up and said, “We have the results, can you come in?” and I was like, “What do you mean, ‘come in’?” and I just like fell on the floor. We stopped rehearsal and the band all drove me over to Cedars [Sinai Medical Center] and the doctor told me, and it was terrible. Everybody was hysterical and I was laying on the fucking chair and they had to come and give me a shot of Valium. I was out of it, it was pretty scary.
Was this a birth defect type of thing?
Yeah, it was congenital. I, basically, had a hole in my heart; an “atrial septural defect.” They told me that if I hadn’t had it checked out I’d have been dead in three years, and after two years it would have been irreparable. There would have been nothing they could do, and I would have been an invalid and then had a massive heart attack, at 31. Can you believe that?
You got really lucky. And you’re okay now?
Yeah, once it’s fixed, that’s it. It wasn’t like I was eating poorly or had done anything to cause it to happen. It was already there.
How do you challenge yourself as a player?
[Laughs] Get up every day. My biggest challenge, truly, is just to keep in shape. I hate to say this, but when you hit forty, you really need to take care of yourself. You need to exercise, you need to start making an effort, whereas before you didn’t really have to, you know? My main thing is that I just really try to keep in shape. [Besides that] actually, out of everyone in the band, I really love music, and I go out every month or two and just buy a whole slew of whatever’s new, so I really keep abreast of what’s going on with what the new music is and who the new bands are. I think that’s important do, as a player: to pay attention to what’s going on in the music business. That’s challenging. As a writer, as a player, you need to keep on top of what’s out there.
What drummers currently playing in the business do you admire or feel inspired by?
I’ll tell you who one of my favorite drummers is, Ginger [Fish] from Marilyn Manson. He’s a fucking awesome drummer. He is great and I’m a huge fan. Then, just the other day, me and a friend of mine went to eat sushi. I walked in and who walks in after me but Dave Grohl. He had some friends with him and I had some friends with me and I turned around and I looked and him and he looked at me and we didn’t say anything. Well, the other night when I went to see this friend of mine who’s the guitarist in Queens of the Stone Age — Dave’s playing drums with them, you know? — I walked backstage and I’m like, “Hi Dave.” And he’s like, “Gina, I wanted to come and say ‘Hi’ to you at that restaurant the other night but I didn’t want to bother you while you were with your friends.” And I said the exact same thing! We were both thinking the same thing and neither one of us had the nerve to walk up and say “Hi.” Man, is he an awesome drummer. Christ, he knocks me out, man. He played at the Troubadour the other night so I got to see him play and, god, he was great. Ah! He’s just as fiery and as incredible as ever. The guy plays his ass off and he hits so hard! He’s just got it all. I’m really just a huge fan of his playing.
Since you’re so involved in the scene in L.A., I want to ask you, do you know this drummer named Mike Fasano? He’s a friend of mine, he plays drums for Warrant?
Are you talking about MY MIKE? Mike is my friend! Oh my god, guess what, in my band, K5, that I had a couple of years ago, guess who my drummer was? Mike Fasano! He’s one of my favorite drummers. I had brought in a bunch of different people and I fucking love Mike’s playing. Mike is really tasteful in his choices, and man, that guy’s in the pocket. What a fucking small world! How funny is that, my god. This is really, really hilarious. All I can say is that he was playing drums in my band, so that pretty much says it all.