Hole drummer Patty Schemel’s brutally honest memoir, Hit So Hard, looks at the dark side of rock ‘n’ roll stardom, drug addiction and depression, but moves toward the light – sobriety and sanity
Drummer Patty Schemel opens her memoir, Hit So Hard, joking about growing up with sober parents who held AA meetings in their humble home outside Seattle. Hit So Hard, about her life in the band Hole and her struggle with addiction, is the most genuine rock n’ roll memoir I’ve read since Keith Richards’ Life. It is also, in my opinion, the most honest portrayal of addiction in print.
Hole’s 1994 album, Live Through This, was released just eight days after the suicide death of Kurt Cobain, who was married to Hole’s singer, Courtney Love. The multi-platinum album is one of Rolling Stones‘ 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time as well as #84 on NME’s list of the same name. In a tragic succession of darkness, Hole’s bassist, Kristen Pfaff, overdosed two months later.
“Violet” by Hole, from Live Through This:
The show had to go on, as they say, and new bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur strapped in for the craziest tour of the band’s existence, with Courtney Love miming Kurt’s suicide onstage and crowd-surfing until her clothes were ripped off. After crawling back on stage, she would scowl at the vast audience after being molested by them. It was a cathartic stare down. The press went wild.
Patty Schemel grew up knowing she was a lesbian, but felt unaccepted and alienated by society. There weren’t any queer people in her hometown to identify with. Her heroin and crack addiction took her to dark and dingy alleyways where she could score dope and turn tricks in an underground one stop shop. While the outside public thought she must be living a glamorous life of sports cars and luxury homes fit to air on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Schemel was selling her drum kit—the one she used on the album Live Through This—at a pawn shop for a ridiculously low price to feed the demon inside her. Patty had a near death experience (that didn’t involve drugs) when a commercial airplane she had boarded with Courtney Love and baby Frances had extreme turbulence and ended up doing a nosedive over London. The stewardess commanded that they put the baby on the floor as they brace for impact. They leveled out eventually and landed safely.
I appreciate that Patty doesn’t try to nicely smooth over her complicated relationship with Courtney Love (who at times treated her like a domineering mother), getting fired from Juliette and the Licks for being fucked up, or her opinion that Kurt’s murder rumors seemed false to her. She had seen Kurt shoot up tons of heroin and still function, as well as the contribution of his depression and suicidal history.
I’ve read other musician’s drug memoirs that glamorized the crazy days and even bragged about their long list of sexual conquests. This is not that book. You can feel the desperation in her words, as she was existing, not truly living. The book still manages to include some hilarious moments, though, like when her sweet brother Larry picks up a soft, baseball bat toy and pretends to smoke it like a bong to distract her from the intake process of the rehab she was being left in. Or Courtney hearing that Patty was living on the streets with dreadlocked hair. Patty’s response being, “What! Where’d you hear that?! Not dreadlocks. Maybe I woke up with a scrunchie in my hair one time. I believe that was my wake up call.”
Nowadays, Patty is living her best life in Los Angeles as a sober woman with Christina, her beautiful wife, and their daughter, Beatrice. She teaches young girls how to play drums at a music camp and makes music in a few bands. We had a phone conversation recently, where I identified with her sobriety, as I am on the same path. My drug of choice being cocaine as opposed to heroin, Kurt Cobain’s death had made me scared of that substance. Overdose deaths have been devastating the music community lately, as they had in the 1990s. Hopefully, this book falls into the hands of struggling and recovering addicts, as well as others who need help to see they are worthy and lovable no matter what their sexual identity or gender is.
PKM: Hi Patty. How’s your day going?
Patty Schemel: It’s been really great, but crazy.
PKM: How old is your daughter now?
Patty Schemel: She is 7, almost 8. Summer is all about summer camp and gymnastics and swimming. Ya know, all that stuff. Drop off, pick up…
PKM: You are teaching at the summer camp for kids, right?
Patty Schemel: Yeah. It’s a rock camp for girls. There were two sessions, two weeks, and then they do their showcase show.
PKM: Were there any stand out performers that you could see really going somewhere one day?
Patty Schemel: Yeah! I’m always amazed by them. It’s really the purest form of punk rock because these kids just picked up their instruments. They don’t even have any idea of whatever their message is. It ranges from the most elementary ideas of feminism to a day at the beach.
PKM: I just saw a similar kids’ rock group at this music festival, Meltasia. They were singing Bowie songs and reminded me a lot of School Of Rock. Their teacher mainly takes on absolute beginners. I found myself videotaping them like a proud parent. Your book is very well written and honest. Have you ever written anything before?
Patty Schemel: Thank you. No. I had help writing it. We both worked off a Google doc. I mean I was super punk rock about it too. I just told the story and typed it out and Erin (Hosier) would go in and move stuff around and give it a little punch. She would give me a cue, “Tell me about this,” and we would write about it. I wanted it to be honest and not pretty. Haha!
PKM: All the details you remember are amazing…
Patty Schemel: Thank you.
PKM: You were the first female drummer that I can ever remember seeing. It was so exciting, “Oh, my god, girls can do this too!” It was like a revolution.
Patty Schemel: For me too. When I saw Gina Schock of the Go-Go’s, it was such a novelty.
PKM: You have a special relationship with your brother, Larry, as you are both musicians. What was a show you went to together back in the day?
Patty Schemel: We both loved Kiss. To see Peter Kriss was so exciting. It was total arena rock, ya know? We discovered this magazine called Rock Scene, out of New York. It was my introduction to No Wave, Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop. It was a million miles away from where we were in Seattle. Nobody thought Seattle would EVER be interesting or cool.
PKM: You felt like you lived in the boonies.
Patty Schemel: Yeah! So it was only the big, arena rock shows that would roll through.
PKM: What I love about zines back in the day, was that it was a way for people like us who were into music and different feel connected to the rest of our people, before there was the internet. It made it feel like there was hope, like the world wasn’t so big. They might be on the other side of America, but they feel like I do. I’m not alone.
Patty Schemel: Yes! It also felt like it was your own little thing and you were special. That was punk rock for me. Now it’s bigger than that, but back then, it was kinda cool to have your own people and own music. Not everyone knew about it, so that when you met someone that was into the same thing, you had this connection.
PKM: Yeah, I remember seeing this band when there were only ten people at their shows and then they blew up. I was pissed off that everyone was wearing their shirt. “You weren’t there in the beginning, man!” Haha!
Patty Schemel: Yeah! “I was there at the ground floor!” I’m that fuckin’ person that will say, “Well I had their first record.” I hate that, but I do it. It’s like, “Any record after the first is….” Come on…
PKM: Tell me about the bands that you knew well before they blew up.
Patty Schemel: The Melvins. Soundgarden. All those bands from Seattle. In my book, I talk about hanging out with Bruce Pavitt. He had just put out the Sub Pop compilation. Then, he was making Sub Pop a label. He was sharing his idea with me that it was gonna be Green River, Mudhoney… and just telling me what his plans were. Then the Screaming Life EP by Soundgarden came out. This whole thing he was gonna create was gonna be super cool.
PKM: Sub Pop became the coolest label! As a teen, that was the label I looked for at the record store.
Patty Schemel: Yeah. Bruce had this thing called the Singles Club, where you could sign up to get a single every month. Anything with a Sub Pop stamp on it, kids would buy.
PKM: I know your brother from Death Valley Girls. In your book, you talk about using with him.
Patty Schemel: Yeah, we both consumed drugs at the same rate. You know, if I was sick, I would help him get well. We shared the same taste in music. I bought him his first guitar. It’s cool that our relationship didn’t get fucked up because of drugs.
PKM: In your book, when you are hanging out with Kelly and Kim Deal and Kim says, “Patty Schemel on crack? What’s that like?” The casual nature cracks me up.
Patty Schemel: Yeah. Haha!
PKM: People that have lived a really straight life would be shocked by that statement, but in the music world, it’s just par for the course.
Patty Schemel: Right. Everyone is getting fucked up. It’s so common. That night it was so good to see Kim and Kelly. It was a Pixies show. It was great to see them, but we also just got right to the business of… drugs. Haha!
PKM: What I like about the book is that it shows the suburban beginning, the rock star status, and then the descent into drugs where everything was taken away from you. Then coming back up again. I think it might help as a warning for young musicians to think twice about trying certain substances.
Patty Schemel: Yeah. A lot of people think… I mean, I’m not being ungrateful for all the opportunity and the status was amazing and a gift. It’s true for anyone. You could be a plumber, you could work construction, it affects everybody, drug addiction. So I had some money and I didn’t have a day job, but it affects us all the same way. When I lost everything, I thought, “I wish I was the guy at 7-Eleven.” That sort of day job and just kept it simple, ya know?
PKM: The dog walking job you got in the beginning of sobriety was beautiful. I love animals. That connection was what you needed. They loved you when you couldn’t completely love yourself yet.
Patty Schemel: Totally was. I never had that moment of feeling sorry for myself. I was thinking, “I can’t believe this person is trusting me with keys to their place.” The first thing I did (with the money) was put it in the bank instead of spend it on heroin. You know? Haha!
PKM: The shame when you are using can be awful. When you were doing the video for “Celebrity Skin,” and you knew everyone could see how strung out you were. You technically looked good from the outside, because you fit into your skinny leather pants but…
Patty Schemel: Haha, yeah. That was the worst because all I’m thinking of is lying and being separate. So I weigh a hundred pounds, but inside my eyes… there was nothing in there.
PKM: Right. No happiness.
Patty Schemel: No matter how many drugs I pumped into my body, it was like nothing worked.
PKM: Remember laughing for the first time?
Patty Schemel: Haha! Yes!
PKM: Getting sober for people that don’t know what it’s like, it’s kinda like being reborn. You join the human race again. It’s kind of scary because you wonder who you are without those substances. You could have passed away with how far your addiction went.
Patty Schemel: I know.
PKM: You wrote that a rehab you were in was advising you to quit Hole due to the toxic nature of the band. Which you weren’t ready for at the time.
Patty Schemel: If I put my band in front of getting to a meeting, eventually I’m not gonna have that band anymore. Finally, I figured that out.
PKM: You wrote that you were ashamed of being gay when you were younger. That you would rather have been known as an alcoholic than a lesbian.
Patty Schemel: Yes.
PKM: Do you feel like that was pressure from society or the people in your hometown?
Patty Schemel: It was not so much coming from home. It was just people at school, the neighbors… the world. I didn’t want to be a weirdo. I wanted to fit in.
PKM: Especially, as a young person.
Patty Schemel: I didn’t see ANY gay people… at all, ya know? Except for Paul Lynde. Haha! I didn’t see any role models. It forced me farther into that secret. I didn’t come out until eighteen or nineteen.
PKM: You talk about Roddy Bottom, he’s such a cool guy. I was blown away by his band, Nasti Band, and obviously Faith No More.
Patty Schemel: Yeah. He’s really into the music he’s making. We met through his friendship with Courtney. Hole played shows with Faith No More in Europe. So we became instant pals.
PKM: Did you teach yourself the drums?
Patty Schemel: I taught myself a little and then I started taking lessons. My teacher was a jazz guy, and I really didn’t want to learn that. Now, I get it, but then, no. I would go out and watch bands play and get inspired by drummers like Dan Peters from Mudhoney and Ray Washam from Scratch Acid.
PKM: Was your teacher respectful of you?
Patty Schemel: He totally was. The one weirdness was that his wife was super hot and I had a thing for her but that was just a couple of times.
PKM: Did you have an affair with your drum teacher’s wife?!
Patty Schemel: No! I just looked at her and was like, “Whoa…,” but I was a kid. I can’t believe I just told you that. I think I left that out of the book. Ha!
PKM: You write about being around Frances Bean when she was a baby. Did you feel a motherly instinct come out during that experience?
Patty Schemel: No. I didn’t think about that at all because it was never part of my plan. I didn’t think I had an instinct for it at all. At the time, I was 26 and completely all about myself. When it was fun to play with Frances, I would, but when it was time for me to do me, she would go back to her nanny. Ha! She was around and it was cool but I never thought I’d be a mother, no. I didn’t look at her and hold her and say, “Can’t wait!” Haha!
PKM: Do you still talk to Frances Bean?
Patty Schemel: I haven’t in a while, but we have a lot of mutual friends and I see her on Instagram.
PKM: Do you talk to [Hole guitarist] Eric Erlandson?
Patty Schemel: I just saw Eric at My Bloody Valentine. I see Melissa and talk to her at least once a week.
PKM: I was looking at Eric’s Instagram and he posted some crazy person’s rant. They said he shouldn’t have ever been in a photo with Frances Bean and that he helped kill Kurt. Have you ever gotten flack from someone like that?
Patty Schemel: Not really. That’s where we disagree. I don’t wanna address that. I addressed it on an interview show, Nightline or whatever, and that’s it.
PKM: Almost better not to give them the platform.
Patty Schemel: Yeah. They’ll come to my book readings or documentary screening and they will say shit in the Q & A and I just shut them down and move on. It seems a lot less than it used to be.
PKM: That movie, Soaked In Bleach, was extremely controversial. It implicated Courtney Love as having something to do with Kurt’s death.
Patty Schemel: Hmmm.
PKM: Millennials have a hard-on for anything 1990s these days. Hole and Nirvana are extremely en vogue again. Were you and Kurt close?
Patty Schemel: We weren’t best friends or anything but we had shared interests.
PKM: He was an unusual man, because he was a feminist.
Patty Schemel: Yes. He also talked about how it was okay to be gay.
PKM: The “God is gay” graffiti he did.
Patty Schemel: Yes. He helped erase hair metal for a short amount of time. He changed that scene a bit by announcing how women should be treated and gays and lesbians. That was fucking amazing.
PKM: The toughest thing you talk about in the book is when you had to do sex work for money. I applaud your honesty. It’s probably one of the hardest things for an addict to admit that they did.
Patty Schemel: Just because there is an exchange of money for an act of sex, that makes it prostitution. Yeah, duh! But people don’t… sometimes there is this gray area, for example, if you do something for drugs, you’re a prostitute, but because I was actually paid money… I don’t know it’s funny… Haha!
PKM: Prostitution should just be legal.
Patty Schemel: Yes!
PKM: It’s your body, you should be able to do whatever you want with it.
Patty Schemel: Yes!
PKM: As a lesbian woman, having to be with a man must’ve been extremely hard for you.
Patty Schemel: Yeah. The drugs totally erased any kind of consciousness during that. In order to get high, I had to do that, and I had to do that in order to get high. It was just constant. It was such a mind fuck. But I found it… it was just so easy. Not easy for me, but it’s interesting how men are just so…. they really don’t have any, uh…
PKM: HAHA!! Yeah.
Patty Schemel: You know what I’m saying?! Haha!
PKM: You don’t have to say it and I know exactly what you mean.
Patty Schemel: It was like, “Really? Okay?” It was really no big deal. It was such a physical act.
PKM: Right. Women can have casual sex too, but even then, there is something deeper that comes with it. With a lot of men, it’s almost like urinating.
Patty Schemel: Yeah. Made a turkey sandwich, got a blow job… HA!
PKM: Are there any bands around L.A. that you love?
Patty Schemel: I’ve gotta say Death Valley Girls, of course.
PKM: They are awesome. What bands are you currently playing in?
Patty Schemel: I’m in Object Of Subject, lesbian, feminist, performance art. Also a pop-punk band and random other projects.
PKM: Are you going to write again? I love your writing style.
Patty Schemel: Yeah, I’ve got a few things and I did some short storytelling but I’m thinking about what’s next right now.