Go-Go’s Drummer Gina Schock Talks ’80s Glory Days & Reigniting Bionic Pop Punk Spark (INTERVIEW)

A photograph is worth a thousand words, and for Go-Go’s drummer Gina Schock, she has probably taken thousands of pictures in her lifetime so far. Lucky for us, she is sharing some of those snazzy polaroids from her years in The Go-Go’s in her new book, Made In Hollywood: All Access With The Go-Go’s. Landing on bookstore shelves on October 26th, Schock’s memories are collected in a coffee table-sized hardback book, loaded with photos from her childhood and young adult days playing drums in Baltimore to traveling the world with Kathy Valentine, Belinda Carlisle, Charlotte Caffey, and Jane Wiedlin – collectively known as The Go-Go’s.

Originally a punk band on the LA music scene, they kept their street creds after Schock and Valentine joined the band, playing shows at the Whisky, hanging with the seminal punk band of the time, X, and finally getting worldwide attention with their first album, Beauty & The Beat, in 1981. A tour with The Police and an appearance on Saturday Night Live made them stars. And even though they lost the Best New Artist Grammy to Sheena Easton, they’ve stood the test of time, albeit with a few breaks in-between. They have a star on Hollywood Boulevard, an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, a Broadway musical, numerous memoirs between them, and a fanbase that has never faltered. Their fans have stuck with them and still come out to their shows in giddy droves.

Gina Schock, the beat keeper of the band, joined the fledgling group a year after their formation, after leaving her beloved family in Maryland to pursue her dream of making it in music in California. She is probably The Go-Go’s biggest cheerleader – just watch some of her live interviews – and the saver of all their memorabilia. A visual person by nature, this stuff is gold to her, and her photographs are priceless. Want to know if the girls were overly serious or goofily funny on the road? Want to know what they looked like after hours in the van? Want to see who they hung with or how they dressed? Schock’s your gal for that.

I spoke with the lively drummer recently to talk about her new book, the days of The Go-Go’s, her health scare, that superselling debut album, and what the band is up to these days.

You have this wonderful new book but it’s not a stereotypical memoir. Why did you want to do your book this way?

Well, first of all, let me just state that this book is not a memoir. This book started out initially as just being a coffee table photo book. Then the book publishers were like, “Have you thought about writing something?” And I thought, oh God, I’m not a writer! I don’t know if I can do that! And you know what, when I started looking at all these photos and really tried to think about writing, it came so easily. The words just came out. It was very fluid and it was easy to write. When you look at a photograph, you remember everything. It’s like hearing a song and you remember where you were when you first heard it. So, like I said, I hadn’t planned on writing any words. I just wanted it to be a book of my photography but the way it turned out, I couldn’t be happier.

How long did it take you to narrow down the photos you wanted to include? I bet you had tons.

Oh my God, I could start another book right now I have so many photos! I’ve collected them over all the years and I had to have somebody help me figure out what photos to put in because they are all so dear to me. Finding the right person to help me make the choices took years, decades, you know. But I finally met a fellow and we really clicked. He loved everything that I had and he was like, “Yeah Gina, let’s write up a book proposal.” We did that, took it to a couple of companies, got our book deal very quickly, and for the last year and a half, we worked on this book until we completed it. Now it’s coming out on the 26th and I am super happy with the way it turned out. I’m really proud of this book and it tells a story of this band through photographs and my words and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Have you always been a visual person and always liked photographs?

Always. I was into photography since I was a kid and I had like Instamatic cameras. Even on my journey from Baltimore to Los Angeles in 1979, I had an Instamatic camera and I was taking pictures all the way across the country. So yes, I’ve always been very visual. It’s like, I can go somewhere one time and remember how to get there, just by sight. I don’t remember the names of streets or numbers but everything is like a landmark, I don’t forget it, it sticks in my head.

How are your polaroids holding up after all this time?

Really good. I can’t believe that any of these photos are holding up cause it’s not like I was really precious about the way I took care of them. They’re just sort of in boxes and closets and in drawers and under the bed and all that, you know. But oh my God, when I pulled everything out I couldn’t believe all that I had collected over the years. And everything came rushing back and it was all just wonderful. And you know, I’ve been asked, “Did you have any idea that one day you’d be putting a book together?” No! I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. It was just something that I was into and it was fun. It was our little girl gang, it was the five of us running all over the world and having a great time and I just happened to have a camera so I was snapping away.

I want to ask you about a couple of specific photographs in the book and I want to start with the big picture of a little girl in her school uniform with her uneven bangs. What do you remember most about that little girl?

That I was very mischievous as a kid. I was always getting into trouble. Nothing really bad but I had a ton of energy all the time so my parents allowed me to play a little later than the other kids and they allowed me to get into music the way I was into it, get instruments, beat my brains out on the drums; just ways to get energy out in a healthy way. It was hard to harness all that energy when you’re young and my parents were just the best. So when I look at that photograph, I think, yep, Mom was cutting my hair back then (laughs). The bangs were always crooked and I had a cowlick right in front of my head. But God bless my mom, she was cutting my hair (laughs).

Were you an athletic kid?

You know, I guess I kind of was because I was a tomboy. I was the only girl in the neighborhood and my brother was seven years older than me and he would have to drag me around with him and my cousins all around the neighborhood. So I’d ride bicycles with them and throw rocks and bust windows out and that kind of stuff (laughs). We’d go over to construction sites and throw rocks at windows and I’d get chased by the police on my little minibike. The police, a couple of times, brought me home with my dog in the back of the police car with my minibike in the trunk.

What did Mom say about that?

She secretly loved it (laughs)

You mentioned having that little camera with you when you went to California and you have a collage of those photos in the book. You’re this young girl heading out across the country. Where did that gumption come from to be able to do that, just leave home and pursue a dream, cause you mentioned you cried leaving your family behind.

I was so – always will be – so close to my mom and dad. They put that spirit in me where I felt that anything was possible. They always encouraged me to follow my dreams, that with hard work and focus anything was possible. So I did really believe when I left Baltimore and was driving to Los Angeles, and I knew three people out here, I believed that I was going to make it. I was driving to LA to make it in the business and I firmly believed I would. And I think that was instilled in me by my parents, the thought that anything was possible if you work hard enough if you have faith and you stay focused. It’s all about my parents where that came from.

There are a few pictures with members of X. How were they an influence or mentors to The Go-Go’s?

We were all playing in the club scene in LA at the same time and I just remember going to see them, cause we were in awe of X. They were like the badass band in LA, at the top of the punk scene, and I just remember going to watch them play and being knocked out. And Don the drummer, my God, what an incredible drummer, and Billy, what a guitar player. They had a sound unlike anyone else and to this day I’ll never understand why they didn’t become really, really big because they had great songs, their live show was something else. You know, we were all very supportive of each other and it was a wonderful scene for music, the punk scene in LA, and it was really thriving when I arrived there. It was the perfect time to get into LA.

How did you find the punk scene different or alike from the one happening in  New York?

The scene in LA was a lot more chill; the music in New York seemed more desperate and more urban. LA, the scene was just more laid back I guess, is the best way to describe it. You had this gorgeous weather all the time and people were out and about all the time; that’s the best way I can describe the difference.

Who did you see play in those club days that blew you away but there was hardly anyone in the audience?

Ooh, I remember seeing, and I love this band and I was very much into British bands, but I remember seeing Ultravox. I loved them and it wasn’t a full house at the Whisky.

You have a photo in your book labeled “Van ’81.” You girls look pretty tuckered out, unless ya’ll are faking it.

(laughs) We were faking it a little bit but not so much cause we had been driving around in that van for months and months. It was a 12-seater van and all of us smashed in there, playing clubs every night. And then came the big change, which was us opening for The Police. So we went from playing clubs to playing 18-20,000 seaters. It changed everything for the band. For Miles Copeland, it was a brilliant move. He managed The Police and his brother Stewart was the drummer and he was the head of our record label so it worked out really well for him and he was smart about it. It was a really smart move to put both of his bands on tour together and he could oversee everything and we were playing to this large audience. And that’s when we started selling a lot of records. 

I believe we had been out on the road like six months and the record was sort of stalled at like a couple hundred thousand. When we started playing those big arenas, then we started really selling, the sales really kicked up into 500,000 and 600,000. Then after we did Saturday Night Live, that’s when we hit a million and the record went to number one. That was back in the day when Saturday Night Live used to really mean something. I just remember everybody would wait to see who the musical guest would be for Saturday Night Live cause it would always be an up & coming band that was going to be cool and probably really make it. And when we played, that had the perfect effect for the band. It pushed us up to #1 and a million records.

You mention in the book how they called you cream puff punk. Did ya’ll think that was funny or did you really consider it a dis at the band?

I felt like that’s what they thought of us in England because when we were opening for Madness and the Specials, they were hardcore ska fans, and when they saw five girls come out onstage, especially coming from California, I don’t think they liked it. They certainly didn’t appreciate us and they really brought us to tears on many occasions. But we powered through that and we toughened up after a month or so. We walked out onstage and we owned it. So by the time we got back here, we were like these five warriors who’d been in battle, you know, and it felt great to come back home. 

While we were in England we had put out a single, I think “We Got The Beat” on Stiff Records. When we first went to England, we thought we were going to make it big over there. We thought, oh, they’re way ahead of the scene here and we’ll go there, we’ll happen and we’ll come back to the States and be these big heroes coming back. As it turns out, they didn’t give a care about us one single bit. They didn’t like our band. 

In the meantime, we started to get a lot of heat with “We Got The Beat,” cause they were playing it in clubs and when we started playing places here, it was like a mob scene. The crowd was like several blocks long waiting in line to see our shows and that never changed. The crowds just got bigger and bigger and bigger until IRS couldn’t ignore it anymore and signed us. Of course, the major labels were still afraid to sign us because there had not been an all-girl band that had sold millions of records. And labels like to find something that sticks and then they want to sign ten other acts that are much the same. So that hadn’t happened for an all-girl band and they weren’t that interested. But Miles, because IRS was an independent label, he had that freedom. And also, there wasn’t the amount of money that had to be spent for a band like ours. I think we made that first record for $60,000, which was nothing back then.

Do you think ya’ll compromised too much on that first record? I talked to Kathy last year and she told me she thought it was a little too polished.

Well, it wasn’t the way we wanted it to sound, because like I said, we were really a punk band. When we first finished that record, we thought that Richard Gottehrer, our producer, had ruined our band. We thought, oh, this doesn’t sound like us! He’s made us into this little pop band and we’re not! Well, the truth is, we were a punk band and we are a punk band and we always will be. But we had these great pop melodies that went over these tougher kind of chords and back then we were playing these really fast. So what Richard really did was slow everything down so you could appreciate those beautiful melodies. That was the biggest change. I wish that record would have sounded more like God Bless The Go-Go’s or something but it worked and ultimately Richard did the right thing.

Of those songs on Beauty & The Beat, which one to you is the truest to those original roots?

“This Town.” I love playing that song. You know, we spent a lot of time making sure the arrangements were right and Richard was a real song man and that was the thing that Miles had helped in the decision making of who our producer was going to be, and that was another really smart move on his behalf because you’ve got to have great songs. And even though we thought the production value wasn’t what we really wanted, the songs did shine and that makes the difference.

For you, which Go-Go’s song took the longest to get right in the studio, especially concerning you and your drums?

You know, I can’t honestly tell you that because before I got into the studio, I would have everything worked out. I always drove everybody nuts because I was always practice-practice-practice, I need to practice, I need to get my parts perfect, and it really got on everybody’s nerves. But before I walked in the studio, I knew what all my parts were going to be and I had practiced them. So there were no surprises for me.

What made The Go-Go’s unique?

The five us, the five individuals that we are, all of us being influenced musically by different artists or groups coming together and making a sound and that was the sound of The Go-Go’s that nobody else sounded like us. That obviously puts you in a class of your own and it’s a very distinct sound. That was the smart move. You can’t control these things. You get together, you have a band, you have this wonderful chemistry and you hope that it catches on. And the timing was right and everything just worked out the way it was supposed to. It wasn’t easy, don’t get me wrong, but I believe in destiny. I feel like it was all meant to happen the way it did.

What photograph in your book to you symbolizes success?

I guess to me, at the end of the book when we’re on Hollywood Boulevard getting our star. I think that might be old-fashioned thinking or something but I just remember growing up and when hearing someone getting a star on Hollywood Boulevard, I thought that was the epitome of success. That was the tippy-top of it all, if you could get a star on Hollywood Boulevard. And we did accomplish that and I love that.

When you started learning to play drums, what was the hardest thing for you to get the hang of?

None of it. It was very easy, that’s why I continued playing drums. It was the easiest instrument for me to play. It felt very natural and I didn’t have to think at all. It just came out, you know. I knew what I was doing. The type of drummer that I am, my choices are made for the song. It’s not about all the chops that I have. I’ve never been a player like that. I just want to elevate the song. I want to do what the song requires. That’s the way I approach drumming.

Who were the first drummers to really influence you?

The two drummers that influenced me and that I idolized were Charlie Watts and John Bonham. Very different drummers but both of them rock solid with what they do, what they contribute to their bands. Charlie was just straight and strong and John had his foot pedal work and his tom-tom and it knocked me out. I love them both and they were both very different.

We lost Charlie this year and you got to meet Charlie when The Go-Go’s opened for the Stones in 1981. What was he like?

I can tell you that he was everything I thought he would be and then some. He was an absolute gentleman, dressed beautifully, soft-spoken, just a wonderful guy. What a nice, nice man he was. And that’s exactly who he was. What a wonderful guy.

Tell me about Stewart Copeland

Stewart was quite the gentleman, completely different style but wow what a hell of a drummer he is. I would sit and watch him every night when we were playing with them.

Who was the first real rock star you ever met?

I can’t think right off the bat who was the first real rock star but the first star that I ever met was John Belushi when he came to a show. Our first show when Kathy played with us, John showed up at the Whisky. But who was the first rock star? There have been so many I don’t even know where to begin, to be honest with you. But I would maybe say the Ramones. The Ramones and Elvis Costello are the people I first met. It was at a show before The Go-Go’s were happening. As a matter of fact, I have a little bitty address book that I carried around with me in 1978, in the seventies, and I must have had it on me because I realized last year when I was looking through all my stuff that I have their autographs in my little address book. Also, when I first came to LA, the guy that I was living with took me to see Elvis Costello and he knew people that were working with the crew or something and we got to meet Elvis Costello and his band.

You talk about your heart surgery very honestly. When did you notice something wasn’t right within your body and what did you notice?

What I started noticing was that I was working out at the hotels where we would stay or wherever, trying to keep myself fit, and I was getting tired very quickly and I kept catching colds. The other girls were way out-doing me, like on a treadmill, and I was thinking, My God, I’m the drummer, what the heck’s wrong with me! I was needing oxygen when we would come off the stage. Then finally we were getting ready to go on a big long tour and we had to get physicals and mine came back with a heart murmur. They said it’s probably nothing because a lot of people have them but let’s just check it out a little further. Then we found out that I had what is called an atrial septal defect, which is basically a hole in your heart, and it’s congenital so I had to have it tended to.

How fast between learning you had this and the surgery?

Very quickly. When I found out, the next week I got a cardiac catheterization and that was to see how big the hole was and to get all the dimensions and everything so when they operated a week later, they’d have all the information they needed to go in, open me up, do the surgery and close me back up as quickly as possible. It was within a couple of weeks. You know, the thought of it and the anticipation of it was enough to kill me.

Why didn’t House Of Schock last longer than it did? What was missing?

What was missing was the record label. I signed a deal with them and I had made that first record, got a little bit of heat, got played on MTV in medium rotation and then I got a call from Tom, my A&R guy, saying “Oh Gina, I want to be the one to tell you this. Everybody is getting fired, we’re all getting fired, and I’m going to give you the option of leaving now or you can stay on the label.” Well, nobody in their right sense is going to stay on the label because when the new regime comes in and you’re the old news there, you just become a write-off. Nobody is interested in you, nobody is going to push you, nobody cares; especially if you’re a new band. And I hadn’t sold millions of records, I was still a work in progress. I felt like my second record might have done the trick so I got off the label.

No regrets?

No, I mean, what was I going to do? There was no way I was going to stay on that label with all new people that didn’t sign you. When the new group of people come in, they’re looking for new talent that they can bring in and be the next big shot there. They’re not interested in what’s already been signed. Not unless you are a big act and I wasn’t that at that time. I was a new act.

What’s up with the Go-Go’s now?

We’re in really good shape, all is well in Go-Go land. There is so much going on and so much has happened in the last several years with our musical that went on Broadway, with Head Over Heels, with the documentary that was at Sundance, my book coming out, being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, doing some shows at the end of this year, we’re opening for Billy Idol next year at Wembley, in big arenas, we’re booking shows for next year and there’s a couple of projects that we’re working on that will hopefully come to fruition next year. We’re busy! And it’s all good! 

And Billy Idol is an old friend of yours

Yeah, we used to sort of hang out in a lot of the same places and so when we heard Billy had requested us, we were like, of course we’ll play with Billy! He’s a great guy and he’s a survivor. That guy has had some very near-death experiences and he’s still around to tell the tale. And his music is great and he sounds great.

And you know, our band is really badass live. We really rock live and we put on a good show. There are no stage props, there’s nothing to detract from the five of us being onstage, singing our songs and really getting into the music and engaging the audience. And it’s just the five of us up there and we put on a hell of a show. There’s a lot of energy. We’re very present, very aware of everything and we really rock out cause we’re excited.

So everything is moving forward, nothing is standing still right now, and it amazes me that, I don’t know, for this time in my life that all this should be happening. I am very grateful and let me tell you, I’m in that mode, the grateful mode, because I mean, I’m in my sixties and all this is happening and it’s so cool!

Photographs by Arnold Neimanis & Gina Schock

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