Heroin to Heroine

Hole drummer Patty Schemel opens up to GO about her new film Hit So Hard

Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel may be the first documentary about drug addition and survival filmed primarily by the addict herself. It might have never come about had a friend not asked the Hole drummer about a dusty collection of Hi8 tapes that held more than 40 hours of never-before-scene footage of the band’s Live Though This tour and the grunge scene.

Hit So Hard takes you on her journey of stardom, love, death, drug addiction and salvation. Schemel was an outsider in a small town near Seattle who grew up too fast. She began drumming at 11, experimenting with alcohol and drugs by 13 and playing in her first band with her brother Larry at 15. Not long after two of her closest friends, Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff and Nirvana’s singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain, died of a heroin overdose and suicide respectively, Schemel embarked on Hole’s world tour at the ripe age of 27. She became the first female musician to make the cover of Drum World magazine and publicly came out in the August 1995 issue of Rolling Stone, during the time of a heavy relapse brought on by her friends’ deaths that threatened to put her, too, in an early grave.


Spoiler alert: she survives. But it took experiencing the exploitative side of the music industry, homelessness, rehabilitation and sobriety. Today Patty is happily drug-free and enjoying life with her wife and newborn daughter. She owns a dog walking business, teaches drums at the Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls and is setting up new music projects.

Nearly 19 years after she first busted out her video camera, Schemel has a film of survival she hopes will inspire others. Hit So Hard screens this Wednesday at Newfest. Click here to read GO Web Editor Greg Frederick’s preview of the film.

GO: When did you decide that you needed to do something with the tapes?

Patty Shemel: I guess that was back in 2006. A friend said “you should do something and you should preserve those because they are going to disintegrate. Like, how old are they?” I was like “Oh my god!I started to film in ‘92/’93 and so by then they were over 14 years old and being carted all over in this suitcase.

What was the process of going through all the footage?

I sat down with P. David [Ebersole, the film’s director, editor and writer] while we were dubbing to digital and he would ask ‘where is this?’ and ‘what’s this about?’ So, I would explain as we went along and tell him the story, inside the scene. What was going on and where we were and why I was reacting like whatever I was doing.

The first cut was 4 hours long. Will there be extras on the DVD containing footage you had to cut from the feature?

Yea, there’s a ton. There’ so much stuff. There was more backstage footage and that cliché walk from stage to the dressing room down the long hallway. That, and all these graffiti walls, you know? The sound is super muffled but you hear a crowd, kind of, off in the distance. Then the camera is going through and we are being led through these hallways, to get to the stage. Finally, the crowd gets louder and then all of a sudden… we’re on the stage! Like that kind of stuff.

Hit So Hard got some of the funding through Kickstarter. What was your reaction to this new medium of funding projects?

I had seen one done for Alison Anders and her film. My wife Christina did the research and found out that out of different types of crowd funding, Kickstarter was the way we wanted to go. She took over as far as getting people to donate things and she just stayed on. It was amazing how we met our goal and we exceeded our goal.

Rumor has it that you exceeded your goal because Linda Perry put in a big chunk. Is that true?

Yes, Linda did. She was like ‘how much is left? How much do you need to make your goal?’ She saw how much it was and she put in the last bit to put us over the top.

You don’t seem like the type who goes out and tries to seek fame. How does it feel to have your most emotional moments on screen, for everyone to see?


I guess I felt compelled to tell the story. I didn’t know how far I’d go with it. In the process of doing it I had to talk about telling everyone in Rolling Stone that I was gay. I had to tell my story the way it was and not edit, which I wanted to do at certain parts, but it really wasn’t the whole story. It is kind of weird to know that it is out there.

But it’s great to think that both times you’ve taken that leap, it’s helping so many people.

All kinds of different people come; it does happen after screenings. There are the dog people I love, there are the musicians and there are the recovering addicts. So it appeals to all different types of people.

It seems you have enlisted all of your trusted friends to work on the movie. How was it to bring these people together?

Roddy Bottum [Imperial Teen, Faith No More] did the score. He and I have been friends for years and stayed close. Over the years of making the documentary, I’ve reunited and been more in contact with Eric [Erlandson, former guitarist of Hole] and Melissa [Auf der Maur, former bassist for Hole]. You know, I’ve never really got out of contact with Courtney [Love], but you just don’t really call her up and go “hey, wanna get coffee?” That just doesn’t happen.

There is a part of the film where Courtney does a very smart phone trick on you to find where you were and if you were on drugs. That couldn’t have been the only time.

She has some wizardry with the phone because there was this moment, that I didn’t really talk about in the film, when I left the studio during the whole drama of being replaced. My whole world just came crumbling down and I just took off somewhere. Courtney was trying to find me. She went to our house and went in my room, grabbed my phone and pushed ‘redial.’ It went directly to the house where I was, because that was the last number I had called. She was like “Patty, I know you’re there!” The girl that I was hanging out with was like “Um, I don’t think…” Counrtney said, “Look, chicky, I know she’s there! I’m calling from her house, right now!”

Your team managed to get all the best female drummers to talk about your influence on them. How did that feel?

Totally, completely uncomfortable, but totally in awe of each of those women as well. Those are my peers, but also the women I looked up to while playing. Truly, it’s just an honor to be considered among those ladies. You know that Chris Farley episode on Saturday Night Live when he is interviewing Paul McCartney and he goes over the top with it? As in ‘Remember when you were on the cover of Abbey Road?’ Ill totally do that with Gina Shock of the Go-Go’s: ‘Remember when you guys were on Solid Gold?’ I’ll be that weird, creepy fan.

Everyone loves your mom in the movie with her motherly like ways of how she explains your coming out as a teen. Has she seen the film?

Yes! She saw it for the first time last Thursday at the L.A. premiere at Outfest. She was excited to be there. Afterwards a lot of people went to her and said ‘Thank you for being so open and honest and you know, sharing your story with your daughter.’ She really liked it. She really enjoyed the crowd and the show after.

Your drug use is pretty graphic in the film. Did she know what she was about to see?

She had seen one of the long and rough edits. She kind of knew, but not with music and cut together. So she was really impressed and really liked it. I was glad. That night was really important to me because she was there.

You came out in Rolling Stone back in 1995. How did people react to the article then?

I didn’t get any kind of bad backlash at all, but I recently heard a story from a friend of mine. I was in Seattle for the Seattle International Film Festival and a bunch of friends from school were there. When he went for our 10th anniversary high school reunion, this girl we knew in school said to him, ‘Oh my god, have you heard about Patty Schemel?’ He said, ‘Yeah, she’s playing drums in a band. It’s really cool.’ Then she was like, “No, she’s a lesbian!’ That was the issue.

Do you think being gay helped you out in any way?

I think it gave me an edge, ‘cause I always think we are the chosen people! [laughs] What I mean is, the edge is something to prove. I was always the only girl playing drums, so I felt like I had to work harder and be better.

Do you think being an outsider affected your music?

I was attracted to the different types of people—the artists, the musicians, the writers, people that were doing artistic things—and a lot of those people were gay. So I went towards the light, I guess.

Hit So Hard’s powerful story arc shows you and your friends, Kurt Cobain and Kristen Pfaff, living the same hard life. They didn’t make it, but you survived. How did their deaths affect you in the long term?

Kurt’s was devastating, and Kristen’s was as well. I was just shocked. For years, I put those feelings away and then with the documentary, seeing the footage and going over it again—it just brought it all up again. I wish I had more time with them. I miss both of them.

The film often focuses on your friendship with Melissa. Did you ever have a crush on her?

No I did not! Not even in the beginning, though I know it sort of seemed like that.

In 1995, you and Melissa were waiting to make Celebrity Skin and Courtney was filming The People vs. Larry Flynt—is it true you girls started to tape a cable access show?

We had a little talk show we would do and named it “Chuckles.” We had friends come on and talk and then we would actually take the show out of the house and just show up at our friends doorsteps and include them into whatever we were doing and they would totally be caught off-guard, but they would have to play along. I have shown it to a few friends, but no plans to put it anywhere.

During your time with Hole, what was the most interesting show?

I think it was the Metallica, Sponge and Veruca Salt show for festival being thrown by a beer company in Tuktoyaktuk, Canada. We were all traveling on the same plane and it was nuts to get up there. We just finished up a year on tour and Lollapalooza. I was strung out and traveling to a different country—smuggling drugs into Canada! You know, you’re going to the Arctic Circle or whatever, but you can’t really appreciate it ‘cause you’re strung out on heroin. So, it was really weird to just land there and then to take over this tiny village of people. I do remember that part and just wanting to say ‘sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt your culture, but we’re just going to play some rock in a giant tent and then the beer company is coming!’ Awkward!

Speculation has been swirling around a Hole reunion. If you, Melissa, Eric and Courtney decided to work together again who do you think would initiate it?

Um. Wow. It would. Maybe Eric. I’m not really sure where Courtney is at as far as, cause you know, she has her own version. Yeah, so maybe Eric. I’m not sure though.

Interesting. Now, if you had to put down a percentage chance something happening with the 4 of you. What would it be?

I would say 20% out of 100.

How did you transition from that whirlwind rock n’ roll lifestyle to home life?

I really needed to have a nice routine and a day-to-day thing. It’s nice to have a decent bedtime. My daughter needs that schedule and so good to not have to pick up and travel all the time.

Rumor has it you met your wife Christina in San Francisco a while before you started dating, but didn’t remember it?

It’s true and it also happened with Hit So Hard’s creators, P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes. We met in San Francisco in the 90’s, but I don’t remember it. It was at some event, and Christina said, ‘here are my friends, P.David and Todd.’ They said, ‘oh, we met you at a party,’ but didn’t remember it. It’s all convoluted. It’s like that game Telephone. Christina and I were together for three years before we got married.

You’re now running your own dog walking and boarding business, along with teaching drums to girls on the side and at the Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls. Have you experience any funny situations from your touring life crossing over into your life now?

During the editing of the film, a sound effects guy walked by and saw my face up on the screen and said, ‘I know that girl! What is she doing?’ The editor told him the story. The guy insisted I was a dog walker and that he saw me in the dog park all the time. So, the next day I was there to look at what they had done so far, and the guy was there. He said, ‘hey, I just saw you on the…” and I was like, ‘you’re Jack’s dad!” Jack is this fuzzy, huge Malamute-type dog. People that I know nowadays in certain areas don’t know what I use to do or what I still do.

Since getting sober you’ve been seen out playing again, recently with Juliette and the Licks. You just played with a supergroup at Outfest starring Linda Perry, Eric and your brother Larry.

Juliette is so amazing and such a great performer. It was so much fun to be a part of that and to be a part of writing songs. For the Outfest group, I just got a call a little while ago about maybe trying to rework that whole idea into something else. Like a revolving band that has guests. Georgie Douglas, who was the first vocalist, is also part of a performance group called The Citizens Band from New YorkThey do stuff like that, and we are in talks for doing something similar. Eric wants to be a part of it. Sort of like one of those hippie cult bands, maybe. You know, that live in the canyon. We all live together like on a commune.

It’ll be the sober Grateful Dead?

Exactly! I think we’re calling it The Canyon People. Like, ponchos and that kind of stuff. Yeah. Long hair.

What was it like to play Hole songs again?

You know, when we were rehearsing I’d forget a part or whatever and Eric would be like remember “dah duh dah..” and then I’d remember. It was through muscle memory I just did it. It was so much fun. You know, to just play the songs and just have fun with it.

You’re working with several bands, including Green Eyes with your brother.

Psychic Friend is another thing that I was doing with Will Schwartz from Imperial Teen. Now I just want to focus on the documentary stuff. Green Eyes is always around: that’s kind of my rock band, my psychedelic rock band which might merge together with the hippie band. But I think he should grow out his beard more if he is going to be in The Canyon People.

Make sure not to miss the Newfest screening of Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel, this Wednesday (July 27) at 6:50pm in the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The film will be distributed in theaters and DVD but no release date has been set. For more information visit Hit So Hard’s website pattydoc.com


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