The Whole Truth

5 June 2014 | 2:24 pm | Adrian Potts

"We’d run through a song once, then record it and say, ‘How’s that? Great. Let’s keep going.'"

Although drumming is a big part of Patty Schemel's life today, when she acrimoniously split from alt-rock pin-ups Hole in 1998, she gave away the instrument entirely. “I took a break for a long time,” she says from her LA home, just weeks after Courtney Love first hinted that the band would soon reunite. “I didn't want to sit down at the drums. It brought up a lot of stuff.”

These days, Schemel is living a life far removed from the animosity and self-destruction that overtook her life in Hole. She runs a dog-care business, plays in several bands, volunteers at a rock camp for young girls and is a mum. In June she'll be in Australia with her newest band, Upset, to tour their lo-fi, pop-punk debut album, She's Gone.

Upset is fronted by former Best Coast drummer Ali Koehler. After being booted from, and having a public falling out with, Best Coast in 2011, she began working on music of her own. When Schemel began following Koehler on Twitter, the pair direct messaged and expressed a mutual admiration for each other's previous work, which for Koehler also included indie-garage trio Vivian Girls. “I was a big fan of Vivian Girls,” Schemel explains. “When Ali went on to be in Best Coast, I'd go to her shows and see her play. We'd never met – I just knew of her. After we became friends through Twitter, she said, 'Hey, I'm starting a new band, do you want to join?' I said that I'd play drums and we could see what it sounds like. So I did and I really liked her songs.”

Now a quartet, the group make catchy, uncomplicated songs that bring to mind DIY indie-punk groups from the early 2000s. There's an upbeat, carefree quality to She's Gone that reflects its creation. “We'd run through a song once, then record it and say, 'How's that? Great. Let's keep going.' It was super smooth and super fun,” Schemel says.

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She has been involved with several groups in recent history, including Psychic Friend and The Cold & Lovely. In 2011 she was the subject of the documentary Hit So Hard: The Life & Near Death Story Of Patty Schemel, which chronicled her time with Hole from 1992 to '98 and featured current day interviews with the drummer, her family, former bandmates and other musicians, alongside old handheld camera footage she frequently took while in the group. It was a candid and sombre documentary that showed the disjunct between the talent and fame of the band and the troubled private lives of its members, especially in the wake of Kurt Cobain's suicide. Schemel was good friends with Cobain and, legend has it, was almost chosen as Nirvana's drummer over Dave Grohl. As her problems with drugs and alcohol worsened, her life came unstuck when Hole, under the say-so of a demanding producer, recruited a session drummer to record the album Celebrity Skin. Schemel angrily left the group soon after.

Although Schemel remained friends with Courtney Love, she only reconciled with Hole songwriter Eric Erlandson after Hit So Hard drew them back together. She says that assisting with the film was cathartic. “I felt really good about telling the story and also that a lot of people related to a lot of things in it – music fans, the gay and lesbian community, recovering people and people who love dogs even,” she says with a laugh.

“After the screenings I would do a Q&A and through that process I really got a bit of perspective on what Hole meant to people growing up. I felt so honoured to be a part of somebody's life that I don't even know, like the way it was for me growing up with the people I looked up to, like Gina Schock from The Go-Go's.”

After conquering her demons post-Hole, Schemel slowly returned to drumming and, among other projects, became a volunteer at the LA Rock'n'Roll Camp For Girls, a music summer camp for young girls to learn everything from how to record music to sell merchandise. “I really wish I had something like that when I was growing up and playing drums, just to meet other girl musicians and start a band,” she says. “We tell the girls to write about their feelings and what's happening in their lives and they do and it's awesome.”

Schemel is also passing on her drumming skills to her daughter, who, although just three years old, has a miniature drum kit. “Upset played at her preschool fundraiser and I think she's under the impression that all mums play drums because all my friends are in bands.”

In recent months, Schemel, Love, Erlandson and Melissa Auf der Maur – the 'classic' Hole lineup – have met and played together. Love has refused to confirm if the group will reunite and Schemel chooses her words carefully when asked about the prospect. “Yeah, we did get together a couple of times into a little rehearsal space and played, and then we talked about getting back together. It felt like old Hole with Eric and Courtney – with that guitar sound and her voice and the style that we all fall into. Of course, we've all grown and we've all expanded our abilities, but we still have a certain style that sounds amazing when we play together.” Would a reformed Hole yield new music and a tour? “I can't say,” she continues, stepping over each word slowly. “That's all I know at this point.”

Schemel says that she's now more enthusiastic about drumming than ever. “It's definitely something that I can't not have in my life. I've been doing it since I was 11 years old and it's my longest relationship besides my family,” she reflects. “And now I feel so excited again like I used to be when I first started playing.”