PET POLITICS: Drummer Diana Kinscherf on Bashing Kits and Cuddling Rescue Cats

I first saw Diana Kinscherf slamming the kit during an excellent set backing Hamish Kilgour of The Clean at The Glove in Brooklyn. The next time I saw her play live was in Manhattan at Pianos when she made an awesome impromptu appearance in Nick Rogers’ (of Holy Tunics) solo set. Before meeting Diana, I had also heard some recordings of her both playing and experimenting on the kit with fellow musicians. I was impressed by the force behind her drumming and her ability to jump on the kit at any moment alongside any other instrument – whether it was guitar, saxophone, vocals, or otherwise – and immediately find a compatible and consistent beat for the song. When I got to know Diana on a personal level, I was introduced to her wicked sense of humor and we bonded over our mutual love of music and animals (specifically cats). I learned that Diana was not only a fellow cat lady but a regular volunteer at animal shelters.

Diana moved in with some friends of mine and the first time I paid them a visit with their new resident, I almost accidentally sat on a an enormous and friendly brown tabby smush sitting on an antique chair. His name was Toki, and he was happy to let me stroke and hug him (but he clearly wasn’t going to give up “his” chair). Just when I thought I was going to die of a cuteness overload, another equally adorable and giant feline came slowly crawling down the stairs.  It was Scrambles with her chubby orange belly charmingly draping through the gaps in the staircase. I could tell the entire household was smitten with these two kitties, and I could understand why!

AF: Please introduce your furry friends!

DK: Meet Scrambles and Toki – both nine year old rescues! Five month old Toki arrived first from a litter of kittens being fostered at a Bayside, Queens vets office, and a few months later Scrambles came to me via a friend who took her in from the street in Bed Stuy but couldn’t keep her. They became best buds immediately!

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Scrambles & Toki (All images courtesy of Diana Kinscherf)

Toki and Scrambles have very strong personalities. Toki is well known for his forward friendliness and his love of being handled – he’s a giant baby that loves to be held! Any attention is good attention for Toki. Scrambles has a more introverted personality, but still loves attention… though she is less forward than Toki, she WILL (vocally) let you know when she wants something!

AF: You volunteer at animal shelters. Can you recommend any for those looking to adopt a new fuzz love?

DK: I’ve volunteered and worked for BARC (Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition), an independently run no-kill animal shelter in Williamsburg. I’d volunteer to walk dogs and worked with cats. I’d definitely recommend adopting from BARC, [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][or] another no-kill shelter, like Sean Casey in Park Slope. I’m a strong supporter of “adopt, don’t shop” so any animal shelter is a great place to save a life! No-kill shelters are a great to support in general, as vetting and animal care is costly and if you can’t adopt, shelters always appreciate a donation!

Diana cuddling up with Toki & Scrambles

AF: When did you move to NYC, and where did you grow up?

DK: I was born in and raised in Queens; my high school was in Manhattan so I spent a lot of time hanging out on St. Mark’s Place, spinning the cube on Astor Place and haunting the local record stores (I later ended up working at one of them, Kim’s).

Diana playing with Hamish Kilgour at the record store she currently works at: Earwax in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

AF: When did you start drumming, and can you remember the moment you decided to hit the kit?

DK: I wanted to play drums most of my life, but I didn’t give it a solid start til around early 2012 – I began playing small gigs with anyone who’d let me play with them almost immediately after. I began lessons around that time from a friend (Michael Evans – an excellent and versatile drummer) and Oneida’s Kid Millions. Kid’s best advice to me as a beginner was “Don’t wait until you’re ready – get out there and play!” This resulted in a few shaky first shows, but you gotta start somewhere!

Diana playing with Loop Diary for their “Sun Ra Remix” cassette release for Personal Affair at The Glove this past October. Photo credit: Ben Jaffe.

AF: Can you give us a rundown of all the projects you are in now?

DK: I’d say my current main projects are Giggle The Ozone, The Unnamed (we’re working on a name!) a trio with organ, drums, and bass/guitar (we haven’t played out just yet, but hoping to play soon), and occasional backing for Hamish Kilgour (The Clean) in his solo sets.

Flyer for a Hamish Kilgour show Diana played this past November featuring art and design by Diana.
Diana playing with Hamish Kilgour at Secret Project Robot last August. Photo Credit: Jordan Bell.

AF: What was your first band? How many bands have you played with since you started drumming?

DK: My first band was duo (sometimes trio) Pulcinella, with largely improvised sets. One of my first on-stage performances was playing with several other drummers for Man Forever at Death By Audio for Thrill Jockey’s 20th anniversary show. Since then, I’ve also played with one-off projects or as fill-in in Caring Foxen, Straw Pipes, electronic dubbers Loop Diary, Brooklyn theatrical noise band BBW, with Sugar Life at the kit for half of one show (that was unplanned but exciting!) and a couple of jams with Eighty Pound Pug. There’s probably more, as I rarely turn down a gig when offered!

Diana playing a Bushwick Rooftop with Giggle The Ozone in September 2016. “Not a doom metal band, contrary to the aesthetic” says Diana. Photographer unknown.

AF: Who was your first pet? How many have you had over the course of your life?

DK: My first pet was technically a budgie named Genaro, but I was like 3 years old and barely remember him. Genaro went to a relative as at five my family adopted a pair of kittens from North Shore Animal League in Long Island; Louie and Ricky were my best remembered childhood pets. I was very close with Louie and he made it to almost 20 years old! We also had two dogs, two iguanas, and two garter snakes (although reptile expert Ben Jaffe told me they were probably ribbon snakes) in my childhood household in the course of about 15 years. There was a fish tank at some point, too. Later on, I had adopted an older adult cat (also from North Shore Animal League) who I’d only gotten to know for a year, as he passed away shortly after I’d adopted him. As sad as it was to have such a short time with him, it’s beautiful to let an older animal be able to live out their last days in a loving home rather than at the shelter.

Young Diana with her First Major Fur Love: Louie.

AF: What was it that drew you to your current kitties? Did you choose them, or did they choose you?

DK: Although Toki and Scrambles are both rescues, there was not a lot of choice involved! Toki was one of many near identical tabbies in a litter, and the vet opened the cage and told me “Have a look!” All the kittens scattered out of the cage except for one that preferred to stay put and continue eating. I picked him up to look at him, and he immediately kissed me on the nose! There was no decision to be made, I was taking this little guy!

Toki and Diana snuggling up

Scrambles’ adorable face was on a flyer in the window of the shop next door to my workplace at the time I was looking for a buddy for Toki with the words “FREE KITTY” – excellent timing, I needed a free kitty! As previously mentioned, Scrambles was found on the street and taken in by someone who wasn’t able to keep her… I remember going to Bed Stuy with my empty kitty carrier at night to get her, not knowing what this cat would be like; I heard her loud meows before I even saw her when we got to the door. Scrambles was a little aloof the first few years, but is now my best (fuzzy) friend and incredibly close to me!

AF: You are now working with GP Stripes. I loved your recent flyer for their Northside showcases! What would you say your role in this label is and how did you begin working with them?

DK: My involvement with GP Stripes is kind of a “right place at the right time” sort of deal… I had just left a less than great living situation and moved in with friends… so my part in GP Stripes snuck up on me! I’ve been able to get a bunch of GP tapes into a couple of the shops I work at and online, and have assisted in organizing a couple of shows. Of course there’s always the actual tape production that always needs a few hands on board; dubbing tapes, cutting J-cards, packing tapes… QUALITY CONTROL! Toki has been glad to “help” too!

Toki testing out a GP Stripes cassette
Toki “helping” Ben Jaffe fold some Holy Tunics shirts

I guess my role in GP Stripes aside from production of the tapes is distribution – the tapes are in a few shops in NYC and in the works for being stocked in some stores in Tokyo – a few are on their way to Dunedin, NZ as well! Psyched you liked the flyer btw! It’s one of my favorite things I’ve done recently.

The GP Stripes Northside 2018 Flyer by Diana Kinscherf

AF: If Toki and Scrambles started a band, who would be the drummer?

DK: Scrambles would definitely be the drummer; I’ve caught her tapping her tail to the rhythm of music I play at the apartment! She’d be a singing drummer… Scrambles loves stoner metal!

Scrambles rocking out on keys

AF: What instrument would Toki play?

DK: I could see Toki potentially play keyboard, but Toki appears to be indifferent/dislike music, so maybe he’s more of a fan of John Cage’s 4’33”?

Toki not giving any fvx about jamming

AF: What are your pets’ favorite human foods?

DK: They don’t have any real interest in human food (I’m not upset about that!). Toki will want a bite of cheeseburger here and there, but Toki’s interest in food instantly declines as soon as I try to give him any.

AF: How do Toki and Scrambles influence your creative side?

DK: I’d say they’re very supportive of me; when I work on flyers or any design stuff, I’m often up at all hours of the night (apparently the only time these things get done). Scrambles will sit and sleep by my side as I work – Toki may try to sit ON my work!

AF: Can you share a funny memory you have with your cats?

DK: Scrambles enjoys licking my high hat stand (for reasons unknown). There’s a whole video of this, but a picture will have to do for now …

Scrambles also has an owl beanie that she loves – she stole it from me and I just couldn’t take it away from her! It looks suspiciously like her…she’s thrown it at me (only when I’m not looking) with incredible force!

Scrambles relaxing with her Owl

Toki never has a dull moment – he’s very possessive of a particular chair and will try to push whoever’s sitting in it off. And Toki doesn’t actually “meow” or make normal cat sounds. He makes a sound that can best be described as “MAGUB.” I found out about this when Ben insisted Toki was saying “magub” and I thought he was messing with me. Soon after, everyone else in the apartment has heard “magub” and I have no idea what they’re talking about until Ben records Toki making his notorious “MAGUB” noises – my best guess is that’s what Toki calls everyone that’s not me!

AF: Where and when I could see can we catch your next set?

From Diana’s most recent set with Hamish Kilgour at The Glove this month. Photo Credit: Anthony Procaccino.

DK: My last set was backing Hamish Kilgour at The Glove July 15th. I love playing with Hamish – we rarely (if ever) rehearse, and the cast of characters is subject to change from gig to gig when I play with him… the set tends to be a mix of Hamish’s solo compositions, songs by the Mad Scene, and sometimes a Clean song here and there. Hamish is one of the handful of people I can play with intuitively, so there’s never much of a struggle to “find the groove” in our set. As Hamish is a drummer himself, his rhythmic guitar style allows me to change between a motorik drive to a painterly, less pulse-based sound. Violinist Marija Kovacevic and tenor saxophonist Greg Vegas joined us for the show Sunday night at The Glove; both Marija and Greg are fun to play with as well as they both have a good sense of space and dynamics during the semi-improvised set. The four of us have played together before – it’s always exciting to see what direction we’ll take!

The Glove. July 15th, 2018. Photo Credit: Anthony Procaccino.

I was delighted to have many people tell me after we played Sunday night how much they loved our set! That’s always a good feeling, when audience members give you that positive feedback. sometimes I’ll get on stage and behind the kit super last minute – you never know where I’ll pop up!

Diana backing Hamish Kilgour at Earwax Records in November 2015. Photo Credit: Alessandra Maria Iavarone.

MOVIE REVIEW: Hit So Hard (The Life and Near-Death Story of Patty Schemel)

I’ve been on a bit of a grunge binge lately. It could be that the onset of certain anniversaries, observed by nearly everyone who cared about music in the mid-nineties, turns collective thought to the anti-heroes of the genre who destroyed themselves in the process of creating it. But for all the stars that burn out, there are some who reticently fade away – at least, until now. One of those stars is Patty Schemel, drummer of Hole. I was lucky enough to meet Patty (along with bassist Melissa Auf der Mar and guitarist Eric Erlandson) at a book signing just a few weeks ago, and it was there I became aware of another Hole-related project – a documentary entitled Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death Story of Patty Schemel.

Hit So Hard is certainly unique in its focus. Though a drummer’s playing is the heartbeat that propels any song, drummers are so often pushed to the back of the stage, hidden behind a shiny kit, while more prominent players soak up the spotlight. Renowned in Seattle circles for her powerful drumming long before becoming a part of Hole, Patty Schemel struggled with alcohol abuse while exploring her sexual identity, and with that came a deep pain that made her work as a musician that much more honest and immediate. With very few female role models in her situation (the handful of them, including Alice de Buhl of Fanny, Debbie Peterson of the Bangles, Gina Schock of the Go-Go’s, and Kate Schellenbach of Lucious Jackson, are interviewed in the film), Patty fearlessly blazed new trails with each twirl and flourish of the sticks. But as Hole began their meteoric rise to rock stardom, that very trail became a treacherous one, filled with tragic death and out-of-control addictions.

Schemel’s story packs a huge punch, but filmmakers David Ebersole and Todd Hughes don’t present it with a flow that’s concise enough, fidgeting around from subject to subject with jolting affect. Schemel’s extraordinary life is offered in dissected segments which fail to render her life cohesively. The sophomoric use of hot-pink title cards in punk-rock fonts are intensely grating and make the whole film feel like a series of movie trailers for a documentary that never happens.

That being said, the doc has two things going for it. First, the breadth of interviews with those who were closest to Schemel is commendable, including her bandmates from Hole (even Courtney Love appears in all her plasticized “glory”), friends from the Seattle music scene, and some very candid commentary from her family members. Secondly, parts of the documentary focused on the most nostalgic era of grunge are culled from personal footage that Schemel captured with a camcorder she was given while on tour. But the footage she captured is not just tour footage – there are hours of heart-rending home videos of Kurt and Courtney just after the birth of their daughter, Frances Bean, filmed when Patty lived with them in Seattle. We see the fragility of this family unit, knowing the future in a way the subjects could not when the footage was shot. It is equal parts beautiful and tragic, and serves as a reminder of how integral Schemel was to the drama that would later play out.

And while most can give at least a brief summary of the somber fate of Kurt Cobain, original Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff, or many of the other heroin casualties of that era, Schemel’s story has been obscured for years. Hole’s popularity went through a resurgence after the release of 1998’s Celebrity Skin, and while Schemel was featured in promotional photos from the era, punishing producer Michael Beinhorn took the drum parts she had written and replaced her recordings with those of session drummer Deen Castronovo.  Understandably, this sent Schemel into a spiral of self-doubt resulting in her departure from the band, followed tragically by relapse, homelessness and prostitution. As someone who idolized this band, listened to that album on repeat, and never knew that Schemel had been replaced by a hired gun, this was the one thing that was extremely shocking to me – I’d always thought I was listening to Schemel on the record, not some beefed-up jock completely unconnected to the compositions or the group dynamic. I felt almost ashamed that I hadn’t even noticed the awkward doppelgangers standing in for Schemel in music videos, and was appalled that none  of her bandmates stepped into help her while she was living on the streets and Hole was living it up.

But Schemel’s story ends on a happier note; these days she passes on her drumming skills as a music teacher (several of her students are interviewed, which is kind of mind-blowing) and rehabilitating stray dogs. She’s survived the storm of making it big in a heroin-addled rock band and lived to tell the tale. Even if her story is presented in a somewhat sloppily cobbled package courtesy of the filmmakers, it is still a compelling piece of rock-n-roll history well worth telling.

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