Interview: Patty Schemel

Female Drummer, Female Percussion, Lady Drummer, Patty Schemel, Hole, Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Seattle, Grunge, 90s, 7 Year Bitch, Alice in Chains, Blood Circus, Green River, Gruntruck, Hammerbox, Love Battery, Mad Season, Malfunkshun, Melvins, Mono Men, Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, My Sister's Machine, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees, Skin Yard, Soundgarden, Tad, Temple of the Dog, Truly, The U-Men, Willard, L7

Patty Schemel got on the mic at Tom Tom Fest at SXSW and announced that the documentary about her life, Hit So Hard, was premiering that night. Rad, I thought. I have to catch this screening.

The film was really well made. It was dangerous and edgy and interesting and emotional. The filmmakers did such a good job of piecing together photos, raw video footage taken by Kurt Kobain, Courtney Love and Patty Schemel and the interviews they did with Patty herself. The visual components supported the story that was unfolding before the audience, and the sub-themes that were addressed put the chronology of Patty’s life into a broader historical perspective. Here is the interview I did with Patty and her wife Christina at their home in Lost Angeles, CA.

[NOTE: The first 10 minutes of the interview are with Christina Soletti about the film and how it came together]

Tom Tom Magazine: Tell us about how the film came together. Why did you want Patty’s story to be shared?
Christina Soletti: The idea for the film started out much more general and universal about women drummers, women in the music industry and also the socio-political climate in the 90s that allowed for all these women bands to exist. However, as David got more into the project, he got more into Patty’s story and wanted to focus more on her.

Tom Tom Magazine: In the film you mentioned that you were attracted to the drums because it was what the boys where doing and it posed a challenge…can you speak to this a little more? What was it about drums that made you continue?
Patty Schemel: It was a really physical instrument. I wanted to play music and girls weren’t playing drums so I wanted to play. I felt such a release from doing it. I was releasing all this pent up energy as a kid at age 11. I didn’t want to do sports really. Drums were just cool to me. I have always approached drumming in a more masculine way. But then also I feel that because I’m female I’m more intuitive, so I’m more aware of the softer parts of the music I’m making. I’m not afraid to be quiet. I don’t have to be loud all the time. Listening is so important. It’s all about the song rather than what I need to prove.

TTM: In the film you mentioned that you liked being the drummer because you appreciated being in the background. Were you conscious of people watching you when you play?
Patty Schemel:It’s always a bit awkward. I don’t think about the audience as much. I didn’t ever think about giving the audience something. I always make a point to at least look like I’m enjoying myself.

TTM: Tell us about working with Courtney Love as the front woman?
Patty Schemel:I was always trying to keep it together. She always wanted the first and last word in the song. She has no idea of tempo, and she’ll say this herself. She’ll start a song any old way, and I would have to just figure it out. I didn’t have her in my monitor. I’d have to listen to where she was vocally and then follow that, but usually she’d kick right in when she was supposed to. A lot of times we’d make things up on the spot. Once we had been touring for a while and I noticed we had started doing new things in between songs that weren’t planned. The next day we’d think…oh that was cool…and want to do it again.

TTM: Did you find you played more of a leadership role as a drummer then?

PSThe band would trust me, definitely.

TTM: The film stresses that you were openly gay when playing with Hole. What was that experience like?
PS:Early on when I was working a day job I never told anyone at work I was gay. Just my friends I’d hang out with knew. And then in my band, I felt comfortable to just be me. It was totally safe. For me I came out of Seattle, from the scene, from Olympia, the “pro-women” was inside me. And then I joined Hole and nothing changed. And if someone had told me like “hey, let’s not talk about the fact that you’re…[gay]” I’d be like “fuck you! Let’s not talk about your gluten allergy!”

TTM: Courtney mentioned in the film that she didn’t want Hole to be branded as a Riot Grrrl band. Did you agree with this sentiment?
Christina: It’s how I feel about the term “gay marriage”. Why does it have to be “gay marriage”? It’s just marriage. Why does it have to be a “woman musician”? I’m fully on board with Riot Grrrl but at the same time they were just cool bands and Hole just happens to be three women. That could be why Courtney didn’t want Hole to be branded as a Riot Grrrl band.

TTM: What role did drumming play while you were going through rehab?
PS:It was a sadness. I missed drums. I missed a connection to the instrument. There was a fear of “am I good?” “am I not good?” in terms of both skill and mental health. This feeling of failure. But drums were there before drugs were. And that’s the only constant in my life. Throughout everything it’s being a drummer. [baby Bea coos in the background].

TTM: You are doing a lot of philanthropic work now. Can you speak about that a little bit?
PS: It’s important to give back because for me it brings me back to being grateful and to always remind myself to be present and to help people no matter what. My skills are playing drums. Or sometimes I give back to others in a more recovery sort of way but it also helps keep me grounded. To do that is so powerful.

TTM: Do you see more women playing music these days? Is the industry looking better for women in music?
PS:Women are doing everything. Putting it out there. Doing all their web stuff. That’s amazing and great but the industry itself is completely different because labels are not spending as much money as they used to on cultivating and finding bands. It just seems that the only way for a band to make money any more is to get ad placement.

TTM: When people see the film, what do they usually take away?
PS: First of all, I love the dog people. Those folks are few and far between. But I like what you were saying about wanting to go back in time after you saw the film: I am happy when people take away nostalgia for that time period.

TTM: What do you want people to know about the film?
Christina: This entire film was self-funded, self-financed. Social media and Kickstarter allowed this to happen.  The film business is moving that way, going back to grassroots but also taking advantage of certain technologies. We tapped into certain fan sites out there for Hole, Courtney, and Nirvana. We wouldn’t have been able to raise that money in such a short amount of time if it weren’t for Kickstarter.

TTM: Final words?
Patty: I want to say that I was recently contacted by District Drum Company. Shout out to Tina, she’s awesome!
Christina: Tina found out about us through Kickstarter and donated a drum to our campaign! It was so great.

Read another Tom Tom interview with Patty here

Interview by Kiran Gandhi

Photo by Planet Swan

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