The documentary Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death Story of Patty Schemel, edited and directed by P. David Ebersole, chronicles the journey of the acclaimed drummer, best known for her work with Courtney Love’s seminal rock band Hole. But, being in a multi-platinum selling band, touring with legends and landing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine is only part of the story. Told with insider interviews and intimate, never-before-seen footage shot by Patty and her friends (much of it via Hi-8 camera), the film shows the rise and fall, ups and downs, and highs and lows that come from overnight success, addiction, recovery and redemption.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, Patty Schemel talked about how this film came about, where and when her love of music started, why the average person doesn’t understand the importance of the drummer in a band, how she came to be a part of Hole, what she’s most proud of during her time in the band, the biggest challenges in maintaining sobriety on tour, and how good it is to have her former band members back in her life. She also talked about how things do get better, how she feels about music these days, what inspires her now, and why she enjoys teaching other young girls looking to play the drums. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
PATTY SCHEMEL: What happened was that, to preserve all the Hi-8 film, I went to a friend and, while we were digitizing all the stuff, he’d ask questions and I’d tell him what was going on in each shot. So, as things progressed in the preservation of it, he said, “This is great footage and this is a great story. You should really think about doing something with it.” So, I asked David [Ebersole], after a little while, if he would be interested in directing it, considering he’d done films before. He’d always been a narrative filmmaker, so this documentary was a new thing for him. So, it began with the footage.
Did it help that you already had that trust with him?
SCHEMEL: Yeah, I trusted him with the story and with all of the footage, and that he wouldn’t exploit parts of it. I felt comfortable in talking about the personal stuff with my friend.
Where did your love of music start? Did something inspire you to want to be a musician, or did you just always want to play music?
SCHEMEL: I always wanted to play music, and always loved it. I saw a band come to school, when I was in elementary school, and wanted to play drums. I started playing drums at 11, and that’s where it all started.
Do you think the average person really understands the importance of the drummer in a band?
SCHEMEL: No, no one really listens to the drums, I don’t think. They’re there, but it’s not a conscious thing to listen to. Everyone listens to the vocals, of course, and the words. The drums are what drives the whole thing. It’s the backbone of the song. But, the words are important, too.
Why do you think female drummers always surprise people, especially when they’re just great drummers?
SCHEMEL: I think because it’s a male dominated instrument and it’s a physical instrument. Kate Schellenbach (the drummer for Luscious Jackson) describes it really well in the film, but women are taught to sit down, keep their legs closed and be proper. To play the drums, you have to spread your legs and use your arms. It’s a very physical instrument to play. It’s not feminine.
How did you originally end up in Hole? Had Courtney Love been familiar with your music, or had you met prior to that?
SCHEMEL: She’d heard of the band I was in before Hole, which was called Sybil. We had a single out, and Kurt [Cobain] had it and Courtney liked it. So, when she was looking for a drummer, he mentioned me. That’s how we met. I started playing drums in Hole through Kurt.
Did you know, from the time that you first played with them, that you clicked musically?
SCHEMEL: Yeah. Initially, there was that time that I needed to learn Hole songs. I had to learn that style, but then also, after awhile, blend my style into the new stuff. That’s where we became really sold, in that communication, musically, with the dynamics. Courtney does a lot of spontaneous things when she’s on stage. There would be a lot of stuff that she would just come up with, on the spot. That would mean that we would just listen to each other a lot and just go with whatever the feeling was, for the night. It was about finding the temperature of the evening.
Do you enjoy being challenged, in that way, or would you prefer to just play the songs the way they are?
SCHEMEL: I felt that Courtney was always really wanting to make more new music, and she got tired of the old stuff pretty quick and wanted to keep creating new songs with new feelings. So, I liked making stuff up, as we went.
Are there things that you’re most proud of, as a musician, from your time with Hole? Are there ways that you feel it changed you, as a musician?
SCHEMEL: Yeah, it changed me. When I was a kid, I felt like I could do anything and play anything. I just felt super-confident. And then, once I started to play music professionally, maybe it’s from being from a small town, but you grow up and then you’re suddenly a big fish in a small pond, and I realized that there were a billion other drummers out there that could play as good as you or better, and everybody wants that job. So, you’ve really got to keep on improving and improving and improving. It still involves work. It’s not like you get to a point, and then you’re good and that’s it. It was having that realization that you’re never done. You have to keep going.
Being an artist is very much about opening your soul and letting it bleed all over your art. How difficult is it to then have your artistic sensibility questioned, especially be a record producer who isn’t part of the band?
SCHEMEL: The event in the studio (during the recording of Celebrity Skin) really made me doubt my playing and myself. I would go one way with it, and just rehearse and practice and practice and practice, and run myself into the ground, trying to make everything perfect. And then, I would go the other way and just drop the drums altogether, and eventually got strung out. The film shows what happened. It was like, “Someone is asking about my choices? My choices aren’t good enough for something I wrote? What are you talking about?! That’s how I do it. It’s my style. This is how I play. This is what a Hole drum part would be. Who are you to tell me what a Hole drum part is? I’m the drummer!”
SCHEMEL: I think it’s a combination of things around you and also where your priorities are at. In the old days, it used to be my band and my music. Nowadays, there’s a lot more that comes before music, that I need to take care of before I can sit down and play, and be a contributing member of a band or society. I have to take care of myself and my recovery, and then my family, and then my music. So, for a person that’s on tour, the environment is difficult. I don’t want to come off sounding like, “Oh, it’s so hard!,” but it gets tough, after awhile. You need to take care of yourself. You need to sleep and you need to eat. Those things are hard to keep on any kind of routine. So, for people that are in recovery, you really need to stick by your boundaries. It’s hard because you’re sharing this space and this experience with other people who might not need to do those things for themselves.
Along with giving incredible insight into what you went through personally, this film also gives audiences more of an understanding of the band, as well as just being a female drummer in the music business. Was it your intention to show all of that, or was that more of a happy accident that came out of being honest and open with your experiences?
SCHEMEL: During the interviews, I would talk about what was inspiring me, who was inspiring me and what my experience was, and then David would take from what I was discussing and flesh it out with actual interviews with the people or a piece of footage that I had filmed that would tell the story as well. It just unfolded from what I was talking about.
SCHEMEL: Yeah. I can remember my mind back then, and not seeing past the day. You don’t really think that things will ever get better, but they do. People always ask me, “What would you say to gay teen youth that are suicidal, or someone who is addicted right now?,” and it’s hard to say with words that things will change, but they do. This, too, shall pass. Back then, I would be like, “Whatever! Who wants to hear that shit?!”
How cathartic was it to share this story? Did it become more of a healing experience than you expected?
SCHEMEL: You know, at the beginning of it, I didn’t want to play drums and I was at a different place, and I was fragile still. I had no contact with Eric [Erlandson], at all, or Melissa [Auf der Maur]. I never really lost track with Courtney [Love]. But, through the process of making the film and talking about things, and then hearing what their thoughts and experiences were, especially through the recording of Celebrity Skin, and Eric admitting that it was a mistake and they shouldn’t have done that, meant a lot to me. It changed that tape that was playing in my mind, over the years, and brought me back to them. We’re in each other’s lives again today, but as adults. We weren’t teenagers, but we were pretty young back then. It’s good to have them back in my life, that way.
SCHEMEL: Yeah. I really just want to play it to enjoy myself. If it became something that was really going to jeopardize me or my soul or my state of mind, in a negative way, I would definitely choose not to do it, in whatever situation it was, whereas before, I would do anything to do it. Nowadays, I don’t have those rules anymore. Like I said in the film, I feel like I’m 11 again, with my drums. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. I’m just playing.
What’s it like to go from being inspired to play music to inspiring others, by teaching other young girls to play the drums?
SCHEMEL: It’s uncomfortable, definitely, but it’s also really, really great to talk drums with kids and hear them get excited about music and talk about listening to the drums. When I teach the girls at Rock Camp a White Stripes song, we’ll first sit down and listen to the song and I’ll say, “What do you hear her doing?,” and we’ll talk about what Meg White is doing while she’s playing a certain part. I love having that dialogue with the girls. We’ll listen to Florence + The Machine and talk about that, or they like to talk about Adele. Talking about music and talking about drums brings me back to my beginning and the simplicity, and the excitement about trying to play something and see if it works for your band.
What inspires you now, creatively?
SCHEMEL: I haven’t done it in so long, just because I have a baby, but I love to go see live music. That used to be what I would do, almost every other night, and watch drummers play. It’s always inspiring to watch live music. And, I’ll always go back to listening to Led Zeppelin to get inspired, or My Bloody Valentine inspires me. Nirvana has always inspired me. I really like Warpaint. They’re great.