Herstory Lessons with Patty Schemel of Hole
You know the feeling that you get when you need to do something to get it out of your system, and if you don’t do that specific thing you feel incomplete? Having the opportunity to interview Patty Schemel of Hole evoked this feeling for me. Schemel is a woman who lives her cautionary tale of a life with a superhero level of strength, courage, and self-honesty. With the help of her welcoming fans and admirers, Patty has come from the redheaded drummer that brought up the rear, to the frontlines of showmanship. There is not an Aesop-fabled bone in her body; she is a doer. She plants the seed, waters the acres, nurses the lot, and gets the harvest to market. She was once asked in an interview if she were to go back in time and change something in terms of lifestyle and execution of her goals, would she change anything? She aptly responded that she would change nothing because of the self-awareness that being an addict has given her. She knows that it is part of her DNA, and she wouldn’t change a thing because she has drawn strength from her experiences and internal conflict.
Everyone feels like they “know” the ups and downs of Patty’s friend and fellow musician, Courtney Love, which personally I think is BS to the tenth power. It drives me up the wall when people come to conclusions about Love or any of Patty’s band mates. I have personally gotten to know Hole’s guitarist, Eric Erlandson, and now Patty, and I have interviewed scores of established musicians, and Hole has bred some of my favorite subjects. My opinions aside, those who claim to understand the rise and fall of any musician are the same haters that wrap George Lucas’s career into Jar-Jar Binks. Not the brightest star in the galaxy, but alas, still part of our universe.
When Patty and I chatted on two occasions (during one of which, she was at a farmers market with Erlandson and lead singer of Garbage, Shirley Manson), we discussed Patty’s musical journey from the rollercoaster ride she experienced with Hole, to her current work, where she teaches America’s young women from all walks of life to find their rhythm at a summer camp called Rock ‘n’ Camp for Girls. Another tool in Schemel’s arsenal to empower California’s young female population is her documentary Hit So Hard, which focuses on many aspects of Schemel’s musical journey I am not going to go into any detail about the documentary, I will say about the film is “Wow” with a capital W. Even if you are not a fan of Hole, it is a first-class story about being human in a not-so-human culture. What I am excited to discuss is how the camp is an inspiring summer event for girls to attend and learn not only how to pick an instrument and play it, but also how to make their own t-shirts. Patty has become a large part of this camp with the help of some of her rock and roll buddies, including Manson. Their winter program, Ladies Rock Camp (LRC), is a weekend day camp in Portland, Oregon that provides an opportunity for women twenty-one and over to let loose for the weekend and create original music together. Beginning on Friday, they start to learn and/or improve upon their instrument of choice, and then they form a band and work together to write an original song that they play on stage at Mississippi Studios music venue by Sunday. In addition, the young women have the opportunity to attend workshops, participate in a karaoke night, and learn about influential women in music herstory. But Schemel finds the show at the end of the weekend to be the most exciting part:
“It gets me back to my roots when I was getting my hands dirty rocking various instruments but especially the drums and why I love doing it. I remember that feeling of getting so excited about learning something.”
In a interview with composer and producer Bill Whelan that he told to the Irish Times “teenagers are more interested in the music revolutions that are taking place in the outside world and it is how they can introduce music education into their lives at their own pace, in their own time while developing their own personal tastes. Music is a language that is non-verbal. It tells them things about themselves that language does not. No amount of theory can make this real. What can make it real is letting teenagers go off and play it.” I feel like this quotation helps me wrap my brain around the up the detaieatimission of the camp.
Move over Chuck Norris! Patty has also become a master of self-defense; a needed skill she developed from years of meeting shady characters backstage. Michael Jackson had his “Dirty Diana” and Patty has as her “Sketchy Steve.” She doesn’t necessarily teach her girls to understand their bodies so that they can defend themselves in a crisis situation, but what she does do is encourage them to learn self-defense, and ultimately, which is also a way to express them. I find this so interesting and practical because as a drummer and a woman, Patty’s emphasis is on precision, focusing energy and rhythm that can be applied in art of war and music. Not to sound like a Wayne’s World type of guy, but I wonder if Bruce Lee would have made one h#ll of a drummer – the Janet Weiss of the Forbidden City. Just like a ninja (I assume) every part of being in a drummer and developing this art comes from real life experiences.
It was a treat to pull up a chair with Patty and be able to pick her brain. She was a shining example of joy and humility in our interview, not taking the steering wheel and gunning it (like some of my subjects, who are all “Me, Me, Me and I Rock Rock Rock”), but instead she gently guiding me like Mad Max casually strolling down Fury Road. She explained what makes her tick with ease, and clarity. I felt relaxed and welcomed by her honest laughter and she had only positive things to say about where she is in life right now, with friends old and new, and her sobriety. This is a woman who feels comfortable in her own skin and wants young ladies to learn from her and feel similarly. West Coast fans, I urge you to enroll your young ladies into Patty’s camp. East Coast fans, maybe it is a good excuse for you to visit your old college friend in L.A. or Portland and have your mini-self take part in this special camp for young ladies.
words / David Leigh Abts
additional interview questions, research assistance,
and inspiration / Katy Bristow & Brandy Morgan
edited by / Ashley K. Goodwin
production assistance / Elizabeth A. Abts