Spinning Platters Interview: Patty Schemel of Upset and Hole

by Dakin Hardwick on October 23, 2017

Photo credit: Darcy Hemley

Patty Schemel is probably best known as the drummer for legendary rock band Hole. More recently, she’s had a documentary about her life called Hit So Hard released, as well as started a band with Ali Koehler of Vivian Girls called Upset. She’s also written an autobiography, also titled Hit So Hard. The book is in stores on October 31st. (Yes, on Halloween!) Spinning Platters had the honor of getting to speak with Schemel recently about her career, writing a book, and what it’s like to play in a band with musicians from a different generation.

Hit So Hard:A Memoir can be preordered here!

Spinning Platters: So, I’m sure today is going to be long, and intense, and a lot of talking on the phone for you, so-

Patty Schemel: Yes.

SP: I’ll do my best to keep this short, and remotely interesting.

PS: Ok (laughs).

SP: I can’t promise the interesting part.

PS: Alright.

SP: Alright, so. You’re promoting a book, “Hit So Hard,” which is the same name as the movie about you that came out in 2011. Were you working on the book at the same time as the documentary, or was this something that came later?

PS: Yeah, I was. I had no idea to do a book at that time, with the doc. So that just came along later. I was approached by a publisher who saw the documentary, and he had a lot of questions and thought it was a good story.

SP: What kind of stuff did he want you to expand on, that the movie didn’t hit?

PS: Um, more about my addiction. That’s kind of what I wanted to talk about, the recovery part of things. That time in music was so special, to so many people, and the way it was to be inside that, for me, and being an addict, and going through discovering music, going through that and then the struggle to get clean and sober, and that story. Plus, being lesbian, being gay, I didn’t know, or see, a lot of… there were no gay, or, limited, lesbian role models.

SP: Were you out when you were in Hole?

PS: Yeah. I came out in 1995, in Rolling Stone magazine. Like, publicly.

SP: I don’t remember that. I was young in ’95, but was kind of taking in as much information about Hole as I could back then.

PS: Yeah. Well there was no. It wasn’t on the front cover, you know. GAY! MEMBER OF HOLE! You know, it was just a little thing. (Laughs)

SP: Yeah.

PS: But the great part of that: I felt safe, in my band, inside my scene, to be an out gay person, you know? I wasn’t hiding it. I didn’t really care if you liked me, or didn’t, if I was gay. You know, because I’m gay.  

SP: Yeah, I mean, the Riot Grrrl movement was very open about that type of thing, if I remember right.

PS: Yeah.

SP: But, were you guys really part of that?

PS: No! It’s always so… People always lump us in there, and that kind of started separately because- Just, I guess because it was Seattle, Olympia, Kurt, and Courtney, and she’s the founder, and I’m from Seattle, and so it just kind of got lumped in there, but we’re not a Riot Grrrl band. No, absolutely not. Not one time did Courtney ever go to someone’s house for a Riot Grrrl meeting (laughs).

SP: Yeah, although that being said, it feels like a lot of the early Hole, like “Pretty On The Inside” and the “Dicknail” single, dealt with a lot of the same issues that Riot Grrrl dealt with.

PS: Yes, totally. Totally good point, and I- I think that when Courtney did… When Hole was touring before me, I think she was talking with Kathi Wilcox, I think she was sort of really connected that way, and the lyrics are so- I don’t know, I can’t describe- feminist.

SP: Yeah. Dealing with all the darker things that a woman goes through.

PS: Yeah, yeah.

SP: Yeah. Well alright, to lighten things up a bit… Actually this isn’t lightening things up at all. You go into a lot of darker places in your past, in the book, how did it feel to kind of pull yourself into these memories?

PS: Yeah. Um, it was really hard to go back into that. When I would write, I would just go there in my head, and after a while would re-emerge into life, and all that stuff still lives in me. You know? Like it’s still in there, it’s always stored in there, I would get done writing, and would step out, and notice certain pains in my body, where all that stuff lives, and then, go to therapy. Go to a meeting, talk to my sponsor, and do all those things. But still, it’s hard. It was hard to do those things.

SP: Yeah, it’s awesome that you did it. Okay, now moving on to the lighter stuff.

PS: Okay.

SP: So you’re currently working with another band called Upset. How did you hook up with Ali [Koehler]?

PS: On Twitter, crazy.

SP: Wow!

PS: She tweeted to me- she sent me a direct message, saying “Hey, I saw your documentary, I’m a really big fan,” and I said “Hey, I saw you on the David Letterman show, it was really good-” because she was playing drums with Best Coast?

SP: Mm-hmm.

PS: And so, I was a big Vivian Girls fan, and that’s how it started. Then a couple months later she messaged me and said, “I’m starting a band, do you want to play drums?” So she and I started putting a band together.

SP: That’s awesome. I love that Upset is so much heavier than Best Coast or Vivian Girls, how did you guys fall into that sound?

PS: It just came out of our inspiration. Ali is really- she likes pop-punk bands, and you know, I like pop-punk, but I like The Descendants, and Ali and Nicole and Lauren like Blink-182. Where I’m at right now, I’m writing a story for The Moth about being a 50-year-old woman, you know, in a band with millennials, and the differences.

SP: (laughs) Yeah.

PS: Like, they like Sheryl Crow, and I’m like, “What the fuck?!” Like, she is sacred to them. I missed that, I don’t- you know, it’s so weird.

SP: Yeah, well I mean- God, you were playing Lollapalooza the year Sheryl Crow broke. So it’s like-

PS: (Laughs) Yeah, so a lot of stories about that kind of stuff, you know, the differences- Lollapalooza ’95, there wasn’t like, hot bikram yoga tents like they have at festivals now.

SP: So to jump back to Hole, and I’m sure you get this question from everybody, but I haven’t seen a response to it. It looks like Courtney claims to be putting the “Live Through This” touring line-up back together, then changes her mind every few months.

PS: Uh-huh.

SP: That’s just what I’m reading in the media. What’s it like on your side, do you actually hear from her about putting the band back together at all?

PS: Yeah, yes. I mean, there was some- when it first started, we got together, and played a few songs, just jammed together. It’s weird because she can just say something on a whim, and it’s like a wildfire. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re all in there, with her. Or, she’ll say something, and then go do a movie or something completely different. I don’t know, for me- getting back into a groove and working on stuff, it’s not the easiest thing, it’s like putting a dysfunctional family back together. You know, I’ve done a lot of work on my shit, but I don’t know if I’ve done enough work. Where I can go into a room, and set boundaries, (laughs) so I don’t know what will happen. I know Eric is putting together- he’s compiling a box set of live stuff, and like B-sides, so I think that’s what’s next for Hole. Whenever Eric comes out of the giant archive cave that he sits in front of every day.

SP: Yeah, just when I was a teenager- the whole bootleg archive I had was pretty intense. And that was just me collecting stuff in record stores, and trading tapes on the internet and what-not. I’m sure he has an absurd amount of stuff.

PS: Yes (laughs).

SP: Okay. This is a dumb question, but also a question I’ve been kind of wondering. So, from what I remember from the movie, you have dogs, and you have a great relationship with canines. How does it feel- like, how do you handle being a dog owner on the road? It’s something I’ve never been able to figure out, like the easy way to handle that, logistically.

PS: Like making sure they’re being taken care of and stuff?

SP: Yeah.

PS: Well, my wife takes care of my dogs when I’m on the road, and now we have a seven-year-old daughter. I don’t- since I’ve had my dogs, my life hasn’t been that busy, little trips here and there, but it’s not like it used to be. I mean, I’ve done like one five-week tour. Usually, I would say, if I wasn’t married, and it was just me, and my dogs, I would probably have someone come stay in my apartment, and watch my dogs while I was away. I mean, that’s kind of a hefty boarding bill, for your dog. (laughs)

SP: (laughs) Yeah, me and my wife have a hard enough time figuring out how to handle, like, a weekend away.

PS: Yeah, yeah. We do trades with friends that have dogs, too. If we go away for the weekend, we’ll have a friend come over with her dogs, and watch our dogs, and then when she goes out of town, her dog comes to my house.

SP: So what’s next for you, musically? Are we gonna see another Upset record?

PS: Yeah, we just did six songs with Steve McDonald, from Redd Kross, he produced/recorded it. And there’s talk about doing another- we want to record six more, and there’s talk about working with his wife Anna Waronker, from That Dog, so it would be six by Steve on one side, and then six by Anna on the other side, but, I don’t know- the six songs we did are so great, and I’m so happy with the songs and the recording, and so that makes me feel good, just the drum parts are cool to me, and I have fun playing them.

SP: That’s awesome, so is the Anna Waronker side happening still?

PS: I want it to, I just saw her, and we talked about it, but we need to get our songs sorted out, and literally make a date, and get into the studio.

SP: Yeah, that sounds great! I’m very, very excited about that. It’s a neat idea.

PS: Yeah, especially since, our songs are a little more pop- they’re pop-punk, but like, with harmonies, so I think Anna will be really good at coming up with cool harmony ideas, stuff like that.

SP: I mean, That Dog were a great-sounding vocal band. I guess, still are. I forget that they’re back together now.

PS: Yes.

SP: Yeah, that’s exciting. Ok, well it’s about 5 minutes to time, I’d like you to be able to rest your voice a bit before the next person calls you.

PS: Oh, thank you! (laughs)

SP: But, it’s been an honor, sorry if I got a little giddy fanboy-

PS: No, it’s cool (laughs).

SP: I think everything you’ve done has been fantastic.

PS: Thank you.

SP: Yeah, and I’m excited to get my hands on a paper copy of that book, so I can read it without a screen.

PS: Halloween! Coming up, end of the month!

SP: That’s right, yeah it’s three days after my birthday so I kind of consider it a birthday present to me.

PS: Oh, nice, happy birthday!

SP: Thank you (laughs). Alright so thank you so much for your time! Have a good rest of your afternoon.

PS: Great, thank you. You too.

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