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R.I.P. Laura Kennedy of Bush Tetras

November 17, 2011

Laura Kennedy, the original bassist of the Bush Tetras and “the coolest girl ever,” according to Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, passed away on Monday in Minneapolis.

Kennedy moved to the Twin Cities in 1999 to live with her girlfriend, after having spent many years in New York. “Us New York City kids from the ’80s,” she blogged last year, “often transplanted from other cities, other countries, occasionally other planets (take a wild guess who I’m talking about)…we were blessed to come together in this life at a time that defined the End of a Century.”

It was during this time that the Bush Tetras gained recognition in the New York club scene – lead guitarist Pat Place recalled, “the clubs were this breeding ground, ripe for creativity.” The band’s biggest hit, “Too Many Creeps,” was released in 1980, and made the college top-ten charts. The song places Kennedy’s jagged bass line alongside the young-girl vocals of lead singer Cynthia Sley, who repeats over and over again, “I just don’t wanna go out in the streets no more…it’s the worst, it’s the worst, it’s the worst.”

Kennedy lived for 25 years with hepatitis C, the complications of which eventually led to liver failure. She received a transplant at the University of Minnesota in 2008, and continued to live on both disability and assistance from friends. In early 2009, the Bush Tetras played a reunion show in the Twin Cities – their first in 25 years – as one in a series of fundraisers to help pay Kennedy’s medical bills (which were not covered by her disability insurance). The band was joined by the Suicide Commandos, David Thomas of Pere Ubu and Skoal Kodiak. –Emma Nelson

Punk of the Month: Kira Roessler

November 17, 2011

Girl Germs might be an all-female show, but we have plenty of supportive gentleman friends – and even some honorary ladies – who number among our compatriots (see: DJ Phizzy, King Cole and Marinos of On the Corner; Evan and co. over at Fancy Pants Gangsters; and Chris and Qualler of Blogulator Radio, among others). You might remember our friend Nate from fellow Fancy Pants Gangsters show (and former fellow Radio K program) Out of Step. Nate is our go-to expert on all things punk and he’s kindly agreed to write a monthly feature for you all called Punk of the Month! Watch the blog every month for a profile of a female artist who has broken ground on the punk scene. 

November’s Punk of the Month dedication belongs to one of underground music’s most unsung heroines, the fearless Kira Roessler!

Typically credited with just her first name, Kira kept a comparatively low profile in the acclaimed early LA punk scene.  Initially more of a fan and friend to some of the scene players, Kira served time as a roadie for local bands, partly as a means to gain access to shows.

Kira quickly found her niche playing in some of LA’s less-heralded groups, such as Waxx, The Visitors, Geza X and the Mommymen, Sexsick, The Monsters, and Twisted Roots.  Her relative obscurity was fleeting.

During a stint with the group DC3, Kira’s playing impressed members of Black Flag enough to offer her their vacant bass position.  Thus began her lengthy tenure with one of the trailblazing bands of the American underground punk movement.

Replacing original bassist Chuck Dukowski, Kira’s playing meshed perfectly with Black Flag’s continuously evolving style.  Her predecessor’s wild, erratic playing was fitting for the manic hardcore of the outfit’s earlier  incarnations, but as their sonic sensibilities began veering towards a slower, heavier, jazz-inflected dirge, the sound required someone with a more driving and consistent approach.

Concurrently pursuing an Applied Engineering degree at UCLA, Kira agreed to join Black Flag under the condition that their grueling touring itinerary adapt to fit her academic schedule.  Kira’s finesse featured on five of the band’s albums, beginning with 1984’s Family Man.

Kira completed her degree in the autumn of 1986, following the end of her tour of duty in Black Flag.  Continuing her musical path, she formed the group Dos with famed Minutemen bassist (and one-time husband) Mike Watt.  Boasting the bass proficiency of both musicians, Dos still performs to this day, having released the album Dos y Dos in July 2011.  Furthermore, Kira claims songwriting credit on both the Minutemen’s final LP, 3-Way Tie (For Last) and on material by Watt’s post-Minutemen group, Firehose.

Currently working as a dialogue editor, Kira claims credits in films like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Under the Tuscan Sun.  Her editing skills even yielded her an Emmy for her efforts on the series John Adams.

Perhaps the archetype of the female bass player, Kira’s prowess has nevertheless managed to outgrow the limits of such an accommodating designation.  She truly is a groundbreaking artist, and for that we must recognize her.  Play on, Kira!

–Nate Rastetter

Nate is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and the co-host of the Out of Step podcast. He has volunteered at Extreme Noise Records in Minneapolis since June 2000 and presently serves on its Board of Directors.  He seriously, fanatically loves record shopping.  Music is his mistress and vinyl is his vice.  He is also a moderately talented bass player.

Interview with ‘Girls Got Kicks’ author Lori Lobenstine

November 3, 2011

Lori Lobenstine is the founder of the blog Female Sneaker Fiend and the author of Girls Got Kicks, a book that explores sneaker culture and its ties to the worlds of sports, hip hop and spoken word—and, less obviously, the concepts of sexism, identity and youth empowerment. Lobenstine will be in Minneapolis this weekend for a book-release party, accompanied by local hip-hop artists Desdamona, Maria Isa and Tish Jones. She recently talked to Girl Germs intern Emma Nelson about her blog, her book and, of course, her passion for sneakers (she’s closing in 100 pairs!).

Girl Germs: How did this love of sneakers begin for you?

Lori Lobenstine: I’ve worn sneakers since before I can remember. My parents tell me stories about how excited I used to get when I’d get sneakers, and my twin sister always tells me a story about when we were, like, five or six and I told her her sneakers were not cool enough. So I always had a certain aesthetic and passion for sneakers.

Do you remember your first pair?

I don’t remember my first pair, but I remember the first pair I really fell in love with, and it was a pair of high-top canvas Nikes. And this was like mid-‘70s, I was probably, you know, eight or nine, and it was a big deal because Nike was really new and they were high tops, which made me feel really tough because I was a little tomboy, and not many people had them yet. And definitely the little boys on the kickball court were looking at my sneakers and talking about them, and I remember that feeling of, “Oh, this is it. No turning back.”

So you really fell in love.

Yeah, I actually have some little piece that I wrote in 4th grade that says at the end – it’s an autobiography – ‘And I will always wear Nikes.’

That’s adorable!

Yeah, luckily I’ve branched out since then, but I did have the passion.

So what is it about sneakers specifically that makes them different from other shoes? Do they feel more powerful to you?

I think they’re different for different people. For me, it was definitely connected to my identity as a tomboy. It’s interesting looking back, I didn’t start playing basketball until middle school, but I always wore high tops because somehow that seemed tougher, you know what I mean? So my sneakers were part of how I told the boys that I belonged, whether it was playing baseball or kickball or dirt bike riding or whatever we were doing, I had my high tops on.

But I think for different people it’s really different, and so it’s been interesting talking to female sneaker fiends. For some of them, it’s very related to sports, and for others it’s not at all related to sports, it’s strictly their own identity and who people know them as – like, ‘that’s the girl with all the sneakers’…or it’s about fashion. So there’s a whole lot of different reasons that people get really connected to sneakers. I don’t know, I think sneakers just have a lot of…there’s a lot of things about sneakers that are different from other shoes, even the culture around them. You don’t go to shoe parties. You don’t meet people around the world because you like shoes. There’s something around the culture of sneakers that is different, in terms of how we interact with each other, and when you’re wearing a pair and only other sneaker heads know what you’re wearing…other people just think you’re wearing some interesting sneakers, but other sneaker heads are like, ‘Oh my God, they only made 20 of those, where’d you get those?!’ So yeah, it’s a whole community thing aside from a whole really interesting, diverse product.

How did you get interested in doing research on this culture?

Well, probably six or seven years ago when the Internet sneaker culture was fairly young, someone pointed it out to me. Like a lot of girls I didn’t know any other girls who really loved sneakers the way I did. I didn’t even know there was this online sneaker culture, and I went on and I was like, wow, these are my people! I didn’t know! But then there was also a lot of sexism on the sneaker websites, whether it was guys just hating on girls’ sneakers, or it was just sexist photos of mostly naked women with sneakers, and I was like, wait a minute. We need our own site, we need to have a space where we can find each other and where no-one can deny that we exist. So that’s when I was like, alright, I’m going to start Female Sneaker Fiend. I never ran a website before, but I was like, we gotta have it, so let’s just figure it out.

Was the response good?

Yeah, it grew really quickly! I started off and I had forums with just a few of us, and I’d interview folks, mostly friends and girls that I knew through youth work and basketball coaching, and then all of a sudden it just kind of jumped off and there were thousands of people on the forums buying and selling and talking about everything from sneakers to technology to family issues and safe sex and all kinds of things. And then I got more into interviewing women who were in the sneaker industry, because so many girls were interested in getting in and finding out how to get in, so we developed a part of the website that was about women in the industry, and another part that was about art – people doing sneaker customizing, sneaker photography, sneaker pillows – so it just went in a lot of different directions.

At what point did you decide that you wanted to make it into a book?

I sort of knew all along that a book would be a cool thing to have, partly because I was really inspired by Where’d You Get Those? by Bobbito Garcia. It’s still my favorite sneaker book, I just think it’s gorgeous, but I felt like we needed a book to sit on the shelf with that because we’re not in that book! It’s still a really male book. It’s still a really beautiful book, and he and I are sort of age-mates so it’s got a lot of ‘70s and ‘80s sneaker history. But yeah, I thought if we have a book, then it’s historical, it’s permanent, it’s something you can have on your shelf or something that a kid can find in a library and realize they’re not the only girl who loves sneakers.

Is the idea of sneakers as a cultural thing pretty recent? Do you know how women started wearing them in this way?

Those are both good questions: when did they bubble up into popular culture, and then when did female sneaker fiends start to bubble up. Maybe that happened at the same time, or maybe not. I feel like part of sneakers changing from just something that athletes wore, you know, there was James Dean wearing them in the movies and making them cool, and then there was the blow-up of hip hop, and the confluence of hip hop and cool sneakers. So they really bubbled up in a lot of ways, and it was really around that time that Reebok took off, actually riding the wave and being ahead of Nike in sales in the ‘80s, based on women wearing sneakers.  And even though we don’t see a lot of respect for women from the sneaker companies, they have always been a big buyer. A lot of times we’re buying kids’ sneakers for small feet, or we’re buying guys’ sneakers because they have more hype and more design and more energy put into them. We’ve been a part of sneaker culture most of the time, we just haven’t been as visible.

Can you address the connection between hip hop and sneakers?
You know, Run DMC with “My Adidas,” that was a huge song, and [for] all of the kids who were out breakdancing on their ripped-up cardboard boxes, sneakers were a big part of the culture…having your Pumas with the fat laces, or having your shell toes. So one of the themes that we have in the book, Martha Cooper, she was a really historic photographer and documenter of the early hip-hop culture. She got so many amazing pictures of folks breakdancing and DJing with sneakers. So it really was connected to that culture from the beginning, and it continues to be. It was something that sneaker companies realized and have exploited to some degree, but also just something the culture has always embraced.

One of the things that’s exciting about coming back to Minneapolis [is that] Amanda Lopez, the photographer, and myself, we came to Minneapolis to go to B-Girl Be, which is a women-in-hip-hop conference. The article that I did for the book about women in hip hop has tremendous representation from B-girls and poets and DJs from Minneapolis, so I’m excited for that.

How did you get connected with Desdamona and the other Twin Cities musicians?

I was friends with Toofly, who is a graffiti artist in New York, and she always said, ‘You gotta go to B-Girl Be, you gotta go to B-Girl Be,’ and so the first time I was going to go, they were like, oh, could you do a booth and teach us how to customize sneakers? And I’m like, I’m really building a community, I don’t know shit about customizing sneakers. I can put you in touch with some customizers, but that’s not my role. But then I realized we could do a photo booth, that’s the perfect thing to do with B-Girl Be. Amanda and I will go out and we’ll really capture this connection of women and hip hop and sneakers. That was just perfect. So I met Desdamona [one of the founders of the festival] at B-Girl Be, and I met Maria Isa there. I met Tish Jones and so many women there, including women from all over the world.

Does sneaker culture differ from place to place?

You know, there used to be more variation than there is now, but there is still variation. It was interesting, we were invited to Holland by a hip-hop house, and it wasn’t until I got there that I realized Air Maxes are huge there. Jordans are fairly new in terms of being ‘in’ there. You see a little bit of the opposite happening here in the States. But I think Nike is just getting a larger and larger portion of the sneaker culture internationally, and part of that’s because we’re so interconnected with the Internet. We can buy stuff from Japan or we can see what’s hot in Germany, and they can see what’s hot in the U.S. We can send our friends sneakers other places. But traditionally, even within the United States, people could say, oh, Boston’s an Adidas town, Philly [is] a New Balance town, Holyoke, they wear Uptowns. There used to be real specific local cultures around particular sneakers. Particularly in Boston, I can tell you Nike—they’re into that so much, it’s hard to say these days that Boston’s an Adidas town, because Nike is just winning.

You talked a little bit about the sexism in the sneaker industry, and how women are excluded from it, but does sneaker culture in general differ a lot between men and women, or is it about the same search for identity on both sides?

I think at the core, people who call themselves sneaker heads, sneaker collectors, sneaker fiends, are folks who are online, on the forums, who know which sneakers are dropping when. They’re so similar. We’re all in it to win it. We have some different tastes. Some of it’s even generational, so the young ones are more about what is the latest hype. There are new Jordans coming out every two weeks, and I’m like, that’s crazy, I grew up getting one pair a year. I’m like grandma—‘you don’t need that many sneakers!’ But in terms of taste, there’s no difference between women and men for the most part, not when you’re talking about what are the most coveted sneakers. Some of these famous, iconic sneakers of the last five, six, seven years are partly famous because they came out in really small numbers and they were really hard to get. There’s all this other hype, and ‘did you sleep out overnight?’ and ‘did you trade with somebody?’ and all these other parts of the excitement of being a collector.

You see a lot of similarities not just in sneaker culture, but I can talk to someone who collects books, and we can have a really similar conversation about vintage books versus re-issues. I’m talking about sneakers and they’re talking about books, and there’s that element of the collector. One of the DJs talked about that also, she was like, ‘Come on, DJs, we collect vinyl, it’s the same thing – I’m trying to build my record collection, and you’re trying to build your sneaker collection.’

There’s a stereotype about women loving shoes, this Sex and the City-fueled idea that that’s how women self-medicate. Is your work in part a reaction to that? How does sneaker culture fit into that idea?

It’s really interesting, because sneaker culture is so dominated by guys, but there isn’t a stereotype about guys loving shoes. They don’t ever get blamed with, ‘Oh, you love sneakers because you’re a guy, and guys self-medicate,’ it’s just that they’re an authentic sneaker head and they’re bragging that they have 300 or 400 or 500 or 2,000 pairs of sneakers. So to me, it’s just ironic, because women always get poked at for that, but there are guys who have huge collections of sneakers, and there are girls that have huge collections of sneakers, and they just see it as something totally distinct.

You talked a little bit about how you work with youth – you coach basketball, right?

I’ve been a youth worker and I’ve coached basketball, so I’ve done youth work in YMCAs and at Girls, Incorporated. A lot of after-school leadership-building programs, and I’ve also coached high school girls’ basketball.

Has that work inspired your research?

Absolutely. Any time a guy said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know girls like sneakers,’ or ‘I can’t find any girls who like sneakers,’ I say, ‘Everywhere I go, I meet girls who like sneakers.’ And it might be one girl on your basketball team, but no one realizes there are girls in every town, village, city, neighborhood who are crazy about their sneakers just like guys. We’re not as visible, and I think more of those girls think they’re the only one, they don’t know any other girls who are into it, and then maybe they get on the website. I get these emails that are practically full of tears, like, ‘Oh my God, I never knew any other girls who were like me,’ and like you said, that’s the identity piece.

How did you choose to work with Amanda Lopez as your photographer?

I knew I wanted a photographer who was really good at capturing portraits, but also at capturing a subject in an environment that was important to them. I could see in her work that that was important to her as well. I met her through Toofly and Gabriella Davi-Khorasanee, who runs Mama Clothing and M.I.S.S. Both worked with her directly and recommended her, so I talked to her about the larger concept of doing a book and the work that it would take, and she was excited to do it. She lives in California, so I didn’t actually physically meet her until our first photo shoot out in San Francisco. She’s been amazing.

Was there anything in the process of making this book that surprised you or that you didn’t expect?

The biggest things that surprised me were really in the process. It took a lot longer than I thought, and it was a lot more work than I thought. So that was surprising, and there are definitely some things I’d do differently next time, but there were a lot of little, delightful surprises. Meeting new people at photo shoots, or going to someone’s house to do a photo shoot, and finding out they have 350 pairs of sneakers. You just see a side of somebody – I was just as amazed to get to someone’s house and have them have 350 pairs of sneakers, as I was to get to someone’s house who would blush at how many sneakers they had and they would have 18 pairs of sneakers. Both of those things to me are beautiful. I think it’s crazy that you have 350 pairs of sneakers, but that’s incredible, and I think it’s awesome that you have 18 pairs of sneakers and you’re just as passionate about your sneakers as someone who has 300 pairs.

How many pairs of sneakers do you have?

I think I’m hitting about triple digits. I’m just about around 100, which is crazy enough. I probably have about half of those for free, from Female Sneaker Fiend, but I tell myself that to make me seem more sane.

Do you have a favorite pair, one that you don’t wear because you love it so much, or are they all equal?

They’re definitely not all equal. I have several favorite pairs, and it sort of varies by season or by mood. But I have some that I save for special occasions and some that I’ve only gotten out once or twice. I just wore one of my favorite pairs, a vintage pair of Patrick Ewings. I’ve been a big fan of Patrick Ewing from when he was in college playing for Georgetown and in high school, he was local, here in the Boston area. I wore them for the first time ever to a sneaker contest, which I won! It was super exciting but I blew out the sole, which was really tragic. –Emma Nelson


Lobenstine will be at Fifth Element (2411 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls.) Saturday, Nov. 5 at from 6 to 8 p.m. for the Girls Got Kicks release party, featuring performances by Desdamona, Maria Isa and Tish Jones. Make it Facebook official here.

Interview with Rebekah Higgs

November 2, 2011

Canada native Rebekah Higgs, frontwoman of the electronic group Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees, released her second solo album, Odd Fellowship, this year. It is at first listen gentle and whimsical, made up of songs about heartbreak, tattoos and being charmed out of your clothes. Listen to it again, though, and you will find  it is subtly punctuated by sharp lyrics and smart orchestration that are both complex and catchy.

Higgs recently talked to Girl Germs intern Emma Nelson about everything from the evolving music business and the festival she co-founded, to Nirvana, Chernobyl and Paul McCartney. Behold, 10 things you need to know about Rebekah Higgs, arranged by the song titles from Odd Fellowship.


When she was young, Higgs crisscrossed the globe with her missionary parents. In Belarus, she got nitrate poisoning – a remnant of Chernobyl. For a while she had a heart murmur, and even now, there are times when her kidneys hurt.


Higgs grew up playing classical violin and piano, and when she was 19 a friend who was moving offered her his old guitar, She taught herself to play (the first song she learned was Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”).


“It’s hard to be artistic in a family that’s religious,” she says. “I’ve had to tap-dance a bit around my parents.”


In 2006, Higgs recorded her first, self-titled solo album. While waiting to record a second, she passed the time with a new, electronic project. This became a band of its own (The Thoughtful Bees), led by her alter ego, Ruby Jean.


While on tour with Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees, Rebekah began writing new songs, fueled by recent relationship troubles. These eventually became the 10 tracks that make up Odd Fellowship.


She likes the juxtaposition between sad lyrics and happy music, or happy lyrics and sad music. “This allows the listener to create what they want from the songs,” she says. “It is mysterious but at the same time personal.”


On her first night in the recording studio for Odd Fellowship, Higgs and her bandmates huddled in an unheated building. It was the middle of January. They turned on the oven and a flock of space heaters, smoked, drank and listened to Paul and Linda McCartney’s Ram.


Higgs’s three-year-old nephew, Easton, sings on Odd Fellowship. He’s really into music, she says. When he was a baby, he already had a beautiful voice and a sense of harmony and pitch. “He would sing the harmony to ‘Wheels on the Bus’,” she laughs.


Higgs is also a painter, actor and jewelry maker. When asked which art form she identifies most with, though, she says music. “I have friends that are actually painters and artists,” she says. “I don’t know if they’d like it if I called myself an artist.”


Twice now, Higgs has organized a music festival in her community of North Halifax, one that she co-founded with her best friend. It’s called Long Live the Queen, and is open to all ages. It’s important to make music accessible to young people, she explains, because they will make up a long-term fan base.

Being on the organizational side of the music business is overwhelming, Higgs says, but when she sees the result – beautiful music, enjoyed by a crowd of people in a warm, inviting space – she is moved to tears. “There are certain things,” she says, “that you can’t download for free.”

–Emma Nelson

Punk of the Month: Siouxsie Sioux

October 11, 2011

Girl Germs might be an all-female show, but we have plenty of supportive gentleman friends – and even some honorary ladies – who number among our compatriots (see: DJ Phizzy, King Cole and Marinos of On the Corner; Evan and co. over at Fancy Pants Gangsters; and Chris and Qualler of Blogulator Radio, among others). You might remember our friend Nate from fellow Fancy Pants Gangsters show (and former fellow Radio K program) Out of Step. Nate is our go-to expert on all things punk and he’s kindly agreed to write a monthly feature for you all called Punk of the Month! Watch the blog every month for a profile of a female artist who has broken ground on the punk scene. 

After last month’s brief dalliance with the present, we return once again to Punk of the Month’s bread and butter: the late ‘70s.  Ladies and gents, please welcome Siouxsie Sioux!

Born Susan Janet Ballion in London, she adopted her professional handle once the punk movement had begun to take hold.  Sioux was initially associated with the so-called Bromley Contingent, a group of young Sex Pistols enthusiasts that also included Billy Idol.

Known for her spiky black mane, feline-inspired eye makeup and swastika-enhanced bondage gear, Sioux hastily assembled a band of her own featuring Sid Vicious and fellow Bromley Contingent conspirator Steve Severin.  After their makeshift performance at the 100 Club Punk Festival, Sioux assembled a more permanent group with Severin, and Siouxsie and the Banshees were born.

Harnessing punk’s energy and fusing it with abrasive art-rock noise, the Banshees created a brittle, bracing aural assault.   Driving it all was Sioux and her icy, piercing howl.   Quite popular in the London club circuit, the group found itself at the vanguard of the post-punk movement.

Their debut single, the Far East-flavored “Hong Kong Garden,” was released in 1978 and reached the UK Top Ten before long.  Their first LP, the dissonant and rampaging The Scream, dropped later that year.  A second album, Join Hands, followed in 1979.

During the recording of the 1980’s Kaleidoscope LP, Sioux and her drummer/future husband Budgie decided to form an offshoot group, the Creatures.  Often existing in tandem with the Banshees, this project band issued an EP and several LPs, often recording in such exotic locales as Hawaii, Spain, and Japan.




Meanwhile, the Banshees broadened their sonic profile as they continued their ascent into the charts, incorporating hip-hop-inspired elements and South Asian instrumentation.  The group toured on Lollapalooza’s inaugural run, gaining a greater American fan base in the process.  Despite their creative and commercial momentum, the Banshees opted to split in 1996, in response to the Sex Pistols’ monetarily motivated reunion tour.

Sioux’s post-Banshees career was marked by collaborations with artists like Morrissey and former Velvet Underground guitarist John Cale.  Touring on the strength of her past catalog, she finally yielded her solo debut album, 2007’s Manta Ray.

To consider Siouxsie Sioux an influential and original figure would be something of an understatement.  Critic Jon Savage once gushed that she was “unlike any female singer before or since, commanding yet aloof, entirely modern.”

Who are we to argue?

–Nate Rastetter

Nate is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and the co-host of the Out of Step podcast. He has volunteered at Extreme Noise Records in Minneapolis since June 2000 and presently serves on its Board of Directors.  He seriously, fanatically loves record shopping.  Music is his mistress and vinyl is his vice.  He is also a moderately talented bass player.






Interview with Former Hole Drummer Patty Schemel

October 6, 2011
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Girl Germs, along with our podcast network, Fancy Pants Gangsters, is very proud to present the 12th annual Sound Unseen music documentary festival Oct. 12-16 in Minneapolis.Hit so Hard

We’re especially thrilled for a film called Hit So Hard: The Life and Near-Death Story of Patty Schemel. The documentary is a chronicle of the struggles—and successes—of Hole drummer Schemel. It features interviews with Schemel herself as well as band mates Courtney Love, Eric Erlandson and Melissa Auf der Maur (and a plethora of Hole’s musical contemporaries), plus candid, never-before-seen footage from the band’s ‘90s heyday. Hit So Hard takes a new look at the “alternative rock” movement from the perspective of those whose lives were entwined in it. It answers—and raises—questions surrounding tragedies such as the deaths of Love’s husband Kurt Cobain and Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff and the consequences of the era’s widespread drug abuse.

Since leaving Hole (after conflict surrounding the recording of Hole’s 1998 Celebrity Skin album), Schemel has remained musically busy, in addition to running a dog-care business and working with a girls’ rock camp. She spoke to Girl Germs’ Dana from the Los Angeles home she shares with her wife and one-year-old daughter, and they talked about the documentary, Schemel’s experiences as a female drummer and gay musician, and—of course—one Ms. Courtney Love.

Can you explain how the idea for the documentary came about?

It started from [director P. David Ebersole, a friend of Schemel’s] suggesting that I preserve all of this Hi-8 film that I’d shot while I was touring because it was going to disintegrate in that format. So I spoke to [Ebersole]—he’s a director, a film person—and he said, “Just bring it over and I’ll hook up the decks and you can digitize it.” So I did—it was summer of ’07—and I went over there. As we set up the decks, he was asking me questions about what the footage was. I started to explain it and he said, “You know, that’s a great story.” I said, “You want to do something with it?” And so that’s how it became what it is. But I didn’t really think it would actually happen for some reason.

So were you more concerned at that point with just preserving the actual film?

Yeah, it was just about preserving that footage so I would have it. As I was describing what was on screen, I would sort of connect the dots to different things. And then the story would unravel.

When you were filming all of this, did you ever think that anyone would see it besides you or your close friends?

No, I didn’t. I thought it would be like, “this is our little project.” But it got bigger and bigger and bigger. And then it became what it is.

Do you think that the film medium—you’re obviously interested in film because you shot all this footage…

Yeah, when I was shooting it…Melissa would do this thing where she would journal every night. And I was like, “Who has the time to write stuff down?” I mean, we would be on a flight somewhere and there’s Melissa, scribbling away in a journal, you know, and photographs and collections…stuff to show your kids when you’re old. And I wasn’t doing that, so I got a camera for Christmas and decided that would be my way of documenting how everything was happening. That’s what I did, just shoot all the stuff going on between shows or have someone film the show—that kind of stuff.

How long did it take to complete the documentary?

This past March, we just barely had it done for SXSW. So in the spring of 2011 it was completed. And there was over 40 hours of footage to go through.

What was it like going through all that footage and reliving it?

It was weird, because I’d be at David’s house watching it and explaining everything, and I’d just kind of go back there to that place. Then I would leave his house everyday just…kind of numb.

Schemel Kurt Cobain

Schemel with Kurt and Frances Bean Cobain in the early '90s.

And then I’d be grateful that I was, in reality, coming to my house and things were the way they were and it was 2000-whatever. It wasn’t 1998.

I read that David was familiar with Hole, but didn’t really have an understanding of the whole scene. Is that true?

Yeah. That was one of the great things about giving him the footage to tell the story. He didn’t have any idea of who any of the detailed players were. He knew about Kurt [Cobain] and Nirvana, but he…he had no preconceived idea of anything. He didn’t know any of the drama, the stories, anything. So he came into it without any opinions. I just told the story and he put it together. I felt safe with my footage being with him—that he wouldn’t exploit certain things, like, “Let’s do 45 minutes of this Kurt stuff,” or something stupid.

When it came time to go asking for interviews, you obviously had to open those doors for David. What was the status of your relationships with your band mates at that point?

I had kept in touch with Courtney, and she agreed to it, but just getting her to sit down in one place and actually do it was another story. With Melissa, we’d talked here and there, and she said yes immediately. Eric, I was most estranged with. It turned out to be my favorite interview. I wasn’t there for it, but…to have our relationship changed through it and to be in contact with him more was such a gift of the film. I feel like I was such a kid then, you know? And now I’m an adult…I can be a better person and a better friend to people than I used to be.

It’s so strange when you’ve been in such close quarters with people for so long, to be apart and come back together after such a long time.

Right! And then to be in your youth—of course, looking at some of the footage, it’s like, “Really? You’re going to talk to somebody like that?” Or just being so…I guess, just so…just really dangerous with words. Just to be so stupid. To be filming, like here we are in Barcelona at the Gaudi Museum, but no, I’m going to make a funny video about how I can stick my arm through this thing. Just to be so carefree with stuff. You sort of take things for granted when you’re a kid, just like, “All this shit’s coming by way all the time.”

It wasn’t until the MoMA premiere in New York that the band members had all had been in the same room together for a while, right?

Yeah, not all of us at once.

How was that experience?

There was so much pressure before that moment. And of course it was interesting, because it was just like the way things used to be. There was so much pressure before we played a show about things that were not about our music. There was always this pressure to prove ourselves as a band or as musicians, and try to go beyond all that crap with music. So there was that pressure of being all together again: Is Courtney going to show up and do this? There was that, and then that old dynamic comes into play like when you’re with your family. Everyone has a certain role. And then to be conscious of that role now that we’re adults and not try to play that role anymore. Like, “I’m not going to be the one that’s trying to calm Eric down because he’s mad because Courtney’s being rude and late,” or whatever.

Hole 1994

Hole's 1994 lineup. L-R: Kristen Pfaff, Eric Erlandson, Courtney Love and Patty Schemel.

You said in the film that you started playing drums because it was a guy thing to do and you didn’t see women playing…

Yeah, I didn’t see a lot of women playing growing up except for Gina Schock [The Go-Go’s] and Mo Tucker [The Velvet Underground]. So I really wanted to play hard and be just like the guys. And then once I discovered punk rock, I was drawn to that. It was fast and [there was] energy, and being with other people I felt were like me—that were gay or didn’t look like everyone else or were expressing themselves their own way.

From your perspective, do you think there’s been any sort of shift in that paradigm, where it’s a more welcoming atmosphere for women to get into that world?

Yeah, I totally think there’s a lot more female drummers and there’s also a lot more programs for girls to play music and to feel comfortable playing. I [teach at] Rock ‘N’ Roll Camp for Girls, and it’s about giving girls confidence. You can choose to play drums, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s about being confident. You can play drums but…I don’t  know, it’s like giving you self-esteem through music…it lays out a map of how to start a band and how to make a fanzine and how to make T-shirts and just be self-sufficient. A lot of times growing up and playing drums, there was the sort of, let’s say, “I want to explore this sort of drum.” I’d go into a music store and they’d be like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” sort of thinking I was stupid. Or [in] school band, getting relegated to the xylophone. That kind of stuff…not really being supported. So Rock Camp gives girls the chance to get the knowledge they need in a safe place and ask the questions they want to ask. There are so many great bands out there that have girl drummers that girls can look up to and want to be.

In that same vein, when the whole Michael Beinhorn Celebrity Skin issue happened [Schemel was phased out of the recording process and eventually completely replaced by a male session drummer on Hole’s Celebrity Skin album—a decision prompted by producer Michael Beinhorn.], Courtney claims in the film that it was not a gender issue, but there seems to be some debate over that. Eric mentions that the drummer who replaced you wouldn’t even play with women in the room. What’s your take on that?

That was definitely a gender issue. Besides the whole other agenda of how the guy was lined up already [before recording], I totally disagree with that idea. I think Courtney said that because

Hole Celebrity Skin

'Celebrity Skin'-era Hole. L-R: Love, Erlandson, Schemel, Auf der Maur.

she…you know, Hole was this band that was pro-feminist or whatever. But then for something like that to happen—that’s the hypocrisy of it. That’s what happened, you know?

Did you hold that against her at all?

You know what, I don’t in a way because I just felt like…honestly, I feel that she’s pretty honest about all the stuff she does. She can contradict herself or she can go one way because she thinks it’s cool, and then change her mind the next day. She is what she is and you know it’s not all good.

I suppose you’ve known her long enough that you know how to deal with it.

Totally, right.

That aspect of her personality comes across…

Yeah, it does come across, and I don’t think in my film it comes across. I think it comes across in a lot of other things she does. So it’s not necessarily that I’m calling her out on it. She is always saying one thing, and then her actions are entirely different.

Like you said, she is what she is.

And that’s her prerogative to do.

It seems like—at least in the film—Eric and Melissa were often the voices of reason. Was that the case in the band?

We confided in each other a lot, but ultimately, as far as whatever happened in our band, it was what Courtney wanted to happen. So we would all have to be like, “Really? We have to play that show?” or whatever it was. We were all each other’s voice of reason.

Your mom is adorable, by the way.

Thank you very much [laughs]. Yeah!

I thought your coming-out story and how she told that was really moving. Do you think it’s any easier for young gay people to come out? Do you consider yourself a mentor or a role model in that respect?

I do in a way. I don’t want to sound like that person who says, “In my day, we had to have a special knock on a back door in an alleyway…” but there are a lot of programs for kids today where they can come out and be with other like-minded kids. There’s the Internet. It would have been amazing to have that when I was a kid. But then again I think about the music that I made and was part of—would I have felt the way I did if I was able to feel OK about myself? Some of my music and some of the power behind my playing was about that frustration. I like to hear when I meet people that are grown now, “It was important to me when you came out in Rolling Stone magazine.” [Schemel came out publicly in a 1995 Rolling Stone article about Hole.] That was important for me to hear, because in the interview I didn’t really think about making it an issue. It was just me. I felt very grateful to be in the band I was in, and to be part of the movement that I was in because it was about being whoever you wanted to be. It was about making music that wasn’t like anything you’d heard before on the radio.

What are you doing musically right now? Are you still doing Green Eyes?

Yeah, Green Eyes is a band with my brother and it’s named after a Husker Du song from Flip Your Wig. It’s a kind of psychedelic-kraut rock band. Then there’s a project called Psychic Friend with Will Schwartz from Imperial Teen…actually the last song you hear in the film is a Psychic Friend song that Will and I wrote together. I just finished some drums [for] a band called The Cold and Lovely [with] Nicole Fiorentino from Smashing Pumpkins and Megan Toohey…there’s also talk about a soundtrack coming up, but I haven’t seen the film yet. So I don’t know what that’s about; there’s just some rumbling as of now.

You said toward the end of the film that you always knew music would take you somewhere and it did. Would you say that where you are now is anywhere close to where you ever imagined it would take you?

In my dreams, yeah! You know what it did? What I thought I wanted totally changed. I thought I wanted what you would imagine. You know when people say that ridiculous phrase of “living like a rock star,” which is so stupid? Finding out the life I have now is better…I don’t know, it sounds so cliché and corny, but yeah. I’m glad that I got to go the places and play the shows and meet the people and all that. But I’m glad that I’m here today, and I live in this house with a baby and a wife and four dogs.

Hit So Hard makes its Minneapolis debut at the Ritz Theater Friday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. as part of the Sound Unseen festival. Local band Pink Mink will play a set before the screening and a post-reception featuring complimentary food & beer PBR will be served in the Ritz’s back dance studio. Patty Schemel will be in attendance for a Q&A following the screening. 345 13th Ave. N.E., Mpls.;

Girl Germs Presents ‘Hit So Hard: The Life and Near-Death Story of Patty Schemel’ Friday, Oct. 14

October 6, 2011
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Fancy Pants Gangsters (the network that hosts the Girl Germs podcast) is a proud sponsor of the 12th annual Sound Unseen festival here in Minneapolis! Join Girl Germs Friday, Oct. 14 as we present the Twin Cities premiere of Hit So Hard:The Life and Near-Death Story of Patty Schemel, which chronicles the often-chaotic life of Hole drummer Schemel in the context of the ’90s heyday of alternative rock. Pink Mink will play a set before the screening, and Schemel will be in attendance for a Q&A session afterwards.

Who: Girl Germs, Pink Mink, Patty Schemel and you!

What: Hit So Hard Twin Cities premiere, part of the 2011 Sound Unseen festival

Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave. N.E., Mpls.

When: Friday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m.

See you there!