Patty Schemel – The Collapse Board Interview
In the beginning what was it that drew you towards drums?
I saw a lot of how rock was for boys! I wanted to do something that boys did and playing drums was that thing. There were other women like Moe Tucker, and Gina Schock from The Go-Go’s, who were important to me, who were women playing drums that were really inspiring. I liked how physical of an instrument it is. It was important to have that physical release — to be a bit more masculine [laughs].
There’s a part in the movie that touches on you being chased home from school and you were crying because the kids teased you. Did the physicality of playing the drums help with that pain?
Yeah, totally! I channeled a lot of that energy through the drums. When I discovered punk rock it was all of that energy and that frantic release and there were words attached. It was freaky people like me. It was a perfect fit for me to go that way.
There’s also an interview with musician Phranc in the doco, did she inspire you?
Yes, totally! I remember Phranc in The Decline Of Western Civilization – it’s a Penelope Spheeris documentary about the L.A. punk scene in the late 70s. Phranc was in a band called Catholic Discipline and she was in a band called Nervous Gender. She was an original punk rocker and then she started to play folk music. She’s a singer-songwriter. She’s an amazing woman in my mind. Having her eventually ask me to come and play on one of her records [Goofyfoot EP] was such a huge thing — now we’re friends.
I thought it was interesting in the doco that she brought up the idea of grunge fashion being inspired by 70s lesbian fashion.
That’s a huge call!
[Laughs] I know it is! You know, I can’t tell if she is serious or not. She probably is.
What feeling does playing the drums give you?
Since it’s physical it’s an endorphin rush. I always feel my most peaceful after playing. It’s something that I’ve done before I had my first drink or drug, so it’s been a pretty consistent thing for me. I’ve been consistent with it for my entire life which is unusual for me because going through a major drug habit and the lifestyle, you’re not really a person who usually continues to do the same thing. It’s something that was in me that I just continued to do. It’s something I’ve done since I was little.
You appeared on the cover of Drum World in 1995, the first female to do so in fact; what did that mean to you?
It was pretty important to be recognized as a drummer. I grew up reading drum magazines and looking at every single picture there was, so it was good to be on the other side of that and talk about drums. To be noticed and respected was huge.
Hit So Hard was made from 40-plus tapes. How did you decide what made it and what didn’t?
There’s so much still. What David did mostly was use what was going to tell my story best. I’m sure at some point there will be a DVD with extras and stuff. What we did was to do the interviews with everyone and then go back and look at the footage to find a situation that was being talked about and match it with whatever footage I had. The first cut was four hours! It was ridiculous. I was like, really? [laughs]
In a YouTube interview you mentioned your wife Christina, who was a producer on the film, helped. And that there was footage you thought may have been a little too sensitive to include, but she’d encourage you to use it and would give you a reason why.
Yeah she would talk about how it’s important to the story and that ultimately I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to or talk about anything I don’t want to. Certain delicate things I could talk about and it would just help the film, it’s my story.
I know that you’ve been protective of your story for a long time, and you’ve said previously that you felt there were only certain people you could tell certain things to. I was wondering if you felt like that because you were afraid of being judged by others?
Yeah. I just didn’t want to talk about it because it was personal. I didn’t feel comfortable with sharing that with the world. After the process of the footage and looking at it, I started to think after David said it would make a good story, that I could take the experience and change it into something good. To frame things a different way from how I had in the past.
That’s why I love with my work that I get to help tell people’s stories, because I feel that in some way it may be able to help others, or spark a change or thought in their lives for the better; that maybe they might not feel like they’re so alone.
Was there anything that you learnt about yourself while making Hit So Hard?
During the making I started to let go of my resentments towards my other bandmates and to accept the way things happened. It was a time where there were some great moments and some shitty ones too. Mostly a lot had to do with letting go of a lot of feelings I had at the time about what happened in the studio with them.
Another review of the film had a writer observing the footage of the Celebrity Skin sessions in the doco as being the most dramatic parts. For you was that a really low point in your life?
Yeah, just because the way that Hole began, where my thoughts were, being a female punk rock drummer, that what Hole was talking about – or Courtney for that matter – was more about being feminist women that picked up instruments and played, that were fierce, strong and had a lot to say like “We’re gonna fuck shit up!” and “We’re going to change the way things are through music!” The result was [laughs] the end of the cycle was that Hole made a corporate record, guided by a group of men, an overbearing producer and did it in a cookie-cutter fashion that was contradictory and completely contradicted what Hole began as. There’s really no feminism there.
I love hearing you say ‘female punk rock drummer’: there’s not many of them out there.
Yeah, that’s where I began, but since then I’ve played other things. I always love going back to that style. That’s the beginning for me. That’s where I can lose myself the most in that energy.
I was reading about Musicares and their Musicians Assistance Program – the program that helped you with your addiction – I had no idea something like that existed.
They helped me get into rehab. It’s available to musicians. It’s set up with groups with musicians for musicians, where you can go and get help and get into rehab. Being with other musicians, you can talk about the problems that you have. There’s not a lot of structure when you’re a musician. The lifestyle is chaotic at times, and drugs and alcohol are around you all the time. Musicare provides other people that have gone through the program that know how to talk about the dangers of being a musician and drugs and alcohol and coming out the other side of it. So many musicians have been successful and lost it all from drugs and alcohol.
During that time you lived in a sober living home and were surrounded by other women and you’ve mentioned that you reinvented yourself and learnt new stuff about yourself during that time, what were some of those things you discovered?
How to make things extremely simple in the day-to-day. Things like, I’m a ‘morning person’ [laughs]; stuff like that. I didn’t know that. Other things like, I like to have structure and that I like a routine and to have a schedule, things that I’d never had before. You do small things like that. Sober living gives you a chance to do small things to build self-esteem. In recovery you really need that, you need as much as you can get. If someone says you have to sweep the driveway or walkway and you do it and they say “thank you” that’s huge! That was kind of the process. I discovered that I’m good at sweeping the walkway [laughs].
In a recent interview you commented that you always thought “Music first” but now you’ve changed that to “Patty first”.
I used to be so concerned with the band and being available when things were going to happen with the band. Back then I would never say I need a break, I’m not rehearsing at midnight. Nowadays I’m more like, are you crazy? I will not rehearse at midnight! That’s a small example of the way I used to be and the way that I am today. Music is important, but if it gets in the way of what I need in order to be clean and sober, then it’s not going to happen for me today.