‘I’m in the Band’ Ep. 4: Patty Schemel (Hole) on Making Zines with Kurt and Courtney
When Patty Schemel started drumming for the band Hole, fronted by Courtney Love, she was immediately thrust into the spotlight and chaos of the grunge-era’s finest days.
Before the Pacific Northwest became an alternative music destination, Patty had grown up feeling awkward as a lesbian in a small town in Washington State. She soon found her voice through drumming and punk. Patty became a role model as one of the few female drummers on a major label and for coming out publicly in 1995 in Rolling Stone magazine.
In her new book, Hit So Hard: A Memoir, Patty details her struggles growing up and avoiding conflict, escaping through addiction and living a life of recovery beyond her identity as the drummer for Hole. In this episode of I’m in the Band, Patty talks coming out and coming of age in the ‘80s and ‘90s Northwest music scene and making fanzines with Kurt and Courtney.
On Washington State in the 1980s… Seattle, and Washington State for that matter, was not an entertainment mecca at all. It wasn’t cool. No one went there for anything. I mean, airplanes, maybe, some lumber. Everything was happening in L.A. They were wearing straight-legged pants when we were still wearing flairs. We were totally out of it. We wore flannels ‘cause it was cold out and everybody’s dad worked at the mill. Then cut to ‘91 when everything went crazy. There was this giant spotlight shone on our city, and then all of a sudden the shit we were wearing people were copying.
On growing up lesbian and coming out… For me, being the middle kid was always trying to make things OK, being in the background, and not being loud. And feeling like a weirdo because I was gay, and I knew it at six years old. There weren’t any women that were out. So that made me feel even worse, like, I’m weird and I don’t see anybody else like me. I mean, I suspected. I suspected you, Billie Jean King. Or Martina. Sports…
I would have crushes on girls who were my friends, and it would be unrequited. It was heartbreaking. I thought, ‘Why can’t I be in love, too?’ I remember making a pass at this girl at a party, and she was like, ‘Oh my God! No! Ew!’ I came home and told my mom about it. She was really supportive, but she also just didn’t want me to hurt. She said, ‘There are places and people, a community. You’ll find your people. You’re going to be OK.’
On getting into drums… Discovering drums gave me my identity and my voice. Because I was so quiet, it gave me that release to be loud. In sports they would say things like, ‘You can’t play football, ‘cause it’s for boys.’ But they couldn’t really say, ‘You can’t play drums. It’s just for the boys.’
In middle school they give you the snare drum, ‘cause there really isn’t anything else. Once you get into high school band, the shit goes down. They’re like, ‘Well, here you go. Here’s the tambourine.’ But I wasn’t gonna do that. My dad had bought me my first drum kit at 12 or 13. I auditioned for the jazz band. I had a drum kit, and I made it known. …When I started playing drums in bands at 16 and 17, I found punk rock, which took me to the city, and I saw different kinds of people, weirdos, who I felt comfortable with.
On Hole being labeled Riot Grrrls… They called us Riot Grrrls, even today. I loved that music and those women. I love what they did, but we weren’t that. Courtney formed her own kind of feminism. I don’t have time to sit down and break down the differences to people. But what I want to ask is what happened to Riot Grrrl?
Riot Grrrl created this consciousness, but I feel like it’s a garden that didn’t get watered. What is happening today that spawned from that? I’m not saying that all of a sudden some magic happens because of Riot Grrrl and everybody treats women with respect. The same shit’s still happening, and this is another generation. Kathleen stood on stage and said, ‘Girls to the front!’ Where’s the next wave? Where are these girls?
On making fanzines with Kurt and Courtney… When I was living with Kurt and Courtney, we’re all hanging out making our own fanzines. There are magazines everywhere and records on the floor. Kurt pulls out the ‘Kiss and Ride’ single and draws on a piece of paper. I see him gluing something on the front of that 45, and then he holds it up. He drew a giant syringe and glued it onto the front cover. And then he’s like, ‘There we go. Bratmobile!’
On playing live in Hole… Playing shows was always like, ‘What the fuck’s gonna happen tonight?’ There was always some bullshit. I think that’s what people expected. Courtney would react to something that was yelled from the audience or somebody would throw something. Other times, she just wanted to talk shit about Eddie Vedder, just ‘cause. Sometimes we’d be able to run through the set and be gracious, but not often. …Those moments when she would just throw herself into the crowd and then come back totally torn apart were intense and brutal. It was hard to see.
On being in a band with Courtney Love… In Hole, we had a really safe place to create in. I felt safe in my band to come out as a gay woman. Courtney was a force that would not allow any of us to be spoken down to or any of that kind of fucking behavior, no matter where we were.
On struggling with addiction… Certain events in my life did not get me clean and sober, when you’d think that they should have. It took 23 more rehabs and losing everything. I lost my relationships, my family. I lost everything I owned. I was homeless. My only desire and function was to seek more drugs to stay unconscious. I didn’t get clean until 2005. I stayed in rehab and sober living for six months. And that’s when it all changed for me.
On life since recovery… In my mind, I was nothing when I lost my identity as the drummer of Hole. But after getting clean, I discovered that there’s so much more to me than just being a drummer. I met my wife, and we got married in 2008 in that moment when it was legal in California. Then in 2010 we had a daughter. I’m also a part of Rock & Roll Camp for Girls, which is close to my heart because it’s giving girls that were like me tools and some armor.
On her legacy in Hole… We were women playing music in a female-fronted band. I came out in Rolling Stone in 1995 when Hole was on the cover. A lot of kids would come up and say, ‘When I read the Rolling Stone story, it mattered to me because my parents didn’t like gay people, and it was cool to see somebody talk about it and make it OK.’ Girls come up and say, ‘Thank you for being out’ or ‘You were the first woman drummer I ever saw.’ Those things matter to me because I needed those things when I was a kid.
(Photo courtesy of Melissa Auf der Maur)
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