Hit So Hard: Hole Drummer Patty Schemel on the '90s Revival, Courtney's Antics, and the New Film About Her Life
Courtesy Well Go USA/Variance Films Kurt Cobain, Francis Bean Cobain, and Patty Schemel, in a photo taken while living together in 1992. Photo by Courtney Love.
[Editor's note: Matt Momchilov plays in an S.F.-based, all-gay Hole tribute band called Butthole. He seemed like the perfect person to interview original Hole drummer Patty Schemel about the new documentary covering her life, so when we were pitched this story through a friend of Momchilov's, we took it. Enjoy.]
By MATT MOMCHILOV
I have always wanted to be the girl with most cake. Somewhere in the dawn of my adolescence, Hole crashed the party with sunless bruised legs in a beer-soaked baby doll dress, and set up camp -- permanently. The band's seminal second album, Live Though This, has been in the five-disc CD changer in my car for the last four years. I think the world would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has spent more time screaming along to their cathartic jams than I have, excluding, potentially, the other members of my all-fag Hole cover band, Butthole. Images of Courtney Love have even begun creeping their way into my art practice: I recently made a life-sized concrete sculpture of Butthole's singer, Lain Kay, in full Courtney Love drag.
When I caught word that Hole's original drummer, Patty Schemel, an ex-junkie turned sober dog walker, had a new biopic about to see release, it was music to my ears. Hit So Hard is a rare glimpse of a life lived in the shadows of Courtney Love's star, loaded with a dark nostalgia that is equal parts grunge home movie and VH1 Behind The Music. I had a chance to talk to Patty during a break from the New York leg of her press tour for the film, which starts a week-long run at S.F.'s Roxie Theater this Friday.
What do you think about this huge surge of '90s nostalgia in fashion and pop culture right now?
It's crazy. It's hard to wrap my head around it. There's like, a new version of flannel. [Former Hole bassist] Melissa [Auf der Maur] and I were just talking the other day, and I was asking, 'What's with the pants tucked into the lace-up boots thing all the kids are wearing?', and she was like, "Oh, it's from Chris Cornell." I guess I'm not removed enough from it to come back. I'm constantly listening to new music, and hearing what people are creating, but I never stopped listening to my favorite music from the '90s. It's interesting to think, what does New Grunge sound like? Did I just coin a new term?
Courtesy Well Go USA/Variance Films Patty Schemel taping Courtney Love backstage in Tokyo, 1995.
In the film, there's a clip where Courtney talks about you almost being the drummer in Nirvana -- did you have any sense at the time that it would matter which band you joined, or was it like casually joining any other friend's band? How do you think your life would have been different had you joined Nirvana?
Leaps and bounds different. What Nirvana did was really sort of change the face of music in the '90s. I was a friend of Kurt's, we played music together and we both really enjoyed each others' style, but it was always more of a fuck-around mindset than a work mindset. I think Courtney really stretches out that Nirvana story, but I guess I don't know what was exchanged between those two as far as talking about that. Also, I think if I would have joined Nirvana I would have never had to deal with all the extra crap that came with being in Hole. We were constantly trying to prove ourselves as a band, and not a vanity project by Kurt's wife.
There's a lot of talk in the movie about all the drug use going on during the recording sessions for Live Through This. Do you think that album could have been made without everyone being plastered, or is that a totally integral part of those recordings?
We came into the recording sessions with everything already written, so there wasn't really a druggy songwriting process going on -- but definitely there were moments of that, like me being totally wigged out on speed during the recordings for "Miss World." There was always lots of alcohol -- even in the video for "Miss World," one of the things you don't see is that I have, like, seven empty bottles of Rolling Rock next to my drum kit from drinking in between takes.
It seems like having Courtney at the helm as this larger than life mess created a sort of dangerous situation where people assumed you had your act together by comparison. How do you think that affected your addiction?
Yeah, nobody pointed their fingers at me about being a junkie, unlike what happened to her and Kurt. It was more of a private situation for me. Courtney was this really rageful thing on stage, and no one was looking at me. I'm a drummer and I'm in the back -- that's where I want to be, but when the drugs stop working and you're on stage and not playing a song as 'accurately' as it could be, mistakes happen and entire performances start to really suck, that's when it starts to rear its horrible face. Whereas Courtney comes out, sings a song, plays guitar, and fucks shit up, and that's what they expect, which is sucky.
The film gives the impression that you, Eric, and Melissa all think about Hole as a band, and that Courtney thinks about it as her band, where everyone else is replaceable. Did you always sense that dynamic? Did she ask any original members back for her last record?
No, she just did it. At this point she wants to do her band her way, and if she was playing music with us again there would be things we wouldn't be willing to do, and we would have opinions. Right now she's working with a group of guys, which isn't Hole, or the idea of Hole, and they have no opinion about anything at all. Hole isn't a bunch of dudes. She did her own thing with her name on the solo record she put out, and then I guess she decided calling the newest album Hole wasn't any different then just calling it Courtney Love, but I think continuing to use the name has really changed the band's legacy.