In 1992, drummer Patty Schemel joined the now-legendary Hole, a band that was just positioning itself for mainstream success. Less than two years later, bassist Kristen Pfaff had died of an accidental overdose, Kurt Cobain had committed suicide, and Hole had released its platinum-selling Live Through This. On a world tour in support of the record, Schemel found herself deep in substance abuse and the pressures of musical success -- and she brought along a camera to document it all.
The result was Hit So Hard, a documentary opening a week-long run this Friday, May 4, at the Denver FilmCenter. The film comprises the drummer's footage, woven together with detailed interviews with friends and family and a lot of raw, honest storytelling from Schemel herself. But there is life after the drama and near-death that was the '90s, and we recently spoke with Schemel about the film and the unexpected fifteen-minute Hole reunion that was fifteen years in the making.
Westword: Why did you decide to tell your story?
Patty Schemel: It wasn't a conscious choice when we first started. The whole idea was to sort of preserve all of the footage. While we were digitizing it, [director] David [Ebersole], who was helping me do that, he would ask me questions about all of the footage. So I would tell him the stories inside each scene, and he said, "This is a great story." He didn't know a lot of it; he just kind of knew some parts. So that's how it began. It was me saying to him, "Well, do you want to do something with this?" I didn't know where it would go -- maybe it would be a project that we worked on. But it actually gained a little momentum, and now we're here.
How did you feel, seeing that footage again, when you dove into this project?
It was difficult to watch, some days. Some days were harder than others. I would go and watch and leave, and it was so heavy. It was like I had time-traveled and then come back to the present day.
You came out in a 1995 interview with Hole in Rolling Stone. While being gay was becoming something talked about in the mainstream, it wasn't like it is now. Did you feel like you desired to empower others, or make a statement with a kind of a public revelation?
No so much. When I came out in Rolling Stone, it wasn't so much of a conscious choice as it was just something that came out of each of us talking about who we are as people in a band. That's just a part of my life, which I shared in the interview -- and it became a sort of public coming out.
To me, growing up where I didn't see a whole lot about gay women, it was important to me to say that. If there was anyone out there who felt crazy or weird like I did, maybe they would feel better knowing there were other people like them out there, too. I felt lucky to have support of my mom and my dad.
You now run Dog Rocker, a pet daycare and boarding business out of your home. What's it like for you on the day-to-day?
It's such a grounding thing for me to take my dogs to the park and just walk. I talk about it in the film, but it's just about how grateful they are to just go on a walk. They don't care what band you're in or who you know or how much money you make; they're just happy to be with somebody who wants to take them out and walk. And, you know, pet them and stuff [laughs]. It keeps me humble. It keeps me grounded to think of someone other than myself.
You reunited with Hole -- including Courtney Love -- last month in Brooklyn, for about fifteen minutes at a showing of your film. How was that for you?
It was good! As soon as Courtney came backstage, we all sort of went back into our roles as a dysfunctional family. She came in asking for cords from Eric [Erlandson, guitarist]. We all just sort of were like -- I was trying to make a joke, Melissa [Auf de Maur, bassist] was trying to stay positive, and Eric was like, to Courtney, "Well, you figure it out yourself!" It went really well. All that dysfunction happens off the stage. But when we're inside our songs, we're at our best. It was a good time, and it was great to hear her voice with Eric's guitar again.
Would you want to play with Hole again?
You know, before that, I was saying that I didn't see another time we would get together. But maybe we will. I can't say never. The planets have to align exactly right.
Being in a band is so much more than the dysfunctional family metaphor, too -- it's art and personality.
It's ego, it's commerce, it's so many more things. It's a mixed bag.
What does your life look like right now as a musician?
I'm in a band called The Cold and Lovely with Meg Toohey, who played in a band called the Weepies, and Nicole Fiorentino, who is also in the Smashing Pumpkins. We have a record coming out in June, and we're playing a bunch of shows. That's my new musical love, this band. I do various things -- Will Shwartz [of Imperial Teen and Hey Willpower] and I wrote a song for the movie. That's kind of it right now. Oh, and being a mom.
How is it being in a band now, versus being in Hole at such a peak time? Do you feel like music holds a different space in your life?
Back when I was in Hole, I was a lot younger. That was my whole identity; it was my whole life. Nowadays, I find there is a lot more than just that part of me as a drummer, you know? I talk about it in this film. It used to be music first, then everything else. Now it's my recovery first, then me and my family, and then music kind of falls down on the list.
I don't think I would have any of these things if I didn't have recovery first. That was just sort of the thing that changed for me and got me where I am now. The change in where priorities are and what's important -- it's not compromising. In music, you do a lot of compromising with the things you need; your time, I mean, certain details. Like, "You need a certain amount of sleep," and you're like, well, that's not happening [laughs].
How long have you been sober?
Is it something you have to work on daily?
Yes. I do things to help my recovery each day. You know, some days are easier than others -- stressful days, things going on in life. My first thought is, I need to relieve this stress somehow. There are things I have learned that relieve the stress without reaching for a drink or drugs. But now it's like, I quit smoking and I'm trying not to eat sugar. The first thing I wanted to do in stressful situations is, like, eat cookies and stuff.
So there are all of these things that I would do instead of reach for a drink -- eat a box of cookies, and maybe have a cigarette, you know? There are layers of it. I always say, "I deserve it!" But I just don't have the moderation, the control button.
But then again, it's like, is it that lack of moderation that can somehow turn those feelings into drive?>
Exactly. I think, is it what crafted my personality to make me where I am now? Along with those feelings of being an outsider and not conforming, did that fuel me as a person in art? Maybe that, mixed with my sexuality and just being a weirdo [laughs]? Who knows.
Hit So Hard opens this Friday, May 4, at the Denver FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. The film runs through May 10, with a special appearance and Q&A with Schemel following the 7:15 p.m. showing on Saturday, May 5. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.denverfilm.org.
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