Patty Schemel


Photos by Dalton Blanco

Growing up in the pre-grunge Northwest, Patty Schemel started off in the Empty Records punk scene and has since gone on to drum in everything from Imperial Teen to P!NK. In 1992 she joined forces with Hole writing two of the most acclaimed records from the 90’s: Live through This and Celebrity Skin. Even with such an impressive resume she still remains one of the sweetest and most humble drummers alive. Vice Cooler spent an afternoon with Patty to debunk rumors and discuss drums, making it out of grunge, and running a doggy daycare.
By Vice Cooler

Vice Cooler: What year did you actually begin drumming and when you started were there any goals you set for yourself?

Patty Schemel: I started in 1978 when I was a kid, I was twelve. I started out at school playing the snare drum. Then I started playing along (at home) to my albums and 8 tracks. I liked that first Cars record and played to that all the time. That and AC/DC. I was really into Kiss and ended up playing a Pearl because those are the drums that Peter Criss used! (Laughs)

VC: One thing I have always liked about your set up is that it’s never too elaborate. You work with the basics, without frills, and remain simple. You are only using what you need to make a beat, and this has remained your main set up throughout the years. Has that been something that you intentionally sought out?

PS: My first kit, the pearl, was three rack toms and a floor tom. Somehow that was cool, when I was a kid, to have all of that going on.

VC: Peter Criss!

PS: Yeah! But then I learned that you can do the same thing with one rack tom, your kick drum, and a floor tom. You don’t need to have Roto Toms and all of that. It’s cool if you want that, but it wasn’t what I was into doing. I was just playing punk rock.

VC: Were you ever tempted to add more?

PS: Oh yeah. I used double bass for a little minute to see what that’s like. Once I got going it was exciting but not for the music that I listened to. Maybe for Slayer or something like that!

VC: How often do you practice?

PS: I used to all of the time. When I was a kid that was all that I did. I would come home from school and play. Sometimes when I would go to see bands I would only watch the drummer. I would become inspired by what they were doing, and go home and try to do what they did. But there was really no set schedule. Just whenever I felt inspired… (whispers) which should be a lot more! (laughs)

VC: Do you normally warm up before playing?

PS: Yeah. I have these little dumbbell weights. I do a little routine with them to get my arms warmed up. When I’m done, I hold the sticks for a while. That’s it.

VC: Your band pre-Hole was Sybil, with your brother Larry. The band just had that one seven inch right?

PS:  Sybil had one seven inch and then we were going to get sued by a jazz singer named Sybil. After that we changed the name to Kill Sybil and then put out another single and then a full length on Empty, but by that point I had left the band.

VC: The first single had two different RPM speeds on each side? Why? To be weird?

PS: Yeah. Pretty much (laughs).

VC: Anytime your name comes up around people who grew up in the Northwest, pre-grunge era , they talk about how OG you are. You were around before and after the 90’s transformation. How did this effect you personally? Did it ever end up influencing any of your creative decisions? It must have been weird that your scene went through such a quick transformation in such a short period of time.

PS: Everybody had a record deal. It was RIDICULOUS. ANY BAND! I mean…. RIDICULOUS! There was Green Apple Quickstep

(both laugh REALLY LOUD)

VC: I remember that band!

PS: We were like WHAT?

(laughing)

PS: Everyone had their deal. It was kind of…ridiculous.

VC: But did it effect you? Or was it for you an observation?

PS: Yeah. I joined Hole in 1992. I already knew Kurt (Cobain). When I was in Sybil we had opened for Hole. So I kind of knew them and we all had mutual friends.

VC: So it made sense because you were involved with something you were going to be involved with no matter what.

PS: Yeah. I loved Pretty On The Inside and also the “Dicknail” single. I thought they were really cool.

VC: Were you really supposed to replace Chad Channing in Nirvana or is that just a rumor?

PS: When Nirvana was looking for a drummer everybody was trying out. Danny Peters (of Mudhoney) played for a while. There was never any actual time where I went in and played drums. Me and Kurt played music together but it wasn’t like there was ever a moment where I was ‘the one’ for Nirvana.

VC: I was surprised when I read that. I had never heard that rumor until recently.

PS: If there was ever anything close to that it would be whatever we would do jamming.

VC: So its more historically accurate to say you and Kurt were friends and everything you did was based around that and never Nirvana?

PS: Yeah! And it seemed like when we’d jam- me, Kurt, Courtney, Eric, and whoever was in the mix; Kurt would insist on playing the drums. So I would usually be plucking on a guitar.

VC: You joined Hole in 1992. The first single you did was “Beautiful Son”. One year later you recorded Live Through This. Between the first two LPs Hole evolves into a completely different band. The musicianship and compositions between those two records transition into something really strong. So what was it like being a part of that push, joining Hole and then one year later recording that album? What was that initial moment like?

PS: There were a few songs on Live Through This that already had rough ideas. “Violet” and “Doll Parts” were there already when I joined. So when I came in it was more of how to rework those songs. What I brought in was more of a… I mean Carolyn (Rue)’s style is awesome. I REALLY like how chaotic and heavy of a drummer she is. I learned a lot trying that style and mixing it in with mine. For songwriting I was just bringing in some solid 4/4 time ideas. Taking that chaos and carving it into this messy poppish sound. I think Kurt’s influence was also there. Hole became more about the crafting of songs and having dynamics. I tried to make things loud and then quiet. It was learning ways of making things sound more interesting without really having a whole lot of skill to do it, as far as, you know?, (whispers) Courtney (Love)’s guitar playing.

Eric (Erlandson) was the one who held it all together musically. He played in stereo and the songs were built around him taking her seeds of ideas and then expanding upon them.

VC: That was the magic of the band, that there were all of these dynamics and extremes coming together. Because, usually most bands would just look for a steady guitarist and wouldn’t keep the one who is more raw. It’s really two complimenting sounds and its a shame that most musicians don’t embrace it.

PS: Right.

VC: But I think drum wise you didn’t completely erase what the band had already been built on. Instead you helped morph it more of a cohesive pulse. But maybe that was just the band as a whole coming together also?

PS: Yeah. I think so.

VC: And on “Beautiful Son” is it true that you played guitar?

PS:  NO! Where does that come from?

VC: The Internet!

PS: (laughs)

VC: I was a bit surprised because that is the only time I had heard of you doing something besides the drums on a recording.

PS: Right! It’s funny. I was wondering, because there is SO MUCH written on the back of that ep. There HAS to have been something written like that. Because it also says that I’m from Stockton, which isn’t true either!

VC: Stockton, California?!

PS: Yeah!  Because Pavement was from there.

VC: So it’s a bad joke?

PS: Yeah. I didn’t write it! I don’t know!

VC: Well have you ever played any other instruments in a steady band before?

PS: When I was in Imperial Teen, just touring, I played bass on one song. I can play other stuff but just not well!

VC: You are more comfortable just drumming?

PS: Yeah!

VC: Live Through This is a REALLY INCREDIBLE art piece. Back to what I was saying earlier, it is so well crafted…

PS: That’s what our producers at the time said. When they did I was a bit bummed but now I think that’s cool.

VC: The reason I say that is there are so many layers. And with good art there are always new things to find. Even hearing it now I hear things that I didn’t hear before… like synthesizers!

PS: Oh yeah, the Mellotron!

VC: Every single time I hear it I’m really excited! Thinking, WOW! I have heard Violet a MILLION times and never noticed that till now! It’s such a powerful record and undeniable that one of the qualities that makes it so strong is the drumming. You really hold the music down and remain creative without ever becoming too showy. A great example would be the “Miss World” fill, with the hi hat…

PS: YEAH! YEAH!

VC: The fill is WEIRD but never completely dominates that moment. There’s a lot of ideas, drum-wise, on the record like that. You were complimenting the music instead of working against it. Its a great balance of tastefulness and creativity. You burst in for a moment and then bring it back down.

PS: We would rehearse and rehearse AND REHEARSE those ideas. We would go through a loop of one idea over and over again. We would try it loud, then soft, while Courtney worked out different vocal ideas. I would just follow what she was doing vocally. Like if she wanted to really let out, like belting something, I would just follow that dynamic. That was how a lot of stuff happened, by following what she did vocally.

VC: You would just play one short loop over and over?

PS: She would get an idea but wouldn’t be able to get the vocal melody together. So we would just play whatever part she was working on as long as we possibly could. She really liked to be in that moment and never come out of it. So sometimes it got to a point of, “Okay. Alright. How many times can we possibly do this?….”. Some really good stuff came out of that.

VC: I’m still really surprised you would write in loops. That’s nuts!

PS: We would just keep doing it over and over again and see where it would go.

VC: How long would it go for?

PS: As the years went on it would go on and on and on. At that time Courtney would come in with an idea. But she had Eric, who she could really translate her ideas to well.

VC: Your drumming really influenced me. I videotaped your 1995 Saturday Night Live performance with Hole and everyday when I came home from school I would turn my TV up as loud as it could get and play along with it. Wondering things like how does she play “Violet”?!?!?!

PS: I remember you telling me that!

VC: Yeah! At (Boredoms) Boadrum when I met you!

PS: That was awesome!

VC: I remember expecting you to think, who is this creep?!

PS: NOOOOO!

VC: …but instead you said it was the best thing that you had heard all day!

PS: IT IS!

VC: I am still surprised by that reaction. I suppose my question would be that when you played Saturday Night Live, the thought of a kid in Alabama taping it and learning to play drums to your performance probably never crossed your mind. I’m curious what are some weird moments that have happened to you as a result of being a drummer?

PS: Of course there are those feelings that I have had when meeting some of my personal idols. Then to hear that from other people who have heard something that I did was awesome and amazing. Then getting access to drummers like Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac), Martin Chambers (The Pretenders), and Paul Cook (Sex Pistols) was incredible. Those were the moments where I knew that I loved my job. I’m grateful for the drums.They have brought me all over the world. Thinking about how they have gone from my tiny little room, with just my bed and drums, to around the planet is awesome.

VC: What was it like meeting those drummers?

PS: To have them watch the show then come in afterward was totally crazy and weird! Most of the time I didn’t really want to know who was there. With Hole, it wasn’t cool to have people backstage before we played so I would find out afterwards who showed up. It was good to not know that Martin Chambers was watching!  To have him afterwards say, “Good show!”, was crazy. Sixiou came to see us at Lollapalooza. After the show she told me “I haven’t seen a drummer that amazing since Palmolive!”

VC: Palmolive! That is BIG!

PS: I thought “WHAAAAAAT?” Those moments are really awesome!

VC: Due to the cover and credits of Celebrity Skin, I assumed you were the drummer on the whole record, but then I read recently that you actually left mid-recording.

PS: Yes. This is a good moment to cut to the documentary. Which explains the whole thing. I don’t have a problem talking about it, but it’s a really interesting story that takes a while to explain. I didn’t know how common of a story it was until it happened to me. But yes, my picture is on the record and those are my drum parts. The rest you should watch the movie to receive a more cohesive explanation!

VC: We were both drummers in The Boredoms 88 Boadrum and then Doug Aitken’s “Ideas Of The West” event at MOCA. As an observer I have seen you in some stressful working conditions and yet you always remained quiet and did your job, never imposing your past credentials onto others to get something for yourself. You have never carried any attitude and treated everyone around you, regardless of their experience or skill, as an equal. Considering all of this, how have you been able to carry yourself? It’s remarkable how you are able to float between extremes, like going from a small art gallery to situations like playing with P!NK. It’s a very admirable trait. Have you intentionally tried to get to this point or are you just excited to drum?

PS: I’m into drumming. At BOADRUM I met so many awesome people, like you. I feel so much more comfortable playing drums because it’s interesting and is what I want. I loved playing in Julliette Lewis’ band. It was awesome. But drumming isn’t the reason I pay my bills anymore. It’s just something that I want to make fun. I don’t want to have any attitude about it. One thing I experienced throughout Hole was watching other people and seeing how nicely they treated others. Like the guy who is carrying my drum kit is the one who keeps the stuff together. So you better be fucking nice to him! You know?

VC: It’s probably you growing up with a punk background and being able to carry those aesthetics into different situations.

PS:  Yeah! And I have had my moments as well, (in a whining voice) “I don’t want to carry my drums”. That shit sucks!

VC: So when you end up playing with someone like P!nk or Juliette Lewis, how do you approach it? What do you mentally do to prepare for those scenarios?

PS: To have the best possible attitude and be really accepting of everything that goes on around us. Because in Hole, and I didn’t realize this until later on, I was being protected. There were no roadies that were trying to pick up on chicks, or a dude smoking pot over there…. Of course drug use happened but….

VC: You weren’t surrounded by the masculine stereotype.

PS: Yeah. We had a positive group of people around us. When I moved into other band situations there would be guys off to the side watching porno on their laptops.

(both laugh really hard)

PS: I would think, HELLO! WE’RE REHEARSING!, but they would be like, “DUDE… DUDE… CHECK IT OUT!”

VC: (laughs super loud)

PS: I know… WHAT?!?!

VC: With those jobs comes more pressure. They expect you to be so precise.

PS: That shit is so stressful. (In professional voice), “You gotta play to the click because we got all those tracks and yada, yada, yada”. I just try to totally mentally prepare for that. You just have to practice.

VC: Last year you started Green Eyes with Malia James, Oliver Hall, and your brother Larry (from Sybil). What is currently going on with that band?

PS: We’re going through this thing where we write all this stuff and we’re sort of psychedelic kraut rock. So things tend to go on, and on, and on. It’s my favorite music. We’re just preparing to get things into shape to record an album.

VC: So you are just working on a recording structure?

PS: Yes. And there is also my other band Psychic Friend. We just played this past Monday night at the Silverlake Lounge (in Los Angeles).

VC: Oh, what is that band about?

PS: It’s poppy. It’s me and Will Schartz (from Imperial Teen) with our friend Beau. We’re playing Noise Pop soon in San Francisco. We built all these songs with string sections and stuff. I play to a click with backing tracks as Will does his keyboard piano stuff.

VC: What does Beau do?

PS: He does bass.

VC: So you have a recording that is going to come out?

PS: Yeah! And we have a Facebook, Myspace, and a Twitter.

VC: As a musician what is the biggest challenge that you have mentally?

PS: Like being freaked out?

VC: Yeah… But also every musician has their own challenge with their instrument. Or even something external that effects them.

PS: I could answer that by saying that when I come out on stage, and when I play, that I am aware that no show is ever the same. I never look up at the audience until five songs in. Once I do, I feel okay, like, its going to be THIS kind of show. Once I do that I can relax. But it takes a while to feel out the situation. Like “hows it going to be today?”. It changes with the temperature or the room. I wish I could be like Abe what’s-his-name from Paul McCartney’s band.

VC: What’s his deal?

PS: He’s super consistent. He’s THE guy. Or Josh Freeze (Nine Inch Nails, Paramore, Weezer). He’s THE guy…. Meaning completely on it every single time.

VC: Do you have any advice for kids, or even older people, who are starting off with an instrument?

PS: If I decided to play guitar, which I can play a few things, I could still start a band and not know how to actually play it. You can take lessons, which is cool, but just doing it regardless is so punk rock. Some of the best music comes from the naive artist, the person who doesn’t know exactly what they are doing, because it’s pure.

VC: A great example of that would be The Raincoats. They were so ahead of their time.

PS: Yeah! Or Beat Happening… or even Bikini Kill.

VC: All of that is older music that still sounds futuristic. It still sounds modern. And now you do doggy daycare? How did that happen?

PS: That came about from me loving my dogs so much. My friend was telling me that its a fun job to do if you have the time to do it. I decided to try it out. Its nice because its flexible and I can still play music.

VC: I guess your most current project is the documentary that you have been working on. It’s about your life from the beginning to now, right?

PS: Yes. It about my whole life. It’s called “Hit So Hard: The Life And Near Death Story of Patty Schemel”. The kickstarter went up today!

VC: Is there a set release?

PS: We’re thinking March. The score is being done right now.

VC: Who’s doing it?

PS: Rotty Bottom from Faith No More. He is doing film scores now.

VC: Where can people go to have information about its release and premiere?

PS: All on the website www.pattydoc.com


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6 Comments

  1. Unfortunately, the documentary is more of the coverup. Kurt wanted to be an actor as a teen, when I met him in 1983. If he knew the camera was running he was acting. Courtney Love is not even her real name. I have the obit for the real Courtney Love who died Jan 1985 before the actress made her debut. I knew Kurt from 1983 and Courtney started hanging around in late 84 wanting a role in a movie (Sid & Nancy) that Kurt had been working on with Tommy Lee (Motley Crue) and Joe Elliott (Def Leppard). Tommy knew the punk band Circle Jerks which is how he got involved. Kurt was in a long relationship with another girl (a redhead and songwriter) from 1983 until his death. At the time she did not want the public eye. She is now writing her autobiography and why this documentary is coming out. The girl he was involved with was Class of ’86 (early Nirvana song title), her high school initials were HTH (Heavier Than Heaven), and her dad’s middle name is Don (where Kurt came up with his middle name and his Dad’s) and her brother’s name is Eric. They chose Patty to be in the band because she was a redhead, like the girl, like the drummer for Def Leppard (Rick Allen), and like the former drummer for Nirvana. The girl’s real name means beLOVEd and is from Alabama (weird you mention Alabama because Charles Barkley grew up in the next town over from the girl Kurt was involved with and was born Feb. 20th which is where Kurt came up with his birthday).

    Musician Frank Zappa wrote about Hilter’s “Big Lie Theory” in reference to the music industry. Basically, if you are going to tell a lie, tell a big lie, and never stop telling the lie even if it makes you look ridiculous.

    This is why they are flooding the market with biographies and documentaries that somehow involve Kurt. When the idea for this documentary came up, while Kurt was still alive, it was his idea to include the song Stinking of You. Kurt was not even a heroin addict. Joe Elliott was born Aug 1st. His birth flower is the poppy. Heroin is derived from the opium poppy. Kurt used red poppies in a music video. It was known he supposedly developed an obsession about the actress Frances Farmer, this was because she died on Aug. 1st which not only is Joe’s birthday but also MTV’s.

  2. One last thing, in 1983 Joe Elliott had the beautiful ring that Courtney wore as her engagement ring made for the girl Kurt was involved with. It had her birthstone in it. She was born Jan 12th, the day that Kurt and Courtney decided to say they started dating. This is why Courtney later came out and said the ring was stolen. It is the girl’s real name which means beLOVEd and Joe wrote “Love Bites” about her after she rejected him.

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