Patty Schemel Does What Makes Her Happy
Hole may be over, but former drummer Patty Schemel is still playing.
Last year saw the release of a documentary called Hit So Hard that followed the life of Patty Schemel, Hole’s drummer from Live Through This to the Celebrity Skin era through intimate backstage footage of Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson, and Kurt Cobain, as well as other 90s players. The film sees Schemel traverse her career in Hole, coming up as a drummer, a lesbian, and eventually, a rock-bottom drug addict. Hit So Hard is Patty’s story and a fresh piece of rock history. In honor of the film, Hole did a reunion concert, which was turned out to be a pretty huge deal, especially for a three-song gig.
Hole may be over, but Patty Schemel is still playing. As she says, music is now purely about having the best time possible and not a measure of commercial success. Besides her projects Death Valley Girls, Honey Men, and a supergroup she did with Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go's, Schemel has recently teamed up with Ali Koehler of the Vivian Girls to form a pop-punk outfit called Upset. Upset’s debut LP, She’s Gone, drops in October on Don Giovanni Records, so I used this as an excuse to talk to one of my favorite drummers and ask her nine million questions about her life.
How did you meet Ali and Katy from Vivian Girls and start a band with them?
That’s how people meet now!
I know. It’s crazy.
I like it, though.
I always loved the Vivian Girls. To me, they were the first authentic band in that Renaissance of dream pop. I was a big fan and we got to be friends [on Twitter].
But Upset is pop-punk.
Yeah. Ali had all these songs that she had done—just sort of bedroom four-track songs—and she brought them to me. Jenn added a lot of great guitar stuff to them and I added drums and we put it all together. It was all in that pop-punk vibe. I’ve always been a fan of pop-punk. I loved 7 Seconds, Dough Boys, and the Asexuals. When I was in Juliette Lewis’ band too, that was a bit pop-punky. Tom Morris from H2O was in that band, so it was, like, you know...
I originally expected her songs to be like Vivian Girls, so it was a surprise. I don’t know exactly where it’s going to go when we start writing again; it’s exciting to find out where it will go now that we are writing together. We kind of wrote together on this record, but mostly the ideas came from Ali. She was the one who compiled the band.
Let's talk about Hit So Hard, the documentary that came out on your life story last year. How did it start?
I had all these old tapes from touring [with Hole]. To be honest, I’m surprised I was able to hold onto them. A friend of mine told me I better get them digitized, because the tapes start to disintegrate—I mean, some of it started to, but we managed to preserve it. So that was the idea: I wanted to hold onto these films. While that process was happening, my friend David was like, “This is a really great story...” Long story short, that’s how it happened.
I thought it was so good to hear your story, because so much of the time, it was the Courtney show. I never knew all these really impactful moments of your life. I had no idea all the drama that happened on Celebrity Skin... as a musician, the reality of growth. It affected me watching that. How did you feel having that story come out?
It’s pretty personal, a lot of it, and also when I made the decision to do the documentary, it’s like, “Okay...” I didn’t want to hold back. I kept some stuff to myself, of course; that’s my story. Also, after talking about it—I was so naïve then [in the late 90’s Celebrity Skin era]—I thought we were a punk rock band. You did not have session people come in and play on records! Then, it happened to me and the rug was totally pulled out. Like, “Fuck, you are no feminist! Fuck that shit!” [Laughs] I was so happy I got to tell my story, and the documentary really rings true for people who are coming out, gay teens, recovery people, musicians... even people who loved dogs.
Yeah, your recovery and doing the dog care—do you still do that stuff?
Yeah, but not as much as I used to, because my wife and I have a three year old daughter, so I am kind of a stay-at-home-mom who does music.
A kid is like 10 dogs.
Yeah, no dogs in the mix with the toddler.
How do you feel about the attention of your past being in Hole as you move onto all these new musical projects?
For a long time, I wanted to be just known for what I was doing and not my past with Hole. I wanted to be recognized for me, being a drummer! [Laughs] When people talk to me about how important Live Through This was to them, I can’t deny my history and I feel so grateful to have been a part of that time in that band. I feel good about it—now, today.
I always think about that... When you do something that is so culturally significant, it must be hard to get away from it. Especially not being the frontperson, but being a drummer.
Yeah, totally. My goals today are not what they used to be. Now, today, I just want to have the best time ever playing music and have fun. It has nothing to do with “success”.
What do you think about the changes in the music industry from the 90s compared to now?
There are so many opportunities as far as making your bedroom record; you just plug into your laptop and do a full string section. That’s crazy. Those are great opportunities, but then it’s also so different because everyone has done a complete 180 and wants that Apple commercial. In the old days, it wasn’t about the Apple commercial, but now, if you want to make a living, you need that Apple money.
Do you ever long for the way the industry was before the Internet and Mac books?
For me, those were the “golden days." Whoo, The 90’s! [Laughs] It was all brand new then. I can’t say, because I was just in it.
What do you think about how fashionable the 90s are now? The grunge revival?
It’s hard to have any perspective on it. It’s really hard. So many bands are getting back together and playing—you know, like Summerland festival from Sugar Ray... What’s his name?... [Laughs] It’s crazy and weird to me. But then there is cool stuff like the Breeders playing Last Splash at Pitchfork Fest or Redd Kross playing Neurotica. I do go to shows, and I prefer sitting down now in the audience and really watching the show. When I see the Pixies, I get that nostalgic excitement in my gut. That’s what music has always done to me—it’s given me that feeling in my stomach, which I love.
When things were really bad and you were on the streets using drugs heavily and not playing music, did you ever think about drumming?
That was the one time in my life when I really pushed away everything. I wanted to push my former self out of my mind. I had gone so far away from it that I did not want to think about the distance between myself. I was living moment to moment. If anytime I was out [on the streets] and saw someone from [my music industry life], I would hide.
How long did that period of using on the streets last?
About a year of the worst. I was in and out.
How did you eventually get clean? Was there a "moment?"
One day, I was done being controlled by the drugs. They talk about this in the program: a moment of clarity all users have where the drugs aren’t working for a second and reality seeps in. You realize what you are actually doing. It’s a brief second of realization. I was on this corner that I basically stayed on all the time and I was getting high. It wasn’t like I was out of drugs or anything—it was just like any other day, but I just thought, “What happened? It’s not working today. The drugs aren’t working.” And then I reached out for help.
I mean, I wish [my life] didn’t have to go that way, but it did. It’s because I am a person who is an addict and an alcoholic and there were so many opportunities for me to listen to what [people] were saying and make better decisions and get help, so I fully take ownership of where it took me and what I did. I have no regrets. It’s no one else’s fault but mine. That’s what it took to get me clean. I still had too much stuff along the way to quit before I got to the streets. But coming back from that is humbling! It keeps you grounded. Once I got clean, I lived in sober living and I cleaned up dog shit for a year. [Laughs] I needed that. I needed to get knocked down to there.
You have a daughter now. Is she going to be a drummer too when she gets older?
She already has her own drum kit! She knows the names of the drums and she can count-off songs. She is really into the guitar right now because there is this girl who sings at the farmers market and she is obsessed with her. The busker girl is going to sing for my daughter’s birthday party coming up, so she’s very excited.
Is your wife musical?
No. She’s very crafty and a great writer. That’s where her talent lies, which is so beyond me. I read your piece about texting that dude to get laid... “Better Than Food!” The one where you compared yourself to the man-eating lizard.
Thank you for reading that!
That’s such a talent that escapes me. It was a cool piece.
I needed to write about downs of my love life on tour—texting some nerd from another band you don’t want to fuck just because you are lonely on the road.
That shit happens all the time! Everybody does that.
You know, being a musician...relationships on tour... It’s brutal.