Auf der Maur Launches Latest Labor of Love
Written by Chrissy Mauck
After a whirlwind 24 hours that included missing only her second flight in over 15 years of touring, Melissa Auf der Maur unwinds with a cocktail while her new solo album Out of Our Minds (OOOM) spins in the background. The disc’s “heavy romantic rock” nicely complements the posh ambiance of Peche, an upscale restaurant and bar in downtown Austin, Texas.
“I don’t think anyone else has called my genre ‘heavy romantic rock,’ but I’d like to offer that as an alternative title to things,” says Auf der Maur, who also crafted a shortened solo name by using her initials (MAdM). “The album has heavy elements. It’s very romantic. It’s classic rock music in that it has melodies and choruses and verses.”
The former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist arrived at her Filter/Fender-hosted listening party fresh off serving on “Image Makers of Rock & Soul,” a South by Southwest festival panel on music and photography — two pastimes that the former Concordia University photography major combined on her latest solo project, which also includes a comic book and film.
“I always thought I’d be a photographer and music would be a hobby and it ended up being the opposite,” says Auf der Maur, whose photos have been published in several magazines. “So it was very important to me as a creative person to connect my roots in visual arts and bring those two worlds together. So the conceptual stories I used to want to tell in photography — which is very fantasy based with magic, witches, Vikings and time travel — I got to bring into this project. It’s rooted in a rock album, but it has these tentacles to connect and offer a greater experience.”
Auf der Maur was greeted on this morning with a stunning photo from her previous night’s concert splashed across a local Austin newspaper. The St. Patty’s day-born singer/songwriter/bassist had ushered in her birthday and the opening night of the 2010 SXSW music festival as the opening act for Motörhead and Voivod, an onstage revelry now immortalized in print. With fiery-red hair cascading behind her shoulders as if in flight, Auf der Maur powerfully wields her bass in the image, every bit embodying the type of enchantress she’s inclined to write about in her songs.
“It’s definitely got a fantasy/goth element,” Auf der Maur says of her solo work. “I guess it’s romantic and fantasy and dramatic and a journey somewhere, and a tendency to want to escape into a parallel universe to describe real feelings. I’d rather talk about the love between a pirate and the ocean than a woman and a man because that’s not as exciting. We all know that every day.”
So instead of dishing out details about her love life, for instance, Auf der Maur prefers to discuss her longtime affair with her collection of custom-built Fender Precision basses.
“I have a very unique relationship with my bass,” she says. “When that thing is sitting on my shoulder making it crooked year by year, it’s like a relationship with an animal. It’s like a rider and a horse. It’s a very interesting, unspoken connection. It’s wood, and that feels like you have a piece of nature with you. It’s an incredibly mystical relationship that I have with my instruments … these special beasts that I call my weapons.”
As the daughter of Montreal’s first female rock disc jockey, music arrived early in Auf der Maur’s life.
“My mother raised me with a phenomenal record collection,” says Auf der Maur. “We would look at the pictures; she’d tell me the stories and play me the music. Her passion for her generation of music was so clear that I think it instilled not only a love of music, but my own goal to find my generation of music. She started it all, absolutely.”
But the bass guitar, however, didn’t become her weapon of choice until her late teens, after a fateful encounter with the then-virtually unknown Smashing Pumpkins.
“The Smashing Pumpkins are definitely the band that changed my life on every level,” shares Auf der Maur, who saw the goth-rockers play before their first record came out for the whopping price of one dollar. “Just the sound of the music — it changed me. I found myself and my musical landscape. Anyone who knows and loves music can relate to when you see or hear something for the first time, and you discover yourself.
“I was probably 18 and maybe I had a bass sitting by me for a moment, but I hadn’t quite found an inspiration to pick it up, and I saw these guys play and I knew that was what I wanted to do. And because of the way it grabbed me, I wanted to follow it.”
Auf der Maur vowed to do exactly that later that night when she approached Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan.
“My friend at the time threw a beer bottle and there was a fistfight and I went to apologize to him on behalf of Montreal, Canada,” recalls Auf der Maur. “I said, ‘I am your devoted fan. I’ve never seen anything like you guys. I’m going to follow you until the end of the world. Your music has changed me.’”
Long before email or cell phones, Auf der Maur and Corgan became honest-to-God pen pals, eventually leading to an opportunity for the Canadian and her neophyte band, Tinker, to open for the Pumpkins during their 1993 Siamese Dreams tour.
“It was a life-changing moment,” she recalls. “Billy watched from the side of the stage and as I walked offstage — and no offense to D’arcy (Wretzky, original Pumpkins bassist) — he said, ‘You are better than my bass player and one day you are going to be in my band.’ Even if I had never seen him ever again and never gotten to play in my favorite band, those words … I thought ‘OK, if he says I’ve got something and I’m good, that’s all I need to give me one step more of confidence to continue this dream.’”
Six months later, when Hole lost bass player Kristen Pfaff to a drug overdose, Corgan recommended his pen pal to lead singer Courtney Love, marking the start of a 5-year journey that would bring Auf der Maur widespread fame and forever solidify her confidence as a bona fide female rock star.
“It was more about emotional development, really, and being on a journey – two women in the front of the stage trying to make an impact on a male-dominated landscape,” says Auf der Maur of her time with Hole. “As different as Courtney and I are — and we are pretty much polar opposites in every way — we found a connection in that mission. And we did it very differently. I was literally the good girl, good Canadian, not screaming and not showing my tits. It was a very interesting, beautiful balance.’’
And after Auf der Maur departed Hole in late 1999, Corgan made good on his promise, inviting her to join the Pumpkins for the band’s 2000 tour.
Since then, the talented Auf der Maur has collaborated on a slew of projects, but her primary objective has been the cultivation of her solo career. She released debut solo album Auf der Maur in 2004 and toured behind it, and has spent the past three years between Canada, California and New York honing her craft for the March 2010 release of OOOM.
“I’ve come a long way even since my first record, and although I’m veteran in rock music, this is only my second record and I’m still an artist in development,” she says. “But I’m very, very proud of the expansion; what I learned from making and touring 200 shows that first solo record. Having never been a front person before, finding that new side of myself has been an incredibly fulfilling journey.”
A significant step of the odyssey has been finding her voice.
“I’ve been searching for it,” she admits. “I did do a lot of singing with Hole and was very proud of it. I was definitely the angel voice — that ‘Ooh, ah, la, la, la’ pretty voice behind Courtney’s thing. But since I played that role for so long, it was a challenge for me to find my own strength within my choir-trained voice. How do you front a rock band as a choir girl?”
Auf der Maur began to find her answer with “Followed the Waves,” a soaring single off her first album that received radio airplay on modern rock stations.
“It has one of these wails, and that was the first twinkle of ‘maybe that’s my voice,’ but the rest of the record doesn’t have it,” she says. “So it’s been an interesting, slow journey, but with this record I think I literally found it, and it starts with the beginning howl of ‘Out of Our Minds.’ I discovered these witches/sirens calls that have this sorceress-like power.”
Auf der Maur’s magnetic personality is certainly bewitching. Hours after the album listening party, the long-legged bassist is easily spotted among the masses at Stubbs, letting loose with her fellow Canucks from the band Broken Social Scene, whom she befriended on the flight to SXSW.
“We bond on the heart of our mission to bring the love into the music,” she writes in her blog about her immediate connection with her musicians from the north.
An artist from two of the most high-profile bands of the ’90s, Auf der Maur now has her own flock of fans who would be remiss not to connect with her latest labor of love.
Visit http://xmadmx.com/ooom/ to listen to her new music …