Gina Schock
photo by Geoff Thomas

“In high school, when my friends would get money, they’d buy make-up and clothes. I’d buy records and drum heads. I was a peculiar child, I guess.” Not really. Most kids in high school dream about doing something exciting with their lives. Gina Schock, drummer with the Go-Go’s, had the determination to turn her dream into a reality.

Gina began playing drums when she was 15 years old, after having tried both guitar and bass. Drums seemed to come easier to her, so that is what she continued with. Every day after school, Gina would come home, put on headphones, and spend the rest of the afternoon playing along with records. She joined her first band when she was 16. “It was funny; I was real young and these guys were all in their early 30s. We were playing in places like elementary schools and were doing songs like, ‘I Just Wanna Make Love to You.’ ”

After that group broke up, Gina played with a variety of groups in her home town of Baltimore. Eventually, she joined one of the first new wave bands in that area. “The way I hooked up with those guys,” she explained, “is that I was playing in a disco band in D.C. on weekends, playing stuff that I really hated. I didn’t enjoy that sort of music because it seemed too mechanical. Anyway, that group broke up and the guitar player introduced me to these guys that needed a drummer. I went over to their house and set up my drums and they said, ‘What songs do you know?’ I said, There’s a song by Rory Gallagher that’s been driving me crazy.’ They said, ‘Rory Gallagher! RIGHT!’ We started playing that song and I knew then and there that we were going to be a band. I learned a great deal in that group. We practiced six nights a week, four hours a night for a year before we played out. That probably helped my drumming the most out of all of the stages of my career because it was constant—every single day. Then we did about four shows and broke up. It was horrible. All of that time spent and all of a sudden it went right down the drain. I couldn’t do anything for a week. I put my drums away and said, ‘I’m never going to play them again. It’s too aggravating.’ But after a week I had to pull them back out and play them. They become addictive.”

Gina joined a punk rock band next, and went to L.A. for a little while, but at the age of 21, found herself back in Baltimore. She remembers, “I decided it was time to make my move. I couldn’t do anything in Baltimore, so I came up to New York for a while. It was hard for me there. I was sleeping on the floor and it seemed like it was always either freezing cold or very hot.” Gina had some friends in L.A., so she decided to try her luck there. She went back to Baltimore, traded her car to her father for his truck, built a camper on the back, packed her drums, albums and P.A. system, and headed across the country to the West Coast.

After a brief detour to check out San Francisco, Gina arrived in L.A., and was soon working with a couple of bands. One night about two months later, she met the members of the Go-Go’s at a party. “They said they needed a new drummer. I thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll try out. It’ll be fun.’ So I invited them over and I enjoyed playing their music more than any other kind I had ever played. This was just total fun for me. I immediately quit the other bands and joined the Go-Go’s.”

Gina joined the group in June of ’79, and a few months later, the Go-Go’s were asked to tour the U.K. with the English band Madness. While in London, they recorded a single (“We Got the Beat”) which, although available in the U.S. only as an import, became very popular in this country and stayed on the Billboard chart for nearly six months. In April of ’81, the band signed with IRS Records and recorded their first album, Beauty and the Beat.

These are not the best of times for groups who are trying to get started. Record companies are being very cautious about who they sign, clubs are cutting back on the use of live music, and travel costs today make touring difficult. So how does one deal with this situation? “I guess you just have to really want something badly enough,” Gina states. “I consider myself lucky to be in the position I’m in now. I’ve met so many people who are really great musicians but who can’t get anything together; not through any fault of their own, but because of the way the industry is run.

“The record companies will drive you nuts. You’ll lose your mind worrying about getting signed. Unfortunately, you can play around this country for ten years, but if you don’t have a record out you ain’t goin’ nowhere! What it all boils down to is that you’ve got to have money to keep a band together. You’ve got to have money to pay for rehearsal space, to pay for sticks and heads, to do a tour, to do whatever. To get money, you have to have a product to promote.

“There were a lot of things I had to realize about the record business. The sooner that you understand these things, the better off you are, or else you’re going to get yourself in trouble. I finally realized that all the record companies are interested in is money. It was a horrible realization. It is a wonderful, innocent thought to think about being a creative musician, but you really have to know about business. Our band is very, very involved in the business end of the group. We’ve made enough mistakes that we now know pretty much what we are doing. If we’re not sure, we call our lawyer to get everything explicitly explained.

“Our record company, IRS, has been wonderful. Miles Copeland was totally sincere and genuine in his love for the band, and that’s why we went with him. But before that, a lot of labels wanted us. They would flash this huge advance in our face, and at first you think, ‘Wow!’ But you have to realize that they really are not giving you anything—you’ve got to pay that money back. I didn’t know that at first. If you have a good lawyer and a good manager, you learn these things. You learn business terms so you know what everybody’s talking about when you go to meetings with big record execs. We had made a lot of mistakes, so we weren’t about to sign our name again unless we knew exactly what was going to happen. We had to know what they were going to be doing with the band, how they were going to present us to the public, and what their plans were for the future. We took our time.

“The important thing is that you take things for what they are and keep things in their proper perspective. It’s real easy to blow things out of proportion. Real easy. You have to realize why you get favors from certain record companies: They’re doing it because you’re making it. If you weren’t making it, they wouldn’t be doing it. So it’s nice that we’re making it.

“I’ll tell you one thing: I’m really happy for anybody that makes it because anyone with half a brain would realize how difficult it is to make it in this day. It always kills me when I run into people who love you until you make it, and then they say, ‘Man, you really sold out.’ I have to really give credit to anybody who makes it, or is on their way to making it, because it is so tough. You have to forget everything else, such as a social life, and be totally dedicated. You have to be willing to sacrifice everything else to reach a certain goal that you’ve set. If you try to tell people how much hard work goes into it, they think you’re just being self-righteous. All people see is that it’s so glamorous and so easy. It’s not. It’s really hard. But when you go on stage and play, that’s what makes you feel like it’s all worth it. When the people clap for you to show their appreciation, you feel like you’re worth a million. All the stupid things people say don’t mean a thing when that happens.

“You have to basically be a stable person before you even go into this. If you’re unstable and you have to deal with things like this, you’re going to go bananas. I really have to give a lot of credit to my family for my ability to keep myself together, and to the other members of the group. They are always behind me 100%. That’s very important. It makes it easier to cope with the little defeats you have, when you have other people that you know really understand you. We all have our days, but we take care of each other. When one of us is having a bad day, the others understand why she is feeling the way she is. It’s really important that you get along well with everybody in your band. That’s one of the hardest things to do. I know a lot of great musicians, but try to get them together in the same band? Forget it!”

As far as her drumming goes, being in the Go-Go’s has caused Gina to play more simply. “Playing in this band has helped me learn how to not play so much. It’s not like playing in a threepiece band where you have to fill in every space. I think it’s good to be a bit diverse; be able to play the minimal if that’s what’s called for, but also be able to fill in a three-piece. For the band I’m in now, I’m thinking more and more that the less you play, the better it is. It’s not what you play as much as it’s how you play it. That’s why Charlie Watts, to me, is as good as anybody. He plays the minimal, but everything he plays is perfect for the music that he’s doing.

“There are so many drummers I admire, it would take an hour to name them all. But as far as my drumming goes, the two drummers who probably influenced me the most when I was growing up were John Bonham and Charlie Watts.” Did she have any female drummers for role models? “I never paid any attention to women, to be honest. I was listening to Led Zeppelin.”

Gina feels that there is a difference between what is required of a drummer in the studio, and what is required live. She explains: “One night, we did two shows in Boston. The guy who co-produced our album was there because we had a mobile recording unit parked outside to tape our show. After the first show, he said, ‘Gina, in certain songs, you speed up a little during the song.’ I knew I was speeding up but that was because it’s different on stage than it is in the studio. However, on the second show I decided that I would keep it absolutely perfect. It was totally boring. The rest of the band was looking at me like, ‘What are you doing?’ They wanted to break out but I was holding them back. So from then on, I’ve played the way I thought it should be. You’ve got to forget about keeping the exact same speed when you’re playing live. It can’t be too extreme, but if it speeds up a little bit—that’s cool. You’ve got to be two different people to play in the studio and play live. It’s two different things.

“The same thing applies to drum heads. I’ve tried every different kind of head on my drums. Now I know what heads I need to use in the studio and what heads I need to use live, to get the best sound out of the particular kit that I have. I use Ambassadors to record with, but I use Remo Black Dot heads live. I made my drum roadie hit them and I went out in the hall and listened. There was a more distinct tone with the Black Dots. Also, for live playing I use single heads, but for recording I always use double heads.”

Gina’s drum set is a five-piece Rogers, with 12″, 13″ and 16″ toms, and a 24″ bass drum. “I used to have a 22″, but I tried the 24″ on the advice of some drummer friends of mine. I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t know everything about drums. If somebody gives me a suggestion, I try it, at least once. That’s why I’ve tried so many heads. People would swear by this head or that head, so I would try them. Now I know what I need for my particular kit.” Her snare drum is an 8″-deep Ludwig, but her “pride and joy” is an old ’57 WFL 6 1/2 x 14 woodshell snare. “You ought to hear that drum! It has a truer snare sound than the 8″. I like a real fat sound from my snare. I tune the tom-toms pretty low. I tune the first one to an A, and then one octave down for each drum.”

Her cymbals are all Zildjian: two 18″ crashes, a 24″ ride, and 15″ hi-hats. “When I record, I use real little hi-hats. I guess they’re 12’s. They really cut for recording.” Gina uses Tama Titan hardware. “They’re real heavy duty. Equipment usually gets pretty messed up when you’re on the road because things get thrown around a lot. But the Tama hardware seems to really hold up.

“The best pedal I’ve ever had is one I recently found out about called the Caroline. It’s a French pedal. I’m totally impressed with the design. With most pedals, if something goes wrong, you have to take the pedal apart. With this pedal, everything is right out in the open, so if something breaks, you know how to fix it. Also, this pedal has all of the adjustments at the top, so I could be playing a song and reach down with one hand to make an adjustment if I needed to. It’s really a practical, logical design.”

For the time being, Gina just wants to keep playing. “I really like playing. I want to play every day. If we have a couple of days off, I’m itching to play after those couple of days. It becomes a part of you that you need.” She should have no problem with having enough chances to play. The Go-Go’s have always been a hard-working group, and with their first album having been certified gold last December, it looks as if they will continue to work for quite some time. That fits in well with Gina’s goals: “The most important thing for me is to try to be the best at what I’m doing. I’d like to make it really big in this band, and be respected as a drummer.” The way things have been going, it looks like she will get her wish.